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Scenes from a Mall

The Copley Place shopping mall recently tried selling itself. The upscale Boston mall staged a charity benefit gala to highlight its role as a phil-antrophic member of the community and to showcase itself as a shopper's paradise.

"Throwing a gala at a mall doesn't sound very upscale, so we wanted to create an atmosphere that was warm, colorful and intimate, to really surprise the guests," says Bryan Rafanelli, principal of Boston-based Rafanelli Events, which designed and produced the gala.

The mall closed at 5 p.m., leaving the Rafanelli team less than two hours to get ready. Be Our Guest of Boston, which provided the china, crystal, silver, chairs and tables, helped with the speedy setup. As an added logistical challenge, the movie theater in the mall remained open. "We erected black velvet pipe-and-drape walkways [from Rose Brand in New York] for the public to move through comfortably without disturbing the event," notes Rafanelli. Intelligent lighting washed the space in warm orange, cool purple and vibrant fuchsia. Colored votives and vibrant linens and floral centerpieces, also in red tones, completed the design.

Maneuvering 1,000 guests at once from one place to another in the giant shopping venue required careful planning. When the guests arrived in the parking structure, staff was on hand to greet and direct them into the Neiman Marcus store for a cocktail reception. After cocktails, guests attended a fashion show in an outdoor tent, followed by dinner on the second level, and desserts and dancing on the first level. "There were volunteers and paid staff everywhere to direct guests," Rafanelli explains. "'Don't wait for the guests to ask; know what they want and give them the answer,' was our attitude."

Another challenge involved the food, which Four Seasons Hotel Boston provided. "Originally, we had permission from the fire department to cook with propane in the parking garage," Rafanelli recalls. "But during the final walk-through two days before the event, the fire marshal, who was from another district, suddenly said no."

Time for Plan B. "We set up two tents in the fire-access area just outside the building," Rafanelli notes. "We cooked the food there and then delivered it in warming ovens. Getting it from the tent to the dinner table took 4 minutes and 16 seconds-we timed it. The guests got their perfect rack of lamb, but they had no idea how far it had come."-T.M.

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