When the artist and floral designer Lutfi Janania was a teenager, his parents built a house in a biosphere reserve in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. His father, Omar, a surgeon, oversaw the house’s construction, but he let Janania choose the color of its facade. Janania went with cherry red. “I can’t believe my parents trusted a young gay kid with that decision,” he says from his studio in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood on a recent afternoon in July.
It’s an anecdote told in passing, but it captures the dramatic flair and love of home that fuel Rosalila, the design studio he founded in 2020. In addition to creating lush flower arrangements for the fashion brand Mara Hoffman, the department store Bergdorf Goodman and the jewelry line Buccellati, he also makes sculptural works into which he frequently incorporates less traditional natural materials — dehydrated botanicals and precious stones, for example. Some of these pieces are purely ornamental, such as “The Centipede Study” (2020), a wall hanging that reimagines the titular arthropod using curly sabal palm (whose proliferous, sharp-tipped leaves conjure legs), fuzzy heliconia, preserved grasses and seashells mounted on linen. Others are also functional, such as a series of large mirrors, framed by woven palm fibres manipulated into a variety of pleats and ruffles, that he began making a year ago. The effect is what one might describe as Caribbean baroque. “We want to exist in people’s homes in a beautiful way where it’s romantic and elegant, nostalgic and traditional,” he says.
Whatever the project at hand, Janania draws inspiration from personal experience. This past spring, he was selected to participate in “Flower Craft,” an exhibition at New York’s Museum of Art and Design, where for the first time he showcased several earthenware vessels he designed and had fabricated in his home country. Many of them bore the silhouetted image of the sabal palm — Rosalila’s signature motif — which was cast in relief using smoke-burning techniques employed by the Lenca, Honduras’s largest Indigenous community, with ties to the Mayans of pre-Columbian South America. To accompany the ceramics, Janania built a wall of greenery that included coconut palm leaves, plumosa ferns and ruscus plants and conjured the mountainous forest he encountered daily as a child. Taken as a whole, the installation blended Janania’s own past with a larger history to which he has long felt connected. “I remember visiting the ruins as a child and being in that almost forceful, energetic space,” he says. For him, the pyramids represented a “fantastical world that is not of our own — but somehow is at the same time.”
But while his creations can be whimsical, his path to success has been defined by hard work. At 23, he moved from Honduras to New York and took a job under the men’s wear designer Carlos Campos. Later, after a stint as a freelance stylist, he began working for Rebecca Shepherd, the Brooklyn-based florist he credits with teaching him the trade. He went solo in 2019, seeking out projects primarily for their creative potential. (“Either we’re partnering with somebody that we believe in and want to support, or we want to create work that we haven’t done before,” says Janania of Rosalila’s guiding principles.)
His career took a leap forward when he was commissioned to design the flowers for an event hosted by the artist Mickalene Thomas, whom he now counts as a friend. “That was an iconic moment for me,” he says. Another such milestone occurred in 2021, when he won the second season of HBO’s “Full Bloom,” a competition series for avant-garde florists in the mold of “The Great British Bake Off.” “It was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life,” says Janania, but it pushed him to discover his voice, which he is careful to distinguish from his vision — that, he says, has always been there. In that respect, “Full Bloom” was a culmination of all the risks he’d begun taking years earlier. “I was coming from a conservative place where I couldn’t be queer,” he says. “And then, as an adult in New York City, I kind of found myself.”
In conversation, Janania frequently mentions community, something he’s constantly looking for — and looking to preserve. He cherishes his current neighborhood in part for its Black and brown residents. (“I can go days here speaking Spanish,” he says.) He remains close to his family in Honduras, even employing his sister, Yazmin, remotely as part of Rosalila’s management team. The sisal he used for the “Flower Craft” project came from his mother, also named Yazmin, who gathered it from the countryside of San Pedro Sula. He hopes to one day open another studio in Honduras, so that he can use botanicals grown on his family’s land for more of his designs.
As he continues to expand his practice, however, Janania remains focused on the beauty of details, and he’s eager to share his wisdom with others. If someone wants to spruce up their place for a dinner party but can’t afford one of his arrangements, not to worry. “You can create fun, beautiful things with flowers from the bodega,” he says, recommending carnations. “They’re looked down upon, but they’re such a strong flower. They stick around for, like, a whole three weeks.” He also suggests the classic bud vase, which can create the illusion of abundance on a smaller scale. When filling it, one might try to channel Janania’s spirit rather than mimic his designs. “I’m interested in seeing the similarities in things, between what’s human and what’s animal and what’s botanical,” he says. “I like to connect the dots and create something that people can feel.”