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!!