A beautiful sneaker is a work of art. But what happens when someone takes that to the next level? Often sneaker art can be forced, corny, and contrived—turning amazing designs into butchered scribbles that look like rejects from community college art classes. But one artist is changing that perception with a new approach to the concept: turning footwear into floral bouquets.
Mr. Flower Fantastic caught the Internet’s eye when he turned Serena Williams’ Air Max 97 designed by Virgil Abloh into floral masterpiece during the U.S. Open. The artwork is on display this weekend in New York City at Champs Sports in Times Square, where fans can view the Nike Air Max 97/Plus flower arrangement and share it on their own Instagram accounts. “Champs has been a staple, especially in New York,” he says. “I didn't know what shoe I was going to get [to work on], but I was very very happy to receive the Air Max 97. ‘97 was a fun year for me, too, so that was a great honor.”
He chooses to remain anonymous, but we got the chance to talk to the artist behind the work and see how long he’s been into sneakers, what it was like to do work for Serena Williams, and why creating these pieces is dangerous to his health.
How long have you been a florist or doing this sort of stuff?
I have been doing it professionally since the spring, but I have been into florals for as long as I can remember.
Have you always been into sneakers?
I have always been a sneakerhead, proudly until the day I die. I grew up in Queens, New York, and that was just the thing in my neighborhood. You had to have fresh [Air Force 1s], you had to have something white. You had to have a pair of Js. When I started to do this series, I was really excited to do it, because I knew the impact sneakers had on my life. I was really excited to showcase and pay homage to the wonderful, incredible designers and athletes who have made those shoes, in particular the ones who have changed our culture, our way of shopping, our way of thinking, and our way of designing through those shoes.
What's your favorite sneaker all time?
Jordan 1 Chicago colorway.
Why do you choose to keep yourself anonymous?
I started wearing the gloves and the mask just out of protection, because I am allergic to flowers. I'm allergic to quite a few other things, but it just served as a way for me to do what I love without having to deal with the symptoms that come with it. The reason why I choose to remain anonymous is just for the simple fact that what I'm doing here has not been done to my knowledge. It's very new, and floralstry is an art form that is very powerful yet underrated. It's very special at the same time. I have a spiritual connections with florals—I can't make flowers, only God can make flowers. All I have done is taken what he has already made and position them differently. I'm not really the real artist here, I'm just kind of messing with his work. I kind of always want the focus to be on that. It’s not about me. It's not about what I look like, or what I don't look like. It's about the florals.
What happens if you have an allergic reaction?
Nothing good. I have really sensitive sinuses, so sometimes my throat will close up depending on the pollen levels. I have eczema, so that's always been interesting in my life. It's just really uncomfortable, and I'm pretty much an asshole all day after, so I prefer to cover up, take my medication, and carry on.
What were you doing before you got into the professional florist stuff?
I was doing a lot of different things. I have lived in the city all my life, and I've had just about every job you can think of—mainly just being creative, though. I think that all of my life experiences brought me to this point. As a kid I used to really be into pop-up books, pop-up cards. I used to ask my mom to buy them for me, and I would get them home and rip them apart. I think that's what got me into thinking three dimensionally and seeing how to work really well with my hands.
How long does it take you to on average to make a sneaker from the flowers?
It's not necessarily about the length of time. That's all relative to the size. If I'm doing something big it definitely requires more time-precise measurements so that everything looks proportionate. What it comes down to it is season and what is available to me when I go to the market. I could have one particular sneaker in my mind and have every bit of research to go along with how I am going to do this sneaker. I get to market and those flowers won't be in for another month. When I did the Jordan III, that is a very rough pattern, and the thing with my flowers is that I'm using fresh and real flowers. I'm using the natural colors, so I am trying to make that pattern using other florals about five or six times. One day, randomly, as I'm looking for something totally different, I happen to stumble upon that swamp lily that gave me that elegant pattern. I swear to you, man, it felt like I won the lotto or something. I picked up every single one of them and I started to get at it right away. A couple of hours [later], we have that image that you see.
I know you have done all Nike shoes so far, have they acknowledged your work?
They have acknowledged my work. It feels really good that a company like them, and the history that they have, can definitely see my vision and appreciate where I am coming from. Lots of Nike athletes have reached out to me, which is very very cool and humbling. I did not intend on just doing Nike shoes, but when I did the very first Jordan, you know it's just a special thing. I make these shoes based on how I feel. Right now it's just ideal to do Nike shoes.
What was it like to make the shoes for Serena Williams?
That actually was a fun project. I got a call randomly out of the blue from someone in Serena's camp. They invited me to come see her at the U.S. Open and watch her play the semifinal. It was a beautiful match. I got to meet her, and that's when I noticed everyone wearing the shoe that I did, the one that she did with Virgil [Abloh]. I said, “That's a beautiful shoe. You guys gave me lots of ideas.” I went back to the lab and cooked that shoe up, and that actually took me about three different attempts before I finally got it right. I was able to kind of tour the shoe around the city and let people see it before it went to the Queen. What happened happened. It was a tough match for her, but it was it very gracious that she still wanted to see me. I gave her the shoe and she appreciated it.
How expensive are these thing to create?
It can get really expensive at times, and I think it's because this is all an experiment since it's never been done before. I don't know what I'm doing as I am doing it. I'm just going with how I feel, so I have spent hundreds of dollars at one particular time in creating something that doesn’t turn out the way I wanted it to turn out. But I learn a lot, so it's like being in school paying tuition.
What's next for you?
ComplexCon, and I'm excited to give people something that they have never seen before, and something I have never seen before—that's really what I want to come across. Yes, I love flowers, and I know them well, but the program that we are going to be putting together, and the exhibitions and the installations that we are creating, I have never created before. I'm going to ComplexCon for the first time, and we are going hard at it. This is the one and only show that we will ever have. Not only are the stakes high, but I'm just grateful that so many important people and contributors to our culture are going to be there, because we gain inspiration from each other.