Florist Friday: La Fleur d’Harlem

When Louis Gagliano opened La Fleur d’Harlem in January of this year, he decided to remove the window security bars, as his vision was to create an open and inviting flower shop. Gagliano came to floristry after two careers and extensive world travel; he studied Floral Design at the New York Botanical Gardens, and later went on to apprentice for Arison and L’Olivier.

In 2008, he opened up a flower shop on 122nd street called Harlem Flo, and then relocated 20 blocks up the neighborhood where you can now find him on 144th street and the west end of 7th Avenue. He creates flower arrangements of several different proportions and purposes: from simple bouquets to large-scale wedding and terrace displays. On a recent Monday morning in New York City, GC met with Gagliano to discuss everything from the economics of floristry, rose farms in Ecuador, and his favorite spots in Harlem.

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GC: How did you get into flowers? Did you grow up gardening?

LG: I grew up in Staten Island and my family’s home has a large yard, so I did grow up gardening. But I first became interested in flowers through a friend who’s a florist, when I used to go visit him in his shop.

I lived in Paris for a year, and when I came back I began a certification course at the New York Botanical Garden.

GC: Did you have a gateway flower? For example, a flower you completely fell in love with that led to a larger love of flowers, or a flower that you tend to zoom in on whenever it’s in season?

LG: I really like Peonies. The seasonality of flowers is really great because it allows us to mix things up and work with different varietals throughout the year. It’s just like the way we eat food seasonally — though you could get sunflowers now, we like to use them in late summer and fall.

GC: How do you keep your creative drive going?

LG: I think it’s about listening to people and our clients. I just met with a bride today, and part of the work is being able to balance your aesthetic and their vision.

The style also evolves just like fashion changes. Years ago things were silver, this year things are gold. When we do events, the linen color dictates the flowers and the lighting, and this all culminates in our design. I think the elementary idea of a florist is that you work with flowers, but there’s a whole business aspect to it, and you’re part of the whole equation of the event at large. When we do flowers for someone’s house, there’s already a color scheme in place, and I find it’s important to ask whether this would match, and how does the style go with what’s already there.

GC: What does a typical, say, Tuesday look like for you?

LG: Everyday is different. It’s based on the events we’re doing and the delivery of flowers. I’m usually juggling between buying flowers, conditioning them when they arrive, maintaining what’s already in the shop, ordering different proposals to clients, billing and marketing, fixing the wireless network — there’s never a dull moment.

GC: What are some of your favorite local spots?

LG: I know a lot of people in the area, so I try to rotate where I go. I like Maison Harlem, the Monkey Cup, Il Cafe Latte, on 145th and Lenox. Levain Bakery on 115th — their baguette with butter and jam is my favorite. Double Dutch Coffee on 119th and Fredrick Douglass is another.

GC: Do you have a favorite garden?

LG: The New York Botanical Gardens because I know it really well; the rose gardens are pretty spectacular!

GC: How do you dress for summer weather? How does your summer style differ from your winter style?

LG: It depends on what I’m doing. I always have a change of clothes, because some days I’ll be meeting with a client and then I’ll go out into the garden, then I’ll come back, so I’m always prepared for what’s to come.

GC: How would you describe your style? How has it evolved over time?

LG: I think it’s always changing. It’s definitely contemporary. We definitely try to change things up, not to be stuck on the same design. Everything we create is custom and always changing– and every project is different, too. For example, this afternoon I’m going to be doing a garden for a school downtown.

GC: What are your other floral design influences?

LG: I think the containers have a big influence [on the final arrangement], in addition to the textures of foliage we use. When we work with clients with artwork in their buildings, we try to bring out and compliment the color schemes in the arrangements we choose.

GC: If you could travel to any one destination, floral-wise, where would you go?

LG: This summer I’m going to Java in Bali. I’m interested in finding what’s there in terms of flowers, which I’m guessing are orchids and other very tropical elements. In the past, I’ve traveled to Ecuador for the rose farms; that’s a big rose growing region of the world. I’ve also been to the South of France, where they have a lot of flower farms, too.

GC: How does social media affect your business? How do you interact with it?

LG: I think it’s a way people connect with what we’re doing and where we’re located. We use Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. We’re also on Yelp, which is a good platform for people to hear other client’s experiences. Often people are in the neighborhood and come to us through Google Maps.

GC: What’s your daily coffee order?

LG: I usually get a skim latte, with soy or almond milk. I like to change it up.

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