Preston Bailey’s story is a testament to the American Dream. From his relatively modest upbringing in Panama to his current role as an award winning floral couturier, event planner, author, designer and personality. Because of his desire to create original events, Preston has attracted A-list clientele such as: Jennifer Hudson, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey, Joan Rivers, Donna Karan, Liza Minnelli, Laurence Fishburne, Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, Michael Douglas & Catherine Zeta-Jones, Regis Philbin, Uma Thurman, and Royal Families across the globe.
Like Preston I have worn many hats during my career, but unlike Preston they were put away in a box marked ‘Do not open’ in a cupboard. Preston still has his many hats to hand and can proudly wear them to show off his expertise in each of the fields he chooses to venture into. He is currently working on his sixth book and Luxurious Magazine took the opportunity to ask ‘Mr Wonderful’ a little bit about his background and his latest book ‘Preston Bailey – Flowers’.
Interview by Paul Godbold
Luxurious Magazine: You were born in Chilibre Panama, tell us about your early life prior to coming to the United States and were your creative talents evident at an early age?
Preston Bailey: I grew up in a a very modest home. But, even so, living in Panama, I couldn’t help but be influenced by the lush, verdant landscape of the country’s tropical jungles and floral bounty, but it wasn’t until I came to New York City that I started translating that appreciation for natural beauty into a career.
LM: When you moved to the United States, did you have any idea of what you wanted to do?
PB: My parents sent me here in search of a better life. Eventually, I was in the right place at the right time and became of of the first male African-American models, way back in the 1970s, but it takes a lot of fortitude to actually make it in New York City.
LM: How did you become a floral couturier?
PB: After a brief modeling career, I decided to open a menswear boutique in New York City. Not being an experienced businessman, within three years I ended up shuttering the store. I was desperately in need of a job. Luckily, my good friend and mentor, interior designer Vincete Wolfe made an astute suggestion — that I design weekly floral arrangement for his regular clients’ homes. It all took off from there.
LM: While creating your floral masterpieces, did you ever imagine becoming the world-renowned event planner you are now?
PB: When I’m working on event design and floral creations, I keep a laser focus on the job in front of me, making sure to let imagination loose and my skill sets sharpened. It’s always about the job in front of me. All the rest is gravy.
LM: You are known for creating stunning events for many well known people. How long was it into your event planning career that you was asked to organise one of these ‘Mega’ events and do you remember how you felt before and after?
PB: The big turning point in my career came when the brilliant Joan Rivers asked me to design her daughter’s wedding. Joan gave me an incredible kickstart and guidance for my work in the future, saying this: “Preston, I want my guests to feel as if the curtain just went up on a very dramatic opera setting.”Since then, Joan has been an incredible friend and mentor over the years. In fact, I dedicated my new book “Flowers” to Joan as a small token of my undying love and appreciation.
LM: Of all the events you have organised, both large and small, which one(s) stand out in your memory and why?
PB: I’m always focusing on the job in front of me. I can’t help it. I’m always looking ahead! But if I must look back, I can’t help but think about some of the magnificent weddings I’ve been fortunate enough to design. One recent event that stands out, is the wedding of the beautiful Ivanka Trump.
LM: When a client comes to you and says ‘Preston, I want you to organise this event and I know exactly what I want’. Does the client get exactly what they want even if you feel your vision of the event is better?
PB: It’s all about making my client’s dreams come true — no matter how fantastical. In fact, the more that a client can share about their deepest desires for an event, the more excited I become to make it reality.
PB: It’s actually my fifth book, and I relished the chance to share my passion for flowers in this new title, aptly named “Flowers.” Flowers are a hallmark element in my event design work. They are the perfect “clay” for use in my floral sculptures. They are at the heart of my floral dramatic statements Mother Nature gave us an incredible gift when it comes to flowers, from the humble carnation to the exotic orchid. I love them all! I love to inspire readers not only to use flowers in arrangements, but in other creative and surprising ways.
LM: How long did the Preston Bailey ‘Flowers’ book take to put together and do you have any plans for more books in the future?
PB: It took a great deal of time — years in fact — when you include the work to create the events that are showcased on the pages of the book. I’m presently working on my next book. It’s called “Doing Business with Our Hearts.” In this book, I am hoping to offer insights to readers on how someone like myself — without a high school diploma — could get this far, and ultimately assure them that if I can do it, so can they!