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Chicago floral designer discusses Grammys role
by Matt Simonette

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One decade ago, Chicago-based horticulturalist/landscaper Tu Bloom heeded the advice of a mentor: Never be afraid to ask for something, since the worst that can happen is you'll be told no.

Bloom that year had been commissioned to landscape for the president of the Recording Academy. He stole up his courage, and asked to do the floral arrangements for the red carpet leading into the Grammy Awards.

"I thought, 'Wouldn't that be so cool, to be the one who stylizes and helps beautifies the red carpet?' So I asked him," Bloom recalled.

He was given the go-ahead, and within two days was on a plane to Los Angeles to begin work. The upcoming Feb. 10 ceremony marks Bloom's 10th anniversary in the role.

"I always felt that most red carpets were very stagnate and sterile," he explained. "Aside from the celebrities and A-Listers, I always felt the red carpets were too plain and bland. I wanted to bring some glam and glitz in the form of floral [arrangements] that would complement the prestige."

The event takes months of planning, with Recording Academy officials and personnel beginning their preparations a day after the previous year's ceremony. But the immediate weeks leading up to the celebration are especially intense for Bloom, as he must consult with other planners and determine how his flowers can best be integrated with their stylistic concepts and physical limitations.

"It takes several teams of people," he said. "The team that produces the actual red carpet—that puts the red carpet on the actual street—builds [the area] from scratch. … People come in and select the linens and paints. I work around what they select and choose my flowers."

Bloom had the most fun the year he integrated musical notes and sheet music around columns holding the floral centerpieces.

"At the top was a bouquet of red roses, with white stargazer lilies," he recalled. "It took a lot of time to get the perfect files for the musical sheets, to be printed out in appropriate sizes and on vinyl, so the ink wouldn't run. We also reclaimed tempered glass to fill the bottoms of the vases, to refract light. It was like glowing gems."

He usually has budget of about $50,000-65,000 for the flowers, and another $35,000-$50,000 for labor and other costs. The red carpet venue must be taken apart rapidly once the Grammys ceremony begins so that the street can be reopened; the flowers are usually given away to persons who are helping at the event that night, or to Los Angeles-area non-profits.

"I hate to waste," Bloom said. "… We give away all of it."

Bloom has been a lover of flowers and gardening since he was young and living in the Uptown neighborhood. Once his family moved into a house elsewhere, he built a one-and-a-half-car garage-sized greenhouse, ostensibly for his mother, that ultimately became the the site of his business' launch. Besides Chicago and Los Angeles, Bloom has now spearheaded projects in Miami, Key West, London and Paris.

"I know everything about plants and soil composition," he explained. "When I was growing up, it was my hobby and passion. Now I go to residential, commercial and individual properties, and I help beautify interior plantscapes and and exterior landscapes and gardens. I do full-scale design, maintenance and installation as well. We design for every single season."

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