Alex Tresniowski
October 26, 1998 12:00 PM

Design the floral arrangements for an intimate dinner party? Piece of cake, thought Los Angeles florist David Mark. Wait a minute. The guests are Barbra Streisand, Tom Hanks and Marlon Brando? That’s the kind of pressure that can wilt your wisteria. But no sooner had Mark pulled into the Brentwood driveway of actress Kelly Preston—John Travolta’s wife and the party’s hostess—than his nerves quickly calmed. “As I’m taking the arrangements out of the van, Kelly’s looking at them like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s my favorite! No, that’s my favorite!’ ” Mark recalls of the June affair. “I felt like the guy who drives the ice-cream truck.”

The Travoltas aren’t the only celebs crazy for Mark’s confections. Since opening Designs by David, his bustling shop in West Hollywood, the 40-year-old Mark has created lush displays for the likes of Tom Cruise, Goldie Hawn and Steven Spielberg—plus a 4½-foot, flower-and-vine-filled, $1,500 pink birdcage for Pamela Anderson. “You know when you get a bouquet and it’s alive and dripping and just gorgeous? That’s what David is always able to do,” says Preston. “He loves flowers, and it shows.”

It was right after Mark dazzled Preston with his roses, champagne grapes and peonies that he lined up his most prestigious gig. Summoned to Barbra Streisand’s Malibu home, Mark was among the very first to hear of her engagement to James Brolin. For their July 1 wedding, Mark crafted three truckloads full of staircase garlands, lily-and-gardenia centerpieces and 50 water lilies for the pool. “I was very nervous,” says Mark. “I was hoping it was what she wanted.” Indeed, it was: Streisand later sent Mark a note that read, “Thank you for making my wedding a fairy tale.”

Not bad for someone who, by his own admission, “didn’t know what the heck I wanted to do after high school.” Raised in North Hollywood by Stanley Mark, an associate film producer now retired, and Ronnie, a homemaker, Mark skipped college to “get an education in life.” Translation: He bummed around Switzerland and New York City trying to model. Next came a stab at acting and work as a massage therapist. But all along Mark had a secret passion: flowers. When he designed centerpieces for his parents’ 1985 Fourth of July party, “everyone flipped,” says Mark. “They said, ‘You should think about doing this.’ ” His first job was making two arrangements for director Billy Friedkin. “He asked, ‘What do you want for these?’, and I said, ‘$75,’ ” recalls Mark. “He wrote a check for $200 and said, ‘This is what I think they’re worth.’ ”

That’s when Mark decided to switch careers—and, he says, “to educate people about flowers.” Operating out of his tiny studio and later a small shop, Mark supplied weddings and filled orders for such clients as Jack Nicholson and Far-rah Fawcett. As business grew, the busy bachelor once went nearly three years without a date. “The only women I was meeting were brides,” says Mark, who now has a three-bedroom home in Van Nuys, Calif., a store with 11 employees and a girlfriend he regularly showers with bouquets. “It’s very romantic,” says Molly Kramer, 34, a shoe-company sales rep who’s getting a crash course in ivy and hydrangea. “He quizzes me all the time,” she laughs, “and I still can’t remember the names.”

It is precisely his obsessiveness that Mark believes lands him the business of high-profile types like Rupert Murdoch, who paid $25,000 to have Mark beautify his daughter’s 1993 wedding. Now if only his clients would just bone up on their flora. “People always call lilies orchids and orchids lilies,” Mark says with a grin. “It frustrates me.”

Alex Tresniowski

Deanna Kizis in Los Angeles

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