With New York-based client Lancome Paris calling for an awards gala of exceptional dazzle in spite of a tightened budget, Kevin Verronneau gathered his colleagues to take up the task. The five-member staff of New York-based Event Designs New York came up with the idea of a “live action” switch in centerpieces to signal the evening’s midpoint move from elegant ceremony to pure party.
The idea of a live switch of centerpieces from lavish floral to nightclub mirror balls came out of a long-standing practice associated with Lancôme's biannual sales meeting gala, Verronneau explains. The event traditionally begins as a formal dinner and presentation, with a surprising twist in decor elements cueing a turnover to a high-energy dance extravaganza. The concept for the 2002 event emerged out of the client's desire for some form of suspended decor.
With the design scheme decided, Verronneau says, he thought the tricky part was over. Then he encountered a ceiling with little more than a few rigging points at event venue Bacara Ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif., and realized it had just begun.
“We had to design a grid that would give us a rigging point over every table,” he says. To pull it off, his staff installed a complex system using heavy-duty aircraft cable run to trusses on turnbuckles to allow for tightening. During event day setup, a crew attached lengths of thinner aircraft cable — “so thin you could even shine video through it without seeing the cable,” Verronneau says — to preset rigging points.
Next, staff members transported floral arrangements to the room on bellman racks, while others moved among the event's 28 tables affixing centerpieces to cable with simple hook-and-eye attachments, designed to make easier work of the mid-event switch. A test of the suspended floral — conducted by lighting the long tapers that would stand beneath the arrangements, then spinning the centerpieces and clipping any leaves that threatened to singe — ensured the impact of the EDNY team's clever creation.
HAND TO HAND
On event night, 260 guests entered the white-velour-draped room, taking their places at tables topped with fringed velour overlays over white damask linen. Above them, a ceiling treatment of 118-inch-wide white voile panels softened the ceiling and disguised the elaborate grid. Striking washes of rich pinks and purples provided a backdrop for the centerpieces of white dendrobium orchids, roses, hydrangea, callas and Casablanca lilies, with silk flowers blended in to reduce the arrangements' weight.
At the close of the evening's filet mignon dinner and awards ceremony, the carefully choreographed serving staff made its move. “Each waiter came out with a mirror ball on a battery-operated spinner,” Verronneau says. “We had it set up so they could pick up the floral centerpiece with one hand, and with the other hand attach the ball. It only took two sweeps of the room because every waiter had two tables.”
The waiters then set the floral at predetermined points on the stage and steps, which was not only “a lot of fun” to watch, Verronneau says, but was “huge” in maximizing minimal decor budget dollars. The shift cued staff to train pin-spots on the mirror balls and start up the music, as the event “really kicked in from awards to a crazy dance party that was a whole evening of lights and confetti,” he adds.
While Verronneau admits the $243,000 event tested the team's production prowess, he says the result provided real satisfaction.
A similarly satisfied customer, Michael Poulin, assistant vice president of creative services for Lancôme Paris, sounded his opinion in a letter praising the company. “This year we were intent on increasing the quality and ‘wow factor’ of our gala and, at the same time, needed to control costs — a lot more for a bit less,” Poulin writes. “EDNY was able to work within my budget with creativity and vigor.” Calling the gala's six-hour setup time “actually pleasant and enjoyable,” Poulin adds that one top company executive described the event as “the most elegant I have had the pleasure of attending.”
Event Designs New York 207 E. 84th St., New York, NY 10028; 646/422-0054
Quenelles of Pike and Lobster
Salad of Arugula with Shallot Vinaigrette
Seared Filet Mignon of Beef with Horseradish Potato Gratin and Seasonal Vegetables
Bacara Ranch Lemon Pyramid with Raspberry Essence