Floral Artist Maurice Harris Embraces Color in His Larger-Than-Life Arrangements
Plus, the founder of Bloom & Plume shares his advice for making fantastical designs of your own.
It doesn't take much to get florist Maurice Harris all lit up. Just ask him which bloom best captures the essence of who he is. "Well, I'm not simple," he says. "I can't be summed up by one stem, but there are three stems that come to mind: bird of paradise is the flower that, for some reason, represents Blackness for me, in that it is resilient. It stands tall above the crowd. It's always going to bloom and shine, despite anything trying to keep it down. When the bird of paradise finally blooms, it looks stunning. It's a little underestimated, but once you use it correctly, it's one of the most beautiful stems." His second choice? The chocolate cosmos: "It has beautiful dark chocolate, velvet, delicate petals on a really skinny stem. Even though I'm humongous, I think that I'm a delicate little flower." And lastly, the passion flower: "They have so much going on, but they're so strikingly beautiful in their complicated nature. And they bear such delicious, beautiful fruit!"
It's this vision for flowers that has allowed ample room for his fame to grow. Harris is the founder of Bloom & Plume, a luxury floral studio that has become a springboard for him as a Renaissance-style artist: He designs floral installations for global brands and celebrity clientele; runs a community coffee shop; stars in the aspirational floral design show Centerpiece and the upcoming reality-show competition Full Bloom; and is, most recently, the floral mastermind behind Beyonce Knowles' visual album Black Is King.
We spoke with Harris about the success he's achieved and some insight on where he wants to take floral design as a creative movement—plus, his advice for those seeking to get creative with blooms themselves.
On Establishing His Roots
Harris is not your typical floral artist, and he knows it. His larger-than-life personality and witty, outspoken demeanor, translate into his work. "I am a Black gay man operating in a space that has been pretty dominated by the whiteness," he says. "And I think that I am able to engage in that conversation of the white aesthetic, but I bring my Black history to every arrangement that I make. I think it makes for a very unique, nuanced arrangement."
Harris' Instagram followers—210,000 and growing—are regularly treated to the artist's compositional genius for color and botanical flair. Each creation is altar-like in its harmony, vibrant and richly scaled—think orchids, delphiniums, and, his aforementioned favorite, birds of paradise. "I make grand gestures," he jokes. "But I would say yes, we do create very grand gestures with a lot of nuance, with a lot of details, with a lot of love."
Harris keeps the love flowing with his foray into television. He's the star of a new Quibi show, Centerpiece, in which he interviews multidisciplinary artists such as Maya Rudolph, Tessa Thompson, and Rashida Jones, then interprets their creative processes as floral installations revealed at the end of each episode. "The tangible takeaway for a viewer is how to cultivate your own creativity by watching the process of what I go through to find the essence of someone else's," explains Harris.
The nature of true creators is forward-thinking, and Harris already has some ideas about where he'd like to take his career next. "I think it's happening, but floristry being taken outside of the context of just craft is more into the realm of fine art," he muses. And that may very well prove true in the upcoming HBO series, Full Bloom, featuring ten of America's budding florists vying to be crowned best in show. "The show is going to be really good, I think," says Harris, who will act as an expert judge alongside Elizabeth Cronin of Asrai Garden in Chicago and Simon Lycett, a royal florist for Queen Elizabeth. He remarks that, "to see the beauty and the innovation of some of these young up-and-coming artists is very, very cool."
On Designing Your Own Floral Arrangements
For those seeking to create a bit of magic with flowers themselves, Harris offers his wisdom on how to do it. "Just keep it simple. Get all one stem and leave a grand statement." Repetition and similar things en masse have a lot of impact, he explains, such as a row of single-stem vases lined down the length of your table. But let the world around you inspire you. "I think that is the key takeaway for people starting out—there's inspiration everywhere." That might mean looking towards work you admire. "Start with trying to mimic people that you like," he suggests, "but don't be attached to the outcome of someone else's design and look."
Of course, follow any florist's tricks of the trade: cut your stems at a 45-degree angle, keep everything hydrated in water, and be sure to pluck leafy greens out of the water in your vase as that causes more bacteria. But with all of this comes his gentle reminder—practice. "None of those arrangements that you see in the magazine, that you see on my page, took 15 minutes to make," he says. "And if it did take 15 minutes to make, it's because I made 500 of them before the one that I'm making. Excellence comes with time."
And while quarantine is still ongoing in some parts of the world, when it ends, a lot of folks may find themselves inspired to welcome family and friends into their homes for a sit-down meal at the table with a beautiful centerpiece. He believes in the power of what a great floral arrangement can do for your living space. "I think that a true centerpiece should move people," he ruminates. And, in turn, should have movement itself. One technique he uses to do just that is establishing a focal point and incorporating elements that seem to "fly away" as he describes it. He compares this to the moment a fashion model struts down the runway and turns, looking over her shoulder to be captured by the camera, mid-pose. "You're catching the gesture of movement, even though it's still," he explains. "And that, to me, is a very, very dynamic arrangement."
Harris could go on, but there's one design principle that he is inclined to offer: "Buy flowers that you love, put them together, and it'll make sense because it's you. Anybody that understands you and, you welcome them into your home, they'll get it. So if you make something with love, you'll be alright."