The Macy’s Flower Show is not where you expect to find a political statement. Yet amid the America the Beautiful-themed displays of Lady Liberty’s blooming torch, the garden of desert-hardy plants from the Southwest and the tulips beloved in the Northeast, there was Jes Gordon’s bouquet: gold-plated guns, red Solo cups, Budweiser bottles and a barcode styled after the American flag.
“We’re always the ones who come in to do something a little crazy, a little more controversial,” Gordon says. “They didn’t even ask me for [my design]. Everything’s so pretty and so obvious during the Flower Show that I’m almost a necessity to them to shake it up just a little bit.”
This is the fourth year that Gordon, who works as a high-end event designer, has created a bouquet for Macy’s annual show, and it’s not the first time she’s gotten political. Her 2012 Brazil-themed window display featured a soccer player with Beats-style headphones, sunglasses and blingy necklace against a background of the sprawling slums that surround Rio de Janeiro. “That was a mixed message as well, that Brazil wasn’t just, like, Carnivale,” she explains.
For this year’s bouquet, which closed the show last weekend on April 2-3, Gordon wanted to capture the current tense political moment in American history. She gathered a collection of symbols that provoke debate over what our values are, and the tensions that arise from celebrating any one part of the massively diverse palette that makes up American life.
“I did put guns, I did put cigarettes, things that are American-made and celebrated in this country that also have very bad consequences,” she explains. “The bouquet wants to celebrate the not-so-beautiful parts of America along with the undercurrent that this is a great country, no matter what — even though [Donald] Trump is around — it’s still a great country, but it’s the people in the country that make it bad and make it good. And to me that’s just reality — it’s more like, ‘America the Reality.’”
Gordon is particularly worried about the anti-immigrant sentiment being stoked by the Republican frontrunner. But at the last minute, she decided against making the bouquet overtly political by throwing out the Democratic and Republican party flags she had originally intended to include.
One vestige of that idea did remain: “To me, the playing cards are a little bit of a statement about what’s going on politically right now — there’s some aces, and there’s a lot of jokers,” she says.
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The cards also symbolize how many Americans live on the edge and take risks like taking on massive debt to survive. “We leave a lot of things to chance in America, and I think we gamble a lot,” she says. “I just think cards are an interesting analogy for how we live our lives, especially New Yorkers, when you think about it, it’s kind of a lottery in a way, we’re always gambling.”
Whether visitors understood the message, Gordon says many stopped for long minutes to linger over her bouquet. She staked out the display and talked to various people, from a 95-year-old tourist to teenage boys who took videos of it.
“[Young people] are so much smarter than I was growing up, the way they were Instagramming and talking about it, and they would pick out elements that really made sense to them,” she says. “And they actually felt the need to touch it — which is obviously not ideal — but to me, design, if it causes somebody to be interactive with it, it’s doing its purpose.”
After all that cultural debate kindling at the foot of the bouquet, Gordon chose to top it with a denim-clad hand making a peace sign — with flowers bursting out of the fingers — to end it on a hopeful note.
“I do want it to be a happy note mainly, attractive enough that it’s not repelling, but thought-provoking enough,” she says. “At the end of the day, we are going to find some sort of peace if somebody horrible is our president. I actually do believe in American people — for the most part — to make the best of it.”