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David Tutera:
Design Master

David Tutera
Founder, David Tutera Designs

On his speed dial: His parents

Favorite magazines: In Style and Architectural Digest
Hours he sleeps each night: 5 to 6
Nights out each week: 4 to 5
Favorite vacation getaways: Santa Fe, N.M., and Paris

May 14, 2001, 12:00 AM EDT

On a cobblestone street on the edge of SoHo, David Tutera, event designer extraordinaire, sits in his elegant dining room with terra cotta-colored walls hung with paintings from his travels to Santa Fe, N.M., and Paris.

It's a calm scene--nothing like the fast-paced world where he excels, designing vivid events for clients including the Kennedy Center, amfAR and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, as well as Al Gore, Tommy Hilfiger and the Rolling Stones.

But calm is his style, he claims. “There is never a disaster. It's just a problem with a solution,” he says. “I'm not conquering the world or solving the biggest problems that we have. I'm really just providing a party for people.”

His signature? Creating dramatic environments that are designed like a theatrical production. Lisa Vested, publisher of Special Events magazine, has called Tutera “one of the decorative geniuses of our time. He always takes design to the next level--no canned decor. That's why people hire him.” Tutera's designs have won the special events industry's Gala award five years in a row, from 1996 to 2000.

But here's the surprise: Actor-handsome, Tutera also happens to be a genuinely nice guy, a levelheaded, unintimidating individual in an industry dominated by outsize egos. A native of Port Chester, N.Y., he maintains a warehouse in Mamaroneck, N.Y., where he orchestrates all his designs. Tutera works on 100 to 200 events a year and his company employs 12 full-time staffers and an average of 20 freelancers.

Tutera has always been his own boss. Born in 1966, he opened his own gift shop in Larchmont, N.Y., at 19--a bold move for a college dropout. He says, “If I wasn't that way when I was 19, I wouldn't take the chances I take today. Anything I've ever succeeded at in my career or my life personally is always because I've taken a chance.”

Taking chances includes trying new--and different--things. One night in fall 2000, Tutera planned both a charity benefit at the Waldorf=Astoria uptown and his first fashion show, at the downtown club Chaos. For the fashion show (for young fashion company Iza), Tutera eschewed the typical catwalk setup and created an interactive environment that included a 12-minute performance by a 6'8"-tall drag queen. Tutera says he was inspired by avant-garde Argentinean theater sensation De La Guarda as well as the musical The Donkey Show.

“They came to me because they knew my concepts were very different,” Tutera says. “It's just a little edgy. Very cool. We [made] their show so different, that people are going to remember not only the fashion but the experience. And everything I do for people is about the experience.” Which is all very apropos for someone who once studied acting in college and auditioned for the theater.

Among Tutera's favorite vendors is rental company Props for Today, which he discovered before it started working on special events, and Cloth Connection for fabrics.

What's on the horizon? “Right now I'm in the middle of creating a personality,” Tutera says without a hint of modesty. His first book, A Passion for Parties (September 2001), is a party-planning guide. He's already working on his next book, which will explore dining at home with an international flair. Tutera will also be selling his own products for home entertaining through an e-commerce venture. Martha Stewart, look out.

Posted 05.14.01

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