Caption: Crystal decor by Sarah Sparkles for ENVY installation at Bonnet Bash- Carnival of Capital Sins
On a cool spring night you stroll down the iconic tree-lined streets alongside Gramercy Park and enter a bastion of glamorous old New York: the National Arts Club. You are greeted by a nymph-like demon who invites you inside to explore your sins. She hands you a card that says ENVY and tells you to find the crystal red velvet rope. Upon entering the party space, you are greeted by SLOTH, a glittering goddess lounging languidly on a bed of jewel-toned velvet fabrics and fur pillows.
There is a shrine to the goddess Venus behind her, a tray of grapes and delectable berries beside her. She invites you to join. You lie beside her, and she strokes your hair, fans you gently with feathers, and feeds you fruit. You feel relaxed and welcomed. You thank her and continue exploring the space. The sensuous rock-and-roll sound of Billy Idol’s “Flesh for Fantasy” fills your ears, and you see a bleach-blond young man gyrating onstage, clad in custom leather straps amid the featured LUST fashion display by designer Veritee Hill. You remember the card in your pocket, ENVY, and head for the most sparkly pocket of the room, where you hand your card to a masked maven with a gold crystal clipboard, step behind the red crystal rope, and take a seat. She pours you a glass of champagne into a golden crystal-encrusted flute. Your table is adorned with crystal-covered roses and cherries and a plate of ornate chocolate. You watch as the sea of opulently adorned revelers begins to cluster around the stage as the hat contest begins. You sit back, titillated and sated, immersed in the decadent world of Bonnet Bash: Carnival of Capital Sins.
The journey that took me down the road to designing a sold-out immersive art party at an exclusive old New York social club started nearly twenty years ago while I was scavenging for art materials out of recycling dumpsters to create installations for underground Brooklyn warehouse parties. Over the years I’ve taken on numerous event-production roles; my favorites include assisting set designer Douglas Little for seven years on Bette Midler’s Hulaween party decor, working as an interactive host and performer at Abby Hertz’s LUST sensual dinner parties, and doing commissioned costumes and art pieces for the private events of her company, AHZ Concepts.
After many years of contributing to other people’s visions, it is a special treat when I get to design my own event! I was very excited when I received a message from Nina Urban, my friend on the fashion committee at the National Arts Club, inviting me to design an interactive environment for their spring gala Bonnet Bash. A few years prior, I designed enchanted-forest-themed decor for the party. This year they wanted to do an immersive seven-deadly-sins-themed event. The first thing that crossed my mind was “there will be sparkle gluttony!!” And off to the drawing board I went.
Like any ritual, a good party is a liminal space to turn dreams into reality, to inspire new pathways with the beauty and power of a shared experience with kindred folk or lovely strangers. The power of enchanted party planning can take your guests on a journey to another place and time where expansion can happen and fantasies come true. And so, as with any ritual, you have to think first about what spell you’re going to cast. You set your intention, collect the desired ingredients, and invite your circle. Whether your event is public or private, on a luxury budget or DIY, spiritually themed or an aesthetically glamorous fete, you can, with clear intention and attention to detail, create the ultimate space to enchant your guests.
First, you need to clarify your theme and intention. What spell are you casting? What story are you telling? What journey will your guests be taking? What energy do you want to imbue upon them? Make the theme or intention very clear in the invite. Include a suggested dress code. Next, focus on the engaging the five senses. With the theme in mind, what do you want your guests to see, smell, taste, touch, and hear? What characters live in this world you are inviting people into? Curate the performances, the interactive characters, the musicians, the activities, the playlist, the food and beverages and decor to tell the story of the spell you are casting.
For the metaphysically inclined, there tends to be an animistic belief that there is energy in everything in the natural world. Throughout human history, entire schools of thought have been devoted to the knowledge of color vibrations, stones, flower essences, and astrology. Harnessing this ancient school of thought can assist in casting the spell of your event. The date you set will be the astrological signature of your event. I always pay attention to whether the moon is waxing or waning. High-energy parties are more aligned with a waxing or full moon, a more low-key event or one that gravitates toward seeking closure should be held during a waning moon, and an event that involves intention setting should occur at a new moon. I will do my best to avoid planning an event of great significance during a Mercury or Venus retrograde. Mercury rules communication, transportation, and technology; Venus rules love, pleasure, and creativity.
My favorite element of event design is the spellcraft woven into the decor. You can enhance the desired energy through choices of color (pink for love, red for passion), candles, flowers, and fragrance. There should be at least one altar that celebrates whatever energy you are honoring or drawing in. You can also use the altar concept when envisioning table centerpieces or displays for the food. For Bonnet Bash, I created a shrine to Venus because I wanted the guests to have a sensual experience that was inspiring to the senses—generous, decadent, pleasurable. The altar at the head of the SLOTH space was laden with grapes, pink roses, butterflies, trays of fruit, glittering wine bottles, fur pillows, and sensual fabrics. The performer hosting the space was Libra goddess Katherine Crockett. Libra is ruled by Venus.
You cast the spell on your event through the choice of performers and music. Curate dancers and live musicians who can interact and perform with deep resonance to the energy you are trying to cultivate. Create costumes that align with each character’s or performer’s essence, and plan a communal activity that brings everyone together for a shared, focused intention. At Abby Hertz’s Lust parties, there was a signature “sex magic ritual” in which four sensual women called in the directions by enacting their own embodiments of their chosen elements—earth, air, fire, or water.
As a designer, what is your personal signature, your energetic branding in the art of your event? Imbuing the event with your personal signature plants the seed of intention for the art path you wish to cultivate and the gift you specifically wish to share with the world. My signature is sparkles, and my favorite technique is custom embellishment with Swarovski crystals. Crystals add a luxury bling to all things. The handcrafted objects I make serve to elevate the aesthetic of any event. I was able to really flex my crystal muscle with the design of the ENVY VIP booth at Bonnet Bash. Every element of the decor was encrusted with crystal, from the red velvet rope down to the door girl’s golden crystal clipboard. If you’re doing ongoing events, make sure to elaborate on your signature and continue to add new elements so you and your guests continue to be inspired.
When you’re aware of the devastating toll of excess consumption and pollution on our environment, it is crushing to bear witness to the amount of waste that often happens at the end of a one-night event. As designers we can make empowered choices that minimize waste while also creating generous experiences for your guests. Use decor that people can win as prizes or be given as keepsakes at the end of the night, or that can be rented, repurposed, or donated. If there are flowers at your event, assign characters to give them to guests as they are leaving. If you’re working with decor you intend to throw in the garbage, you’re probably not excited about those items and your guests won’t be either. One of my favorite designers to work with is Ellen Robin of Flower Culttt, who is committed to minimizing her environmental impact. For the past year, she has eliminated foam from her flower installations and has found less wasteful alternatives that keep her flowers robust. Flower Culttt has also turned numerous installations into interactive gift giving events with a bodega flower-cart display for Swarovski’s Times Square launch party and bouquets for guests picked from a hanging garden for St. Germain.
When working with a DIY budget, putting all the elements together can be approached as a treasure hunt. You can scavenge in nature for elements that represent the season, from wild flowers to branches, shells, and stones. Enchantments NYC sells affordable incenses, oils, and other tools for ritual purposes. Ask friends for unwanted art supplies, plan a potluck menu, make a list of characters and ask friends to dress up, design a playlist, ask friends to perform or help run the event, and offer a trade. Create a cabaret or open mic structure. Ask everyone to bring an item from home for the altar. What a DIY event lacks in financial resources can be made up for with a strong feeling of communal bonding.
For ticketed public events or a luxury gala, take advantage of the budget to hire specialty artists to create highly customized art installations, costumes, performances, food, and drink that will amplify the essence of the theme of your event. Do your homework on industry rates and be prepared to pay performers and staff what they are worth. Treat your staff with respect, and they will make magic! Whether a lavish gala or intimate gathering of friends, your ability to curate with a clarity of intention and attention to detail will cast a spell that will turn imagination into reality.