Chris Giftos' talent and charm carried him to one of the most coveted jobs in the flower world. For 33 years, until he retired in 2003, he was the master floral designer and director of special events at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, one of the world's great museums.
He's bringing that talent and charm (plus gossip!) to a luncheon at the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort on Friday. It's part of the annual Art in Bloom, a multiday fundraising event for the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg.
Giftos' most visible efforts at the Met were the five monumental arrangements he created each week in the Great Hall, four in alcoves and one towering over the information desk in the center of the room. But he also created settings and arrangements for the hundreds of parties, meetings and gatherings held there each year and, along the way, met many famous people.
At the luncheon, Giftos will create six to seven different types of arrangements demonstrating techniques for amateur arrangers, including using those mixed bouquets found in grocery stores.
"They're usually horrible," he said in a recent telephone interview. "I'll show you what to do to make them look pretty."
He dishes (in a tactful way) both about flowers ("Tulips can really screw up an arrangement because they keep growing even after they've been cut") and celebrities. Lady Diana, whom he escorted through the Met, was "a charming, charming princess" and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who was a major donor and trustee, "was fascinating but cold." He has lots of good stories about his encounters with the rich and famous, which he'll share while he arranges flowers and gives tips at the luncheon titled "Bouquet of Memories from the Met: From Garbo to Lady Gaga."
Now in his 70s, Giftos is a popular speaker who is among the few people ever named an honorary member of the Garden Club of America. Even though, he says, "I hate gardening." Besides, he travels too much to have a true garden at his Connecticut home, and no space at apartments in New York and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
On Saturday, the day after the luncheon, he'll create one of those famously massive arrangements in the St. Petersburg museum's own Great Hall before he returns to New York.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8293.