Architectural Digest June 30, 2014
Floral designer Oscar Mora at FlowerSchool New York.
Halfway through my first flower-arranging class—presided over by the celebrated New York floral designer Oscar Mora—it is evident that I do not possess a latent green thumb. I do, however, feel hopelessly green. As instructed, I’ve created a tape grid across the top of my vase to secure my fledgling bouquet. Unfortunately, the net’s configuration is more Mondrianesque than graph-paper precise, and a botched camellia-leaf rescue mission has caused a key section to sag. Still, Mora’s charm is such that, when he sidles up to examine my progress and crows, “You’re a natural!” I almost believe him. Almost.
Warm reassurance from the floral-design maven doesn’t make me any less of a neophyte in his advanced seminar at FlowerSchool New York, Manhattan’s prestigious hub for floral arts. Of the dozen students congregated in the academy’s Chelsea workspace, a fair few are pursuing careers in floral design. Mora, sporting a playful indigo blazer, made arrangement look simple during the first half of the session, as he crafted a blushing assembly in striking black vases. But as my classmates deftly build their own designs, working from large elements (branches, hydrangeas, peonies) to small (black calla lilies), I—now the executioner of three carnations—am learning that the process is not as easy as it looks.
Mora shows AD assistant editor Rebecca Santiago the basics of flower arranging.
Out of necessity, my one-on-one interview with Mora after class doubles as a remedial lesson. Over prosecco, we talk about his serendipitous career path while he shows me how to curl a calla lily stem (“with your fingers, like a ribbon”) and deforest overgrown sections of my arrangement (“a little busy here, no?”).
Born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, Mora explains that color was ubiquitous in the architectural palette of his hometown, and it has been a guiding influence in his life from an early age. Prior to moving to New York and becoming a fashion-world fixture (his installations have graced fashion houses, including Valentino, Max Mara, Gucci, and Chanel), the Renaissance man dabbled in painting and decoration. “So it was very organic for me, then, transitioning into floral design,” he says. “All three of these pursuits use a similar process of layering.” He pauses to adjust a camellia sprig. “On that note, look at this fantastic moment you have here!”
Mora, of course, is no stranger to fantastic moments. There are the major ones, like the time he bumped into Martha Stewart at the opera. “When she remembered that I had been a guest on her show, I was so thrilled and relieved,” he says. He also recalled working alongside his onetime idol, the master floral designer Christian Tortu. And then, there are the everyday triumphs, like designing for high-profile clients (Anna Wintour, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Beyoncé and Jay-Z among them).
Santiago and Mora with Santiago’s finished arrangement.
But as we work together to recalibrate my first effort, it’s clear that the glamour of Mora’s profession is little more than a perk for the designer, albeit a spectacular one. “Getting to relax and unwind while working on a design, that’s what I really love. Don’t you find this relaxing?” he asks, and I realize that my initial anxiety has worn off. There’s a hypnotic aspect to the arrangement process, and each leaf I trim brings me deeper into a calm, meditative state.
Whether it’s a testament to Mora’s superb teaching skills or the work of some mysterious flower power, I can’t say for sure. But as I make the final tweaks to my now sprightly, textural haiku of blossoms, I begin to feel like something of a natural after all.
*FlowerSchool New York is located at 213 West 14th Street. Classes range from beginner to expert and start at $150. For more information, visit flowerschoolny.com.