In the Mood 2-1-2006

32 ways to add style to your event

Grammy event

Grammy event by Along Came Mary

What is style? It’s a concept that any forward-thinking meeting or event planner strives for, yet one that everyone seems to define differently. Some think it means presenting cutting-edge products to excite even the been-there-done-that crowd. Others view style as an experience that sweeps guests off their feet with service. Still others consider it to be finding new ways to invigorate the sometimes worn patterns of meetings and events. Style is all of those things and none of them. It’s the experience of surprising beauty, the melding of boundless creativity with everyday elements to craft a sensation at once astonishing and profound.
    Understand, then, the difficulty the style-makers featured herein found when trying to define the term. Instead, they touched upon bits of style, glimmers of things that, when executed properly, can provide some small nirvanic elevation for attendees. Here are their suggestions details that can work to create the hush of awe and the murmur of contentment.

Know your audience
“The most important thing is to know your client and your audience. What you find stylish might not be what they find stylish,” says Jono, the one-name mastermind behind Jono Productions (212-675-6839; www.jonoproductions.com),  with offices in New York City and Sydney, Australia. Jono, who has put on events for the likes of fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi and rapper Kanye West, offers a few suggestions that work for almost any event.
    Invite perfection. “The invitation is your first impression,” notes Jono. To lure attendees, pour your creativity into it. One good way of convincing people to come: Hire a calligrapher to handwrite the invitations.
    Send half a gift. Put one part of a present in the invitation, and promise the other half in attendees’ gift bags. One stunning earring works well, or one cuff link. These items are lightweight for mailing, have high perceived value, are not necessarily expensive, and are not handed, meaning no-shows will not ruin a pair.
    Pack the goodie bag. “People actually rate the success of the event based on what they go home with,” says Jono. Try giving
the gift bag a theme to achieve greater impact.
    Hire beautiful waitstaff. It’s perhaps a sad truth, but some people will find events to be considerably more stylish if young, incredibly beautiful men and women are serving food and drinks. Find a company such as New York City’s The Party Crew (212-247-3331; www.tandlevents.com), which casts its waitstaff as one might cast a movie. New York City-based Shiraz (201-255-7001; www.shiraznyc.com) is another outfit that staffs events with model-caliber hotties.
    Spa up the bathrooms. Slip into the venue’s rest rooms, switch the soap with something scented and luxurious, dim the lights and place votives everywhere. A typical bathroom is easily transformed.

Deliver the unexpected
Much of the magic of the Walt Disney brand comes from the element of surprise. Little treats at unexpected times can make as big an impact as extravagance when anticipation is high. Both are necessary for an event that mystifies and delights. Here is what behind-the-scenes staff at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Lake Buena Vista suggest for amazing events.
    Cast the room in blue. If it’s possible, replace all standard lightbulbs with blue tinted ones to create a more seductive mood.
    Serve food on furniture. Disney Resorts smartens up the typical coffee setup by bringing in an armoire and putting the coffee service inside. Use a dish filled with coffee beans to catch the coffee drips and a dish of tea sachets to catch the hot water. Place the napkins and other coffee accouterments inside the drawers.
    Get creative with aromatherapy. The right aroma can be a potent element in a stylish event. Disney Resorts suggests choosing a fragrance that matches the food; for example, for one recent event, the Disney team used citrus aromas in the air and also infused every item on the menu with citrus.

Think details
To Mary Micucci, owner of L.A.-based Along Came Mary Productions (323-931-9082; www.alongcamemary.com), style is in the details. She considers all the elements of an event and ensures that each is extraordinary on its own and even better as part of a unified experience. Here are just a few of her ideas employed at myriad movie premieres and big-name company parties.
    De-light the hall. If lights can’t be dimmed, replace bulbs with those of a lower wattage 25 to 40 watts are optimal. Or, if the venue is intimate and fire-safe turn off all the electrical illumination and light the space with candles.
    Gift early. Try sprucing up the place settings with scented candles, a small potted flower or a two-piece box of chocolates.

PC Nametag badges

Personalized badges from PC/Nametag

Elevate the ordinary
The people at PC/Nametag (608-845-1870; www.pcnametag.com) know attendees’ perceptions of the entire event can be influenced by whether they like the name badge and the tote bag. To that end, here are some ideas from the Verona, Wis.-based firm for turning these bread-and-butter items into something classy.
    Jazz up the badge. Sexier than a lanyard and less destructive than a pin, the magnetic badge will please attendees from the get-go. Be sure to buy a strong magnet for wintertime events, when people will be wearing thicker clothing; they cost about $1.50 each. Other stylish choices from PC/Nametag are acrylic badges ($2 to $3 each) that can be reused between events, and full-color personalized badges (between $2 and $6, depending on quantity).

Grommet Tote from  PC/Nametag

    Totally impressive totes. Stylish tote bags certainly can be pricey, but find a sponsor to foot the bill and attendees will rave. PC/Nametag offers the Grommet Tote (about $10 each) and the Sueda Tote (about $12 each), two bags attendees will be happy to carry off.

Pamper beyond belief
Style is synonymous with luxury at the 292-room Pacific Palms Conference Resort (626-810-4455; www.pacificpalmsresort.com) outside of Los Angeles, where director of sales and marketing Michael Swyney tries his hardest to win guests over with service. Here are a few things the resort has done to spice up the meeting itself.
    Pick them up. In midafternoon, when energy levels are dropping as quickly as heads, the Pacific Palms Conference Resort hands attendees a small plate with a warm lemon-scented towel, along with the kicker, a South American or European mint, such as Holland Perminta Magic Mints, which are like Altoids on steroids. “You see the whole room light up,” Swyney says.
    Sweeten the pot. You know those anonymous hard candies always put on conference tables? Do your attendees a favor and replace them with Jolly Ranchers (favored at Pacific Palms) or another candy your attendees might actually enjoy perhaps Werther’s Original hard caramels.
    Keep it flowing. Pacific Palms hands out glasses of sparkling water in which fruit has been placed underneath the ice for flavoring. “People remember those little tiny things,” notes Swyney.

Live outside the box
To Serena Bass of New York City-based Serena Bass Catering and Events (212-727-2257; www.serenabass.com), stylish events are about whimsical innovation. “It’s just about doing things that people have not seen before that are fun and amusing,” she says. The effusively charming Bass has just one cardinal rule: Reinvent everything, always. “If I ever see any waiters twist cocktail napkins in a spiral, I send them home,” she jokes.
    Focus on one or two colors. For Mercedes’ R Class, Bass themed the event with red and white. The water was tinted red, the flowers were red and white roses, and the votives were alternatingly red and white. The tablecloths? Take a guess.
    Float on. Put a few floating candles in a clear container of water. “It’s terribly, terribly pretty for not too much money,” says Bass.
Agua Luca rum

Água Luca rum

    Invent a cocktail. Make sure it tastes good and looks good: Frost the rim, stick in a clear toothpick with some fruit or other garnish, then name it after the company putting on the party.
    When making a cocktail, gain extra style points and perhaps a sponsorship by using the liquors of the moment. For the moment, they’re 10 Cane and Água Luca rums from Trinidad and Brazil, respectively. “It” vodkas are 42 Below, Vox and Level.
    Use fantastic trays. Bass collects exotic silver trays from around the world for serving hors d’oeuvres. If you can’t hop over to Marrakech, ask your caterer if he has antique trays or perhaps artist’s palettes that could hold food.

MORE BRIGHT IDEAS
photobooth

An old favorite from NYC Photobooth

Style can be very much about using products that are different from anything anyone has seen, to make attendees feel they’re experiencing something truly unique. In that vein, here is an assortment of décor items and gifts that pop.
    " Fun coasters, made of foam or rattan and shaped like tiny flip-flops, hold onto a glass of wine and grab the attention of partygoers. Wholesale, they cost $1.75 apiece and up. (707) 258-6356; www.carrieandco.com
    " If fire regulations prohibit open flames, try Lounge Lights, realistic LED flames in a wax casing. The lights also can glow in a range of colors, and the top half of each works as a real candle. Large numbers of Lounge Lights can be arranged to form logos or other patterns. LED candles retail at around $25, plus an extra dollar apiece for branding. (866) 448-3269; www.loungelightusa.com
    " Flower Lights are Christmas lights with real dried flowers surrounding each bulb. They can be bundled as a glowing centerpiece or strung out to create a festive atmosphere. Cost: $15 to $24 for a 10- to 12-foot string. (866) 850-4956; www.insightimports.com
    " For another twist on the beauty of flowers, Stems New York creates exquisite dried flower arrangements. They’re not cheap, but they can be reused. Prices range from $145 to $320 per bouquet. (212) 686-8883; www.stemsnewyork.com
    " Turn an ungainly audio speaker into a conversation piece by covering it with fabric, with the help of New York City-based Sine Audio. Prices start at $65 per speaker. (212) 924-5727; www.sineaudio.com
    " Yet another way to make a succinct statement is through the use of extraordinary chair covers (along with matching linens, of course). Two companies that offer utterly darling covers made of silk, ribbons and other sundry materials are Resource One (818-343-3451; www.resourceone.info) and Magnolias Linens (212-472-7708; www.magnoliasgroup.com).
    " Far from being passé, vintage-style photo booths have been popping up everywhere, from the premiere festivities for major motion pictures to a recent party for Def Jam Recordings. NYC Photobooth (212-812-2130; www.nycphotobooth.com) charges about $1,700 for an all-inclusive rental. (The photo strips can be branded, too.) In California, try Photoworks Interactive (800-990-8445; www.photoworksinteractive.com).
    " New York City food/ tech whiz Philippe Feret has perfected his video serving trays. Allure’s hors d’oeuvre trays play promotional video clips on embedded screens. (212) 585-0808; www.allurecatering.com
    " Poker is still in. Even more in is the Mile High Roller ($25 with a minimum order of 10), a cute and complete travel poker set created by a company that also sells products that would make most of us blush. Order the kits from Karen Alweil Studio in Los Angeles. (213) 746-5363; www.karenalweilstudio.com
    " Too cool not to mention is the International Spy Museum’s new catalog, which offers one-of-a-kind gifts. Among the hush-hush offerings: a hat with hidden pockets ($30), security cameras ($65) and a steel pen with a USB memory drive built into the eraser end ($125). (877) 779-2897; www.spymuseumstore.org -- J.V.

wine tote art of the gift

Wine tote from Art of the Gift

Give well
Valerie Belsky is a giving woman but then again, as a professional gifter, she has to be. Fortune 500 mainstays from all sectors use her Los Angeles-based company, Art of the Gift (310-552-1500; www.artgiftla.com), to find presents for all kinds of occasions, including corporate meetings and events. Here are some of her suggestions.
    Logo discreetly. “I come up with interesting ways to logo so I don’t destroy the gift,” says Belsky. For a recent executive meeting, she bought classy jackets and imprinted logos on the inside, where the label goes. When giving a silk travel robe, she had the carrying pouch embroidered, not the robe itself. On other robes she put logos on the belt. Younger businesspeople often appreciate messenger bags logoed on the inside, of course.
    Boxes, not baskets. Belsky hates traditional gift baskets. “They’re usually full of junk with a couple of nice things, and afterward, the cheap basket gets thrown out,” she notes. Instead, she uses wooden boxes, crafted to look like vintage steamer trunks, and fills them with high-end toiletries from companies such as Truefitt & Hill, Penhaligon’s, Molton Brown, Jo Malone and, for young men, Billy Jealousy. Belsky likes to pack boxes with “things that businesspeople really like but wouldn’t ordinarily buy for themselves.”
canvas picnic basket Art of the Gift

Canvas-covered picnic basket from  Art of the Gift

    Focus on the packaging. Great gifts should come in even better containers. One example: Belsky provided a picnic dinner for attendees in a sumptuous canvas-lined basket, then had the baskets shipped home as gifts. Alternatively, she has given great wine in stylish leather totes again, with shipping services provided.