NEW YORK Don't call this event a theme party. “Authenticity is the word,” said Travel & Leisure creative projects director Laura Aviva, who created an African safari-style tent camp on Pier 46 at Hudson River Park for a party for the mag's annual World's Best awards. “The goal was for the event to bring the magazine to life, and have it be experiential and transport the guest to an actual tent camp,” Aviva said, noting that Africa figured prominantly in the awards. “It wasn't a theme party.”
To get that authentic feeling, Avivawho clearly enjoys the nitty-gritty of event productiondid considerable research and worked with an assortment of vendors for a one-of-a-kind event. Instead of phoning in an order to a single prop shop, she and Hawaii-based event designer Dean Christopher searched for items at 10 different places, from props houses like Props for Today and Eclectic/Encore, to an African street vendor, a flea market, safari retailer F. M. Allen and tour operator (and T&L award winner) Micato. (This also meant she couldn't just have one supplier pick up everything after the party, so Aviva was packing up props until 4:30 AM.)
Bernhard-Link Theatrical Productions constructed special hutswith thatching from a South African supplierand B. M. Barnsiding built long picnic tables from antique barn wood (the wood also made an appearance as the runway at a KCD-produced Ralph Lauren show).
To get some fairly authentic pan-African cuisine, Aviva gave two well-tagged cookbooks to caterer Olivier Cheng Catering & Events, who adapted the recipes and ended up serving a menu of almost completely new items. Wearing baggy, African-style linen shirts, the caterwaiters served hors d'oeuvres from wicker trays decorated with large leaves and branches, and cooks grilled sausages and shrimp inside one of the huts. The evening's theme cocktail was dawa (Swahili for “medicine"), made with Ketel One vodka, honey and lime juice.
This year marked the awards' return to ambitious venues: Prior to this party, Pier 46 had never hosted a special event, and in 2001 the mag talked the Giuliani crew into holding the awards at Gracie Mansion. But last year's party was held at the gorgeousbut familiarFour Seasons. In past years, the event also combined an awards presentation with a party; this year the mag gave out the awards at a small lunch for 50 at the Four Seasons and had a larger party that night on the pier.
When a wet weather forecast threatened to wreak havoc on the outdoor venue, P. J. McBride brought in a clear span (no poles), clear panel tent. But with the side and front panels left off, the tent let in the breeze and sunshine, and managed to protect the party without losing the feeling of being outside in what ended up as a warm, comfortable night.
For entertainment, photographer Tom Kletecka took old-fashioned looking photos of guests by transferring images from Polaroid film to paper. And The Lion King cast member Lucky Ngema put together a group of African drummers and dancers, who managed to get the crowd's attention before some brief remarks from American Express Publishing CEO Ed Kelly and T&L publisher Ellen Asmodeo, who toasted editor in chief Nancy Novogrod's 10th anniversary with the mag.
Read our coverage of last year's Travel & Leisure awards...
Read our coverage of 2001's Travel & Leisure awards...