Fine Living Top 10: Party Planners
By Craig Mazin, Entertainment Correspondent
Hire these party planners and get your special event looking like the impressionable, stylish soirees of P. Diddy, Oprah and Hugh Hefner.
The best party planners in the U.S.
It’s no longer enough to plop a punch bowl and ice sculpture on an end table and call it a swanky party. And this insatiable thirst for more elaborate, original weddings and other bashes has resulted in the rise of the superstar event planner. These multitasking wonders have become entrepreneurial powerhouses, but the best remain committed to their craft, handling every detail from invitations and decor to atmosphere, color coordination and scent.
Since the vast majority of world-renowned celebrities live in the U.S., it’s no surprise that the most famous event planners are based mostly in New York or Los Angeles. Although they earn publicity and are renowned for their work with celebrities, all are still available for hire by the general public. So if you’re flush with cash and looking to upstage P. Diddy with your next bash, contact one of these 10 planners.
Number 10 David Tutera, New York
This Manhattan-based planner has appeared on Oprah and The View to offer tips and has planned parties for the likes of J-Lo, The Rolling Stones and Al Gore, among others. Tutera also has his own show, The Party Planner, on the Discovery Network. David Tutera’s lavish but artistic designs, airtight management and attention to detail (he scrupulously ensures each party has the right “smell”) has made him tops in the celebrity party-planning racket.
Banner bash: Tutera was the mastermind behind the infamous wedding of former View panel member Star Jones. You know, the one with a mere three matrons of honor, 12 bridesmaids, two junior bridesmaids, three best men, 12 groomsmen, three junior groomsmen, six footmen, four ring bearers, four flower girls, and a 27-foot wedding veil. More than 30 corporate “sponsors” donated wedding gear and merchandise in exchange for controversial mentions on The View and on Jones’ website.
Number 9 Preston Bailey, New York
Panama-born Bailey’s unique style — lush textures, vibrant colors and unique shapes influenced by his homeland’s culture — has made him a favorite among the more adventurous celebrities. The former runway model is noted for his ability to transform mundane settings into brilliant spaces that serve as feasts for the senses. Bailey’s lengthy portfolio includes soirees thrown for Donald Trump, Joan Rivers and Uma Thurman. He also has an exclusive deal with Sandals resorts, which allows hotel patrons to enjoy Bailey-designed party settings.
Banner bash: Bailey pulled out all the stops for Oprah’s on-air 50th birthday party, filling the studio with thousands of beautiful blooms from around the world (South America, Holland) surrounded by glistening crystals, handmade trees entwined with orchids, and floral fireworks.
Number 8 Mindy Weiss, Los Angeles
Los Angeles has seen a few decent parties in its day, and if you’ve been to any big ones over the past few years, it was probably planned by Mindy Weiss. Weiss’ client list contains a staggering collection of talent, including sports legends Andre Agassi and Shaquille O’ Neal, and funnymen Adam Sandler and Billy Crystal, among a cast of thousands. Weiss’ style is typically Cali-cool, with an emphasis on restrained elegance.
Banner bash: Weiss’ signature event was the wedding of rock royalty couple Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale in London at the scenic St. Paul’s Covent Garden. The setting was typically elegant, but as with most parties, the key was in the small, personal details, as Rossdale’s escort down the aisle was his sheepdog, Winston, and guests were transported from the ceremony in double-decker buses.
Number 7 Marcy Blum, New York
Blum is the favored planner of establishments in New York City. She’s planned weddings and parties for Gotham luminaries such as Billy Joel, Regis Philbin and the Rockafeller family. Less flamboyant than many of her headset-adorned colleagues, Blum is purportedly focused on mood, flow and making the trains run on time. But she’s still capable of grand designs: Blum once created a virtual New York for an indoor party in the Puck Building, complete with Chinatown, Central Park and Harlem.
Banner bash: Blum showed off her versatility for Billy Joel’s wedding to the conspicuously younger Katie Lee, transforming a tent on his Centre Island estate into a Tuscan garden with a vine ceiling. The design was intended to make guests feel as if they were “sitting in a farmhouse under an open sky.”
Number 6 Randi Lesnick, Nashville
The premier party planner in the southern United States, Lesnick logically earns the vast majority of business from Music City’s biggest stars, including Reba McIntyre, Shania Twain and Tim McGraw, and she planned multiple parties for the 2006 Country Music Awards. Lesnick has a more diverse slate than the usual string of weddings and corporate bashes, as evidenced by her planning of the pep rally social before a University of South Carolina Gamecocks football game.
Banner bash: Coming off of two of the biggest-selling albums of all time, Shania Twain enlisted Lesnick to throw a decidedly down-home launch party for her 2002 album, Up, and the party was held at Mercury Nashville head honcho Luke Lewis’ admittedly swank farm.
Number 5 David Beahm, New York
Beahm is primarily known for his floral designs, and his bold efforts in this regard have cemented his enduring status as one of the most off-kilter and innovative planners around. He works with visually arresting and odd elements and setups such as ostrich feathers set in trumpet-shaped vases, chairs draped with boas and an eight-foot palm tree wrapped with oranges in the center of the dance floor at a casino benefit. Beahm has made the rounds on a parade of talk shows and has seen his work featured in countless magazines and newspapers
Banner bash: Billed as the Wedding of the Century, the unjust union of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas was Beahm’s ticket to the big time. The nearly $3 million wedding was held at the swanky Plaza Hotel in New York and featured hologram invitations (ensuring secrecy) and a traditional Welsh choir.
Number 4 Jo Gartin, Los Angeles
This LA-based wedding specialist got into the event-planning business after getting fed up with the outrageous prices she was quoted for her own nuptials. Gartin has a knack for providing just the right balance of kitsch and charm, with details like personalized cotton tanks and undies for the bride and her bridesmaids, and custom mosaic guest books. Gartin has planned events for Courtney Cox, Brooke Shields and Taye Diggs, and serves as Vogue magazine’s in-house planning expert.
Banner bash: Jo Gartin planned the swank baby shower for Courtney Cox and David Arquette’s notoriously named child, Coco. Guests were given a hint as to the lavish nature of the celebration via a receipt of moss-green, personalized invitations created from scratch by Gartin.
Number 3 Colin Cowie, New York
The Zambian-born Cowie is a particular entrepreneurial planner, as he has designed lines of china and houseware products for major department stores in addition to establishing his thriving celebrity-party practice. He has planned parties for John Travolta, Jerry Seinfeld and Hugh Hefner, and has thrown parties for Oprah (who seems to be a bit of a commitment-phobe when it comes to settling on one event planner). Cowie is especially skilled at creating innovative table settings, such as apple- and votive-candle-strewn centerpieces.
Banner bash: The Paradise Island wedding of reality television lovebirds Rob Mariano and Amber Brkich was made into a prime-time TV special. The domineering Cowie pulled out all the stops for the beachside event, designing a long, winding aisle along the sand that accentuated the natural beauty of the setting.
Number 2 Sarah Haywood, London
Britain’s premier wedding planner, Haywood has written perhaps the definitive guide to nuptial success, The Wedding Bible. Perhaps a reflection of a less bling-crazed and celebrity-mad culture, the London-based Haywood gears her business toward more regular folk. The best-selling guide provides practical advice for making more modestly priced ceremonies look lavish, such as spending big on a single layer of cake or putting together two or three spectacular floral arrangements to be moved around for pictures.
Banner bash: The book launch for The Wedding Bible proved that Haywood could do more than do more with less. The event featured 150 bottles of champagne, 3,000 canapés and a five-tiered spectacular cake, all consumed within a three-hour period.
Number 1 Maneesh Goyal, New York
Originally working in the public health sector, Goyal decided to break into the party-planning business after the sobering experience of living in New York during the 9/11 attacks. Initially working for other contractors for free, Goyal managed to make a good impression on someone who worked for P. Diddy. A few weeks later, he was hired by Diddy in Miami and a new powerhouse planner was born. Goyal is now a fashion and entertainment industry favorite. Other clients include Jessica Simpson and Janet Jackson.
Banner bash: Diddy’s notorious Black and White New Year’s Ball in Miami in 2001 was Goyal’s masterstroke. Intended to be a modern spin on Katherine Graham’s ball of the same name in 1966, Goyal decorated the event with stark and arresting patterns that left a memorable impression on all who attended.
party it up
Whether you’re putting on a champagne-soaked product launch or a romantic wedding abroad, these 10 planners provide enough variety to serve any of your party needs. But be prepared to pay for quality: Fees for big-name planners tend to start in the five-figures range, not including extras and upgraded services.