How to Throw a Legendary Party (It’s Easier Than It Looks)

Turn your spring bash into a blockbuster hit, a la Jay Gatsby.

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Everybody likes a good party. But everyone loves a party that has the potential to become legend.

Whether you’re throwing a cozy shindig at home for a small group of close friends, or a formal dinner-and-dance extravaganza at a popular venue, you want your event to be memorable. How can you do this? By making sure every detail—from the signature drink to the music in the air—is fun and original. As you plan your upcoming spring celebration, consider these red-hot party trends for inspiration. 

Turn to pop culture. A few years back, at the peak of its popularity, the hit TV show Madmen sparked a major trend toward theme parties based on popular shows or films. Suddenly 1960s parties featuring beehive hairdos and retro cocktails (Sidecar or Cuba Libre, anyone?) were everywhere. Then, when the Baz Lurmann’s remake of The Great Gatsby hit theaters last year, roaring twenties bashes were all the rage. To some extent, party planners are still riding the Gatsby wave, calling the latest events “speakeasy” or “prohibition” parties. Bottom line: If you’re short on party themes, tap into pop culture for inspiration. It won’t be hard persuading fun-loving guests to don a vintage costume and step into a different time or place.

Let art illustrate life.  A recent trend in the party-planning world is to make art a main attraction. Works by popular or emerging artists can be hung, gallery style, in the party room so that guests can get a little culture while they eat, drink and be merry. The displayed paintings or prints also serve as great conversation fodder, encouraging guests to mingle and talk. And that’s the sign of a successful bash, right?

Explore new venues. I’m probably not the only one who is getting tired of parties in hotels. That venue is sort of “been there, done that.” If your home isn’t large enough and you need to host at an outside location, look for creative locations. Look for interesting places you wouldn’t normally think about—museums, rooftops, salons, art galleries, and the list goes on. Also consider underutilized locations, like private dining rooms, with pretty views. You may not be aware that your favorite restaurant has a hidden private room in the back or basement, so always ask.

Look to the runways for decorating ideas. So many trends trickle down from the fashion runways, and party trends are no exception. This spring and summer, there are many beautiful fashion trends that I see being translated. For instance, designers showed big pops of graphic color and, on the flip side, some very feminine and romantic styles with texture and trims. You can take those colors, textures and styles and incorporate them into your party decorating. For instance, last year, both textured fabrics and the color white were big fashion trends, and at its opening gala the San Francisco Ballet used various forms of muted color, such as white and gold and beautifully toned pewter, combined with textured linens with silk-fabricated leaves, creating a table scape with a tactile feel and elegant look. It was a lovely way to give guests something to touch and admire.

Consider interactive entertainment. Live entertainment—from small jazz ensembles and DJs to full-blown orchestras—will always be in demand. But if you want to throw a memorable party, jump on the latest trend: interactive entertainment. The idea is to have live, costumed performers act as if they’re part of the scenery, or have them mingle among party guests. At last year’s opening of the San Francisco Opera, whose theme was “Garden of Good and Evil,” performers were dressed like trees and standing among faux foliage. Nearby guests assumed they were standing next to trees when, out of the blue, a “tree” would move or say something to them. It was truly fun and original.

Become a mixology master (but don’t forget to feed them). Wine is still fine, but now there’s a huge trend toward mixed drinks. On the heels all those retro parties came all the vintage drinks—first it was 1960s gin and bourbon concoctions worthy of Don Draper; then “bootlegging parties” began featuring barrel-aged cocktails and other speakeasy treats. People love the idea of having a featured cocktail, especially when it ties into the overall party theme. Two years ago, the Edgewood Fair in San Francisco had a Tiki theme, so beautiful tropical drinks were integrated with the menu of chicken satay and pineapple-flavored dishes. But keep one thing in mind when you’re throwing a cocktail party: Make sure you offer plenty to eat, especially if your guests are coming from work, otherwise they’ll leave your party early in search of food. And what party planner wants that?

—Lori Shigekane is an event planner based in San Francisco.