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The Chosen Ones: An Interview With Meredith Waga Perez

The New York-based florist on keeping secrets, volunteering at a New Jersey iris garden, and getting in touch with her roots in Israel

Periel Aschenbrand
June 19, 2017

Meredith Waga Perez, the founder of Belle Fleur New York, a luxurious floral and fragrance lifestyle brand, is as unique as a Shenzhen Nongke Orchid: This Jewish girl from New Jersey is business partners with her mother (!), and her company’s first employee, a Muslim man from Gambia named Maliq, is her good luck charm.

Belle Fleur is a florist of the grandest order. This means lots and lots of weddings. And celebrities. Lots and lots of celebrities. One could say—and one would be correct—that in the New York City area, Belle Fleur is to flowers what Chanel is to handbags.

On any given day (like the one I was there) arrangements are going out to the likes of Madonna and Balenciaga. Beyoncé and Jay-Z order her Rose Immortelle candles actually by the caseShe also does “smaller” things, too, like a recent headpiece for Dolce and Gabbana for the Met Gala, and she is a master designer at The Flower School in Chelsea.

Her studio is like the Garden of Eden, filled with Red Charm Peonies, Ronunculas, Jasmine, and Gardenias to name but a few. And while Perez is making things pretty, to be sure, her priorities lie elsewhere, too: She guards some of New York Cities biggest secrets, makes her family her number-one focus, and never, ever forgets her roots. Pun intended.

Periel Aschenbrand: What’s going on here with all these flowers is so insane, I don’t know how you get any work done.

Meredith Waga Perez: It’s fun. I come to work everyday and I play. For 20 years…

PA: Can you tell me a little about—

MWP: —how all this craziness started?

PA: Yes, exactly.

MWP: This love affair with flowers started in Montclair, New Jersey, when I was growing up right next door to the most beautiful iris garden. I can’t say that I fell in love with the flowers but I will say this: I spent a lot of time in that park, doing very naughty things.

PA: Love. It.

MWP: So I had an incredible connection with this garden and it’s where I experienced a lot of my—

PA: —Blossoming?

Can you spot the variegated Beautensia Dali Hydrangea? (Facebook)
Can you spot the variegated Beautensia Dali Hydrangea? (Facebook)

MWP: Perfect. A lot of my blossoming.

And then, two things happened. First, when I was 15, my mother volunteered my summer to work in the iris garden because I was a real girly-girl and my mother didn’t want me to become—and I hate this expression—a Jewish American Princess. She said I had to get in touch with the earth a bit more. And the second thing was that she shipped me off to Israel, and I lived in Ramat Eliyahu with the poorest family in the world, but the most beautiful family. So that shook me up. And got me in touch with my roots.

So there were two roots here, the first was living with this family in a slum, in this remote part of nowhere land. I lived with a family of seven in a really, really tiny two bedroom and I grew up there, in that summer. My mom was very smart. She knew those were the two things I needed to get in touch with. One was, not necessarily with religion, because I’m not religious, but I’m very culturally in touch with religion. So that was the first experience of coming down to earth and getting in touch with my roots and not becoming this certain type of person that I was starting to lean toward. And then she volunteered my services at this iris garden next door. And I spent the summer there, weeding. And both of those experiences got into my DNA—Israel and flowers.

And then I got into fashion and went to Parsons in both New York and Paris and I worked with Calvin Klein and Oscar de la Renta and what I walked with was that I didn’t want to work in fashion. It was just too cut-throat… I’m really soft spoken and girly-girl but at the same time, I’m also driven and passionate and fierce. And I know to really get to work and drive it home. I roll up my sleeves and I hustle and I network and I’m constantly rethinking how to position myself in business to make sure we’re bolder.

PA: You’re Jewish, in short.

MWP: Yeah, I am. And it’s worked.

PA: Obviously. What’s your style?

MWP: Quietly refined. We’re all about the pretty. Everything we do is just… beautiful. Flowers are a mood changer. It’s an emotional purchase and it’s an emotional gift and I feel like I hit the jackpot tapping into people’s emotions. I am a mushy person. I’m all about long hugs and long conversations. I’m a girl’s girl, I respond to all that emotional connection. And there is no better job for me. All day long the phone rings, and we’re hearing people unload their emotions. We’re hearing people express this need to express themselves. We are healing people who are in the hospital. We are soothing people who are breaking up from romances. We’re courting and we’re wooing and we’re getting involved in some risqué stuff, we’re finding out who’s gay before they’ve come out, we are involved in divorces, in budding romances…

PA: I have goosebumps all over.

MWP: Someone’s dog gives birth and we’re asked to send flowers to congratulate them with a note that says, “Mazel Tov on the birth of your puppies!”

PA: Oh. Em. Gee.

MWP: New Yorkers are eccentric and they send flowers for the most bizarre reasons. We were even on Law and Order once! We were mentioned in the case of a stalker!

PA: No way.

MWP: I know someone who is having an affair because the guy is sending flowers to her and I know she and her husband are still together.

PA: You know everything.

MWP: I know everything. But I am buttoned up. I feel like I’ve signed a waiver—an NDA with the world. And I would never give it away. Ninety percent of it is so yummy and we make people feel good with the most beautiful blooms that are brought in from all over the world. So there’s the emotional part, which is ideal for me…

PA: And it’s also very sexy.

MWP: It is. It’s so, so good. I get this high when I get to work and not just because the scents are intoxicating. The fragrance is heady and uplifting.

PA: And you’re just in New York?

A petite bouquet of ranunculus, lilac, freesia, and muscari by Belle Fleur. (Facebook)
A petite bouquet of ranunculus, lilac, freesia, and muscari by Belle Fleur. (Facebook)

MWP: The floral part of the business is local. We don’t ship—if Martha Stewart can’t do it, then I certainly can’t, so we don’t deliver past the New York area. And all our brides are here, getting married at the Plaza and the Four Seasons and Cipriani’s. And a few years ago we expanded to candles, which we wholesale to stores all over the world. So we went from this little mom and daughter local business to this global business.

PA: From a Jewish perspective, it’s unbelievable that your mom is your business partner.

MWP: We work with knives and we’re still alive! My mother is just the best. She keeps me grounded. She’s a constant reminder of how to be a strong woman but how to be a soft woman at the same time. And I work with my husband as well. It’s really all in the family. I’m very family oriented. And I’m a mom first and my girls are here all the time. No matter what, I make sure I have some weekends off. It’s really all in the family. With my staff too. They’re lifers. My first employee is still here.

PA: Maliq?

MWP: He’s been with me since day one. His two sons now work with me as well. They are devout Muslims. Devout. There is something so nice about these three very strong African, Muslim men working with two Jewish women: there is such harmony in this place. The flowers pull us all together.

PA: That’s really beautiful.

MWP: And we talk about it. We share food here. We respect Ramadan. We make sure that nobody eats in front of the guys when it’s Ramadan.

Maliq is like my lucky charm. When the flowers aren’t blooming, I’m like, “Maliq, pray!” He has prayers for flowers to open, prayers for the skies to be blue for our brides who are getting married outside, he has prayers for all the different parts of our business and they are all written in his Quran. And the best part of about it is this story: It was our third or fourth year in business when we started to really do weddings and we were selling a lot of big chunky pillar candles. These were very popular 10, 15 years ago, clustered on the tables, on mantles, in fireplaces, in Churches, everywhere. And after Maliq would take the candles. They were used, I could never resell them anyway, so he would take them. And he would put them in the closet, in milk crates, piled so high, and then he would take them home. Months after month after month for a whole year straight, he must have well 800 of these pillar candles. And finally I said to him, “Maliq, what are you doing with all these candles? Who are you courting or wooing?” And he said, “The town where I’m from, in Gambia, doesn’t have electricity. So I’m sending them on a container back to Africa so that we can light our village.” And all of a sudden it dawned on me that there are many more things that I’m not thinking about.

PA: That is so incredibly beautiful. And crazy.

MWP: It’s crazy. So it’s 20 years later and Maliq still takes all the candles.

PA: So there is a village in Gambia that is being lit?

MWP: There is a village in Gambia and a mosque that prays for Belle Fleur’s success based upon the fact that we provide light. And for someone who is studying Kabbalah, providing light is everything.

PA: I’m speechless.

MWP: Could you kvell or what?

PA: Wow… And on that note, What’s your favorite drink?

MWP: Champagne. I love anything that sparkles.

PA: Of course you do. How do you eat your eggs?

MWP: Rubbery.

PA: How do you drink your coffee?

MWP: Never tried it.

PA: That’s insane. What’s your favorite Jewish Holiday?

MWP: I would definitely say Passover.

PA: Did you have a bat mitzvah?

MWP: I didn’t.

PA: What shampoo do you use?

MWP: Phyto Phytorhum.

PA: Gefilte fish or lox?

MWP: Uch. Neither. Offensive. The smell, the look…

PA: Both?

MWP: Both!

PA: What do you during Passover?

MWP: Everybody knows I get a salad instead.

PA: Fair. Five things in your bag right now?

MWP: Lipsticks in every color because I start working at like 5 a.m. and have to go to from morning to day to night and if I’m setting up a party I like to match my lipsticks to my flowers. So that. And Boiron for homeopathic remedies, my key chain, and my lucky charm which has been with me since the sixth grade, which is a snare drum key.

PA: I won’t even ask. Favorite pair of shoes?

MWP: Kitten heels.

PA: What’s your favorite flower?

MWP: Peonies. They can make me cry.

Periel Aschenbrand, a comedian at heart, is the author of On My Kneesand The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own.