If you fancy yourself an entertainer, then November is right about the time when you stare into the face of annual holiday party planning, and wonder, “How can I make this year’s event special for my guests?”
For holiday entertaining with a twist, Previews® Inside Out tapped the creative mind of Jes Gordon, an award-winning event producer, reality TV personality and author of “Party Like a Rock Star: A Celebrity Party Planner’s Tips and Tricks for Throwing an Unforgettable Bash.” She offered us her no-frills party advice, mixed with a few personal touches that will help take your holiday parties from dull to dazzling.
Previews Inside Out In your opinion, what makes a party unforgettable?
Jes Gordon If a party evokes a positive emotional response from your guests, then you rocked it! Not only does the party have to look beautiful, but it needs to feel beautiful as well. Anyone can throw money at an event, but it needs to express who the host is somehow—so his or her guests feel at home and honored that they were invited. Exceptional service is also important. When you are throwing the event yourself and don’t have any help, just pre-determine what your guests needs are and nip it in the bud. Make sure you have back-ups of everything. A beautiful party is a wonderful thing, but if your guests feel intimidated or scared to relax, then your party is unsuccessful. You don’t need to show off in order to have a great party. Just be yourself.
Previews Inside Out What did you learn from helping the chefs on “Rocco’s Dinner Party”? Could it be applied to holiday party planning?
Jes Gordon We had NO time whatsoever to put those rooms together, so it’s important to think fast on your feet and let the little things go. Remember that your guests don’t know what happened behind the scenes to get the party done. If something small doesn’t happen (like a flower arrangement), your guests didn’t know it was supposed to be there in the first place. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Previews Inside Out What are some of the latest entertaining trends?
Jes Gordon With Etsy.com, Pinterest and reality TV, many folks are doing DIY projects. Great recipes are readily available to us from celebrity chefs. Designers are showing us their secrets. And wonderful craftsmen props are available as well. I think hosts are taking matters into their own hands a lot more these days, if they have the time. You can literally Google how to make a holiday centerpiece. I am not saying it will come out perfectly, but I notice that folks are willing to give it a try. I also notice that people are being more responsible about their environment by using recycled elements, such as bamboo or melamine serving plates. Some are even trying to repurpose elements from other parties, such as vases or candle holders.
Previews Inside Out What’s your No. 1 holiday gala must-have this year?
Jes GordonSomething interactive. A fun digital photo booth is great anywhere. I know it sounds somewhat childish, but the quality of photo booths have come a long way. They are easily rentable, and it’s something you can share with your entire guest list long after the event. Plus, many of them are social media friendly, which everyone seems to demand these days.
Previews Inside Out Can you walk us through one of your typical parties at home?
Jes Gordon Well, it’s a lot mellower than you would EVER imagine! I love daytime events like a fun brunch. I like putting out eggs, bacon, sausage, muffins and bagels with coffee and “morning juices” such as Mimosas and Bloody Marys, and letting my guests chill out. I love to create floor seating; cushions around a giant coffee table and let folks eat sitting on the floor. I play loud Steely Dan, and then we work off our brunch with long sets of disco. I love nostalgia…playing music that folks haven’t heard in a while (but still love) and serving up food we aren’t allowed to eat anymore. To me, entertaining happens when we get to do what we don’t do on a daily basis; we eat carbs, we drink, we laugh and we love.
Previews Inside Out When considering holiday event themes, is the rule “anything goes”?
Jes Gordon I am a bit of a party rebel, so for me, anything goes! Except for things that might make guests feel uncomfortable. I often remind my party planners that the event isn’t really for them, but rather it is for their guests. So if you don’t believe in a “White Christmas” and you would rather do a “Purple Christmas,” that is fine…but do it tastefully so your guests still understand while they are there.
Previews Inside Out What are some of the more unusual holiday party themes you’ve heard of?
Jes Gordon Some I simply can’t mention! But when I work on the West Coast, people definitely have a different view of the holidays since it never snows. I have done many Chanukah and Christmas pool parties, which is slightly perverse for me, being a New Yorker and all! On the East Coast, I have produced an entire holiday party for dogs. We produced an event for Purina, and they invited celebs and their furry friends. Let’s just say it was a joyous event. Dogs are certainly easy to please!
Previews Inside Out What are some easy ways to take a holiday party from lax to luxe?
Jes Gordon Hire a professional staff, such as chefs, waiters and coat check. It is always a great way to raise the bar on entertaining because you can stay out of the kitchen and be amongst your guests all evening. Specialty champagne bars or infused vodka bars are also fun. I also adore the idea of doing a modern play on a retro drink bar by serving Manhattans, Sidecars and Martinis. A caviar bar is certainly luxe. You don’t necessarily need to spend more money to make things luxe. You can get creative and use rich colors like jewel tones that make your room look more saturated. Your textures are important too. Faux fur and silk-based linens have a luxurious feel, and these textiles are easily accessible at most décor stores. Offering bath towels in the bathroom are a nice detail that raises the bar on home entertaining as well.
Previews Inside Out What are some unique touches that always seem to impress guests?
Jes Gordon Things that go bling or sparkle usually “wow” people. Anything personalized or custom, such as specialty cocktails, theatrical light changes, an indoor fireworks show, Cirque du Soleil-inspired performances or DJs mixed with live instrument performances also seem to do the trick.
Previews Inside Out Charity fundraising events are big business around the holidays. What advice would you give to someone who was planning or hosting a charity event this year?
Jes Gordon Make sure to keep the focus on the charity. A lot of folks get so wrapped up in the party that the guests sometimes forget what they are really doing there in the first place. Be sure to include the brand of the charity in everything you do for the party…whether it is the logo colors or mission statements printed on cocktail napkins.
Previews Inside Out You’ve worked with celebrities like Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Lopez, Martha Stewart, Vera Wang and many others. How do you approach events with an A-list guest list?
Jes Gordon Celebrities often don’t get to enjoy their own parties sometimes simply because they are stuck on the red carpet most of the time. When working with celebrities, I always create a “secret oasis” where they can get away from everyone. These rooms are comfortable, dark and calming. I always provide a tasting of the food from the party and pump the playlist into the room too, so they can feel a part of the event while getting ready to go back out there!
Previews Inside Out Lastly, do you have any advice for homeowners who want to host their annual holiday party, but are also in the midst of selling their home? Is it possible to do both?
Jes Gordon Why not? What better way to show off how lovely your home can be during the holiday season? I wouldn’t suggest transforming all of your home décor, but rather highlighting the amazing features of your home with chic holiday adornments.
Jes Gordon is a New York-based event producer and designer, author and television personality, most recently starring on Bravo’s “Rocco’s Dinner Party.” She is the former host of Fine Living Network’s “The Perfect Party” and the resident Event Planning expert on the Style Network and MyStyle.com. She is the CEO and creative director for her design firm jesGORDON/properFUN.