It is awfully difficult to describe him in one sentence.
A passionate wedding planner, innately talented florist and wide businessman. The multifaceted, do-it-all man is Kevin Lee, who was in charge of the flower arrangement decorations at glitzy award ceremonies, including the Oscars and Emmys. The Korea Daily met with Lee, the founder of Kevin Lee Weddings (kevinleeweddings.com) whose reality TV show has popularized him even further.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Lee grew up in a wealthy household thanks to his father who was an entrepreneur. Lee always displayed his keen sense of artistic talents. He even majored in playing the clarinet at Dankook University’s music school.
However, life suddenly became difficult for Lee’s family after he began college. Lee’s father passed away when he was just 12. As the financial burden became heavier as years went by, Lee relocated to L.A. with his family. He showed some talent in flower arrangement during high school as he attended classes for it with his older sister during high school. Utilizing that talent, Lee was employed by a florist’s shop in West Hollywood. Although his English was poor, the owner of the shop was impressed by his skills and deci
ded to hire him.
Lee worked at the florist’s shop during the day and at a convenience store at night. He barely got three hours of sleep in a day and still struggled to make ends meet. Soon enough, though, his arrangement skills made him something of a sought-after commodity and customers started flocking in for his services. Lee even entered florist competitions and was covered by the local media.
On weekends, Lee had individual customers who needed his services for various events, including wedding. His weekly income began to surpass $10,000. With the money he has collected, he was able to open his own shop, L.A. Premier, in Beverly Hills.
Lee’s skills allowed him to garner the affluent customers in Beverly Hills, many of whom were Hollywood stars. Within just a year, he expanded the shop from being just 800 square-feet to 3,000.
# Fancy success
Lee’s life may seem fancy on the outside, but behind it is his hard work. His staff has expanded as business took off, but he still gets out of bed at 3 a.m. every morning to make his purchases at the Downtown L.A.’s flower market. He says he feels more at ease when he buys everything on his own rather than delegating the duties to someone else.
“To be able to do business with the upper class, my standards have to be on par with theirs,” Lee said. “That’s why I’ve always tried to keep up on my fashion and interior design senses.”
Lee now boasts a staff of 30 to 40, five of whom are strictly responsible for taking orders. He says the shop now uses over 10,000 flowers a day and the order rises to 1,500 on Valentine’s Day. His indoor decorations have become immensely popular among the upper class in Beverly Hills. Some of his regular customers have asked him to decorate every corner of their homes. The total cost for such a project is around $10,000.
Lee also added that he has been able to befriend the likes of Frank Sinatra, Roger Moore and Michael Jackson through his work. The memory of Lee holding Sinatra’s portrait at his funeral still remains vivid.
What really popularized Lee was his decorations at the 1998 Emmy Awards ceremony. Since then, he was in charge of the Grammys and Oscars between 2005 and 2012. That experience vaulted him into one of the best florists and event planners in the country.
However, Lee’s tireless work ethic finally caught up to him. Lee was diagnosed with a spinal disk in 2010 when his surgeon warned him that he could spend the rest of his life on a wheelchair if he suffers the same symptoms again.
“I always only spent three or four hours on sleep back then,” Lee said. “What good is your success if you lose your health? So I delegated all duties to my staff and took a two-year break.”
# Achieving authentic happiness
After taking the two-year break, Lee made a return as a wedding planner. That does not necessarily mean that he shifted his path entirely. For decades, he has already worked on the weddings for Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt, Drew Barrymore and Christina Aguilera. Moreover, the 1991 film Father of the Bride, a movie that depicted the life of a wedding planner, centered on Lee’s story. Lee also made an appearance on the Bride of Beverly Hills, which aired on TLC in 2010.
Lee said he has overseen weddings that cost up to $10 million in locations including L.A., New York, Miami, as well as places in Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom. To this day, he works on an average of three upscale weddings to keep himself busy.
“There’s nothing especially difficult,” Lee said. “It’s true that many brides are sensitive, but I always give them an objective outlook on how to plan the wedding within the budget. They are always understanding as I serve as their companion and an objective counselor.”
Lee added that the biggest fortune of his life are the people he could have never met if it were not for his career path.
“There were times when I was an arrogant man chasing success when I look back,” Lee said. “But I also learned that money is not everything and that humility is vitally important after meeting with, and befriending, customers who had no envy of anyone whatsoever. So I always try to live my life as happy as I can now.”
Ultimately, the lesson Lee took from his fancy career may just be the importance of appreciating the normal day to day.
By Joo Hyun Yi