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Robert Gonzalez enjoys smelling the sweet roses of success.
Life as he knew it changed when he was asked to create weekly floral pieces for Oprah Winfrey and her Harpo Studio offices. Now a bona fide celebrity florist, Gonzalez has done arrangements for the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Barbara Walters, Shania Twain and even President Barack Obama.
“I’ve always been an entrepreneur,” reflects the young man from Venezuela. “At 14, I started my own party business, planning and initiating birthday parties. At the same time, I would spend afternoons in the flower shop behind my house. That’s where I learned about flowers. When I moved to the United States, I decided I would apply my entrepreneurial skills to a new career in floral design.”
What sets Gonzalez apart from other florists is his vision. It goes way beyond bunching roses together in a bouquet or planting a Lillie in a pot. Gonzalez began his career in floral gifting and event design long before the industry gained notoriety through reality TV wedding shows. “Now every florist thinks they can design weddings,” he says. “The industry has become overcrowded.”
He still does the occasional gala, but his main interest is now in fashion. He has become the go-to florist for fashion designers who want to add exotic flowers to their campaign shoots and runway shows. However, he admits this wasn’t exactly his idea.
“It began when a popular fashion photographer asked me to create floral head pieces for his photo shoot with Vanessa Williams,” he remembers. “The shoot later became a fashion story in a major women’s magazine and the calls started pouring in from other photographers and designers. Before I knew it, I was on a new and exciting path in floral design.”
It’s an intricate process from bloom to zoom. “I first sketch the design. Then I need to pick the right flowers that will hold up under the hot studio lights,” he explains. “They are then individually wired, taped and assembled to the desired shape.”
Gonzalez collaborates with the hair stylist to work it properly into the model’s head. “From the moment I pick the right bloom to the time that is spent placing the piece on the model’s head usually takes between two to three days.”
The process requires discipline and dedication, both of which Gonzalez knows a thing or two about. In addition to the art of horticulture, Gonzalez enjoys the work of art that is his own body.
“Clients are always shocked when they meet me,” he says with a laugh. “There is a misperception about how male florists should look, and I guess I don’t fit the mold. I like to compare myself to a sunflower with a bold, strong look yet delicate petals.”
Athletic from an early age, Gonzalez started going to the gym at 14 years old. “I couldn’t afford a trainer so I would work out close to the other trainers while they were training their clients so that I could hear what they were teaching.”
He entered his first body building show at 30 years old and is currently training for his next show in early 2010.
“My biggest challenge is keeping the weight on. I’m not a big eater so I literally have to force myself to eat.”
He admits that the muscles haven’t exactly hurt his career—especially when it comes to women and gay male clients. But looks only help open the door. “The floral industry is more competitive than most people realize,” he says. “To succeed, you have to fight to be the best.”
Gonzalez says he missed the boat with the reality wedding TV shows. It’s a mistake he won’t make again. In fact, he’s currently in discussions for his own reality show that will go behind the scenes of his celebrity floral fashion shoots and teach viewers the fine art of horticulture design.
He pauses and then says with a laugh, “I aim to give new definition to the words ‘flower power.’
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