Mother’s Day is around the corner and we know what that means: It’s flower time.
But if you’re looking for carnations or mums, don’t call Mark Masone, a Southampton-based florist, event stylist and owner of Designs by Mark Masone.
“I’m not your run of the mill florist,” says Masone, who has been creating floral arrangements for single delivery and styling for special occasions for more than 30 years. His celebrity clientele includes Jennifer Lopez, Tory Burch, Debra Messing, Jane Fonda, Jill Zarin and Teresa Giudice.
“I don’t use carnations or daisies unless someone asks for it—I don’t even buy them,” he says “Carnation is known as a cheap flower, seen at funerals, like mums. What’s funny is, they last forever as opposed to other flowers.”
Roses. Hydrangeas. Sunflowers. Peonies. Ranunculus. Hyacinths. These are the flowers Masone says are most in demand.
“It’s always been about flowers, for me,” says Masone. “I guess that’s my passion and my talent. I can make arrangements very quickly for people, and I love to bring a little bit of life from the outdoors. I love the colors.”
Masone prides himself on being hands-on and says he “oversees everything,” catering to clients from Westhampton to Montauk as well as in New York City, the West Coast and London.
“I think what my clients love is that I am the one who answers your phone, I’m the one making your arrangement and possibly the one delivering your arrangement,” he says. His phone is on 24/7.
“My father, who ran a construction business for 60 years, taught me it’s never too late or too early to answer the phone,” he says. “I built relationships from the last 12 months just from COVID because customers like that feeling of connecting and dealing with me directly.”
He started in the flower business at the age 14—an afterschool job sweeping floors at a local flower shop in Oceanside, near Island Park, where he grew up, he says. By age 16, he “was managing and running the shop while the owners were on vacation.” At 18, he opened his first store in Oceanside, and for the next 25 years ran and developed his business there. Then Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012.
“I had been coming out to the Hamptons because my family had a house here, and I had been commuting back and forth, bringing business out here,” he says. “After Hurricane Sandy, I decided to stay out east full time.”
Masone moved to Southampton with his then-wife and two children. It was a decision that would impact not only his business, but his personal life.
“I knew I was gay as a young child but for 20 years I had to suppress it,” he says. “I came from a very strict, powerful, Italian family, and it wasn’t accepted. It was something I had to suppress for so long because of my family.”
Eight years ago, after 13 years of marriage, Masone came out to his then wife. He was 38.
“It was bad, then it was good, then bad, then it just went to good,” he recalls. “I made sure at a certain point to tell my kids. At the time my daughter was 8, my son was 4. I wanted them to hear it from me, not from someone in town.”
Today Masone, 45, lives in the same house with his ex-wife, and their kids, now 15 and 8. His ex-wife has a boyfriend and Masone has dated men. At one point he had a three-year relationship, and his kids knew him.
“I’m a family unit,” he says. “I like that everyone gets along. My kids obviously are most important.”
But coming out was not always a bed of roses.
“That’s when all the sickness happened,” says Masone. “I went through such a major life change. I developed myocarditis of the heart, and ulcerative colitis.”
The experience has definitely changed him.
“I don’t think anyone should ever live their life as a lie,” says Masone. “Number one, it’s not healthy. Number two, you have a right to be who you are and what you are. Not only did my own family not accept me being gay, but my friends and the whole community where I grew up… At least out here I’m in a community that accepts it.”
In terms of acceptance, Masone has had to face some hard realities.
“I don’t have a close relationship with my family now,” he says “It is what it is…but I wouldn’t have met the people I met if I hadn’t come out here. I wouldn’t have come out…it’s just sad that there are so many people out there going through what I went through. Unfortunately, some straight people don’t understand it, because they are not in it, and they think it’s a choice. And that’s something that bothers me—because it’s not a choice.”
These days Masone chooses to be happy.
“I have my own family and I wouldn’t change anything right now for the world,” he says. “I love who I am, my friends love me for who I am. I don’t need the negativity. I’m here for who knows how long, and I want to enjoy it. I want to be around happy people.”
Since coming out, Masone has supported local LGBTQ causes, in addition to many other charities, including the American Heart Association, the South Fork Natural History Museum and the Edie Windsor Center.
“I love living out here,” he says. “I love the people, the connection, the openness, the nature, the trees, the beach. It’s that small-town community and I can relate to that.”
If there is one thing Masone has learned, it is to live with uncertainty and change.
“When I moved here, I had to start over and reinvent myself,” says Masone. After five years of running a store on Jagger Lane in Southampton, he decided he “didn’t want to do retail anymore” and switched to a studio.
“I found a new balance,” he says. “I can cater more to my customers, and I don’t have to deal with walk-ins, so it’s basically phone and internet now.”
And like every business owner, Masone has had to pivot during COVID and adapt.
“It’s more crowded, no doubt, but it not terrible,” he says. “For me, my business actually increased because of COVID because so many more people are out here.”
Masone says he’s riding out the pandemic by doing “a lot of private dinner parties, delivering a lot of weekly flowers, some for celebrities, and creating “beautiful entrance pieces that change weekly.” His online store, where he offers flowers, gourmet chocolates and his favorite flower, orchids, has “become a big part of his business.”
As with so many events and COVID this summer, it is still a wait-and-see. On Mother’s Day this year, he has a wedding at the Bridgehampton Bath and Tennis, for 110 people.
“I’ve never had to do an event the way I’m about to do it in May,” says Masone. “Table number one can’t dance with people from table number two… There are so many rules, and they have to be followed.”
But despite the challenges, Masone remains hopeful.
“I love when things come to life at an event,” he says. “It’s so gratifying, when the candles are lit, to see everyone walk in and say oooh and ahh. It’s just amazing, as is the relationship that grows with the client.”
And the flowers? “The flowers speak for themselves,” says Masone, smiling. “They bring joy and happiness.”