Moments of inspiration come when they’re least expected. The idea for this post sprouted last Friday night while I sat sleepless in bed, interrupted by sounds of Brazilian dance music and mangled voices streaming from a nearby house party in Jardim Goiás (a residential neighborhood in Goiânia).
In the mists of frustration I reached for my iPad and swiftly began wiping my index finger across Instagram photos then tapped over to view my Twitter feed. I realized my networks were too surrounded by festive sounds, sharing details about the Art Basel events they were attending in Miami.
I’ll admit that after scrolling down the illuminated tablet screen my angst ensued by rowdy libations was partially tamed. Distracted by a virtual barrage of celebratory images and social commentary I no longer seemed bother by my neighbors. Then again as I lay in bed, underdressed for anything but a beach bonfire, memories of past revelry started to emerge while visions of exotic cocktails danced in my head.
Just then, sparked by a message from Niche Media founder Jason Binn I decided to create the following list of what makes a great party or special event using personal experiences. It was about 2:30am (BRST) when @JasonBinn tweeted: “It’s an @iamdiddy night. #ciroc!”, the declaration arose memories of the “Diddy party” I attended in Los Angeles with my friend Lauren Bryant (@LadyBlanish) titled ‘Harlem to Hollywood’.
Just before I fell asleep more jovial moments came to mind and the following morning this list bloomed…
· Yes, first impressions are important so naturally I’ll start with the invitation. A couple of summers ago a friend gave me an invitation to a private promotional event in the Hamptons. I was interested from the moment I looked at the virtual invitation as an entire website was created for this specific event. Each guest received a non-transferable invite via email with a code with that was required to RSVP on the event site. After I provided my information and the code was accepted another email was sent to confirm. Sounds complicated but it only added suspense leading up to the event. Unfortunately the invite was so special that our expectations were too high and we left the party somewhat disappointed with the guest list. I’ll use a second experience that was more consistent. I was in Las Vegas for the apparel trade shows with my company and a coworker gave me an invitation to an event at one of the more popular nightclubs, Tao. Not only was the invitation tangible (rare in today’s digital world) but it was 3D and had an element of surprise. If my memory serves me correctly there was a plastic gold chain attached to a key inside a paper box, when the chain was pulled the box opened and reveled a gold key. Complete event details were listed inside the box and the key was used to enter the event. Attendees with a key were given a bracelet, didn’t wait in line, had open-bar all night and access to an exclusive VIP area. Great invitation, awesome party!
· Give attendees something to remember as soon as they arrive. Yes the host typically has the grand entrance (perhaps riding a large white horse into a Manhattan nightclub, true story) but what about the guest? The key to a great event is using every opportunity to leave your guests with a lasting impression. My most memorable arrival was to a celebration for Sean “P. Diddy” Combs at Ron Burkle’s home in California. Guests were instructed to park in an empty garage where they would be chauffeured to the party location (convenient and smart from a security standpoint). After names were checked off the list by a team of ladies in black a shuttle brought us to the location. Once we arrived we walked by an extravagant pool area and into an tent decorated with celebrities. We knew from the minute we stepped into the shuttle that an extraordinary evening was about to unfold.
· Before an event I’m typically rushing and if I’m lucky enough to have my hair styled in advance I’m usually putting makeup on at the last minute while still deciding on accessories. For party-goers like me the greeting is essential and my most memorable ones all happen to involve those “calm welcomes” from cocktail or champagne sips. Moments that stand out here are weddings! I’ve been to a handful of fabulous weddings and they’ve all been so unique but the ones I’ve enjoyed the most used this simple detail. Therefore I’m a huge advocate for the “pre-nup” cocktail hour because it encourages guests to arrive on time and gives the photographers time to capture special moments before the ceremony without guest growing impatient. One of my favorite cocktail hours was outdoors in sunny Pasadena on November 11th 2011 (11.11.11), it was an absolutely perfect way to welcome guest. We mingled and sipped fresh fruit infused cocktails before witnessing the brides’ grand entrance on horseback!
[Published in Greenwich Magazine, August 2012]
· Simple details that just heighten a party’s energy are attention-grabbing accessories. Next time you organize a dinner party at a popular restaurant equip with nightclub style music bring silly glasses and hats - it’ll get the party started before the alcohol kicks in! I’ve noticed on social media networks this trend is popular now in most major cities but I first spotted it almost five years ago in Miami during Winter Music Conference (WMC). I was at a large round table with ten of my close friends enjoying brunch outdoors on a sunny afternoon. The music, food and drinks were just want we all needed following a long night of dancing. Just as we were finishing our food the DJ kicked it up a notch and one of the Koch brothers (creators of the infamous Day&Night party) passed me a white baseball cap that read “my boyfriend is out of town” in neon pink letters. A little while later a handful of people throughout the restaurant all had on hats and other celebratory frills that regardless of how ridiculous were in high demand. This amusing tactic is a great way to engage guests.
· This goes without explanation; if you can afford a top tier celebrity performer - provide one! Remember Kanye West before he offended Taylor Swift in front of millions, replaced his teeth with diamonds and got tangled in Kim Kardashian’s sloppy divorce proceedings? He was as a talented artist with arrogant rap lyrics that provoked the press and it was during that point in his career G-Shock hired him for an event in Manhattan. The show was completely styled to complement the events theme, well coordinated and very entertaining (“shockingly” so). West performed some of his most popular songs, in an intimate setting, alongside topless dancers! A wow-factor that bordered on crass although on occasion risqué tactics achieve great moments. One more, a New York Fashion Week after party. This one dates back, the venue was Marquee nightclub following the Rosa Chá (Brazilian beachwear label) runway show at Bryant Park. The label’s designer Amir Slama hosted a Carnival themed after party complete with samba school parading throughout the space filled with notable Brazilian celebrities and socialites. Both performances cost a bundle and both also received loads of positive press coverage and lasting impressions.
· Ambiance is everything and I love personal touches. Because I attend and produce events its refreshing when a detail exclusive to a moment is produced and acknowledged. Just before I started Hybrid Media I worked for a Manhattan based interior decorator / philanthropist who hosted fundraisers at her Southampton home. One particular detail that impressed me was her use of a video projector during one event. She created a home video then looped it to create a backsplash for a summer kick-off to New Yorker’s for Children fall gala. The footage was simple, waves crashing onto Cooper’s Beach and wind blowing tall grass atop sand dunes which met her perfectly manicured yard. I just remember seeing it on her guest house across a clean wall and thinking how striking it was to watch, a work of art. My suggestion to those embarking on party planning is to fully develop ideas from start to finish. Like an artist, try to capture the audiences’ sense and design a feel to your event accordingly. Another event that brilliantly used this detail, more dramatic due to its scale, was the recent birthday party for NYC based rapper O’Neal McKnight. We not only had a view of the City but his music videos were projected at eye level onto the side of a nearby building. The venue is set up perfectly for this type of situation, and because we were separated by glass and about a half block of Manhattan real estate it gave the event a grand effect.
[WATCH VIDEO OF PARTY HERE]
· What do these three locations have in common? A luxurious penthouse overlooking Las Vegas at night, a 140-foot yacht sailing the waters of Newport Beach in late spring and a lakefront venue nestled in the heart of Connecticut during early fall – an unbelievable view! Luckily I’ve had the pleasure of admiring beauty at all three of these locations during those precise times. The event I attended in Las Vegas was hosted by Phat Fashions a division of Kellwood (the company that licensed Phat Footwear to the company I worked for) during the WSA footwear tradeshow. My coworkers and I were putting in long hours during the day and attending promotional events at night. Although the hours were taking its toll on me I enjoyed the opportunity to see “Sin City” bejeweled by its dazzling lights from the Penthouse where MTV Real World was filmed during one of our networking events. The other two settings were completely natural and picturesque, ideal spots for both weddings I attended. Sunshine reflecting off the water in Newport, California during my friend Sukari’s wedding was awe-inspiring. And the brilliant show of colors produced by autumn foliage in Connecticut was breathtaking as Maren walked down the aisle. Both brides chose excellent locations with great scenic views – the photos are stunning!
[Here with Sukari and Lauren Aboard the Mr. & Mrs. Rodgers Wedding Yacht]
· The element of surprise never gets old especially when it comes to delicious food! One of my favorite caterers Méli-Mélo in Greenwich, CT serves incredible hors d’oeuvres known to simulate the senses. One of my favorite delectable bites are the ricotta stuffed penne on a stick that look more like sweet lollypops but are mouth-wateringly savory. I enjoyed these tricksters for the first time in 2011 at the Hyatt Regency in Greenwich during their annual Great Chef’s event. The ricotta cheese is mixed with a little red beet juice to give it a pink tint, stuffed into a boiled penne then stuck with a wooden kebab stick. They’re presented in different ways but my favorite is when Nadia, the catering manager, arranges the sticks in a glass jar with a decorative touch. Another very recent culinary experience I particularly enjoyed was here in Brazil. It was a relatives wedding reception where waiters passed around a verity of appetizers that looked like mini entrées. The apps were delicious, creative and rightfully satisfied our appetite as soon as we found our seat. The presentation was formal but the manner in which they were served was laidback which I thought was an excellent combination.
[Photo: Bob Luckey / Greenwich Time]
· Gift bags (sometimes called swag) are awesome, especially the ones sitting front row at a fashion shows. These seats are prime real estate for product placement because they’re reserved for high profile media and celebrities. Unfortunately before the economy took a hit gifting was serious business, brands spared no expense to get their valued loot into the hands of these front row influencers. But what happened to the swag when a front row seat is left empty? Well, either the person nearby doubled up or the holidays came early for unassuming seat fillers. During my senior co-op at LIM College I worked for 7th on Sixth at IMG Fashion (a division of the sports and entertainment giant IMG World) but a few years earlier I regularly attended the Spring/Summer shows in September at Bryant Park. Fortuitously, my first “tents” experience at the park fell on my 18th birthday and like a fashion enthusiasts coming of age, it was a new world awaking. I was invited as a +1 when a friend’s brother photographing the Marithé + François Girbaud gave his little sister two tickers. Fashionably late, we arrived just as the show was about to start and they used us to fill front row seats that were in the cameras line of fire. The gift bags had after party invitations that we put to good use! About four years later IMG acquired NYFW from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and sponsorships were thriving. Between my 18th birthday and when I worked behind the scenes a few years later I received everything from expensive perfumes, shoes, clothing, jewelry, makeup, bags, and alcohol in these incredible gift bags.
[sitting behind fashion reporter, Lauren Ezersky with my camera phone ready]
[Assisting the 7th on Sixth Fashion Week Coordinator 2005]
· Include technology whenever you can, like the website I mentioned earlier here are two more ideas that I loved. During this year’s Social Media Week in New York City I attended a launch for UPlanMe. The event was packed, and I was delighted to see a social media integration that engaged guests. There were UPlanMe mascots buzzing around in bee consumes taking photos with attendees then providing an incentive to those who tweeted the photo and included the events #hashtag and company @handle. All the tweets were broadcast on large monitors at each of the bars. While people waited for their complimentary drink they tweeted, spreading information about the launch to their respective networks. Another fun approach is to create a Facebook fan page or album for your event, do the photo uploading and allow guest to tag themselves. I was visiting friends in Los Angeles during Grammy weekend two years ago and a few of us went to an event produced by Belvedere Vodka that celebrate the collaboration between the Go(RED) initiative and platinum recording artist Usher Raymond. A fully branded step and repeat, covered in logos was positioned in an open area at the venue for guest to pose in front of. The images were professionally shot and uploaded as the event was in full swing. The next morning I woke up to a few pending photo tags from friends who had already found the photos on Facebook. Using social media at promotional events is a smart way to control the brand message and still allow it to go viral.
[BlackBerry photo before the Go(RED) Grammy event]
Bonus: I was impressed when my friend Lauren told me about a clever addition she made to one of her dinner parties. She lives in downtown Los Angeles and loves entertaining, cooking etc. One night as she was heading home to prepare food for her guests she walked by a talented street musician and invited him to perform at her party. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of anyone doing this before, especially when cities are full of extremely talented musicians that we all walk by during our commutes daily! I wasn’t there in person so this stroke of genius is a bonus to my list but a video was sent to my inbox and I can attest Lauren’s spontaneity was a total crowd pleaser. Lesson here is something totally unplanned can sometimes make or break your party. So next time you’re awed by a struggling street performer offer them a gig at your next formal or informal get-together - just use caution if he/she looks a little suspicious.
That’s all for now. Good night… and boas festas!
*Boas festas, or good parties in English, is the Portuguese version of “seasons greetings”. It’s typically used in conjunction with “feliz ano novo” (Happy New Year) but in this situation I’m using it to simply say; happy celebrating!