Bringing New Yorkers back to nature, one flower flash at a time
New Yorkers are a special breed of human. We thrive in a frenetic metropolis, collectively chasing dreams and yet often existing in our own little bubbles. They call it the “concrete jungle” as it lures millions of denizens to live an animalistic pace, roaming in a cage of sleek, manmade architecture. With the exception of Central Park, greenspace is a luxury that’s hard to come by, but floral designer Lewis Miller is trying to bring us back to nature. Imagine a graffiti artist who leaves an explosion of freshly cut hydrangeas, tulips and palm leafs in a municipal trash can, rather than tagging a wall. He calls them “flower flashes,” and has been blessing unassuming New Yorkers with this spontaneous revelry for just over a year. “I love how you can shift the energy, mood and ambience of a space with flowers, whether it’s a living room or garbage can on the corner,” says floral designer of his beloved métier. Having built a successful upper-crust business for 17 years, Miller asked himself how he could translate his lush floral creations for everyone, and embarked on his “flowers for the people” initiative.
It started as simple artistic whim, outlining Central Park’s Imagine medallion with a rainbow of gently placed blooms. It went viral, sparking a wave of joy both IRL and on Instagram, and has inspired an ongoing project ever since. Gorgeously arranged flowers – like small animals and Trump memes – are foolproof internet bait these days. The beauty of Miller’s flashes however, is they force us to abandon our digital holes and stop and smell the roses, literally. Read how Miller is reimagining floral design and bringing us back to nature.
COOLS: You say you “transform an arrangement into a love song an indelible experience.” Could you elaborate on the poetic nature of your work?
LM: Everything needs to tell a story, whether it be a gentle or dramatic one. My work involves a lot of layers at once, that are all telling a story together. It’s natural, lush and opulent, it welcomes you in and there’s room for discovery. When you walk into a wedding reception, you gasp because it’s beautiful. The lighting is amazing, the candles are lit, the flowers are breathtaking etc. There are so many layers that go into it, but the last thing I want is someone to walk into a room and think “oh how fancy, look how much money they spent.” I find that so self-conscious, awkward and frankly, quite tacky. But beauty is beauty. Of course we bring truckloads of stuff in, that is very highly orchestrated, but at the same time I want to maintain a certain effortlessness about it. I want my work to exude a spontaneity about it, that feels very welcoming whether you make 2 cents or 2 million dollars. Beauty and nature is for everyone. What I dislike about this industry, is it tends to turn nature into something it’s not. It gets gaudy really quickly, people are flying in orchids from all over the world.
COOLS: It becomes less organic and too over the top?
LM: Exactly. The irony is, the more you spend the cheaper it looks. Sometimes bundles of weeds fused with Belgian linen is much chicer and more elegant than an explosion of exotic stems. If you only use the top of the line it all becomes the same.
COOLS: How did the idea of the flower flashes originate?
It was literally one year ago today that we did the first one. My business has a wonderful clientele but it’s a wealthier Upper East Side base. There came a point after having this business almost 17 years, where I asked myself, “what can I do to give back?” “What am I passionate about?” And I love doing flowers and how they make people happy. I love how they make my clients and the guests happy, but what about everybody else? We’re in NY and there are so many people that need that boost. Just walking down the street on a Friday afternoon with an armload of flowers going home, people on the streets and on the subway start drooling. Because this is my day-to-day, I forget the magic and how special they are.
Not to mention there’s a lot of waste, flowers that don’t get used, or come back to us post event. That combined with the fact that I thought it would be a lot of fun to creatively to push some new ideas out there. As much as I love the countryside, I love the urban grit of New York. Not even the glamour, but I love the construction sites, the graffiti and the realness of it. So I wanted to take that really raw backdrop and juxtapose with the something so fresh and romantic in a way that’s a little abstract. The flashes are not overly thought out; I’m not painstakingly placing every flower. I could simply push some new ideas in the flower design, not needing to meet expectations, but hopefully bring a smile to someone’s face.
COOLS: It gets to stay organic and give people that sheer, raw, natural beauty.
LM: Exactly. And then what’s so fun about it. It was never meant to create this sculpture that just sits there, and gets admired. It’s interactive. People take handfuls of it, and throughout the day, like a flower that blooms and grows and wilts the flashes becomes increasingly decayed as the day continues. It’s like a beautiful floral graffiti mess.
COOLS: Is there any rhyme or reason to the flashes?
LM: It’s very spontaneous. I try to do one at least once a month but I don’t want to overdo it either. People have been most responsive to the trash cans, but now the city is on a mission to update with these super bins. We’ve gotta get a few more in, before they’re as bygone as subway tokens. Or the metal tabs you got at the Met you could give to someone on your way out. Now we just get stickers. I miss those.
COOLS: It’s about those little things that make the everyday special. Like your “flowers for the people” initiative, and beautification of public spaces?
LM: It’s just to give people a smile. Its early in the morning, people are on their way to work…they turn the corner and boom! I want it to be one of those “only in New York” moments. I honestly don’t know if it would work in a lot of other cities because we’re a city that walks, we’re on bikes. New Yorkers are going to get up close and personal to it.
COOLS: Your guerrilla installations have become quite viral, and you have this duality between the social media version and this in your face instinctual experience. Is it a conscious marketing alternative to the 2-D insta world we live in?
LM: Absolutely, I love the duality in all this. What I do for a living is pretty in a picture, but it’s more of an experience that you can’t really capture. It’s so tactile, there’s the element of scent, of touching a fuzzy leaf and feeling the flowers in the space. I work in a medium that obviously we have to photograph and Instagram, but the whole energy gets lost in translation.
COOLS: As New Yorkers, we tend to live in our little bubbles in the concrete jungle. Is part of the idea behind the flashes to bring us back to nature?
LM: Definitely! We’re in this concrete jungle, and I’ve always said since when I moved here that nature is the greatest luxury in this city. And next to nature its space, we could all use a little more room. But now even more, in this technology ridden day and age, to have something that’s from nature and slowly dying reminds us that there’s life outside our handheld devices. Were all living in this constant state of anxiety, so let’s just have this moment, and revel in the natural beauty for a second.
COOLS: And how are you translating that through your design aesthetic?
LM: I want my work to feel joyous, cheerful and uplifting, but there’s a painterly, moodiness to it. The shadows are just as important as the light. You can make the most beautiful arrangement of bubblegum pink roses, but if you put it in a moody environment it comes off so much more striking. There’s a lot of power in flowers and using them as a medium. They invoke feeling, invoke nostalgia. I want to create something that takes people back to another time or place.