BY MIKE BAHR
Roberto Gonzalez may not be a household name, but maybe he should be. A celebrity florist, Roberto rose to fame by creating floral arrangements for Oprah Winfrey. For four years, he was the go-to floral designer at Harpo Studios before starting his own company, Robert James Events, where he has designed flowers for the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Barbara Walters, Shania Twain, and President Obama.
“As a kid, finding beauty in an impoverished Venezuelan community was not easy,” remembers Roberto. “I knew from an early age that I could use my creative energy to escape some of the daily challenges my family faced.
“I would visit my neighbor’s small floral shop as often as possible,” he continues. “Initially, I went because it was the only place in the area that had air conditioning. Once I had the chance to play with all the pretty flowers, I was hooked.”
At 14, he got a non-paying job at an event firm that specialized in kids’ birthday parties. Then at 18, with help from his mother, he opened his own firm specializing in kids’ events. “I wanted to take kids’ parties to the next level. I knew once I had the freedom to express my creativity, my company would bloom, and it did. After years of elaborate kids’ events, I was ready for bigger opportunities with grown-ups,” he laughs.
When Roberto left Venezuela for the USA, he landed first in Orlando, then Manhattan, then finally, in Chicago. He realized the path to grander events meant building on the passion he had developed at the shop behind his house in Venezuela. He obtained his accreditation in floral design at the American Institute of Floral Design, the highest designation rewarded only to the nation’s premier florists.
Upon graduation, Roberto opened his first company, Roberto G. Chicago. Within the first year, his lush and luxuriant designs caught the eye of Ms. Winfrey who invited him to work at Harpo Studios. Oprah’s stamp of approval led to more celebrity clients. Soon, Roberto was accruing an incredibly influential clientele including the most powerful man in the world.
“Designing the floral pieces for President Obama’s birthday was probably the highlight of my career,” he says. “On a personal level, working for Julia Roberts was also special. As a gay kid growing up in Venezuela, Pretty Woman was secretly one of my favorite movies.”
His most recent project was creating all the floral for the movie Joyful Noise with Dolly Parton and Queen Latifa.
What are Roberto’s keys to success? Whether designing florals for a movie or an event, Roberto starts with the initial client consultation; his favorite part of the process. He has his clients close their eyes and dream up their wildest ideas for the party. He then uses the creative tricks he learned as a young entrepreneur at the kids event company to deliver a spectacle on budget. “You know how some women can make costume jewelry seem as if they are wearing the Hope Diamond? That’s what I do. I turn simple flower designs into masterpieces!”
“The biggest mistake people make is getting hung up on Pinterest,” he explains. “I love when my clients know what they want but are willing to remain flexible. That way, I can custom fit a design that both achieves their vision and takes advantage of the most beautiful options in bloom.”
Roberto lives for the details and strives to make sure his clients receive their dream event. “We map out the tables, linens, stemware, flatware, lighting, and flowers that will used for the event. I have even helped clients pick out specific calligraphers to capture the penmanship for the place cards.”
His passion is bringing events to life. “The best moment for me is when guests walk into an event with a ‘I have never seen this before!’ look on their face. It’s an extraordinary feeling of accomplishment knowing I am able to create unforgettable events and experiences for people.”
As if Roberto floral skills weren’t enough to impress, he is also an incredibly muscular fitness model. “I think I am giving new definition to the idea of flower power,” he says with a grin.