Since crashing The Vanity Fair Oscars Party, fake Oscar in hand, in 1997, Bronson van Wyck worked his way up to become one of the world’s most highly acclaimed event producers, throwing parties for Gwyneth Paltrow, Kanye West and Andy Warhol. Here he shares his secrets to a memorable celebration.
More details, more layers, more surprises, more delights. It’s easy to see why more truly can be more. No compromises, no sacrifices, no concessions. It’s very fun to plan a party without restraint – and it’s certainly easier. If you can have it all, and you don’t have to make any choices, you can just write the cheque. This isn’t delight through discernment. It’s victory through shock and awe, and it can be wonderful.
However, there’s a fine line between hospitality that envelops guests in joy and warmth, and hospitality designed to proclaim your prosperity. Form is important, but form that supersedes substance is wasted effort. The last thing in the world a good host wants to do is make his guests feel smaller than the party.
Of course, everyone has a different threshold. Each community has different standards for too much, or too little. What is outrageously extravagant to one person might be commonplace to another. We work hard to navigate these different perspectives, guided by the overriding principle that hospitality is about making our guests feel good.
Sometimes the budget is less, but you need or want to do more. You can always outthink budget limitations by innovating. Imagination is free and ideas are a renewable resource.
Combinations of colours react with and intensify each other, energising the whole room. Candy-apple red is sweeter and more delicious when there’s a little bit of turquoise in the tableau. These two colours bring out the best in each other; they practically vibrate when used together.
So do jade and gold, tangerine and mint, and French blue and ochre. Big, bold statement elements are amplified when they have sufficient negative space around or behind them to really set them off. Misdirection costs nothing, and often feels more authentic than aesthetic overkill for the simple reason that it’s more like nature itself.
Not long ago, I was taken to task by a dynamic hostess. My ideas for the entrance to her party weren’t as richly developed as she had envisioned. “Well,” I noted, “we have two dozen pear trees, a twenty-foot-long bar, and Russian imperial guardsmen at the entrance.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” she pronounced. “No energy.”
I reminded her of the opera singer and the winding path through a garden of exotic foliage lit by hanging lanterns leading into the party.
“See? You understand what I mean. It’s completely flat. We need drumming, we need fire, we need ballerinas, and we need concubines!”
I’d been asked for everything, but never for concubines. It’s all about perspective. It’s not pretension if you’re not pretending. Figure out what feels right for you and own it.
This is an edited extract from Born to Party, Forced to Work: 21st Century Hospitality by Bronson van Wyck (Phaidon, $150).