ENTERTAINING WITH PANACHE
Event experts Harrison & Shriftman share
their secrets on hosting with flair.
Romy De Courtay
you've ever wanted to throw the party to end all parties
– the one that your guests will remember as the most
original and recherché event in time immemorial –
there's a new manual on the market that's sure
to become your entertaining bible. Written by party planning
experts Elizabeth Harrison and Lara Shriftman, along with
entertainment journalist Karen Robinovitz, Fête
Accompli! The Ultimate Guide to Creative Entertaining
(Clarkson Potter; September 2004; $24.50; hardback) gives
272 pages of answers to never-ending pleas for tips by their
friends and acquaintances. Young in years but long on experience,
Harrison and Shriftman are the founders and principals of
the eponymous publicity, special events and marketing company
headquartered in New York City.
Elizabeth Harrison and Lara Shriftman at the Gucci luncheon
honoring the launch of their book Fête Accompli!
three-tiered platter with three flavors of mini-cupcakes
made even sweeter with flowers.
Owen and Luke Wilson at Luke Wilson's birthday
Destiny's Child Kelly Rowland and tennis star
Serena Williams at Williams's birthday party.
Shriftman drinks to the Fête Accompli.
Eric Buterbaugh Flower Designs arrangement for the Juicy
Couture Swimwear launch.
In 11 information-packed chapters, they walk the reader through
every step of party production, from establishing a planning
checklist to choosing the appropriate location, theme, invitation
design, food and beverages, dessert, music and décor.
The volume devotes an entire chapter to food and drink recipes,
and includes tips from celebrity experts such as television
duo Joan and Melissa Rivers, Sarah Ferguson, socialite couturier
Diane von Furstenberg and makeup artist Bobbi Brown.
Since its 1995 launch out of a small rented penthouse office
(the company has since moved to a loftlike environment in
Chelsea and opened additional offices in Los Angeles and Miami)
Harrison & Shriftman has produced scores of high-profile
events, including the Bridget Jones's Diary and Legally
Blonde movie premieres, Juicy Couture and Jill Stuart fashion
shows, Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo store openings, charity
benefits for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund and Step Up
Breast Cancer Foundation, David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen
post-concert parties and birthday bashes for the likes of
Matt Damon, David Copperfield, Chris Heinz and Serena Williams.
Not to be outdone, we asked them for some practical insights
and advice on how to throw the ultimate party. Here, they
share some of their secrets.
“Send your invitations no more than two weeks ahead
of the event and confirm attendance over the telephone one
to two days before,” says Shriftman. If you choose a
classic invitation (Cartier is a good choice), it should be
engraved, calligraphic and delivered in a lined envelope.
But to signal the full breadth of your personality, create
an original invitation in keeping with the soiree's
theme. “We've sent a bag of sugar for a sugar
party, nail polish for a manicure-pedicure party and a pair
of flip-flops for a beach party,” recounts Shriftman,
who recommends ensuring the success of the evening by concocting
a fascinating guest list comprised of friends, family and
business contacts (there will always be cancellations and
no-shows, so you should invite at least ten more people than
you expect to attend and factor in unexpected guests as well).
At the book launch for Gigi Levangie Grazer's Maneater,
hosts Bryan Lourd, Steve Martin, Ron Meyer, Jim Wiatt and
Rita Wilson rubbed shoulders with the iconoclastic Hugh Hefner,
the scandalous Hilton sisters and the ultra-discreet Harrison
Ford and Calista Flockhart.
“In New York, people are always looking for a way to
entertain at home,” notes Harrison. “It's
a much more personalized experience.” Distinguish yourself
by choosing a regional theme tailored to a recent trip. If
you've just returned from Buenos Aires, host a South
American evening complete with Latin music, a steak dinner
and a tango teacher, and provide silver-framed travel pictures
as keepsake place cards. For the Asian-themed premiere of
Scott Rudin's Team America, “we sent invitations
in red Chinese boxes and had a Korean barbecue, white and
dark chocolates, and fortune cookies stuffed with personal
notes,” recalls Shriftman.
Whatever your theme, dim your lights (use amber- or peach-tone
bulbs) to create a romantic and mysterious atmosphere and
go heavy on the candles (Shriftman likes C.Z. Guest candles
by Slatkin & Co. and Votivo Red Currant candles). Place
pink, gold or red candles throughout the house and along the
walkway or driveway. “There's something about
the way people look in candlelight that you really can't
replicate,” muses Harrison. Select flowers (orchids,
hedged calla lilies, peonies and floating gardenias are lovely)
in keeping with your décor, the fabric on your couches
or your artwork. At a party at Dee Dee Meyers's home,
Bronson Van Wyck stunningly matched the floral arrangements
to the hostess's paintings.
In all cases, “err on the side of tasteful simplicity,”
says Harrison. Showcase a dramatic bouquet in the entranceway,
bar area and bathroom, and keep it chic and simple in the
main reception rooms. “Mix flowers with fruits and vegetables,”
she advises. “It's very modern and very New York.”
Or forego flowers altogether and fill a sterling-silver bowl
with green apples or lemons for an artistic effect.
Don't feel obligated to provide a full bar (although
you can provide an area where guests can mix their own drinks).
Wine, champagne, water and one signature cocktail (Shriftman
favors Rose's premixed drinks) are amply sufficient,
but remember to serve a nonalcoholic beverage in addition
to both regular and decaf coffee. Shriftman recommends proposing
a menu with a vegan option or serving dinner “Asia de
Cuba style,” with plated appetizers already set in front
of each seat and vegetables subsequently placed in the middle
of the table while waiters offer small portions of chicken,
fish, pasta and meat to each guest. For the last course, follow
Barry Diller's Oscar luncheon lead and have servers
walk around the living room proposing an assortment of desserts
on a tray. A nice way to impress your guests is to offer items
not available in New York, such as Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
products, Joe's Stone Crab seafood and Peterbrooke chocolate-covered
popcorn. (So that your efforts do not go unnoticed, tout the
provenance of these delicacies on the menu.)
Finally, enlist the help of a subhost who can assist you with
details while allowing you to play your role as gracious host
or hostess. “This is my party and I'll cry if
I want to” should not be the evening's anthem.
“Be relaxed,” advises Harrison. “Your friends
are not judging you.”
de Courtay is a freelance writer based in New York and Athens,
Greece, whose articles on fashion, design, travel and business
have appeared in publications on both sides of the Atlantic,
including Town & Country, Elle Décor, Movieline,
Athens Insider and The Los Angeles Times.
Image 1: Jemal Countess, WireImage.com, image 2: Jeff Vespa,
WireImage.com, image 3: Denise Truscello, WireImage.com, image
4: Jeff Vespa, WireImage.com, image 5: Paul Costello, image