Niche Market | Silk Flowers

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.
A man considers a flower at Pany Silk Flowers.
A man considers a flower at Pany Silk Flowers. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
Mimi Rasamee holds a flower she says the Avatar animators  took inspiration from.
Mimi Rasamee holds a flower she says the Avatar animators took inspiration from. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
A "silk" hyacinth.
A "silk" hyacinth. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
The simplicity of form in calla lilies actually makes them the most difficult flower to recreate artificially.
The simplicity of form in calla lilies actually makes them the most difficult flower to recreate artificially. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
"You know designers!" said Richard Salome, as he looked for an echeveria succulent.
"You know designers!" said Richard Salome, as he looked for an echeveria succulent. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
Peonies are the most popular choice for Mother's Day, said Rasamee.
Peonies are the most popular choice for Mother's Day, said Rasamee. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
Mimi Rasamee says the artificial flower industry spent 20 years trying to make a perfect, convincing calla lilly.
Mimi Rasamee says the artificial flower industry spent 20 years trying to make a perfect, convincing calla lilly. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
Pany Silk Flowers owner Mimi Rasamee and a client, Ruth Mellk, discuss a bouquet.
Pany Silk Flowers owner Mimi Rasamee and a client, Ruth Mellk, discuss a bouquet. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
Pank Silk Flowers sells artificial fruit to adorn flower displays.
Pank Silk Flowers sells artificial fruit to adorn flower displays. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
A client brought in a swatch of wallpaper that she would liked to see complimented by a bouquet of flowers.
A client brought in a swatch of wallpaper that she would liked to see complimented by a bouquet of flowers. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
Mimi Rasamee, owner of Pany Silk Flowers.
Mimi Rasamee, owner of Pany Silk Flowers. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
A large display at Pank Silk Flowers.
A large display at Pank Silk Flowers. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
Mimi Rasamee, owner of Pany Silk Flowers in her orchid room.
Mimi Rasamee, owner of Pany Silk Flowers in her orchid room. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
Richard Salome, a fellow florist, says Pany has the best quality silk flowers, but it's also the most expensive in the flower district.
Richard Salome, a fellow florist, says Pany has the best quality silk flowers, but it's also the most expensive in the flower district. ( Sarah Kate Kramer )
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