With Centerpiece, Maurice Harris enters full bloom
The Los Angeles member’s new floral masterclass Quibi show is a joyful celebration of Black artists
By Shannon Mahanty Images by Taylor Rainbolt Friday 19 June, 2020 Long read
Combining Harris’ passion for floristry and the art of conversation, his guests (which include actor Tessa Thompson, musician Moses Sumney and director Melina Matsoukas) are interviewed by Harris about their creative process. He then interprets their talk as an original floral composition. Once the centerpiece is revealed – purple odyssey for Rashida Jones, a subversive explosion of colour for fashion designer Kerby Jean-Raymond – Harris and his guest explore the creation, before ending each episode with a celebratory dance.
With cameos from his sister, and his mother soundtracking the show by organ, Centerpiece is a true family affair. Last year, he kept things in the Harris clan again, launching an LA cafe, Bloom & Plume Coffee, with his younger brother Moses. Although the doors have been forcibly closed by COVID-19, Harris is finding ways to innovate and adapt, and already his takeaway service is flourishing.
As Centerpiece hits the app Quibi, Harris speaks to Soho House about creativity, protest and the pure power of flowers.
‘We’re hanging in there and getting it done. We’ve been trying to get people to engage and come to the coffee shop. It’s been really challenging, but with the protesting, people are pledging to support Black businesses. The outpouring has been absolutely insane – we can’t even keep up with it. I’m hoping this is the new normal and not just a trend, but we shall see.’
Online spaces feel particularly heightened right now, but why did you want to make a physical space with Bloom & Plume Coffee?
‘Bloom & Plume is an extremely luxurious business; I didn’t realise how luxurious it was when I started it. But insurances, pay roll, taxes and rent have to all go into the cost of my flower arrangements, so the price point for it to make sense is really high. I wanted to figure out a way to bring a community together and have more engagement in the brand, because I think people really like it. But the flower shop is not financially set up for people to be able to do that.
Coffee shops are historically community-oriented spaces, and so I thought it was a beautiful idea to create a space where people can come together. I wanted to bring our design magic to a public space so you can experience it, but it doesn’t cost the same amount as our installations. I think it’s the dose of joy, love and sense of being seen that a lot of people have been craving. It’s a space for everyone to enjoy that, specifically people of colour. I think, in general, most spaces are from a White vantage point where White is centred. And this was considering everyone, but specifically Black people and people of colour.’
'I’ve always wanted to have a platform where I can help forward the conversation in terms of highlighting, celebrating and loving Black bodies and our creativity. I think my show does that'
‘I come from a creative family. My mother is a musician and a crafter. And my grandmother was a milliner who made church hats, and also did flowers and sewed. My parents were always like, whatever you chose to do, just do it and be the best at it. Know that there’s no safety net here, so figure your stuff out, basically.’
At what point did you realise flowers could become a career?
‘It was when my dream jobs did not fulfil me. I never dreamed of being a florist or starting a flower shop. And I never thought I’d have a coffee shop, but I’m a person who knows how to go with the flow and follow the road that the universe has presented me with. I learned that I can’t be defined by my job; I have to have something else going on that allows me to be free. When I understood that, I let go of the expectations of what “fulfilling your passions” looks like. I just did what I did – I started dancing on the side, doing flowers on the side, just for my own well-being. Then, I became this in-house florist kind of guy. The validation I was getting for doing it made me think.
‘When I finally got laid off from my job doing window displays at Juicy Couture during the economic crash, I just fell into it. I allowed it to take its own journey. I was a freelancer doing all kinds of weird odd jobs, but the flower opportunities kept showing up until they took over. I also thought about what medium I could make a difference in. I began to realise that this is a little space where I could potentially have a voice.’
With Centerpiece, you really put the person into the installations. Do you immediately get a sense of what flowers you might work with or does it take a lot of research?
‘Yes and no. I’m definitely a feeler. Whenever I’m doing a party, I have to meet the person. I also have to see the space and know what they’re trying to accomplish. For Centerpiece, I can’t prepare other than by being super present. I try to find that little gem, that nugget that allows me to know what to do. I already knew of or had a rapport with every person that was on the show. Sometimes, I think there was something I saw in them that maybe they don’t see in themselves that I want to reflect back to them. As I’m interviewing the guest, I’m trying to confirm things that I’m already noticing. I’ll ask them questions, but it’s a very intuitive process.’
‘I feel like I’m ever changing, but it would be a combination of a bird of paradise, because they stand out from the crowd and bloom so vibrantly. They’re sharp, sexy, elegant and resilient, but there’s also something about them that’s like, “Don’t mess with me”. The other is chocolate cosmos – it’s a tiny, velvety flower that’s on a skinny stalk. It seems very soft, and lovely and loving.’
What are your hopes for the future?
‘I’ve always wanted to have a platform where I can help forward the conversation in terms of highlighting, celebrating and loving Black bodies and our creativity. I think my show does that. Acknowledging our pain and the sacrifice that it takes to be who we are, while still making it magical, beautiful and light. I feel like it’s always way more productive to be kind, sweet and loving. It’s more seductive than being angry, but there is a time to be angry, too. With what’s going on now, everyone has every right to be turned up and going off. And it feels incredibly appropriate to hold people accountable, because they’ve been getting away with literal murder.
‘I look forward to being in a community with more people that look like me, who are also doing cool things, and we’re all being celebrated and treated better. But I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better, and it’s going to take a lot of work. No one gets a hot body by eating a McDonald’s every day – there’s a lot of sacrifice and it takes discipline. Gaining muscle is painful; it’s not lifting a couple of weights, it takes years of crazy dedication to that sort of work. I don’t think we think about that stuff. We believe we can just go to a protest, support a Black business for a couple of weeks and then go back to our normal lives. No, you’re gonna lose your six pack, bitch.’
All episodes of Centerpiece are now available on Quibi