Martha Stewart's latest trial: Shriveling support of florists

There's thorny side to flowery praise for domestic diva

Parting Shot

January 25, 2004|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,Sun Staff

Before Martha Stewart told the world she'd just like to focus on her salad, before most of us had even heard of ImClone, some of the nation's florists had made up their minds.

Martha Stewart -- good for flowers, bad for florists.

The do-it-yourself domestic diva encouraged millions of fans to buy their gardenias wholesale -- or, conveniently, from her Web site -- and then arrange the bouquets themselves.

So when the Baltimore-based American Institute of Floral Designers honored Stewart with its Non-Industry Award of Merit in 2002, a handful of florists complained. Now, as her trial on obstruction of justice and securities fraud charges gets under way, a few have called to say that the group should reclaim the award.

"That's not going to happen," said institute executive director Thomas Shaner. Stewart deserved that award, Shaner said, for her tireless promotion of fresh flowers.

California florist Allen Beck, who served on the six-member award committee, says Stewart has done for flowers what Coco Chanel did for fashion. No trial can take that away.

"She's given the floral industry a shot in the arm that it desperately needed. It's something the floral industry really hasn't been able to do for itself," he said.

Beck hasn't heard anyone say the institute should take back the award; if anything, the florists he knows are sympathetic.

"I think she's kind of turning into a bit of martyr. It's hard not to like someone who has done so much for our industry and our homes."

Besides, no one ever asked Aaron Spelling to give back his 1985 award for promoting flowers -- along with domestic unrest -- on television's prime-time soap, Dynasty. Neither Spelling nor Stewart came in person to accept their awards -- nor, for that matter, did past winners Nancy Reagan or Lady Bird Johnson.

At the Black-Eyed Susan floral shop in Crofton, Julie Black and her colleagues are mixed on Martha. Black notes that Stewart now sells flowers on her Web site, undercutting local florists. But on the other hand, Martha Stewart Weddings has become a bible for brides, with page after page of colorful centerpieces of fresh flowers.

Black works about 140 weddings a year, and rare is the bride who doesn't come in with a page from the magazine. And hardly anyone asks for silk flowers anymore.

"She gave them an idea of standards," Black said, adding she's not sure what to think of the criminal charges.

Her co-worker, Marsha Frankel, is more outspoken.

"Someone was out to get her. She's a woman, she's up here, and guys do not like her," Frankel said as she twisted an arrangement into shape. "They tried to get Oprah the same way, the meat people."

Black also benefits when the do-it-yourselfers come in, raw materials in hand, unable to replicate Stewart's fruit wreath or pansy bouquet. Then Black shows them how the pros do it.

"If you liked what we did for you, you'll remember us and you're going to come back," Black said.

"And that's a good thing."

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