Florist And Artist Maurice Harris Believes In The Business Of Beauty
Botanical Design With The L.A.-Based Owner Of Bloom & Plume
- Interview: Collier Meyerson
- Photography: Sam Muller
The backdrop of Maurice Harris’ new Echo Park coffee shop—Bloom & Plume Coffee, located next to his longtime flower shop of the same name—is a very Maurice Harris shade of purple. Creamy, cool, and luxurious. Celebratory. It’s a purple that evokes Prince and pure royalty, but with a warm twist. The perfect purple for a community space like Harris’, where you’ll find him on most days, resplendent in his trademark purple French worker jacket and orange sneakers, standing outside, chatting animatedly to a passerby, a neighbor, a colleague, a friend.
The 37-year-old California native, who co-owns the coffee shop with his brother, has designed a serene and carefully curated space. Outside, tables and chairs are dotted with miniature versions of Harris’ floral arrangements. Inside, his logo—a Kara Walker-esque silhouette of a black boy—is hung atop colorful Moroccan market bags and booklets of postcards featuring Harris’ cult favorite portraits of black bodies wreathed in his luxe flowers. The menu—consisting of hearty toasts, waffles, drinks—is simple but beautifully sneaky. The avocado toast is called “Becky.”
Considering how busy Harris finds himself (designing floral installations for Ava DuVernay, Florence and the Machine, and this year, a flower-themed Vogue Ukraine editorial featuring it-model Alton Mason) one wonders how he found the time to open a second business while also building a healthy and honest social media presence. Harris’ Instagram followers—126,000 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 hued. Like Fantin-Latour goes electric.
In person, Harris—a dancer— is a flurry of movement. He is at once sarcastic and earnest, joyful and serious. Maurice, who is a friend, tells me he’s rooted in his blackness, in his gayness, in his “feminine side” and his masculine side, too. His many identities and talents bleed into one another, informing his artistry one arrangement at a time.
What was the first arrangement you ever made?
I think it was for the last day of elementary school. I was going to Lemon Grove Middle School and picked flowers around my house and made an arrangement for my teacher, who was a big inspiration to me. My mom was like, “Sure, but I’m not giving you any money.” I think we had a lemon tree in my backyard and some geraniums. I had some easter tinsel lying around. It was a mess.
What do you call your practice?
These days I say I’m an artist and flowers are the medium I use to communicate my ideas. We do what we know or what we’re exposed to. I watched my grandmother create arrangements and hats since I was really little—she really inspired me. Seeing her making things, and specifically flowers, I thought, “Oh I could figure this out.” My mom is also super creative. I’d see her crafting.
What do you fantasize about for your art?
I really want to create environments and experiences for people. One of the people I look up to is Nick Cave. He did this whole dance and installation experience in New York recently that my friend saw. And as he was sitting there, [my friend] was like, “This is so you, I can’t wait for you to do this in your way.” I want to be paid to be creative, to have a creative voice. My ideas can sometimes be grand so it’s not always easy to execute. To do that would be magical.
You used to design window displays for Juicy Couture. How’d you get from windows to flowers?
I was sourcing from places near the flower district. And I would see things and ask questions while I was down there. It was on the job training, I guess you could say. If people needed flowers for something back at the office, they would just ask me to grab something while I was down there. I had an eye for composition and people responded well to my arrangements.
“The more I embrace who I am, the freer I feel, and the more I am true to my practice.”
What was your hustle? How’d you go from Juicy to opening a shop with actual employees.
I got laid off. During the economic downturn they did a creative overhaul and I wasn’t on that team. I was ousted! And that was...fine by me. I took my severance package and did some odd jobs. For Cirque du Soleil, I was a prop sourcer for clowns. I did random dance jobs on commercials. I was trying to hustle and make it like everyone else in this city. But little flower things kept popping up so I’d do them and then flowers kept getting more and more consistent. Eventually, that took up the bulk of my time, so we ran with it.
Tell me about blackness in your art.
The more I embrace who I am, the freer I feel, and the more I am true to my practice. I spent a long time trying to conform to the systems that were presented to me and at some point I realized I just needed to do my best at being myself. Part of who I am is a loving, big black man. I’m a black gay dude. And part of that started to feel like a performance piece that I didn’t choreograph, so I needed to take that into my own hands and recreate my own narrative.
Your flowers, for me, elicit a fanciful kind of luxury. They’re giant, larger than life. When you place black bodies inside of these displays—what are you trying to do?
When black men were dying at the hands of police, I began to investigate my own life. My ethnicity and my gayness are erased when I’m in certain places, and ignored in my own family. Everyone loves what I produce but doesn’t want to acknowledge that a huge part of it is that I’m gay and I’m celebrating my masculine and feminine energies. [Similarly] a lot of times in super white spaces or elite spaces—I’m the only black person in the room. I don’t all the way feel seen. So I wanted to put those sides of me on center stage. Black bodies are fetishized or have very specific contexts for how they’re seen and in a time when the racial unrest and tension in our society is so high, I think beauty is a tool that can speak to bigger issues. Making beautiful images centering black bodies is undeniably beautiful.
You have a new coffee shop. It’s been in the making for two years. You employ black people. You employ black queer people. What were you hoping for that space when you were fantasizing about making it?
The work I like to do are these cool, crazy installations, and generally, that’s for a very elite group of people. I wanted to figure out a way to keep what we do, here in this neighborhood (most of our arrangements go to the Westside). I wanted to figure out a space where more people in my neighborhood could engage with our work. At the end of the day my business is a luxurious one and there’s no way around that. I’ve always liked luxury—I remember in high school I coveted this Versace keychain. But it’s not sustainable. I’m not a rich person. How can I create something that has a heavily considered aesthetic but make it affordable? Coffee is an acceptable luxury, one we all buy into. I will afford myself a $5 luxury, not a $200 luxury. And I still get to have a nice experience! It made a lot of sense. And to be able to give it to our community! Everyone should be able to walk into a space and feel comfortable and included. Experiences are where it’s at.
Collier Meyerson is a fellow at Type Media Center, and a contributor at WIRED and New York Magazine.
- Interview: Collier Meyerson
- Photography: Sam Muller