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events styling

Fashion

Event stylist Philip Carr reveals his tips for throwing a great party

16th October, 2017

Philip Carr is one of Australia’s leading event stylists and his name has become synonymous with exceptional style and the ability to create incredible function spaces. He has worked with the likes of Bill Clinton and Princess Mary of Denmark and styled everything from a wedding for 2520 guests to Nelson Mandela’s 79th birthday. If there’s an event, Philip is the man to turn it into something memorable. I sat down with Philip to chat about the biggest mistake people make when it comes to styling weddings, the key to affordable style and what he does when he’s hosting an event at home…

How did you begin your career in event styling?

I started helping in my mother’s catering business whilst I was studying psychology at university. As catering moved more into faceted events, I got more and more involved in the business as the non-catering side developed into events as we know today. In the eighties, events were more about the catering, drinks and music. Today it has developed into multi layered theatrical productions where all aspects of the event are analysed to give guests a heightened experience on all senses from how a party looks, feels, smells to what you touch and hear.

It’s all about the details… A look at a recent event Philip styled at the Park Hyatt with a statement-making table setting

What has been your greatest career highlight so far?

Working on numerous functions for and with President Mandela including his 79th birthday party. I have also worked on functions for President Clinton, President [George] Bush and Princess Mary.

Philip Meeting US President Bill Clinton

You often style weddings. What has been your favourite to style so far?

There have been many weddings that I have thought were the best I have done until we do another which feels even better. The best are always the ones where I really collaborate with the client whilst at the same time, they allow me to show my creativity and reach places that are far beyond what they ever thought could be achieved. I recently did a wedding where the meal and speeches were in one room and then we had a reveal into the coolest party space filled with lights and palm trees.

A recent wedding Philip styled featured a party space filled with lanterns and palm trees

What has been the most lavish wedding you have styled?

I have done a wedding for 2520 guests of which the first room was the dining area for a meal that only lasted an hour with Armani beaded tablecloths and extravagant table appointments. After that the guests were transported into a dessert room with tables of desserts, fruits and dessert wines.

Philip’s work on display at the dining area of a wedding for 2520 guests

The extravagant place settings at the same event

What is the best event you have thrown for yourself?

Every year I have a Boxing Day party which is more about catching up with all my friends and having everyone over that is still in town. I like to spoil my friends with things that they may not have experienced and that is a reflection of my thoughts on entertaining. I like doing things like having a cheddar bar with all USA, French and English cheddars and serve it with fruit cake. Serving ideas that are concepts of relaxed easy entertaining with a sense of luxury—like a platter with 30 buratta cheeses, 60 figs, chardonnay vinegar, fig balsamic and Colonna olive oil with Sicilian lemons.

Catering at Philip’s Boxing Day parties always has an element of luxury such as this platter of buratta and figs

What is your number one tip for affordable style?

Don’t show people everything you thought of. Keep your idea simple and strong. All too often people take and copy ideas from too many sources without focusing on one strong idea.

A wedding at Catalina restaurant in Sydney’s Rose Bay – the execution of white and green flowers is simple, but by doing one thing en masse it makes an impact

What is the easiest way to transform an ordinary space into something breathtaking?

Good lighting can transform an ordinary space into a special space. The use of good lighting or lots of candles makes a space special and luxurious.

What are the biggest mistakes people tend to make when it comes to styling weddings?

Showing people everything that they thought of, dictated too much by Pinterest rather than a reflection of themselves and their personality. It’s important to make your wedding personal.

 

Where do you find inspiration for your events?

Everything around me inspires me. Whether I am travelling overseas, on a plane, in a good hotel, being served in a shop, they all become lessons for my business. It’s great to know how to make people feel good. I’m obsessed about good service and it’s great to go to hotels, restaurants and be inspired how others do it. I just stayed at The Arts Club in London and the layers of details whether in the room, the bathroom, the service was a great experience to learn from.

Who do you look up to in the industry?

I am invited to ICE (International Conference & Events), an event industry conference by invitation only. I am humbled by the colleagues that are invited and to be part of such a group of people. They not only inspire me, but give me strength and motivation to try achieve better and greater heights within my business. This year it is in Paris and the exposure and opportunities that I will experience will be invaluable and memorable.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

Rather earn $10 of your own money than $100 of somebody else’s.

How does social media work into your business?

I find social media works in a positive and negative way. I find too many people rely on too much of what they see and feel a strong need to copy other people’s thoughts, rather than crediting their own creativity and ideas. Often people don’t allow themselves to use their own creativity and personality and assume because it’s done by somebody else it’s a better idea. I like it in terms of creating a stamp on some of my ideas and thoughts. I have chosen to often see the comical side of a picture and made a quip on the photo. It allows you to see how clever so many people are and how you can be an artist in whatever you do.

Do you ever have to deal with difficult clients?

When one considers the nature of many of the events we do and the amount of money being spent, I feel clients deserve the best service. The nature of many events is often an emotional time on many levels other than the specific event. Emotions are often complex and events bring out many things. Weddings especially are so multi-faceted in emotion. From father of the bride giving away his daughter, to bridesmaids that are not the bride and more.

How do you handle them?

Often, they just need somebody to listen and vent their emotions and thoughts to. 99 per cent of the time it becomes all good on the day.

What exciting projects do you have coming up for the rest of the year?

Unfortunately, the most exciting thing happening is a large prestigious event that I have signed a disclosure for. Watch this space!!

Lifestyle, Lifestyle & Social

Interior design tips from Alex Zabotto-Bentley

1st March, 2017

As a former fashion designer, Alex Zabotto-Bentley is used to channelling his energy into many a stylish endeavour. He’s now channelling this artistic flair into interior design as the founder of AZBcreative. AZBcreative has masterminded some of Australia’s biggest media and social events, including the March into Merivale, CLEO Bachelor of Year and Harper’s Bazaar Luxury Awards. Among the company’s high-end clientele is Palazzo Versace, Waterford Crystal and The Sydney Theatre Company and singer Lady Gaga. Alex chats to me about how he made his mark in interior design and even lets me in on a few of his best styling secrets below.

AZB Styling pieces at home

What is a day in the life of you?

Apart from grappling with the eternal crisis of what to throw into my green juice, I am a very early riser. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been working late on a project or have just arrived on a redeye flight from Europe, I always wake up around 5am. Seize the day!

My philosophy is that to maximise your energy and productivity, you need to greet the sun every day. Get up before sunrise, head to your favourite vantage point – near the sea is always amazing – and watch it rise. And then (this is a bit spiritual), make your affirmations. It works, believe me. You start each day full of positive energy and resolve, ready to do your best work.

Alex makes a point of welcoming the day by watching the sun rise daily

How did you get started in interior design?

To be honest, I spent so much of my childhood transfixed by houses – I used to mentally ‘rate’ them for architectural balance on the walk to school. And while everyone else at school was buying [surfing publication] Tracks mag, I was saving my pocket money for World of Interiors!

My big breakthrough came when the wonderful, late [hotelier] Ian Robertson gave me carte blanche to design a massive, 4,000 square metre bar on the top of Melbourne’s GPO.

Even while working as a fashion director for magazines and designing my own label Fashion Assassin, I was leading a “double life”, doing interior projects for friends on the side.

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

With respect to interiors I have been able to really create magical spaces, which are like no other. It’s important to me to create a site-specific space, so we always try to custom make over 70 per cent of every interior. From designing our own range of tiles to creating our own pigment colours to working with local craftspeople to use their brilliant and sometimes under-appreciated skills.

Kittyhawk [restaurant in Sydney] is a good example of this approach. We created original fittings with a sense of place and history, that perfectly fit that space and tell a story. From the hand-dyed leather for the banquettes to the antique French oak doors, the 12-metre long, hand crafted American Oak bar to the custom-made brass-trimmed shelving and tesserae tile design which I drew freehand, there will never be anything else quite like it.

AZB Custom Tiles which Alex drew freehand

What is your favourite room in your own house?

Definitely my sitting room. It has a wonderful sense of space and light, with high 1920s ceilings and beautiful architectural details. The space is filled with hand selected furniture and decorative pieces that I have collected over time. Every piece tells a story and recalls a memory of a great trip or a weekend combing through flea markets or the thrill of discovering a new artist. It’s so much more than just a space. I love collecting art, so it’s like a private gallery with all the works I’ve collected, from original Keith Haring prints to beautiful, wild landscapes by Aaron Kinnane to modernist sculptures and abstract 1940s Italian art. But it’s not fixed; it’s an ever-evolving space, reflecting my travels and discoveries.

Keith Haring artwork which Alex adores

What made you move into events?

It’s all connected. Working on styling projects every day, I was invited to a lot of events and launches; you know how Sydney loves a party! But I felt that from the guest’s point of view, the event design industry was lacking inspiring, immersive experiences, a high taste level and beautiful, memorable moments. Too many events were basically a bar, some wait staff, a media wall and a DJ. Boring! They were forgettable and added nothing to the brands being promoted. So I decided to tackle this very closed, competitive industry head-on, developing a reputation for custom-designed elements and experiences specific to each client. People really connected with these branded environments. I think we ruffled a few feathers at first, but the clients loved it.

What is your number one styling tip for a special event?

If you do one thing, always use incredible flowers. In fact, always double the flower budget, and do something totally unique. I’m not talking about staid arrangements; go big and amaze people. Make an impact with colour and sheer mass. We have dipped phalaenopsis orchids in jet black paint, to emphasize their amazing sculptural properties, and people went crazy.

I also think it’s essential to make sure every single staff member looks impeccable and dressed to suit the brand, whether it’s crisp denim shirts for a whiskey tasting or impeccable black and white for a formal dinner. Make sure that the cocktails are totally desirable and unique and the catering is completely other-worldly…details, details make the event.

Alex suggests doing “use incredible flowers” if you are styling an event

What are the biggest mistakes people tend to make when it comes to styling an event?

When creating events, people often think that is just about getting the celebrities and current “cool” people to attend…but a lot of celebrities only stay for a brief time before sweeping off to the next thing, leaving a void. Without those glittering people, the room feels cold. To create an exciting and engaging event, you have to mix and layer the guest list with interesting people, from unique fashionistas to vibrant, animated people with something to say. Mix young and old, established names and up-and-comers: chance encounters create energy. The magic is in the mix.

What have been your top three favourite projects so far?

Only three? Ok, one would be working with the wonderful [PR company] Max Media Lab to conjure a magical Swarovski dinner at the Sydney Opera House with Miranda Kerr. We created modern, shimmering spaces inside Bennelong, mixing white perspex, mirrors, metal and glass with acres of flowers and shimmering ornaments to embody Swarovski’s latest collection. From the entrance, flanked by giant beaten silver vases of cascading roses and orchids to the shimmering, crystal-strewn white carpet, to the show-stopping. monumental stainless steel, geometric sculpture by Gregor Kregar, we owned that space! Attention to detail is a signature of our work, so we cut custom tabletops from white Perspex and applied delicate mirrored gold designs, then topped the tables with cubist vases to hold lavish, eccentric floral arrangements. Miniature French busts, half dipped in gold, added to the decadence.

The Swarvorski ‘White Carpet’ event

As far as interior projects, one of the most unusual was creating Seadeck for Scott Robertson [Seadeck’s managing partner] and his team. It’s an amazing floating venue on a gorgeous vintage ship: a 44 metre blank slate and a wonderful challenge. Inspired by the peak of luxury cruising, from the 1920s through 1940s we put a sophisticated twist on nautical design over three vast decks. Overall, it is a minimalist space in navy and white, with custom white lounges, Carrara marble table-tops, a bespoke brass-trimmed bar, curated nautical decorations and iconic four metre high palm trees.

Of course, working on a boat is a challenge in itself. Everything needs to be fixed to the deck, protected from the elements and the furniture needs to double as clever storage. We were essentially designing an interior which would be exposed to wind, rain and sun 365 days a year, yet had to remain luxurious and unforgettable.

Finally, we’ve had a long working relationship with Justin Hemmes and the Merivale Group. Producing and creative directing their March into Merivale event in 2015 was amazing. We welcomed about 100,000 people over five weeks, with 19 events across their venues, from The Ivy to Coogee Pavilion and everywhere between! Every venue and every event required a different approach and spoke to a different audience. We worked with chefs and sponsors to create custom experiences and environments, conceptualised and engaged entertainment, designed and crafted specific installations, stalls and furniture to express each venue and turned the whole Ivy laneway into a new dimension. Who needs sleep, anyway? The hard work paid off, though: we won a national design award for event activation.

Alex’s work at Merivale’s Ivy Pool Club

How closely do you work with the brands when designing their spaces?

We work incredible closely with our clients. As specialists in branded environments, we need to understand their message and values thoroughly, to create spaces communicate the brand to their customers. The clients we have are very diverse, and each requires a specific solution, whether it be an international beauty brand like Avon to a boutique winery like [the one created for wine brand] Cloudy Bay, to creating branded environments for Westfield to super sized festivals at Coogee Pavilion. We spend a lot of time at the briefing stage to understand the client’s real needs

A table setting designed by AZB for March into Merivale

What has been the best piece of advice you have ever received?

To create change. What I mean is, don’t just talk about it, do it. And do it differently. Never stop learning and innovating. Design isn’t a static business. Technology changes, society changes…you can’t afford to stand still or rest on your laurels.

What’s coming up in 2017?

We were honoured to be awarded several international Design Awards last year which really raised our profile, and we’re working on hotel projects, villa interiors and immersive experiences in Europe, Bali, Flores and Sydney…and we have some restaurant and bar projects that will change the way Sydney-siders approach dining and going out. I can’t say too much, but watch this space – there are some amazing things coming!

You can check out more of Alex’s work on Instagram at @azbcreative