It’s 6 in the morning, twilight not yet given way to daybreak, and Mr. Flower Fantastic is up and on the move in Manhattan’s Flower Market, preparing for the day ahead.
Dressed all in black, he collects an assortment of flowers—luminous orange Gerbera daisies and oxford blue Nigella damascena—and gathers his morning’s findings on a spacious shelf at the back of a shop for a final inspection.
Once his floral selections are boxed up, he loads the van and heads to his studio in Long Island City, Queens.
Born and raised in Queens, MFF is a multidisciplinary artist who, through his floral sculptures and pop culture collectibles like resin sneaker planters, has amassed an impressive roster of clients, including Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak.
“I’m very happy to have met many people that flowers and art and music and sports have brought together. My life changed,” MFF says of what his anonymous alter ego has brought him in the last several years.
Donning a black and gray respirator mask, MFF sets off to work in his 4,000-square-foot studio, placing the day’s flowers in buckets of water, giving them time to open up.
His process is an exercise in patience, a mantra he tries to live by.
“Having a love for plants and flowers has taught me patience; you’ve just got to be patient, and when you’re patient enough, flowers bloom. That’s how I live my life.”
MFF and his four-person team moved to his studio in June 2020, after years of working from an apartment shared with other artists and then a rental truck when space got tight.
Before getting the truck he started experimenting with leaving his elaborate arrangements—pieces he made for practice—out in the streets, both to gauge public reaction and return space back to his roommates as larger and larger floral sculptures began to take over their home. When he saw how quickly his first piece was taken by someone out on the street, he got the idea to start sharing on social media, almost like a scavenger hunt.
“The very first arrangement I left I don’t think I posted, but it was a trophy, and it was so big after it was done there was no way I could keep it,” he remembers.
Before becoming Mr. Flower Fantastic MFF used to travel a lot for installations and trade shows.
He was used to being on the road, and the idea to rent a truck to work from came naturally.
“It was the best way I could operate and still save money,” he says. “I started pretty much in my garage and as things started to develop online and I started being called to different places, it made sense to take everything I’d been working on and make it mobile.”
In 2018 MFF parked his rental in the Flower District on 28th and 6th Avenue. “28th Street is so special to me. They’re my family,” he says. “Every one of those shops would loan me flowers on credit.”
As MFF’s following on social media grew, so did his orders.
People started reaching out for more and bigger private events. It gave him the money he needed to operate, rent the truck, pay for his apartment, and keep practicing.
Eventually he was able to afford to live on his own, too.
MFF was in his truck when he got an unexpected DM on Instagram.
The message caught his attention as it started with more than a dozen tennis balls, and MFF loves tennis (“It’s a great game that’s played on beautiful days,” he says). The message was from Serena Williams’ manager, asking if MFF would make something special and present it to her during the 2018 US Open. It was the first time he feared his anonymity was at risk, as he’d never hand-delivered his art.
He was nervous, but he put on his respirator mask—the same one he wears when he’s doing graffiti, one of many other mediums he works in—and black latex gloves and took the leap.
But the mask and gloves aren’t solely a disguise. MFF is also severely allergic to his art.
“When I was little I was sick all the time,” he recalls.
Many years and allergy tests later, he learned that plants were among the things he should probably stay away from. But his passion wouldn’t allow it, and a mask and gloves gave him the opportunity to continue to do the work he loved.
MFF has loved flowers since he was a kid. But what’s become one of his most iconic pieces—a red, white, and black Nike sneaker made of flowers—was born from trauma.
When MFF was just 11 years old, planting impatiens in his mother’s backyard in Queens, he got an unwanted visit from neighborhood kids. They hopped the fence and started beating MFF up.
“That was a very hard moment in my life,” he says. “It was the only time in my life that I ever felt as if I was going to die because they were so big and there were so many of them, and it was just me.” When he thinks about the incident now he asks himself: Why did it happen? And how could it have turned out differently?
“It wasn’t because they’re evil. It wasn’t because what I was doing was evil. It was because they were hurting and they were confused,” he says softly and deliberately.
Many years later MFF thought to himself—what if there was something he could’ve made that would’ve stopped those kids from doing what they did?
“I was already working on bouquets that resembled emojis, and at that time I believed I had found the direction I wanted to take in creating a new experience people could have with floristry.”
The next idea came to him quietly.
“As I thought about those kids I thought about what they were wearing, and they were all wearing basketball shoes. I thought to myself, ‘If I were making basketball shoes, would that be something that would make them smile? That would make them stop and not call me what they’ve called me and not do the things they did to me?’”
MFF often emphasizes how much he hopes everyone can find joy in flowers, including those who grew up in gang culture. He hopes sharing flowers through his lens, having grown up in Queens, can capture a wider audience.
“I take great joy in knowing my work is appreciated by someone who grew up in places where flowers don’t grow,” he says.
A large part of what MFF does today is centered around making people smile, including leaving arrangements around the city for people to find—something he’s not done since the pandemic started.
“Maybe someone who’s feeling as bad as I am will see something they didn’t expect to see and it’ll lift their spirits,” he says.
“It turned into something that was calming for me and my spirit. The creative side of me took over, and it made me feel a bit like a superhero being able to do good deeds.”
As it has for many people, the pandemic has been tough on MFF, isolating him at times from his team and putting many of his flower orders, including those from farms he normally works closely with in the Netherlands and South America, on hold.
But it has also been a period of ideation.
MFF dove deeper into his work, exploring and discovering new ways to communicate and connect with people. In quarantine he focused on sculpture, working with casting molds and clay work.
In his studio, surrounded by white walls and movable fences and foliage, MFF puts the finishing touches on a large, undisclosed project. Throughout the space—which also includes a lounge area, conference space, and small kitchen—photos of his work and prized floral sneaker works are on display. On one fence a neon-lit sign reads “Mr. Flower Fantastic.”
In February MFF launched a collaboration with Kith Paris that includes his resin sneaker planters, followed by limited edition pieces for the app NTWRK. He’s got projects lined up with the NBA, including an activation space and sculptures.
But MFF says the most satisfying project he’s worked on so far is not these, nor is it his helicopter-speedboat arrival at Art Basel (he literally showed up by speedboat while a helicopter circled overhead, lowering a floral Air Jordan Ones sculpture) nor the aforementioned US Open sneaker, but a larger-than-life floral Troll doll commissioned by a friend for his daughter.
A week before Christmas MFF got the request, and he didn’t hesitate to accept. He worked with his team for nearly 72 hours to get the Troll just right.
“We were able to get it done and Christmas morning flew it out to LA. His baby girl woke up and saw it and loved it, and to me, that moment right there, that was a real Christmas miracle.”
Laura Rote contributed to this reporting.
A version of this article originally appeared in Sixtysix Issue 06 with the headline “Mr. Flower Fantastic: Floral Artist, Queens.” Subscribe today.