2010, A Space Odyssey

Unlike cooking or auto mechanics or painting by numbers, there are no templates for creating a party.

There are so many not-so-obvious elements that make an event either crackle with electricity or die a slow death.  One of these is the usage of space.  I take a perverse and rebellious pleasure in attempting to re-envision venues in new ways, particularly when the catering director patiently explains how “it’s always done” with the ceremony here and 8, 60-inch rounds there, blah, blah, blah….When we work at homes or spaces that have never been used before, it’s my equivalent of tight rope walking (and I am pretty afraid of heights) – a mixture of sheer delight and horrendous nausea.

It’s not about inventing something just for the thrill of it – like any cliche, there’s a reason that venues have been set up the way they have since Fred and Wilma Flintstone’s wedding – it works.  But, does it work in the very best way possible for this event, this client?

The caveat is, if you want to try something new, you had better be very vigilant in using the tools available to make sure it’s gonna fly: CAD or SketchUp or any number of possible programs, and that’s just the first step. An anecdote to illustrate (you know I love these):

Recently, while designing a wedding ceremony on a rooftop, we were undecided as to what would work best. The bride wanted it facing one way, we had some other ideas and the hotel had always set the chairs in another. We had walked it through enough times to make me sick of the setting, and measured and CAD planned it down to the millismidgens.  BUT it was only when I  sat there two days before the wedding at the precise time the ceremony would be taking place, that I realized none of this mattered, because the angle of the sun at that hour with the placement we were considering would have crisply roasted the bride, groom and all the guests in the first ten rows – obviously, we reconfigured it.

Having done this as long as I have, I’ve gotten pretty good at imagining what could work and how many people might fit comfortably in a space, or  if a ceremony in the round would be clever and simpatico or if we could get some good drama by hanging the bandstand off of a cliff with the ocean underneath.  However, I don’t take anything for granted, even with very sophisticated computer layouts.

So – if you see me crawling along in a silk skirt on a grungy floor with a tape measure in one hand and duct tape and chalk in another, be nice – I’m just double checking.

I’d love to hear about any of your inventive uses of space, of course I WILL “borrow” them, but what are friends for?

A BIG tent, with tables of many different shapes and sizes

Lea and I attempting to figure out a ceremony lay out

Loooong tables were the only possibility in this space

Small space, too many people - we had to do an L shape

Bailey&Blum&blushing with pride

It’s always seemed to me that the absolute best scenario in this life is to actually make some money while doing something you enjoy that at the same time does good for others. Well, unless you are ten years old or under and reading this,  you realize that this “perfect storm” type of work happens rather infrequently.  Yes, yes, I know that wedding planning can fall into that category, but it’s a bit of a stretch to frame it that way.

Bailey&Blum, the weekend intensive on wedding and event design and planning that my friend Preston Bailey and I created this spring, was one of those rare experiences.  Both Preston and I are at our best in this intimate format (under 30 attendees), and we were able to connect with our ‘students’ in a very unusual way.  So much so, that the letters and photographs we received afterwards just blew us away.

One in particular- a work of art with so much heart infused in it that it made my cynical self weep when it arrived- was a scrapbook of the weekend put together by one of the group, event planner Deborah Dixon, some pages are shown here.

So, we have decided to do it again- it’s August 6-8- and we have poured ourselves into planning an amazing weekend agenda.  Take a look at www.baileyandblum.com and consider joining us.  Yes, it’s really worth it…

It’s my party and I’ll…

It’s almost the halfway point to my next birthday (or my “midi” as I called it when I was young and stupid enough to celebrate such a thing).  I don’t know if it’s just my own psychosis, but I feel as if my friends expect a better party from my because of my profession. Ironically, it’s this same profession that puts my own planning of the soirees on the back burner inevitably until the night or two before said occasion (come on, bingo and cupcakes with champagne was fun, right?).

Luckily, I am great at planning other people’s birthday parties in a nap. Recently, a GTB (groom-to-be) asked us to throw together his 30th birthday in about oh, two week. Yay, what fun, I thought. We didn’t have too much to go on but we knew he was a connoisseur of fine wine, and loved the Arizona Wildcats. So, we had pretty much free reign on this one. Which is quite a double-edged sword if you ask me.

Once we found the perfect venue (the penthouse at The Hotel on Rivington; hello outdoor hot tub) the rest of the party quickly took shape.

How could you not have a good time?

Trying to steer clear of the typical cocktail party (i.e. been there done that), we set up three different bars to enhance guests experience (and well, that’s just how we roll).

The first was a wine and cheese bar manned by the award-winning sommelier, Aldo Sohm, who picked out some of the finest reds and whites the world has to offer, brilliantly paired with our selection of cheeses from New York’s emporium of all things fromage, Artisanal. Guests were also able to fill out cute little wine tasting note cards while they sipped so they wouldn’t forget the memorable vintages when they got home.  Crowds around this table were worse than SATC2 on opening night!

Super cute personalized tasting notes...

Next was the vodka tasting bar, paired with, you guessed it, caviar and blinis.  Yum! Nothing like an ice-cold shot of Russian vodka on a hot summer night.

And of course, you can’t have a party without tequila! But not just any two-bit Jose; our friends at Tantao brought over tasty jalapeno, chocolate and tropical flavors for us to pair with some south-of-the-border treats.

One of our beautiful tasting bars...

The vodka tasting station.

Ah, and for my specialty…the cake!  Only the picture below will do it justice.

Is this not the coolest cake you've ever seen?

Mix all of the above with a killer DJ and you’ve got the making of one kick-ass birthday party.

Right, now back to planning mine…

Special Thanks
Venue: Hotel On Rivington
Cake: Ron Ben Israel Cakes
Signs: BDUB

The Independence Party

Just in time for July Fourth, I offer you some visuals from a  party we conceived and styled for Hamptons Magazine.  I really am not enamored of the soooo boring, traditional and over done to the point of making one’s eyes hurt, red, white and blue mish-mosh decor for the Fourth.  In addition, as patriotism itself has been appropriated by the right side of our fair nation, I wanted to make a point, that the real essence of what Independence Day is about lies within the Declaration of Independence, not at Tea Party rallies.  I know, I know, no politics in a party blog- but really, if you can make a point you feel intensely about, and still have a fabulous event without it being nauseatingly didactic, isn’t that the best of both worlds?

Concept was cocktails before the fireworks, for a few reasons: not so much fuss for the host, people can bring their families, leave and go watch the fireworks and the host can  then actually have a relaxing dinner out or in with just a few people. The design entailed three distinct table set-ups, each it’s own solid block of color, including the food as much as possible (quite a challenge I’m sure you can see) including things like endive with anchovies, fresh strawberries, blue potato chips, deviled eggs, and fondue served from a jolly blue pot.

Our clever designer BDUB designed the pennants as a back drop to the scene and teeny, weeny adorable flags for drinks and hors d’oeuvres, each printed with liberty, equality, freedom, etc (you get the idea).

Pretty, festive, fun and not an immigration argument in sight.  Enjoy your celebrations my friends!

The "white" accoutrements from local Hamptons shops

The white (and off-white) table

The red table

The blue table - including coconut water for rapid hydration on hot summer days

Endive with whitefish

Picks doubled for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres

Tip-Tastic Tuesday

“The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.” -Oscar Wilde

People are always asking me for wedding advice. Period. No matter where I am – cab, cocktail party, colonoscopy appointment (ok, ok, I was at the dentist but alliteration is such a nice literary device, isn’t it?). It seems that the whole world is either getting married or knows someone that is getting married, and of course wanting what else but some free advice.

So, following the wise words of Oscar, I thought I would take the last Tuesday of each month to share some little gems of knowledge with you. Yes, this means you no longer have to hit me up at rand-o places… (you know who you are crazy-woman-on-line-in-the-bathroom-at-Iron-Man-2!) looking for that one golden nugget.

Tip #1: Have the groom’s speech be as early in the night as possible!

I know this sounds like a big “duh,”, but you’ve all seen it happen and it ain’t pretty.

And gentlemen, I have heard the whole Dutch courage argument, but unless you want your speech (which, chances are, will be videotaped for all of modernity) to be reminiscent of Mitch Martin a la Old School, please, I beg of you…speech first, drinkie second…capisce?!

Like a proud mama…

I don’t have any children… yet.  And when/if I do I’m not sure if I’m going to be the kind of mom who whips out photos of her kids from those little plastic protectors in her wallet (or is that what they all say?).

However, I sorta “get” the gleaming pride these parents feel when they show unknowing strangers their little one-toothed wonders.  I can only compare it to the same sort of shameless delight that I feel when I see one of MY brides in print.

Not wanting to be the freaky lady at the grocery store check out line flashing you the newest (July) issue of BRIDES, I’m taking this opportunity to share them with you (just in case you haven’t already seen)…

A couple additional shots… more wonderful details from this wedding on a future post.

BRIDES chose such a great shot of the bridesmaids that I thought it was only fair to include this stunner with the dashing groomsmen.

Each table was named after one of the many places the bride and groom had traveled.

A view of inside the tent from the opposite angle. The bride and groom chose one long attendants table for 33 guests.

 

Special thanks to:
Decor: StoneKelly Events
Photography: Ron Lynch Photography

p.s. I’m going off to Europa (I know, I know, so jet set) for a little holiday, but I’ve left Marcy with some posts so you don’t miss me too much.  Pics and details when I get back… if I get good reports.

Babies on Board

A luncheon table

Faux seed packets, calligraphed with guests name for seating cards

Introducing Lea Brumage, who is the second in command at Marcy Blum Associates, she’s been just dying to blog, so here goes:

There’s a new phenomenon going around the MBA offices lately. No, it’s not the new iPad, el Niño, or a sweep of brides wanting teal and brown.  It’s babies, lots of them.

I know, I know, women have babies all the time. But this is the first time MY brides are having them and they seem to be coming fast and furious! This spring three MBA graduates became new mommies (welcome Ryan, Satay and Bea). Another is pregnant and I have it on good word that another is definitely trying.

We were lucky enough to be hired by the two grandmas to be to create a surprise baby shower for one of the miniature additions. Now, while we love a good party, I wouldn’t use the words cute and cuddly to describe Marcy’s aesthetic.  But I have to say I think we found a really great balance between disgustingly, nauseatingly, sickeningly cutesy and well…boring.   The sex of the little newcomer was also kept a mystery, so instead of the predictable pale pink and blue palate, we used the beautiful, budding Central Park back drop of A Voce at the Time Warner Center as our inspiration and ran with it. Baby pea pods in chartreuse and orange were the starting point and you can see from the photos where we went with the theme.  One thing you can’t see in the photos was the iPod we had programmed with a “baby” themed play list- I thought that was a super cute touch!  It turned out to be a stunning ladies lunch, with the proud papa-to-be even making a surprise appearance.

The menus at each place

An adorable sugar baby on a Sylvia cake

The invitation

Special thanks to:
StoneKelly – decor
Sylvia Weinstock – cake
Harold Hechler Photographers – photography
BDUB – paper goods

In Defense of Brides vs Bridezillas

For those who are etymologists, I seem to remember (I’m sure you will correct me if I’m wrong) that Stacy Morrison, then the editor of Modern Bride, came up with the word.  She wanted to run a hysterically funny cartoon series featuring Bridezilla as the main character, but the publisher was way too nervous at the time and, thinking readers would rebel, refused to run it.

Personally, I’ve never really been too keen on the term as 1. I just don’t think any sane, decent person all of a sudden morphs into a monster ONLY because she’s getting married and 2. because what a surprise, no term for difficult grooms?  I’ve always suggested Groomensteins, but it never caught on…

The abundance of dumb, trashy and melodramatic shows around weddings has contributed to the caricature of the bride as a giant, insatiable, bulldozer whose only vocabulary consists of  “I want” and whose only other forms of communication are crying, foot-stamping, tantrum-throwing and generally being extraordinarily nasty to everyone around them. Here’s the glitch: how about perfectly lovely women who have a very specific idea of their taste and style, know very well what they like and what they don’t, and may just have a few ideas that complicate things, but they really, really want them, does that make them monstrous?  Isn’t there a bit of the classic confusion at work here, ie. strong woman = bitch?

Two anecdotes to illustrate:

Many years ago I planned a wedding in Central Park at The Boathouse, where the bride had chosen the space because she had a fantasy of arriving via gondola on the lake with her father.  I think it’s far less complicated to arrange now, but then it was a major ordeal.  Her parents, the banquet manager, her fiance – all were intent on convincing her that it was a waste of time and energy to continue trying to make it happen after we ran into some difficulties.  This is a very lovely women we are talking about, really a doll, but she had her heart set on this midsummer night’s dream arrival, and I felt, as her advocate, that it was my job to make it happen.  Eventually we prevailed, and pulled it off.  She was incredibly  grateful, feeling that we were co-conspirators in saving her dream.

Recently, a delicious couple we are working with was choosing between a classic, traditional venue and a downtown loft space.  The bride knew from the start what she wanted, that despite all the usual arguments: Will you look back and regret it in 10 years.. Most of her family and friends have had traditional weddings..  The classic venue has an iconic name that resonates with people.. She deeply wanted a very different sort of wedding, and she stuck to her guns.  She did it gracefully, politely and lovingly, not a smidge of a ‘zilla in sight, and her fiance and family correctly decided the venue was far more important to her than it was to them – so they acquiesced.

The point to all this?  The opposite of a Bridezilla is not a dishrag, it’s a woman who has opinions and grace in equal measure.

A Matter of Taste

In the beginning, there were banquet menus – “You want the prime rib? $20 dollars per person extra.. or you can do the chicken they served at the Hackenshlafer wedding, it’s all inclusive”.

Yes, so quaint…

As I’ve often shared, when I attended the Culinary Institute of America, most of the students had the choice of enrolling in either an auto mechanics program or cooking school to stay out of a juvenile detention center.

Now of course, the world is  populated with foodies and celebrity chefs, everyone I encounter has an excruciatingly specific knowledge of the differences between sauteeing and pan frying, and are more than happy to share it with me.  For our purposes here, I’m going to stick to designing  menus for weddings and other social events.

I’ll go on record that I agree with the majority of caterers who won’t do a formal tasting before they have the job.  Of course there can be mitigating circumstances where I’ll ask for just that, but for the most part I feel it’s like asking me to do a mini party gratis as an audition (guess my answer?).

The point of a tasting is to suss out what actually can be served, what works together and to try items that have at least an approximation of the look and taste they will have AT THE EVENT.

So, what else can I share with you about tastings?

A tasting SHOULD be:

- A chance for the hosts, event producer and catering person in charge to bond and get a clue into each others tastes and style (with lots of chances for you to get insights that have nothing to do with food). This is the FUN part and should be treated that way, but take good notes.

- A time to assess how many pig products one can rationally serve at one meal or to debate the nuances of “kosher style”.

- Hopefully, a wine tasting (mood-enhancing), even if it’s not the specific wine you will eventually serve, you should come up with something that  complements the meal at a price point that makes sense for this specific client.

- An opportunity to marvel at the clever and beauteous ways that the caterer  (or restaurant/banquet staff) has designed the various plates.

What a tasting SHOULDN’T BE:

- A time for the chef to show that he can cook risotto for four people in his restaurant kitchen (we kind of already assume that) – but a time to address how it might be done for 200 guests on buffet lines.

- The time for the event producer to pontificate on a meal at Per Se (unless of course the tasting is at Per Se) and for her to supply Mr. Keller’s a la minute recipe to be replicated for a birthday party in a field for 2000.

- A haphazard (“oh, great, we have to do a tasting” sort of thing,) where it’s rote, and the clients are expected to just sign off on everything and go their merry way. If  the food is wrong – too salty, unattractive or just plain misconstrued for the event – then there has to be another tasting, because (as we are all painfully aware) chances are pretty good, the foods not going to get any better “day of”.

Some shots from a real-live hors d’oeuvres tasting with the marvelous Olivier Cheng Catering and their Chef Jennie (note all the pens on the table)..


No Lipstick On Pigs Please

incongrous

I was at a very, very, oh sooo very, hip new restaurant last night for the second time and social buzz addict that I am combined with the fact that there’s a fameuse chef and all I couldn’t quite figure out why I wasn’t just completely seduced by the place.  It hit me when the very handsome Latin runner said “Bon Appetit” while he delivered the sliders.

Remember when you were first taught the definition of incongruous?  No?  Well, I do.  It was with a cartoon of a big fat lady walking her teeny tiny dog- and that’s the image I was stuck on last night.

It might not be immediately obvious to you that I’m raving about this topic for a reason, but hang in here for a bit, there’s a point here.  How many events don’t work because they have not been produced to be compatible with the guests’ expectations, because there are too many elements that are incongruous. Some examples?

I had a bride several years ago who fancied herself in line to the throne and insisted on not only having fox sleeves sewn to her gown, but that her guests wear extremely formal attire.  What’s the problem you ask?  Well, the entire sun-stroked ceremony took place on an excruciatingly hot beach in Spain.

I have seen clever (and messy) interactive food stations positioned at events where the women are in spike heels and evening gowns.

I’ve made pleas to clients about a stand-around cocktail party not being sensible for four hours, and that a wedding where most of the guests don’t know each other requires a well thought out seating plan not the “oh, let everyone sit where they want” approach.

An ornate fourteen pound card stock invitation doesn’t make sense for a hayride- get it?

I recently saw a beautiful old world hotel ballroom half-heartedly turned into a tawdry 70s disco for a party- I swore that the space itself was mortified.

Congruency is something that makes us humans comfortable.  This is not to say that juxtaposing seemingly wildly incompatible concepts can’t work fabulously and be just the thing that makes the event transcend the ordinary.  Humor is all about these kinds of contrasts (I just saw a Twitpic of Anna Wintour and Lady Gaga engrossed in conversation at The Met ball tonight that had me howling).

But it takes a skilled pro to think about what’s going into the mix, what works together and what doesn’t… Someone with enough knowledge and clarity and energy to work on these details and to make sure that if an American/Italian menu is being served in a downtown hipster environment, maybe the staff should be trained to say something other than Bon Appetit.