By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
At age 6, Christopher Burson got his first job at a Birmingham funeral home and was immediately enamored with the flowers.
“The beauty, the smell, the color, and the different sizes,” he said. “I don’t have a favorite flower; I love them all. They all have their purpose. God made them for us to enjoy. They’re just another way of Him showing His creativity and His beauty.”
Now, as the owner of Christopher Lauren, an Irondale, Alabama-based floral company, Burson offers set designs, interior decorating, and event planning—but, most of all, he gets to be around something he loves.
“I have passion for it. It’s a thrill to me,” said Burson, 40, who also hosts classes twice a year for those interested in getting into the floral business.
Unsurprisingly, Valentine’s Day is one of the most profitable holidays for Burson. While people around the world shower one another with gifts such as stuffed animals, chocolates it’s about the flowers which are “pretty much 90% of that day,” said Burson, 40. “Red roses have been a symbolization of Valentine’s Day (February 14) … Flowers have always just been a token of love.”
When decorating for a new home, office space, bar or an event, the décor is not complete until it is brightened with flowers, said Burson, whose company specializes in decorating for photo shoots, parties, businesses, weddings, and funerals. A team of three usually works with him during the week, and he hires 40 to 50 for larger events.
Burson’s love for flowers began when he lived in Irondale with his grandparents, who took him to church every weekend. His grandfather, Carter Gaston Jr., was a Civil Rights leader and minister at Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham’s Collegeville neighborhood; he was baptized by the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a legendary leader in the fight against segregation and racism in Birmingham.
“Every [weekend], I was attending funerals, [at which my grandfather delivered eulogies],” said Burson, adding that his grandmother reached out to someone at Bushelon Funeral Home in Birmingham about allowing her young grandson to work during funeral services.
“At that time, you didn’t have to be a certain age to work a funeral,” he remembered.
Wearing a black suit, a white tie, and white gloves, Burson, 6, worked alongside the funeral director and rode in the passenger side of the hearse. “I helped load flowers and pass out programs,” he said. “Because there were often so many [of the deceased at the funeral home], you couldn’t help but to see flowers. They would be all in the hallway of the building. Every room was full of them.”
Not everybody wanted a 6-year-old riding with them, Burson added, so “whenever I couldn’t go with the funeral director, I would be stuck with his sister making flowers. That’s when I really picked up on flowers. This is my first love.”
That first job stayed with Burson.
“For those that believe in heaven, just imagine what heaven looks like. If we get to see this every day and heaven is supposed to be better, just imagine how beautiful it is,” he said. “My creativity comes from God. He is the fuel of my thoughts when it comes to that because it’s His gift.”
Burson said some can surprisingly miss the importance of flowers at funerals. “When I worked in a flower shop, I was told to use flowers that were about to die for funeral arrangements, bouquets, stands, or wreaths because they needed to last for only one day, but I look at a funeral like it’s an event,” he said.
On the other hand, flowers are seen integral to weddings, which can take months to a year in advance to plan for.
“Then I have to work on the actual wedding day,” he explained. “Prepping flowers, getting them open, removing leaves and thorns is a lot of work, but the reward is so great [because you] see that people are happy about your work and you can pat yourself on the back.”
“[The florist] becomes a milestone,” he added. “[The family] will love you for life. I’ll do a wedding first, and that’ll lead to the baby shower, birthday party, or, unfortunately, a funeral. … Still, it’s all about building relationships.”
There’s something else many don’t realize, Burson said: “People don’t know the cost of flowers and everything that goes into executing an event.”
How much can it cost? “Per 100 people, an event can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $1,000,000,” he said.
Tyler Perry and Other Celebs
Burson’s clients and partners have included celebrities like actor, filmmaker, playwright, and producer Tyler Perry; rapper Ludacris; singer Michelle Williams; singer, producer, and television personality Kandi Burruss; and Slutty Vegan restaurant founder Pinky Cole.
One of his proud accomplishments came in 2021, when he received a phone call from the creative director at Tyler Perry Studios, based in Atlanta, Georgia, asking him to create the promotional set for the sitcom “Sistas.” Burson was responsible for providing florals, trees, and props for the actors to strike different poses around.
“I cried when I got the call and when I pulled up to the studio,” said Burson, who was living in Birmingham and said the call came out of the blue. “I got a chance to talk to the producers and directors, and I even saw Tyler Perry on set. I’m usually not star-struck, but I was that day because I wasn’t expecting to see him.”
Burson learned the business by assisting other florists at photo shoots, and he used those opportunities to network and build contacts. He also reached out to every individual he encountered just to build personal relationships. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” he said. “Your work has to be good, [too], and you have to be consistent.”
Close to Home
Burson got his start close to home.
When his mother got engaged in 1992, there was no need for her to buy flowers for the wedding. Burson’s grandmother took him to an arts-and-crafts store in Birmingham’s Crestwood neighborhood and purchased all the materials he needed to make bouquets for his mother and her bridesmaids.
“I used artificial roses, ivies, and miniature carnations, and it had hanging love knots. … [My mother] was blown away,” said Burson, who was 11 years old at the time. “She knew what my capabilities were, [and] she was very proud.”
One of his mother’s church members attended the wedding and booked him for his first paid wedding.
“I got paid $645,” Burson said. “That was the start of me doing weddings.”
He would go on to meet Faye Cole, an area resident who hosted flower classes in the Woodlawn neighborhood; she taught about flowers and how to use them for decorations. Inspired by Cole, in 1996 Burson launched Burson’s Creations, a floral company that catered to funerals and weddings. After launching his business, he continued to work with Cole.
Burson attended several schools around the city of Birmingham, including Huffman High School, but he relocated with his mother to Los Angeles (LA), California, where she was stationed for the U.S. Army. Wanting to make his own money, Burson looked for jobs in the flower industry.
“Nobody wanted to hire a designer that was 16 years old. Besides, I didn’t like LA, and I wanted to come back to Birmingham,” he said. “My grandmother was 2,000 miles away from me, and my stepdad kicked me out of the house when I was 17 because I was gay.”
Burson eventually returned to the Magic City, where he lived with his grandmother and worked at a flower shop for about six months. He also established a clientele under Burson’s Creations, the company he launched before moving to LA. Over the course of the next five years, Burson built a reliable brand in the floral industry, and in 2002 he changed the name of his company to Christopher Lauren.
“I wanted something that would fit me, and it sounds more sophisticated. In the early 2000s, when you thought about fashion, you would think about the Ralph Lauren [brand], so I kind of mimicked that,” said Burson, adding that the company’s name, Lauren, also pays homage to his brother, Drew, 30, whose middle name is Lauren.
Burson’s works have been featured on television shows, as well as in a broad range of publications, including People, Jet, Essence, Alabama Weddings, Southern Living, and other magazines. He credits social media for a lot of his bookings, which have taken him from coast to coast and to the Virgin Islands.
Despite his busy schedule, Burson finds time to decompress. He is vegan and loves to cook. Among his favorites are “vegetable soups, fried oyster mushrooms, and smoked baked beans,” he said, divulging some of the ingredients in his signature dish: vegan spaghetti with Roma and cherry tomatoes, fresh garlic, basil, ground Impossible meat (a plant-based meat alternative), mushrooms, and oregano oil.
Burson also enjoys nature and walking, as well as sightseeing and traveling. “I love Chicago, [Illinois], because of the food and arts,” he said. He always finds ways to give back to the community, too. After weddings, he takes the flowers that are left to local nursing homes and assisted-living facilities: “Some of the [residents] just don’t have love,” he said. “You’d be surprised at how many people are in those facilities and never get visits after being dropped off.”
Besides, as a lover of flowers, Burson knows they can always be put to use, and he does not ever want his flowers to die. “I want people to enjoy them. I feel like they would scream at me if I threw them away,” he said.
To view Christopher Burson’s gallery or to book him for an event, the Christopher Lauren Flowers website at clflowers.org.