If you look back at the photos, the flowers are exactly the same.
Friston Ho’okano had to make sure Abercrombie’s flowers were just as tall as Hannemann’s, that Hanabusa’s heliconias were just as showy as Djou’s.
“It’s not just throwing flowers together. Florists work so hard,” he said. “I was there with my tape measure.”
Ho’okano, 47, did the floral arrangements for all four televised debates on KGMB this year. You might not have noticed how perfect each arrangement was, but if one candidate had droopy gingers or dying fronds, your eye would be drawn to that instantly. Instead, he helped make the stage look dressed, but not overdressed; and more polished than some areca palms in plastic pots, with a definite Hawaii aesthetic.
“For a piece in front of a podium, I always plan a slender design so the attention points up to the candidate’s face,” he said.
Ho’okano has worked in several Oahu flower shops and counts most florists on the island as his friends. He had his own shop, Waimalu Florist, for four years before moving to Ribbons n Rainbows in Kapolei.
These days, he does special events such as large weddings, conventions and designs for private homes.
When he isn’t hand-twisting a quarter-mile of utility wire into 30 delicate cherry tree centerpieces for a wedding, or composing a design that doesn’t make Hannemann look too tall or Abercrombie look too short, Ho’okano might be onstage singing in a musical or playing clarinet in a pit band. His father, Francis, was a well-known jazz musician who played vibes on many classic Hawaiian recordings and worked in the Waikiki music scene. Ho’okano played in the famous Pearl City band in high school and considered being a music teacher before getting a business degree and studying floral design.
He traces his love of flowers back to Gibson’s, the iconic 1970s store in Mapunapuna. “I looked forward to going there with my cousins for two things. First, the sky slide, but also to learn from my Aunty Ernie.”
Ernestine Aubrey, his mother’s sister, worked in Gibson’s flower shop. She taught her nephew techniques and gave him his earliest lessons in proportion. His mother, Francine, taught him about color and attention to detail.
His gallery of work is dazzling, from huge fountains of flowers that fill a ballroom to fairy-like prom bouquets that look like they came from an enchanted forest. His signature style isn’t one particular look. His mark is that he pays attention to his customer and matches his artistry to what they want.
Right now, Ho’okano is gearing up for Christmas. He decorates his house and the houses of clients who have known him for years. In his childhood, his mom let him be in charge of decorating the Christmas tree. She would take him to the elaborate Christmas displays that used to mesmerize children at the old Liberty House.
As he’s decorating, he thinks of his cousin Mamo, who always got a big kick out of his Christmas displays. “She used to say, ‘Friston, it looks just like Liberty House!’ and for me, that was the highest compliment.” Though she died several years ago, Ho’okano still has his cousin in mind when he decorates his Kunia home. “I go, ‘Mamo, how do you like the tree this year?'”
To see a gallery of Friston Ho’okano’s work, including a video of his Christmas house, go to www.floraldesignsbyfriston.com