CHICAGO On Friday evening, some 600 guests filed into the Palmer House Hilton for the Joffrey Ballet's Couture and Cocktails. Comprising a cocktail reception, a fashion show, and an after-party, this year's event showcased looks from Pamella Roland, who displayed her wares at New York Fashion Week earlier this month. Inspired by the designer's East Coast adventures, “we wanted to bring a little bit of New York to the Palmer House, and have everyone believe that they were sitting in a tent in Bryant Park," said Julia Jankowski, event coordinator at the Joffrey Ballet, who assisted women's board members Candace Jordan, Helen Hall Melchior, Ann Kaplan, Kristina McGrath, Leslie Hindman, Shauna Montgomery, Ann Waters, Sheryl Dyer, and Rebecca Besser with planning efforts.
Transforming the hotel's gilded lobby into a park setting left the planning team with their work cut out for them, and the challenge was heightened by the fact that they had less than three hours to complete the task. Friday's event marked the first time that the lobby area had been used for a runway presentation, and the hotel's management “wanted to be considerate of the guests that were staying at the Palmer House, so we couldn't shut the [area] down for too long,“ said Jankowski. “We were able to come in at 4 p.m. and we had to have everything done by about 6:45 p.m. That didn't leave us very long at all to set the runway, the chairs, the lighting, and do a sound check and a run-through with the models." Not to mention getting the giant trees in place along the lobby's periphery.
With a team of event designers from Frost leading the charge, the transformation was ultimately “a very well orchestrated affair,” Jankowski said. ”We had furniture movers ready to go by 4 p.m., and our rope and stations were up. Everyone was in place and knew exactly what they needed to be doing.” By the time guests arrived, a slick runway spanned the center of the lobby, chairs were in place and set with gift bags, and the piped-in sound of chirping birds underscored the outdoorsy vibe. But by 9 p.m., the Frost team had another mad dash ahead of them: To ensure that hotel guests had access to the lobby as soon as possible, the designers were tasked with disassembling the build-out in one hour. ”They pulled it off,” Jankowski said.
While Frost struck the set, guests headed to an after-party in the hotel's Empire ballroom. Set with food stations that offered everything from mini turkey burgers to ice cream sundaes, the reception carried on the evening's theme with passed pizza slices and a deli-style sandwich station decked with jars of giant pickles. In the Red Lacquer room down the hall, DJ Donna D'Cruz—a New York import—spun music that brought guests and Joffrey ballerinas to the dance floor, just as planners intended. “Couture and Cocktails is one of our more casual events,” Jankowski said. “It's not in a gala setting; it's not in a traditional setting like our Nutcracker Tea. It's just a really fun dance party with great food and music, and it lets our donors have some fun with the dancers." The event also raises funds: This year, it raked in close to $250,000.