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Ted: It's Cold Shoulder Season...

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By Ted Kruckel

Even the best resort has its shoulder season, the time between something big and something else, when bookings are slow and folks grow listless.

New York has one too. It varies depending on your realm—for me it begins on Valentine's Day, slides through St. Patrick's, and ends the first day when it's warm enough to go bike riding (and I actually do). Winter vacation budgets (hot and cold) are exhausted, and Easter and spring break are still a ways off.

Welcome to cold shoulder season. I assume you are supposed to get lots of work done. But one has to take part in society, not to mention eat, so one ventures out. There's less purpose and enthusiasm, yet there's a concurrent sense of entitlement. New Yorkers seem to be thinking, "This better be worth putting on the Uggs."

In these tricky days, I think people stick to the devils they know, functions they've survived in years past. Here are two of mine:

ORCHIDS A GO-GO

The yearly Orchid Dinner at the University Club doesn't disappoint, assuming you like orchids. Benefiting the New York Botanical Gardens and heralding the arrival of its big exhibit (yes, it shows orchids), this business-attire dinner has a program that doesn't vary much from year to year, and doesn't need to. The drill begins with cocktails and a plant sale. You have to be on time to get a flower; one year I lucked out and got two. The sizable and healthy orchids (if the New York Botanical Garden can't grow a good plant, who can?) are not too pricey, and while you eat they get professionally wrapped for easy carry. Smart.

Everyone piles in quickly, you wonder why it's so crowded all of a sudden, but like all good evenings, its momentum builds. The main doors to the ballroom bust open, you spill through a dark long room where the tables are all tricked out by different designers with, you guessed it, orchids.

Some designers go farther than others. One has a six-foot Chinese pagoda-type deal with its own internal light source. Another is a large gazebo carpeted in cymbidium. But some are just tasteful little arrangements of beautiful orchids, some mossed, others in clear glass. The tables have simple but intelligent cards with about a paragraph of info about the types of orchids and props used. I don't know much about orchids, but I like to pretend (my talking points: I read The Orchid Thief, mother has a house near the Everglades).

Robert Couturier's table was a standout. The decorator, made known to me by a splashy Amy Fine Collins piece in Vanity Fair, admitted he had no idea what his table looked like. "It was done by the kids in the office," he said. Featuring a 30-inch Indian Ganesh statue carved from a single block of wood, it had power and aura. A discreet $2,200 (or was it $22,000?) price tag identified the gallery where "the kids" must have borrowed it. You've seen them these Ganeshes (Ganeshi?). It's the man with the elephant head, but do you really know what they're all about? Let's approach.

You could see that Mr. Couturier was pleased with his table as he peered intently while he circled. He didn't fuss or touch one thing as he zippily doled out the tusky god's back story. He was an Indian guy who got his head cut off for some unfair reason, and they (the gods?) felt sorry for him and gave him the head of an elephant. This recompense, questionable in my mind, rendered him real unique and eternal to boot and as a result he symbolizes forgiveness and long life. I think. It was dark and my handwriting could be better.

I also loved the centerpiece done by Zeze. Everyone knows him, he does floral design on East 52nd street, the dames I used to work with at GQ always used him, and he had this black van (now sold, he tells me) that was distinctive. Anyway, his arrangements were anchored by ceramic busts, with their heads exploding, a la Carmen Miranda, with orchids instead of fruit. Get it? His was the center of three tables hosted by House & Garden, all living up to their prominent placement.

The most outrageous number was implanted by Alan Tanksley. Its base was a beautiful carpet of flora that wrapped itself around an irregular metal scaffold way high, from which wide aluminum light shades dangled. It symbolized "life on Mars," and had red lightbulbs, get it? At first I disapproved—why so big? But legendary editor Marian McEvoy explained to me, "One of them must be over-the-top or else the whole room feels tasteful, which equals boring." Then I saw Alan and remembered how tall he is, so it all made sense.

A nitpicker might wonder why so much cocktail area is devoted to place cards and a cluster of unexplained and unseated designer tables in the cocktail area while the sale area is so cramped. But that same nitpicker is likely to re-up next year.

IN SEARCH OF SPRING (OR AT LEAST PASTEL)

Another perennial is the Society of Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital's Bunny Hop, which was held for years at FAO Schwarz. (Can you believe the store is closed? Is there a sign that says "Thanks for the memories"? Please let me know so I don't have to trudge over there.) This year the orphaned event was adopted by the American Girl Place store on 49th Street and Fifth Avenue.

I was hep to the American Girl phenom through my five-year-old niece, Kendra. (If you are too, I'm socially promoting you to the next paragraph.) It's this multifloor toy emporium with dolls of all ages and types, shockingly stereotypical (there's a squaw girl with her beaded headband in a desert panorama, or a Quaker lass who's praying). After you buy your American Girl you take her for lunch in the company cafeteria (they give you a nifty booster seat for the doll) and read her little brochure, which is 20 percent information about the doll (everyone has back story, it seems) and 80 percent information on what outfits and accessories your doll now needs. But a stroller and an outfit only sets you back $40 or so. Could be worse.

So I was double dipping, counting on crass commerciality (which equals good copy) while getting good uncle points with Kendra in tow. But it was just charming and well organized, not zooey and frenetic like FAO was at events, despite 450 kids and an equal number of parents/wranglers.

For starters, all the kid bars were cleverly styled, way more sophisticated than I expected (but not offering milk, cow or soy, seemed an oversight). Tulips popped out of grassy knolls where you expected cash registers. Non-branded activities like cookie decorating and candy-necklace stringing were well thought out and properly stocked (although not refreshed enough, I thought). Or you could visit franchisers like Berenstain Bears and Madeline.

The chow was plentiful, cleanly presented and really tasty for both adults and kids, and this being an uptown crowd I wrongly assumed Glorious Food catered it. Turns out an A-Girl in-house team did all the food and most of the decorating. Foot traffic was a tad sluggish at the nondenominational bunny photo station, but chalk that up to 30-degree weather. Lastly, the store staff was uniformly helpful and non-hokey.

Organizers were concerned that the venue change might hurt them revenue-wise, but the event raised $258,000, a success I'm told. Next year I suggest coming up with a separate event for boys however—there's not enough offered for them to overcome the humiliation of going to a doll store.

INVITE DIGEST

Since we're pushing repeater parties here, some notes on invites just arrived:

The New York Public Library's Young Lions have been doing one of the longest running and most successful "junior" events for years. It was also a fixed-format. You got there, went upstairs to make a hat to fit the year's theme, and then danced in the Celeste Bartos Forum. By way of disclosure: I served as vice chair for many years, but retired when I felt a little long in the tooth to be a Young Lion (although I see not all the peers my age feel the same way).

A few truly outr? outfits kept it lively, Bill Cunningham always covered it, and the place was always packed. But you can't do the same thing year in and year out and not expect attrition. This year they are gamely trying something new, a formal dinner followed by dancing modeled after Truman Capote's legendary Black & White ball. It would be a more inspired choice if the Rita Hayworth Foundation hadn't done it (and done it well) just a year or so ago, but the audiences don't overlap so much, I guess.

The invite is snappy, a fold-over format signals it's not the same old, same old.

People consider the original shindig Capote's zenith. But it was a private personal event, not a benefit, and his releasing of the 400-person guest list the next day showed real lack of judgment, not to mention manners, and served as a harbinger of faux pas to come. At least that is my take. I wonder: Will they do the egg and sausage buffet in the wee hours like he did?

The International Neuroscience Foundation has Gucci as a sponsor for its third time at bat, and a simple but imposing invitation (heavy stock works every time, folks). But are they overcompensating for Tom Ford's absence by listing about 150 (I got tired of counting) event officers and committee members?

JUST FACT-CHECKING

A few weeks back I annoyed a Louis Vuitton press person by reporting that Vogue's Hamish Bowles was not admitted at the store's gala opening event due to excessive crowding (although he was later welcomed to the second part of the event in a Lincoln Center tent).

But a little bird told me I missed the story. Apparently Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour also cooled her Blahniks streetside, patiently I gather, only to be turned away from the new shop. No room at the inn of impregnated vinyl for this fashion priestess. She was likewise admitted at said tent.

Now what I'm after is a description of the flower arrangement sent to Ms. Wintour the next day(s). Vendor? Size? Cost? I'll take anything. Or am I the only one who finds this fascinating?

Posted 03.24.04

Columnist Ted Kruckel is an experienced and opinionated former event and PR pro who ran events for 20 years for high-profile clients like Vanity Fair, Elle Decor, Christian Dior and Carolina Herrera. He shuttered his firm, Ted Inc., in 2003. You can email him at [email protected].

Bunny Hop photos by Cutty McGill

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