Secrets to a successful soiree

Two seasoned hosts and party pros share their secrets to a successful soiree

Angelique Fris-Taylor planned Colin Mathura-Jeffree's 40th birthday celebration. She says finger-food should fit into a napkin.
Angelique Fris-Taylor planned Colin Mathura-Jeffree's 40th birthday celebration. She says finger-food should fit into a napkin.

SAM SARGENT

Sam Sargent initially seems disconcertingly young to be the director of a super-high profile company specialising in "brand communications", "international talent and artists" and "luxury experiences". He definitely looks the part though, immaculately groomed and dressed to smart/casual perfection, when we meet at the humming new Ponsonby Central to chat, and when he starts talking it's immediately clear he's something of a boy wonder when it comes to his business.

"I used to have a lot of parties of my own, until I started to get really serious about my business," Sargent tells me. "I would say I've got quite an innovative style. I try to approach things from an angle that I don't see others in the market in New Zealand and Australia doing. I guess my approach is crazy, innovative and fresh."

With a particular passion for red carpets and summer boating parties with "lots of champagne," it also soon becomes clear when Sargent says he likes to think of himself as "very detailed," he's not kidding.

"Attention to detail, making people feel comfortable, that's what I love to do."

The perfect person then, to talk to about the planning of parties and events.

What are some secrets to creating the perfect event?

• Simple is sensational. Don't go overboard with colour or clutter.

• Music times mood equals results. If the equation works you'll get the results.

• Scent is a big one. We did an event for one of our clients where we lit an entire room with DL & Co candles. It smelled so incredible. The smell of a room can really set things apart. So - smell, taste, touch - all the senses.

• Ensure everyone leaves with something, beyond just a memory, something physical. We're not huge on goodie bags though - so last century. We try to do different things. Candles are great. Half-bottles of champagne. Don't give anything that's going to deteriorate, like flowers, they're just useless.

• Always have a Plan B and a Plan C.

How important is the invitation?

I have to be really hands-on with invitations because it's the first thing people see and it really sets the mood. I love black envelopes, I love white envelopes. I love wax stamping. I love embossing things with gold. Font is important, I'll spend hours online looking at different typefaces. If it's anything over a hundred I'll do it electronically. But I'm still a huge believer in the traditional method, hand-written names, gorgeous calligraphy; it's so vital.

What are some of the best or most effective invitations you've sent or received?

One was for 42Below, it came in a glass test tube, with a cork in the top. The theme was "laboratory". Really authentic, really cool. And the Louis Vuitton invitation I got last week for their Christmas party - it has gorgeous gold embossing on a 3D cutout, so you open it and all these suitcases and gold emblems come out.

How do you create the right atmosphere?

Lighting. Sound. And food and drink. Think about flavour, think about decorating, be creative - but not with colour. If you have a mojito, how can you make it look a little bit different - you could peel the zest off the lime in twirls and put that in rather than just a diced lime on the side. If you're going to do an event in summer, do lots of white, then dress it up with lights and flowers and candles, all those little things people love to be around.

Favourite music to play?

It's event-dependent. I do like to play wallpaper music - music that's there, and is good, but it's not really noticed. If you've got a lawn party in the summer, a two or three-piece band is great, If you want a funky party, go for a funky band, if you want a dancey party, go for a dance DJ, or just get a really good iPod with some old school opera and things like that on it.

CHECKLIST

Party food?

It's a real seafoody time of year so scampi, scallops ... In the winter do your heavier meats, venison, lamb. Small portions. Canapes work a treat.

Table arrangements?

Don't go overboard on the tables. Do gorgeous centrepieces, in neutrals or pastels then dress everything up around it. I'm loving tumblers. And stemless wine glasses. Always use fine glass, don't use heavy thick glassware. It makes the sensation of drinking so much better.

Decorations?

Golds, whites, yellows. And teals. And stripes. I'm loving outdoor open tents at the moment, and Parisian tents - they've got no sides on them and you can line the rim with strip lighting. Flowers, and this time of year, peonies. I love roses too.

Drinks?

Have Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage rather than Imperial, it's absolutely stunning, the bottles are divine, the champagne is beautiful. Go all out on water. Water is key. Coconut water is great for breakfast events.

Party no-nos?

Don't ever do cocktails themed to the colour of your party. If you're throwing a party for your friend who loves the pink, don't you dare do pink cocktails. They are so naff. Don't get too frilly, it's so 2009.


ANGELIQUE FRIS-TAYLOR

Super chic, delightfully vivacious and brilliantly in charge, Angelique Fris-Taylor is a well-known personality in New Zealand public relations, with more than 25 years in the beauty, fashion, lifestyle and PR industries. Formerly director of Fresh PR, which she founded in 2002, and currently director at her new enterprise Publicity PR, Fris-Taylor is legendary for creating special events with her own signature brand of sparkle and charm.

"I constantly put on events to showcase clients' products, and as such, play hostess," she says. "I've always liked planning parties and socialising, so it's a natural thing for me."

Describing her style and approach to event-planning as "easy and maybe a little grand sometimes", Fris-Taylor is the go-to for companies like Smashbox and Toni & Guy and high-flying celebs like Colin Mathura-Jeffree (whose 40th birthday bash she helped organise) and says her parties are set apart by "making sure everyone is having fun" and "throwing in the unexpected".

Choosing a recent highlight, she talks us through the envy-inducing backstage happenings at the New Zealand Music Awards.

"We collaborated with (event planners) The WolfPack and made the hair and makeup room a "candyland" for the musicians and performers, transforming it into the essential "sugar-rush stop", complete with paper bags and mini shovels to do your own takeaways. It went down a treat, creating talkability and was a great photo prop to have fun with."

We asked Fris-Taylor to run through her must-dos and don'ts for sensational parties, big and small.

Every good party needs ...

Amazing music, a mix of interesting people and great lighting.

What are some of your secrets to creating the perfect event?

• Something is always going to happen that you can't control. Best antidote? Laugh. You have to.

• Beautiful lighting. If your party is starting when it's daylight and going into the evening, switch all the lamps on dimmer, so you can forget about it. The mood is created.

• Capture the moment with photos. When it came to Colin Mathura-Jeffree's 40th at The Wharf, both Colin and I agreed we wanted the longest and biggest photo wall so everybody was photographed. We wanted everyone to feel special and have a memento of the night. We loaded all the images up on Publicity PR's Facebook page so everyone could tag and share. To date it was our highest page of views with over 6500 checking the images from all over the world.

• Security is essential. Gatecrashers are not wanted. It also makes everything more serious and official.

• Create a diverse guest list by mashing up personalities and dynamics, so you never know who you're going to meet.

• If everyone is a little stiff, try a round of Cafe Patron shooters.

Party no-nos?

Finger foods that can't fit into a napkin. Egg, because it's smelly - where are the peppermints? Not serving some sort of food. You must be a responsible host.

How important is the invitation?

It is hugely important as it sets the tone of the party. For home parties we'll send an email invitation, usually with a ridiculous image on it. When Montblanc brought The Art of Shopping exhibition to New Zealand, we hand-delivered 200 invitations.

What are some of the best or most effective invitations you've sent or received?

The most gorgeous to date has to be the Gucci Race Day invite. Thick, decadent and luxurious. Wanted by everyone.

How do you create the right atmosphere?

By making sure all the key elements are in place. When you pull in a great team, you work seamlessly together. Great waiting staff make all the difference - no one likes empty glasses and plates lying around. When you walk in, everybody should feel immediately comfortable and not awkward. A drink should be served and introductions made. If someone's at a loose end, introduce them to another group.

Favourite music to play?

Mixing up old and new, such as Sade, Hotel Costes, Cafe Del Mar, Nina Simone with a bit of disco thrown in, like Earth Wind And Fire.

What are the keys to successful food?

For parties keep it casual and simple. A cheeseboard, nuts and sliced fruits, with a selection of speciality breads is simple for people to serve themselves. As the party progresses, serve quick hot and tasty nibbles like baby chicken vol-au-vents to mini hotdog sliders. Pre-ordering Il Bucco pizza is perfect too. For events, I leave it to the professionals to step in and pick a theme of food that relates to the season and guests. This gets really exciting as you see different food combinations and trends with presentation. Also, remember vegetarian and gluten-free options.

What drinks do you always have to hand?

Veuve Cliquot, 42Below vodka, Stolen Rum, gin and tonic, Red Bull and Perrier.

CHECKLIST

Party food?

I've just discovered the joys of having a private chef cooking in your own home. I was introduced to Sam Campbell last year and he did the most stunning dinner for a special occasion recently. My guests loved it and so did I. It's my new favourite thing, plus I pick up tips.

Table arrangements?

At home we have a massive table with a "lazy Susan". It feels like being in the Brady Bunch sitcom and is a great conversation-starter.

Decorations?

Lighting. Can you tell I like lighting? Chinese lanterns across the pool and in the trees, and lots of candles.

Drinks?

Cool and refreshing mojitos for summer parties. A divine pinot noir for winter.

Some simple suggestions for readers holding their own parties this summer?

• Hire a waiter or two. You want to relax at your own party, not get swallowed up by it!

• Lots and lots of ice, limes, lemons and mint.

• Have fun music to dance to.

• Remember to slow down and enjoy yourself.

- NZ Herald

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