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Art in Bloom: Floral designer Michael George comes to St. Petersburg on March 18

You have probably been a follower of floral designer Michael George for years. You just never knew it.

He's the one who got you into those lush, single-flower, monochromatic arrangements with gracefully twisted stems that have been a part of Calvin Klein lifestyle photos, Martha Stewart Living layouts and TV shows for years. He's the one who lacquered a wedding bouquet of roses black for Vera Wang's most recent ad campaign. His client list has included Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, Tom Ford, Oscar de la Renta, every major fashion magazine, many billionaires and several record labels.

He's famous with the famous.

"I'm just a blue-collar worker," he says.

Maybe so, but he is also a master of floral minimalism.

George will become more familiar locally when he visits St. Petersburg on March 18 as part of Art in Bloom, a series of fundraising events for the Museum of Fine Arts. During a luncheon at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, he will demonstrate his signature technique and secrets for making those deceptively simple arrangements.

He has been in the flower business for most of his 61 years. His father, George Christ Vasillopulos, was stationed in Japan after World War II and loved the severe, cerebral art of ikebana. When he came home to New York, he married and opened a flower shop. His son's first visit came when he was a few days old and the boy spent his childhood helping out, learning, absorbing.

Vasillopulos saw the possibilities of changing demographics and lifestyles in the 1950s, and helped invent the retail floral industry we know today. Before that, flowers came in a box only for the most special occasions — weddings and funerals mostly — and were a part of daily enjoyment only for all the wealthy. He believed flowers could be a part of everyday life for a newly affluent middle class so began selling them in vases he bought in bulk from Roseville Pottery that people could pick up and take home. He was a charter member of FTD, a novel concept that provided standardized arrangements ordered anywhere in the United States for local delivery. He became a wealthy man.

But he didn't want his three children to follow in his path. Unlike him, he wanted them to go to college. George's brother and sister did just that. He lasted, he says, one semester.

"I wanted to be an architect, but I loved the immediate gratification of flowers." He returned to the flower shop.

A stint in the Marine Corps during the 1970s interrupted his plans and he figured he would be sent into combat, but when his superiors learned of his talent, he became a camouflage instructor.

"It's the reason I wasn't sent to Vietnam," George says. "I taught soldiers how to make themselves look like lily pads."

After that, he identified and apprenticed with innovators around the country and honed his style.

He dropped his Greek surname.

He remembers well the day everything crystallized for him.

"I never used metal buckets, only clear glass cylinders to hold the flowers because I liked their look. I washed a bunch of tulips and then almost accidentally dropped them into the cylinder and they spun like pencils or straws in a glass and settled in this interesting arrangement. So I developed that, made it into a styled graphic look."

His big break came on Mother's Day 1980. He was renting space in a brownstone on 50th Street in Manhattan. It was across the road from a restaurant. The proprietor came over and complimented him on the large arrangement in his window and invited him to do some flowers for her restaurant.

The woman was Simone Soltner, wife of chef André Soltner; the restaurant was Lutece, among the most revered restaurants in the country at the time.

"I didn't know that," he said. "When I told my mom about it, she said, 'You'll just have to work your way down from there.' "

Instead he has been on top for more than two decades. With so many large corporate accounts and special events, he doesn't do much retail anymore and he need not rely on spontaneous walk-ins. He also operates Flower School New York, a successful venture that offers classes for amateurs and professionals.

Browse through his lavishly illustrated book, Simply Elegant Flowers (North Light Books), and you see that his creative vision is broader than his signature modernist style. His mixed bouquets would delight the most baroque tastes. Some of his favorite flowers are weeds.

Still, it's the sleek glass vase cradling a rondelle of 300 white calla lilies you think of. You have always loved it. Now you know whom to thank.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at lennie@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8293.

You have probably been a follower of floral designer Michael George for years. You just never knew it.

He's the one who got you into those lush, single-flower, monochromatic arrangements with gracefully twisted stems that have been a part of Calvin Klein lifestyle photos, Martha Stewart Living layouts and TV shows for years. He's the one who lacquered a wedding bouquet of roses black for Vera Wang's most recent ad campaign. His client list has included Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, Tom Ford, Oscar de la Renta, every major fashion magazine, many billionaires and several record labels.

He's famous with the famous.

"I'm just a blue-collar worker," he says.

Maybe so, but he is also a master of floral minimalism.

George will become more familiar locally when he visits St. Petersburg on March 18 as part of Art in Bloom, a series of fundraising events for the Museum of Fine Arts. During a luncheon at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, he will demonstrate his signature technique and secrets for making those deceptively simple arrangements.

He has been in the flower business for most of his 61 years. His father, George Christ Vasillopulos, was stationed in Japan after World War II and loved the severe, cerebral art of ikebana. When he came home to New York, he married and opened a flower shop. His son's first visit came when he was a few days old, and the boy spent his childhood helping out, learning, absorbing.

Vasillopulos saw the possibilities of changing demographics and lifestyles in the 1950s, and helped invent the retail floral industry we know today. Before that, flowers came in a box only for the most special occasions — weddings and funerals mostly — and were a part of daily enjoyment only for the wealthy. He believed flowers could be a part of everyday life for a newly affluent middle class so began selling them in vases he bought in bulk from Roseville Pottery that people could pick up and take home. He was a charter member of FTD, a novel concept that provided standardized arrangements ordered anywhere in the United States for local delivery. He became a wealthy man.

But he didn't want his three children to follow in his path. Unlike him, he wanted them to go to college. George's brother and sister did just that. He lasted, he says, one semester.

"I wanted to be an architect, but I loved the immediate gratification of flowers." He returned to the flower shop.

A stint in the Marine Corps during the 1970s interrupted his plans and he figured he would be sent into combat, but when his superiors learned of his talent, he became a camouflage instructor.

"It's the reason I wasn't sent to Vietnam," George says. "I taught soldiers how to make themselves look like lily pads."

After that, he identified and apprenticed with innovators around the country and honed his style. He dropped his Greek surname.

He remembers well the day everything crystallized for him.

"I never used metal buckets, only clear glass cylinders to hold the flowers because I liked their look. I washed a bunch of tulips and then almost accidentally dropped them into the cylinder and they spun like pencils or straws in a glass and settled in this interesting arrangement. So I developed that, made it into a styled graphic look."

His big break came on Mother's Day 1980. He was renting space in a brownstone on 50th Street in Manhattan. It was across the road from a restaurant. The proprietor came over and complimented him on the large arrangement in his window and invited him to do some flowers for her restaurant.

The woman was Simone Soltner, wife of chef André Soltner; the restaurant was Lutece, among the most revered restaurants in the country at the time.

"I didn't know that," he said. "When I told my mom about it, she said, 'You'll just have to work your way down from there.' "

Instead he has been on top for more than two decades. With so many large corporate accounts and special events, he doesn't do much retail anymore and he does not rely on spontaneous walk-ins. He also operates Flower School New York, a successful venture that offers classes for amateurs and professionals.

Browse through his lavishly illustrated book, Simply Elegant Flowers (North Light Books), and you see that his creative vision is broader than his signature modernist style. His mixed bouquets would delight the most baroque tastes. Some of his favorite flowers are weeds.

Still, it's the sleek glass vase cradling a rondelle of 300 white calla lilies you think of. You have always loved it. Now you know whom to thank.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at lennie@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8293.

IF YOU GO

Meet Michael George

The Art in Bloom luncheon benefitting the Museum of Fine Arts, featuring a demonstration by the floral designer, begins at 11:15 a.m. March 18 at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, 11 Central Ave. Tickets are $60.

A master class at the museum is at 2:30 p.m. that same day. Cost is $195 and includes supplies. For information, call (727) 422-9792.

More Art in Bloom events

Art in Bloom begins March 14 at the Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, when floral designs by 50 professionals and gifted amateurs will be unveiled at 10 a.m. The arrangements will be displayed throughout museum galleries through March 18. The museum, usually closed on Monday, will be open March 16.

Preview party: Dinner buffet at the museum with cocktails and opportunity drawings, 6:30 p.m. March 14. Tropical evening attire, $85. (727) 822-9040.

Conversation with the designers: 2-4 p.m. March 15. The floral designers will be at the museum to answer questions informally. Free with museum admission.

. IF YOU GO

Meet Michael George

The Art in Bloom luncheon benefitting the Museum of Fine Arts, featuring a demonstration by the floral designer, begins at 11:15 a.m. March 18 at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, 11 Central Ave. Tickets are $60.

A master class at the museum is at 2:30 p.m. that same day. Cost is $195 and includes supplies. For information, call (727) 422-9792.

More Art in

Bloom events

Art in Bloom begins March 14 at the Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, when floral designs by 50 professionals and gifted amateurs will be unveiled at 10 a.m. The arrangements will be displayed throughout museum galleries through March 18. The museum, usually closed on Monday, will be open March 16.

Preview party: Dinner buffet at the museum with cocktails and opportunity drawings, 6:30 p.m. March 14. Tropical evening attire, $85. (727) 822-9040.

Conversation with the designers: 2-4 p.m. March 15. The floral designers

will be at the museum to answer questions informally. Free with museum admission.

Art in Bloom: Floral designer Michael George comes to St. Petersburg on March 18 03/06/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 6, 2009 3:30am]
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