Streams

Niche Market | Silk Flowers

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

WNYC
Mimi Rasamee says the artificial flower industry spent 20 years trying to make a perfect, convincing calla lilly. (Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC)

New York is a city of specialists from foodies to academics, laborers to shopkeepers. Every Wednesday, Niche Market will take a peek inside a different specialty store and showcase the city's purists who have made an art out of selling one commodity. Slideshow below.

Pany Silk Flowers
146 W. 28th St.,
New York, NY, 10001

There's one shop in Manhattan's flower district where everything is in permanent bloom. Twenty four years ago on Mother's Day, Mimi Rasamee opened Pany Silk Flowers (named after her mother), selling handmade flowers. In spring, the store is stocked with 3,000 spring varieties. In the fall, there are autumnal sprigs. During the holiday season, holly berries and poinsettias.

Interior designers, movie set prop masters and window dressers for New York's department stores flock to Pany for their niche needs. A formal arrangement of warm-colored flowers to match antique wallpaper, a blooming hyacinth in January, sunflowers in February — all are available year-round.

Rasamee said a film scout once came into the shop and requested something eccentric: "They said, 'I want a futuristic flower, something weird.' I said, 'Ok, how weird?' Then we discussed back and forth. I gathered some samples, and they sent it out to the animation people just to get inspiration. Then they put a little bit here and there together and then when I saw the movie I said, 'That's my flower!'"

The film was "Avatar."

"Silk" is a term carried over from the Victorian age when the flowers were actually created from silk. These days, most are a synthetic cotton/polyester blend. But all the flowers at Pany are still handmade — a painstaking process that involves molding each petal. At first Rasamee imported them from her native Thailand but now has them produced in a factory in China. Prices depend on how complicated flowers are to replicate.

"The most complicated flower ... it's a calla lily," she said of the cup-like flower that sells for $12.50 a stem, a few dollars more than the cost of a real calla lilly stem.

Who are most of your clients?

Retailers or brand-name clothing stores. They're using these flowers for displays. Polo Ralph Lauren — they buy a lot of flowers for their display or they make big arrangements for their shops — Macys, Bloomingdales, Saks — they always come. And then we have a lot of designers that order for their clients and have to make arrangements, and other flower shops.

What kind of flowers are people buying now?

All spring flowers. Right now, cherry blossoms have become very popular. Maybe because designers are using it in home decor. We get a lot of requests for cherry blossoms, apple blossoms, pear blossoms. Some year we have forsythia, the yellow flowers. It was so popular six or seven years ago I never had enough forsythia to sell. But this year definitely cherry blossoms. So it changes. It changes like a fashion. Roses, I probably have 50 or 60 kinds of roses in size and color. Hydrangea sells a lot. Peonies have become popular, and sun flowers are always popular. Orchids have become popular in the last 10 years, and they're perfect, in color, texture and size. It's amazing how they make them look like real orchids.

How much do the flowers cost?

The complicated flowers cost more. The most complicated flower, actually it's very simple flower, it's a calla lily. You know that look like a cup, a white cup? It almost has to be perfect, because if it gets any bruise on it, any seam on it, it doesn't look good. So the calla lily, the big jumbo calla lily we have it costs $12.50 a stem, and we're talking about wholesale. But it's still less than from Europe or the real silk that they had even fifty years ago could cost like $50 or $100.

What's popular for Mother's Day?

Peony. Peony is the most popular flower for Mother's Day. Because it's so elegant, I would say peony is the mother, or the queen of the flowers, because it's so bold, so beautiful, in real life. And also in silk flowers — they make so beautiful. 

Do you think people prefer silk flowers over real flowers?

I'm never thinking that silk flowers will replace real flowers. It will never be the same mentality of buying. For me, silk flowers are home decor items. It's like a piece of furniture. It makes a home beautiful, it never really replaces a real flower because real flowers, it's the smell, it's the beauty of it. These are beautiful, but you don't see people buying these for Valentine's. It doesn't have sentimental feeling to it like real flowers. But for Mothers Day, these are beautiful and expensive, so it's a nice gift for mother.  I've been in this business for 25 years, I never feel like this replaces real flowers, it's totally two different things. 

How much do they cost?
The complicated flowers cost more. The most complicated flower, actually it's very simple flower, it's calla lily.  You know that look like a cup, a white cup, because it almost has to be perfect. Because if it gets any bruise on it, any seam on it, they don't look good. So the calla lily, the big jumbo calla lily we have it costs $12.50 a stem, and we're talking about wholesale. But it's still less than from Europe or the real silk that they had even fifty years ago could cost like $50 or $100.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
A man considers a flower at Pany Silk Flowers.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Mimi Rasamee holds a flower she says the Avatar animators took inspiration from.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
A "silk" hyacinth.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
The simplicity of form in calla lilies actually makes them the most difficult flower to recreate artificially.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
"You know designers!" said Richard Salome, as he looked for an echeveria succulent.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Peonies are the most popular choice for Mother's Day, said Rasamee.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Mimi Rasamee says the artificial flower industry spent 20 years trying to make a perfect, convincing calla lilly.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Pany Silk Flowers owner Mimi Rasamee and a client, Ruth Mellk, discuss a bouquet.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Pank Silk Flowers sells artificial fruit to adorn flower displays.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
A client brought in a swatch of wallpaper that she would liked to see complimented by a bouquet of flowers.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Mimi Rasamee, owner of Pany Silk Flowers.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
A large display at Pank Silk Flowers.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Mimi Rasamee, owner of Pany Silk Flowers in her orchid room.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Richard Salome, a fellow florist, says Pany has the best quality silk flowers, but it's also the most expensive in the flower district.

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Comments [7]

PBS from pagadian

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Sep. 17 2013 11:43 AM
Nick S from Park Slope

Always love hearing about these small businesses - they're a big part of what gives NYC its unique character. I'd suggest checking out McNulty's Tea and Coffee Co at 109 Christopher St. Excellent tea and selection, both pre-packaged and loose leaf by weight, friendly staff, and none of the Brooklyn coffee culture pretentiousness!

May. 09 2012 06:38 PM
mackl from Chelsea

Allen's Alley Video--Chelsea, 9th Avenuebetween 22nd and 23rd. This is a video purchase and rental store for people who love good, old and new, movies, who want truly expert, friendly, low key but spot on suggestions and guidance, great prices, and over time, friends who know your taste and stretch it diplomatically and cogently. It is a small gem, a dying breed, and a treasure for our community

Dec. 08 2011 10:33 AM
Darrell from Queens

I love niche market! Here's my recommendation: Leeds Radio
68 North 7th Street, Brooklyn NY 11211

The only place to locally buy transistors, vacuum tubes, and basically anything for vintage audio enthusiasts. It's perfect for when your guitar amplifier dies, and you have a gig that night, no where else can you run to, to get that obscure Ampeg tube in a pinch.

May. 09 2011 12:35 PM
Joann V from Basking Ridge, NJ

I enjoyed this piece this morning, too. I recommend Kelly Springfield Trucking on McCarter Highway in Newark, NJ. They specialize in Boom Truck deliveries which can deliver the freight and off-load it with the same truck. You can see some of their work at the New York Times building, the Museum of Art and Design, Yankee Stadium and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kelly Springfield Trucking can move many sized items right from the truck up to the roof or into fifth-story windows with the Boom Truck.

May. 04 2011 08:48 PM
Mary Brown

I work in an archive with documents describing the silk flower industry early in the 20th century, when Italian-immigrant firms imported real silk and distributed flower-making supplies to Italian immigrant women, who assembled the flowers at home on a piecework basis, sometimes with their children's help. The finished flowers went back to the jobber to be sold to other manufacturers who used them to decorate ladies' hats, etc. It's interesting to see how the business has developed. Thank you for this story.

May. 04 2011 07:54 PM
Lindsay T from W. 29th, between 7th and 8th, NYC

Enjoyed listening to this feature this morning. You asked for niche suggestions, and here's mine: Manhattan Wardrobe Supply on W. 29th. It's the place to go for any type of wardrobe malfunction imaginable. Stylists and costumers shop there, but it's just the niftiest store for even unfashionable people like me. Plus, real fake blood that the TV and film industry uses!

May. 04 2011 02:56 PM

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