Special Events
Celebrity Event Designers Discuss Their Creativity

Celebrity Event Designers Discuss Their Creativity

Some designers have created so many “wow” events that after a time, just the mention of their name elicits a “wow.” Here, two celebrities of the event design world talk about their own stellar style.

Design Mind: DAVID TUTERA

David Tutera Inc., New York, www.davidtutera.com

A professional event planner since age 19, David Tutera now oversees a party-planning empire that includes four books, the TV show “My Fair Wedding,” a retail floral and gift boutique, and a raft of speaking engagements. His gilt-edged client list includes celebrities Jennifer Lopez, Matthew McConaughey and Elton John as well as former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

Nothing But the Best: When engaging Tutera, event clients can be sure of one thing: “They know they will get a design that is unique, high-end and custom-made just for them,” Tutera says. “That means lavish florals and accents, custom linens, fine tabletop and furniture rentals, perfect lighting and a carefully thought-out floor plan ensuring the best use of space.”

The Look: Tutera doesn't impose his style on clients. “Since I started in the industry, I always wanted to create events that truly reflect my client's personality and style rather that just a ‘signature look,’” he says. But he does turn to one decor element on a regular basis: draping the entire room in beautiful white fabric accented by theatrical lighting. “This allows me to truly transform a space, masking any existing features of a room that aren't appropriate and playing up the event decor with great lighting,” he says. “Designing a custom event is like creating a piece of art; therefore, starting with a blank canvas allows me to create anything I can dream up.”

Tutera used this technique to stunning effect at a recent wedding, where he and his team took nearly a week to construct a custom tent complete with a sunken white dance floor and an upper-level lounge area. “We brought in pure white carpeting, draped the entire space with fabric and rented dozens and dozens of white leather banquettes,” he explains. “All of the chairs, tables and floral arrangements were different versions of each other that coordinated through color and style, which lent a more eclectic, less contrived feel to the party.”

An Artist Evolves: “I find myself mixing different elements now that I never would have dared to years ago when I started,” he says. “Each client's story serves as the main inspiration for their party, but I make sure to stay aware of the trends in fashion, especially colors.”

Pro Quote: “I like to keep the energy of a party in one main place, but I also like to create separate areas for people to move through and relax in. For this reason, I like to set up a lounge area for weddings and other special events inside the main room. This adds extra decor to the room, giving guests an area to talk and get comfortable while keeping a nice flow of people through the space.” — David Tutera

Design Mind: STANLEE R. GATTI

Stanlee R. Gatti Designs, San Francisco, www.stanleegatti.com

Stanlee Gatti's legendary event design career started with just one tabletop. Assisting the catering director at San Francisco's St. Francis hotel one day in 1985, Gatti whipped up a table design for the doyennes of the San Francisco Symphony. Immediately impressed, the women promptly hired Gatti to design the big gala for the symphony's 75th performance; Stanlee R. Gatti Designs was born shortly thereafter. His wedding resume includes the nuptials of novelist Danielle Steele and former Secretary of State George P. Schultz; other clients are the U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and tycoon Charles Schwab.

Once is Enough: Gatti doesn't like to repeat himself. “I don't become sentimental about what I create,” he says. “It's more about the joy of creating it — then you move on.” Also, he pays scant attention to trends in the event marketplace. “When Philippe Starck first did the Ghost chair, I remember using it — it was unique and fun. But I've never wanted to use it since.” Worse than repeating himself is the thought of event designers aping one another. “It's really about being different,” he says. “I despise the idea of copying or emulating.”

Ice, Ice, Baby: For a 250-guest March gala on behalf of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Gatti dreamed up furniture that truly could be used just once. To underscore the theme of global warming, Gatti commissioned 25 10-foot dinner tables made entirely of ice. The tables, topped with a thin layer of plastic to keep plates, glassware and utensils in place, featured a channel in the middle that kept drips away from guests. Ice company Clear Memories (see page 39) also created a 20-foot seafood bar, cocktail bars, centerpieces and candle holders for Gatti's vision, all of ice.

Really Big Show: If Gatti has a signature design element, it is working in bold strokes. “I was one of the inventors of this kind of extravagance put into parties,” he explains. “My role is to bring art into parties; parties are an ancient form, and I'm doing them in a bit more artful way. I'm one of those people who came into this world to try to take things to another level.”

Artful Evening: Gatti's bold style was plain at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's Modern Ball in 2007, themed to '60s pop art superstar Andy Warhol. Rather than just give a nod to one of Warhol's iconic works — the Campbell's soup can — the motif saturated the dining room's decor, covering every inch of the tables and chairs. The event also showed a sly side: Gatti had all parking valets dress in black and wear white Warhol-style wigs.

Pro Quote: “I'm always looking for the next thing. Once a song becomes a pop hit, you want it to be underground again.” — Stanlee R. Gatti

SCENE STEALERS

Stanlee Gatti turns to Napa, Calif.-based CLEAR MEMORIES for his ice-carving work. Starting with 40-by-20-by-10-inch blocks of ice, the company uses a proprietary process and computer-based carving machine to create sculptures, tables and serving stations that feature fine details previously found only in hand-carved pieces. A specialty: colored company logos rendered in ice. Visit www.clearmemories.com.

David Tutera is a fan of Manhattan-based MAGNOLIAS LINENS; “I find that a truly unique linen is a rare touch at an event, one that sets it apart from the rest,” he says. New is the company's line of hand-painted silk organza tablecloths. Fashioned by artists in India, the linen features elegant details including embroidery and beadwork. Many items are available in stock as overlays; the company specializes in custom work. Visit www.magnoliasgroup.com.

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