Robert Severini | Wildlife Conservation Society

Photo by From Parris With Love

Robert Severini

Director, Events and Catering

Wildlife Conservation Society

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How does the guest experience differ when attending an event at a zoo or aquarium, compared to a traditional venue?

This is a much deeper question than it leads on. What is a “traditional venue” in today’s world? With people hosting events in open fields and farms, on rooftops of skyscrapers, at sporting arenas that fit 25,000+ people, and everything in between, “traditional” has definitely been broadened; thankfully!

Schiff Hall | Unique Lapin Photography | Planning by Angie Neveraz of Baton | Light by Frost Productions

We consider ourselves a Cultural Institution, just like any museum in the city. As a Cultural Institution, our primary Mission Statement is more focused on global initiatives, rather than hosting events. I mention this as our Mission drives “how” and “why” we sell events, but also “what” events we host. When hosting an event at any one of our five properties, we want all of our guests to experience the history of the properties, as well as the story each one of them is trying to tell. Our marketing tagline sounds something like this:

𝐌𝐚𝐤𝐞 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐠𝐫𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐠𝐨 𝐟𝐮𝐫𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫!


All event proceeds support the Wildlife Conservation Society’s mission to help save wildlife and wild places around the globe. We do so through science, global conservation, education, and the management of the world’s largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo.

From a more fun event-sided approach, our properties obviously have informative animal exhibits, which is a huge difference from any of the other “event venues.” In addition to being able to view and learn about the animals, our properties and their buildings, contain so much amazing history and architecture.

Rainey Gates Wedding Bridal Party at the Wildlife Conservation Society Events and Catering
Rainey Gates | Cody Raisig Photography

Some of our “selling points” are: dine in our Congo exhibit, overlooking the gorillas; or, enjoy cocktail hour inside of the Madagascar exhibit with the lemurs, then grab some canapés next to the California sea lions; or, celebrate your Mitzvah underwater the sharks; or, just stroll through our Tropics and Penguin exhibits while sipping cocktails, starring at the 59th Street skyline.

Wedding at the Wildlife Conservation Society Congo Exhibit
Congo Exhibit| Cody Raisig Photography

We certainly have guidelines and restrictions in which we need to work within, but our truly unique Experiences are certainly more than just adding some décor or games to a blank space or ballroom, our venues literally have a life and story of their own!

All of your zoos and aquariums are so unique. What are some of the most impactful ways that past events have utilized these spaces?

Another great question! With such unique spaces, I like to think that you do not need to do much to make these spaces work for you. However, we are event planners and we are always going to figure out ways to make the normal into extraordinary!

Schiff Hall Wedding with the Wildlife Conservation Society Events and Catering
Schiff Hall | Kate Osborne Photography | Florals & Design by Anthony Brownie Flowers & Events | Light by Frost Productions | Planning by Little Red Bean Productions

A few years back Anthony Taccetta Event Design did this really fun “Jungle Theme” at the Central Park Zoo location. It really played into the Central Park Zoo’s theme well.

In the same exact space, The Firm Event Design turned that space into Whoville from Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” You almost forgot where you were when you walked in! Even the CEO of our society brought his family by to check it out.

Wildlife Conservation Society Events and Catering Christmas Party at Central Park Zoo
Central Park Zoo | Line 8 Photography | Design and Production by The Firm Event Design

Wildlife Conservation Society Central Park Zoo Events and Catering
Central Park Zoo | Line 8 Photography | Design and Production by The Firm Event Design
Wildlife Conservation Society Christmas Event
Central Park Zoo | Line 8 Photography | Design and Production by The Firm Event Design

At the New York Aquarium location, Mitzvahs and Sweet 16’s love the underwater theme, as the backdrop is already built-in.

Our team also really, really enjoys all of the super high-end, elegant, sophisticated, and FUN weddings that are produced at the Bronx Zoo and Central Park Zoo locations each year (as you know first-hand!).

These properties are not only helping drive our conservation efforts, but they lend to really fun locations for events, that can also appeal to the black-tie crowds.

Wildlife Conservation Society NYC Wedding
Chaz Cruz Photography | Flowers by Anthony Brownie Flowers & Events

Is there one wedding or event in particular that really stands out to you among the rest?

We are involved with about 400-500 events each year, across all parks. Some we plan from beginning to end, while others we may only need to support in minor roles, or we are following an experienced event planner’s lead as just the venue manager. These include external events (corporate, social, non-profit, etc…), as well as internal events (our Gala, Brew at the Zoo, educational driven events, partnership or membership events, meetings, etc…); all of which are super important to our Mission and the bottom-line.

Schiff Hall with the Wildlife Conservation Society Events and Catering
Schiff Hall | Unique Lapin Photography | Planning by Angie Neveraz of Baton | Light by Frost Productions

Therefore, I am going to take a selfish approach here, as we take a lot of pride in our “event planner, industry-driven” hosted events. These events were created to show our colleagues as to why they should host events at our properties.

Central Park Zoo with the Wildlife Conservation Society Events and Catering
Central Park Zoo | John Labbe Photgraphy | Florals and Design by Lewis Miller Design

In April 2017, we hosted two Central Park Zoo events in the same week; our Tuesday evening event, April’s Spring Awakening, was in the middle of a thunderstorm, followed by our Thursday afternoon event, Tea & Cake with April; both of which had over 200-guests.

Central Park Zoo with the Wildlife Conservation Society event
Central Park Zoo | Photo by From Parris With Love | Floral Design & Creation by The Style Marc

Fast-forward to September 2018, two months after the New York Aquarium’s newest exhibit, Ocean Wonders: Sharks! opened, we hosted another event to showcase a totally different property. Besides bringing in all that Coney Island and Brooklyn had to offer, including the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, and dozens of other great partners, the event featured a local string quartet playing alongside the sharks indoors, while a 12-piece band, atop a 40’ stage that we rolled in (yes, rolled in!) rocked the outdoors. With a very wet, rainy morning, we still hosted over 400 event professionals on a Friday evening in Coney Island, Brooklyn.

Sharks exhibit at the Wildlife Conservation Society
Steven Rosen Photography

Thankfully, 2019 was another strong year for us! On the second Tuesday in May, we had over 600-guests “play hooky” (#SAVEFERRIS), and join us for an 8-hour event at the Bronx Zoo. The event included access to the entire Bronx Zoo, including our Dinosaur Safari, a BBQ with custom cocktails and carnival games, zip-lining over the Bronx River, a Biergarten, a mobile scavenger hunt across our 265-acres, and concluded with a happy hour featuring music, indoor golf, a whiskey sommelier, Oysters XO, and of course, some tasty F&B!

Robert Severini with the Wildlife Conservation Society Events and Catering
André Maier Photography

Then, in September 2019, we went back to the Central Park Zoo, where the Jordan Kahn Orchestra brought the house down (well, it was really a 200’ long tent), among over 700 of New York’s finest event professionals. This was our “Event Planner’s Night Out” event.

Central Park Zoo with Wildlife Conservation Society event
Central Park Zoo | André Maier Photography | Event Planning by Pejy Kash Events | Florals by Shields Flowers & Events | Furniture by Decco by Party Up Productions

It MAY sound like a traditional Tuesday evening cocktail party, but I’ll let the images and guests speak to how it was far from the traditional cocktail party! I don’t know about you, but when you host an event and someone PROPOSES within the first hour, you’re doing something right!

Apologies, I thought this was going to be a much shorter answer, but how could I pick just ONE event : )

Central Park Zoo with the Wildlife Conservation Society engagement / proposal
Central Park Zoo | André Maier Photography | Florals by Shields Flowers & Events

What was the most wild (pun intended) request that you’ve received from past clients?

Everyone laughs when we tell the story of the groom who requested to ride in on an elephant, as it sounded like an important part of their culture’s tradition. When we told them no, they asked if they could bring in their own elephant. We politely declined that request as well. I think they settled on a wooden horse for him to “ride” in on.

One bride was actually talking to our tenting provider about using a helicopter to place a massive temporary structure over one of our sea lion pools. We also had to politely decline that request.

Central Park Zoo with the Wildlife Conservation Society
Photo by From Parris With Love

The wildest request came from Toys R’ Us, asking for a fully exclusive buyout of the Bronx Zoo for an entire day. We did multiple revisions to the proposal and had a bunch of internal discussions, trying to make this work. Then they went radio silent. This was right around the time their bankruptcy stories were starting to make headlines. We think that they were trying to squeeze in one last hurrah before everything crumbled around them. It could have been an amazing going away party!

Wedding at Schiff Hall within Wildlife Conservation Society
Schiff Hall, Garden | Lennon Photography | Florals & Design by Foliage Garden NYC

If you were to leave us with something to think about, what would it be?

In today’s current climate, there is SO MUCH to think about, especially considering where our industry is. I think that some friendly reminders are always a good thing, especially now:

  • Have empathy and/or sympathy for others.
  • Be humble have humility.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help; don’t be afraid to offer it either.
  • Make sure your learn everyday, but also make sure you teach everyday.
  • Take care of yourself daily, mind, body, and soul; your very own triquetra.
  • Always find some positivity within any situation.
  • If you look for love, it will find you; if you look for hate, it too will find you.
  • Passion isn’t born, it’s created.
  • Successful people didn’t get there without trying; they also didn’t get there without some failures.
Robert Severini, Wildlife Conservation Society Events and Catering

Visit Wildlife Conservation Society’s events and catering website to learn more.

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Tanya Pushkine, The Vow Whisperer

the vow whisperer

Tanya Pushkine

Founder

The Vow Whisperer

Instagram | Facebook

Do you think couples should write their own vows? 

Yes! Now more than ever! We are in the age of a very pared down version of the typical celebration. Those elaborate flower displays, extravagant buffets, sweaty dance floors are just not here right now. The focus has become very much about the ceremony.  The words are now truly the most important part of the day.  Why not take this opportunity to pour your feelings into a few minutes of beautiful vows?

I’m also finding that many people who have postponed their weddings until next year are now far more dedicated to writing their own.  They have found the extra time to make this a priority.

wedding vows

How do you advise that couples start the process of writing their wedding vows?

I often joke that ceremonies are left to the last minute, when in fact, they should be a priority.  Here is the perfect place to show who you are as a couple, as individuals.  It goes far beyond how gorgeous the dress is or how delicious that appetizer was. The ceremony is the ultimate way to illustrate who you are as people.  Your personalities show through more than ever before. As guests, we are blown away by a well written, beautifully delivered ceremony.  It is what everyone will remember the most.

Start with a massive brain dump of memories.  Write it all down. Don’t leave anything out.

When I work with a couple, which is always individually (since vows should be kept top-secret), we start with lots of questions about their relationship, their history, funny moments, some of the hardships they have overcome, incredible experiences they have shared and this leads into many questions about why they love this person, why they want to marry she/he, and what they want to promise.

wedding vows

How long does it usually take to write wedding vows?

I highly recommend this not be a rushed process. Start 2 -3 months before. In that time period, it’s relaxed, hopefully, a fun process and stress is not a factor.  Leaving it to the night before is a self-inflicted disaster.

The work we do is very collaborative. Once we have answered many of the questions, I begin to put structure to the brain dump and shape the words until they are happy and ready to move to the next step.

It’s important to note that I am not the writer. The words are the other person’s, not mine.  My job is to get all of the material out, put structure to it, edit, re-write, if necessary, balance them out in tone and voice. The beauty of having someone like me to work with each one is that I can manage, or control, in a way, the sum of both parts. I get a kick out of vows that are so similar. For example, a question could be “what was the defining moment when you knew for sure?” can be identical for both.

Just as important, if not more, is the way you say the vows. Most people are terrified of speaking in public and it shows! Putting the time in to practice out loud over and over again, to make sure you enunciate properly, stand there without fidgeting or swaying and make eye contact is what is going to make you shine! When I rehearse with someone, we pretend I am the future spouse. We stand there and go through the vows as if it’s the real moment. I coach them to feel confident, calm, poised and with a lot of grace. I was a Juilliard trained actress many years ago and I’m basically imparting many of those acting skills to coach my couples.

wedding vows

All this is done, of course, virtually and I’m lucky to have couples all over the world. Very often, I am there to practice one last time before the ceremony. When the bride is in full hair and makeup, shoes on, earrings on…she’s totally ready and has a few moments alone, we’ll Facetime to go through the words one more time.  Same for the groom or both brides or whatever combo it is. Essentially, I hold the hands of the couple throughout the process until the moment of, to alleviate any nerves and anxiety.

And the ultimate perfect situation is when I am also marrying the couple. Because the vow work is a pretty profound look and discovery into feelings, thoughts, emotions, I end up knowing my couples so well. They are not getting married by a stranger, for sure!

Is there a template or format that you recommend following?

A beginning, middle and end, so, start with why you love this person, how has this future spouse made you a better person, what does the future look like and what can you promise?

What are some examples of traditional wedding vows?

It’s funny, but I don’t think there are traditional vows anymore. The traditional ones are the ones that are said for you… that have been said for many years. To love and to hold, till death do us part, etc.

As an officiant, I have been asked to use those traditional words a few times, when there were no personal vows.  Sometimes, it’s just easier to revert to what is tried and true.

Is there anything that couples should stay away from when writing their own wedding vows? 

Yes, the use of the words “always” and “never.” You cannot possibly promise to never go to bed angry.  That’s not life. Something else to avoid are embarrassing stories or ones that will make guests feel uncomfortable.

wedding vows

What were the best wedding vows you’ve ever heard? 

There are way too many, but these are super cute in that they each described the same experience:

His:

And then only a few weeks into dating, you flew with me to visit my dad while he was in ill health. You were so kind and sweet to him from the moment you met. Often when I’d visit him, I’d anxiously get distracted with work. But you were fully present in the moment and so caring—and it helped me to be the same. The way you were with him is the way I’ve now seen you with many others and how I know you’ll someday be with our family. It’s the way I’ve always aspired to be despite my failures, and I could see early on there were many things I could learn from you.

Hers:

I fell in love with you fast — some might say too fast — when we visited your family for the first time. We had only been dating a few weeks, and we flew down here to Texas to visit your dad who was in the hospital. Witnessing the way you loved and cared for him showed me a depth in your heart that I’d never seen in anyone. I fell for you in that moment, knowing a life with you would be filled with tenderness, patience, and understanding. 

If you were to leave us with something to think about, what would it be? 

I was born in Brussels, Belgium, and came to the States to go to Juilliard as an actress. I had an incredible 10-year career starring on Broadway in Amadeus, followed by a few years on a soap, as well as other theater and film roles. I gave it all up to raise my babies and worked my way up the corporate ladder doing PR and Philanthropy.

I was extremely fortunate to be able to work on long term projects with Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Naomi Watts, Eva Mendez, and others. My philanthropic work continues in the wedding world, as I am involved with Vow for Girls to End Child Marriage and just did a Wish Upon a Wedding vow renewal.

Visit The Vow Whisperer to learn more.

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Darren Olarsch, On the Move Entertainment

Darren Olarsch, On the Move Entertainment

Darren Olarsch

President

On the Move Entertainment

Instagram: @onthemoveevents

How did you go from graduating with a degree in Archeology, to starting a wildly successful entertainment business with an impressive Rolodex of clients, including Nike, KPMG, Spotify, and the NFL?

While getting my degree at Michigan, I used to DJ parties, although I think I was paid in beer. After school, when it dawned on me that I really wasn’t too keen on digging in the desert with my bare hands searching for old treasures, I made the decision to open On the Move way back in 1993. I had no idea at the time that it would grow to the business we have today. There wasn’t really any one single moment that we can attribute to our growth; it was very much a long, hard, and steady effort that just seemed to gain momentum year after year.

On the Move Entertainment, band

How do you and your team dream up such immersive and experiential entertainment?

We have an amazing Creative Director, Raquel Giberstein (aka “Rocky”), she is at the heart of almost all of the incredibly unique acts that we have produced over the past many years. Our music director, Gabe Otero, is a genius at curating music along with these acts.

We also have weekly creative meetings with our full team. These meetings have no boundaries and every idea is welcome. We have really come up with some incredible concepts just by brainstorming with each other.

We also work with clients around the world, so some of our ideas may come from one part of the world where it may not have been seen in another. 

On the Move Entertainment

In addition your talent roster of bands, DJs and hybrids of the two, On the Move offers a wide variety of speciality entertainment with diverse acts like aerialists, live event painters, and synchronized swimmers. Where do you find your talent?

Years ago, we used to have to scour the industry (even before the internet!), to try and find really unique performers. These days though, we get unsolicited submissions from performers of all kinds, and once we see something that catches our eye, we look to develop and refine the act so that it’s perfect for our clients.

Our network of amazing talent is pretty vast right now. We’re blessed to have so many great people spreading the word amongst other artists.

On the Move Entertainment

You’ve pivoted to offer “Socially Distanced” entertainment. In what ways does this kind of entertainment differ from what guests might traditionally see at celebrations?

Right now the term “micro” wedding or event is the hot term. In reality, what it simply means is a smaller ensemble that’s suitable for a smaller audience. We’ve always had great ensembles that fit this description, so that hasn’t been a hard transition. The hard part, is trying to stay totally “Covid Safe,” as nothing can be more important to us than keeping our artists and family safe and healthy. We’ve fabricated many plexiglass screens and guards, and instituted some great policies to help keep things socially distant at our events.

If you were to leave us with something to think about, what would it be?

Well, my parting thought would be one that goes a bit deeper.

I think our world is at a truly fragile point right now. Our society is so deeply divided, and our amazing city is being ripped apart at the seams. I truly can’t wait for the Covid restrictions to ease, and the daily threat of this virus to dissipate so that we can get back to work.

I’m saying this not just because it has affected so many amazing artists so tragically, but because music and entertainment is one of the best healers out there. Celebrating and gathering with friends and family is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Once we can truly get people celebrating again, I think our society can truly start to come together again.

(Told ya it was deep!) 🙂

Click here to learn more about On the Move Entertainment.

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Emma Dupont, The Emma Dupont School of Etiquette

Emma Dupont, director of The Emma Dupont School of Etiquette

Emma Dupont

Director

The Emma Dupont School of Etiquette

IG: @EmmaDupont_Etiquette

Facebook | LinkedIn | YouTube

I’ve always been fascinated by the world of etiquette. How did you become so well versed on the subject, and what inspired you to start the Emma Dupont School of Etiquette?

I entered the corporate world in the finance sector thirty years ago and was fortunate to have a great run. I started at the end of the last recession in 1990 and worked for nineteen years leading up to the credit crunch. Over time, I became aware that many of my international clients were facing cultural differences after relocating to the UK, which sparked my interest in the subject. A few years after I got married, I had the opportunity to leave the corporate world and retrain to do something different, and so I took it!

Many of my peers were skeptical when I told them about my new venture, with some questioning why I would want to enter the etiquette industry. This was due to their perception of it; etiquette is one of those words that, unfortunately, in the UK, many tend to associate with outdated finishing schools and class systems, but that isn’t the case. Etiquette is about understanding the codes of conduct, and these differ in every country and culture. Understanding these rules gives us confidence and ensures that we don’t unintentionally offend anyone or commit a faux pas.

After much research, I discovered that whilst there were a few excellent etiquette schools in the UK, there was room in the market for more relevant and practical advice. I certainly don’t come from blue-blooded stock or aristocracy; I’m just a hard-working lady, experiencing the same challenges as everyone else. 

To begin my journey, I immersed myself in as many books as possible, such as The Debrett’s Handbook. At the same time, I started designing, building, and writing the website, Etiquette and Manners for the Contemporary Woman. It was read world-wide by ladies of different cultures and religions, and many opportunities arose from that. 

I then progressed to be a full-time etiquette coach, and I was fortunate enough to be taught by one of the best etiquette schools in the UK. I worked on a consultancy basis for them for over three years, so I learned from the best and became certified by the best. The natural progression was then to launch The Emma Dupont School of Etiquette.

Is there a universal, number one rule in etiquette? If someone were to stop reading this interview here, what would you want them to remember the most?

The most important thing to remember is that etiquette is simply the set of rules surrounding any business or social interaction. Knowing the rules gives us the confidence to walk into any of these situations with ease. The by-product of this is that we become less absorbed with our insecurities and the fear that we’re getting something wrong, and this confidence empowers us to reach out to other people, ensuring they’re okay as well. And that is the essence of good manners.

Etiquette should never be used to look down on other people or highlight others’ errors, which is why you will never see me commenting on news stories as, unfortunately, they tend to focus on people’s mistakes, which completely goes against my proposition. My passion is building ladies up, not tearing them down publicly!

Has etiquette evolved over time?

Yes, it has, and it must. 

One hundred years ago or so, ladies didn’t shake hands because the point of this greeting was to show that one was unarmed. As the gentlemen carried the swords or guns, they were the ones who shook hands; ladies were never armed, and we would simply nod! Now, of course, we too shake hands.

As an industry, we’re always keeping a close eye on what’s happening in society. The COVID-19 pandemic is a classic example; we’re learning from each other, and we’re learning what different cultures are doing; there are no hard and fast rules at the moment because it’s all so new.

If etiquette is not moving with the times, people will ignore it and say it’s outdated and antiquated. So, the rules must change.

What are some of the common misconceptions about etiquette?

The biggest misconception is that the rules are just for ‘posh’ events (or ‘fancy’ as you say in the USA!).

Some also believe the rules are pompous, and that they don’t matter anymore. Well, the rules don’t matter until you break them and realise when it’s too late. You have just unintentionally embarrassed yourself or perhaps, worse still, embarrassed someone else.

Often, it takes this type of experience for someone to realise, “Ah, that’s why knowing the rules matters”!

I believe that prevention is better than cure; we often don’t know what we don’t know!

Are there any traditional rules in etiquette that you disagree with?

The greeting in the UK of, “How do you do?” is outdated. Other professionals in the industry may disagree with me. Still, in my experience, it is rarely used nowadays by the younger generation (even those of upper-classes), and most people don’t even know how to respond correctly.

It’s a rhetorical question, and the response is actually just, “How do you do?” but what happens typically it is perceived as, “How are you?” and one receives a response of, “I’m well, thanks!”.

It is felt within the industry that “It’s a pleasure to meet you” is insincere as one doesn’t yet know the person, and therefore one cannot say if it is. However, my feeling is that this phrase is a pleasantry and, “How do you do?” doesn’t really make grammatical sense.

When travel picks back up, what are three etiquette tips that people should know when visiting the UK? 

1.    “The Polite Ten Minutes;” Never turn up early to someone’s house. You should always arrive ten minutes after the stated arrival time, but not more than fifteen minutes.

2.    “The Art of Good Conversation;” Become familiar with the basics of small talk. The British are very keen on small talk, but we tend to‘beat around the bush’. If you want to build friendships and good relationships with work colleagues, then you should learn the basics of good British chit-chat. It’s one of most underestimated skills in my opinion.

3.    Never excuse yourself from the dining table when other people are still eating. Always wait for them to finish before excusing yourself to the lavatory or to make a call.

Also… “Queue Nicely;” No pushing people out of the way to jump the queue please, it’s just not British, Kaitlin!

Is COVID changing etiquette in our daily lives?

People are well within their rights to state if someone is encroaching on their personal space. With the new COVID rules, I think everyone is more confident to say, “Excuse me, please can you give me a little more space, I am practicing social distancing.” All very politely of course, we are British!

I don’t think many of us were aware of our innate need for human touch before the pandemic. It’s getting more comfortable, but it’s not really natural for us. There’s a business desire to shake hands, and elbow bumping hasn’t gained momentum in the UK. People are also hugging their loved ones and close friends, perhaps not at the beginning of a social gathering, but after a few drinks, they are! So, I don’t think any of these changes will be permanent, but time will tell.

To address event etiquette and the coronavirus… It’s evident that people have different thresholds for activities they’re comfortable engaging in. What is the proper etiquette for guests that are currently navigating how to respond when invited to micro events and weddings, especially for those that want to ask the host for more information to feel comfortable attending?

It’s perfectly acceptable and good manners to seek clarification from the host if there are areas that you are unsure about.

Always use the stated method of RSVP as the route for making contact. Quite often, RSVPs are managed by an event planner and they will have a system in place.

What is the etiquette when attending a wedding in today’s climate?

To attend a wedding in the current climate would be quite a profound and moving experience. Weddings are a heightened state of emotion, but with the pandemic, I’m sure it would magnify things even more.

Do take into account there are, ordinarily, older people in attendance, such as grandparents. Do adhere to all the guidelines, because the last thing you want to do is pass on the virus to someone vulnerable.

It’s only right to acknowledge what everyone’s been through during chit-chat, but one should be mindful of getting sucked into a vortex of depressing conversation. My advice is to strive to balance sensitivity with being as light-hearted as possible, given that you’re attending the event for a celebration.

Also, don’t be critical in any way of the hosts, other guests, staff, the venue, or anything that isn’t ‘perfect’; everyone is doing their best at the moment.

If you were to leave us with one piece of advice, what would it be?

Anyone who is on the self-development journey should always bear in mind that authenticity is vital. I have heard people say that they wouldn’t attend an etiquette course because they don’t want to change who they are. But people can’t be changed; they can only be enhanced! It’s not my objective to change people at The Emma Dupont School of Etiquette but raise someone’s natural personality and charm!

Visit The Emma Dupont School of Etiquette to learn more.

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Rob Karp, MilesAhead

Rob Karp, CEO and Founder of MilesAhead

Rob Karp

Founder and CEO

MilesAhead

IG: @milesaheadco

Personal IG: @robkarp_

I’m sure you’ve received this question more times than you can count, but take me back to when you were fourteen; what planted the seed for you to start your own business?

It’s kinda funny, I never expected to start a business. Growing up, I loved airplanes; flying on, watching and even (virtually) flying them. As my passion for aviation developed, I became fascinated with purchasing flights and the world of miles and points.

I started helping our family get to Minneapolis and my dad with his work travel – I was a math kid and it was like one big game for me. Soon enough, I was helping family and friends out of pure enjoyment. After school fun was calling the airlines!

I explained what I was doing to my cousin’s grandparents at a family event and they (along with my parents) encouraged me to start a business. Three weeks later, Karp Enterprises (later to be MilesAhead) was born.

MilesAhead did about $12 million in sales before you even graduated from Cornell. How did you balance coursework with running a business?

It’s not something they teach you in school! I learned to make the most of each day (or at least, I tried!). Calls between class, emails at all hours of the day and staying focused on the task at hand.

I quickly realized I couldn’t do this alone and I needed a team by my side. Fortunately, I met (and hired) many peers along the way who allowed me to delegate and shape MilesAhead into what it is today. 

There’s a lot of competition in the travel industry, how have you positioned MilesAhead to be so successful in the luxury market?

MilesAhead was born helping travelers optimize their frequent flyer miles for (nearly) free flights. We helped you get from point A to point B using the least amount of dollars or miles. As we evolved over time, our focus shifted to providing an “elevated luxury” experience, putting knowledge, expertise and service at the forefront.

We’ve traveled to dozens of countries, seen hundreds of hotels and spent thousands of hours networking with hospitality leaders across the globe. That being said, we continue to stay true to our roots and highlight our airline and miles/points knowledge as a key point of difference. And it’s a thrill to put it to use for our clients.

What are some of the setbacks that you’ve faced? How did you overcome them?

The mother of all setbacks has been COVID-19; running a travel business through the pandemic has been a challenging and humbling experience. We started off 2020 with our two best months yet, to be followed by some of the lowest demand periods, personnel changes and an ever-evolving landscape of travel restrictions.

During this time of uncertainty and limited travel, we have stayed close to our clients, brainstormed ways to stay relevant, and considered what MilesAhead is going to look like coming out of the pandemic.

On another note, I remember our first booking at one of my favorite luxury brands, when the clients showed up and things were not as advertised. I felt it was a good idea to call the Global Head of Rooms to voice my concerns. While happy to help, I learned that sometimes you don’t need the big boss to solve every problem 🙂

Do you have a favorite destination?

Florence, Italy!

In July you shared an Instagram post with the caption; “Last Friday, I returned from 46 days of responsible travel during the pandemic. I stayed in 14 hotels, took 10 flights and visited 7 states.” How do you define responsible travel?

I was fortunate and excited to travel early on during COVID-19, when many were not comfortable leaving their homes. In a sense, I felt it was my responsibility to get on the road and see what the experience was like, how things were different, and to tell the story.

That being said, it was very important to me to be respectful of my surroundings and the communities I was visiting, whether that meant wearing a mask, social distancing or getting tested. In a time full of controversy and unknowns, responsible travel meant being extra self-aware and thoughtful, putting others before you.

Rob Karp of MilesAhead

Were there experiential differences that you encountered throughout your stays, prompted by the pandemic, that might surprise people?

On the whole, I was pleased with my hotel experiences and wouldn’t say there were too many surprises.

All the hotels reached out ahead of check-in to proactively share their new policies and any limitations. Most indoor facilities, touch points (e.g. dining menus) and interaction with staff was limited.

A big difference is the added aspect of pre-planning; if you want to work out or eat on a whim, that isn’t possible anymore. Reservations – from tennis, to the spa, to the gym – have become a must. 

What does the travel industry look like today? How do envision the future of travel?

The travel industry is going through perhaps its most challenging times in the past century. Remarkably so, I find the industry and my colleagues in particular to be full of resiliency. There is a positive outlook toward 2021, optimism post-vaccine and lots of creativity flowing. I’m confident travel will be more thoughtful and intentional moving forward. It will be with more of a purpose than ever before; whether it be why, where or who you are going with.

What advice would you offer to young entrepreneurs that look to you as a role model?

The best thing you can do is get started, keep an open mind and enjoy the ride. Starting a business sounds sexy, but is fundamentally challenging and requires serious commitment. You’re identifying a problem, creating a solution and convincing others to use your product or service.

Write down all your thoughts and ideas. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas and be honest with yourself. Most great ideas fail before they see the light of day.

If you were to leave us with something to think about, what would it be?

More than ever this year, I’ve seen people re-evaluate what’s important to them and what they really want in life. Asking questions they never would before, taking pivots in new directions and prioritizing themselves.

While this is a crisis, it’s also an exciting time, one when great new ventures, ideas and discoveries are born. And it’s brought a smile to my face. I know you talk about this too, Kaitlin. Life is too short, find what makes you happy, see if you can integrate it professionally and share it with those who you care about. 

Visit MilesAhead to learn more.

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Elizabeth Solaru, Elizabeth’s Cake Emporium

Elizabeth Solaru, founder of Elizabeth's Cake Emporium in London

Elizabeth Solaru

Founder

Elizabeth’s Cake Emporium

IG: @ElizabethsCakeEmporium

Twitter: @LizCakeEmporium

You’ve achieved global awards and recognition from Bridelux, Vogue Japan Wedding, Grace Ormonde Wedding Style, WedLuxe, and Brides, among others. How did you build Elizabeth’s Cake Emporium into one of the best luxury wedding cake purveyors in the world?

Building Elizabeth’s Cake Emporium into an international brand has been a slow and steady process. When I started my business over 14 years ago, I never dreamed the brand would be known in the UK, let alone worldwide and I have in part, Google, good karma and social media to thank for that.

I was determined to have my own style and it took me a while to not be afraid to develop it. I was very lucky to be personally taught by cake gurus like Ron Ben-Israel and Colette Peters who opened up my eyes to the possibility of earning a good living from making cakes. Building my business was slightly tricky, as I did not think of myself as an entrepreneur, did not do any research about the validity of my ideas, had no plan and barely had a website. 

Elizabeth's Cake Emporium

However, I have a can-do, adventurous spirit, having previously transitioned from being a scientist to a headhunter. I recognised that two things have to happen, one, that the technical side of things, i.e. the cakes,  had to taste and look amazing and secondly, educate myself about the rules of engagement of the wedding industry and find a way to let people know about my fledgling company. With no money or connections, it was going to be a tall order.

The one thing that had worked for me in my previous careers was genuinely helping people achieve their goals. Doing precisely that allowed me to connect with people and opened unimaginable doors for me in the wedding industry. Eventually I ended up coming to the notice of a TV producer and her Majesty the Queen’s cousin, Lady Elizabeth Anson, a very high end party planner. These two meetings set the trajectory of my career and the result was my building a very recognisable luxury cake brand, Elizabeth’s Cake Emporium.

Elizabeth's Cake Emporium

Where do you gather your inspiration from?

My inspiration comes from a myriad of sources and my clients sometimes provide a lot of it. Their likes, loves and passions, often gives me plenty to work with which is absolutely great. I tend to draw further inspiration from colour, shapes, fashion, nature, texture, flowers, music, jewellery and the art world. 

In other words, inspiration is everywhere and all you have to do is look. All you have to do is pull a particular source apart at the seams and let it unravel until ideas begin to form. I have sometimes made cakes where all I had was a blank canvas of shapes and some edible colours and I just let my hands do as they will. I love having the freedom to just create and I am thankful to have clients that will just let me do that. One of my favourite clients will just send me a colour palette or a photo of a room and that will be enough. Having free, unrestricted, creative rein leads to the creation of some pretty cool cakes.

Elizabeth's Cake Emporium

Your cakes are truly spectacular and bespoke works of art. What is your design process?

My design process is one based on personalisation and individualisation. We firmly believe that no two events are the same and for that reason, all our luxury cakes are bespoke and custom made. When couples contact me we arrange for a consultation and tasting, I aim to make this as fun as possible, as it’s an opportunity for me to have their undivided attention for a few hours.

Elizabeth's Cake Emporium

Prior to meeting, I ask about any flavour references, allergies, dietary requirements and intolerances. Any luxury wedding cake is part of a curated story of one of the best days of a couple’s life and must reflect perfectly their style. 

I ask a lot of questions with regards to the wedding colours, styling, venue, flowers, theme and actively listen. Some couples have already formulated ideas, colour ways and mood boards whilst some may be completely open to suggestions. Then I go away and do a lot of research and then begin to formulate a number of possible luxury cake designs taking everything into consideration such as the type of venue, ceiling height, and where and how the cake will be displayed. Ideas are then sketched and tweaked until we are all happy, be it for a one tier cake or a 20 tier cake.

Elizabeth's Cake Emporium

What motivated you to expand your business to offer Cake Making Masterclasses, as well as Business Coaching Masterclasses?

I created these courses simply because people kept asking me for advice and it was a way of gathering the disparate and discrete knowledge largely rooted in my practical experiences together.

There is such a knowledge gap in the market on how to set up a luxury business and make a success of it, even if you don’t have that background. It’s a way of helping people to develop their skills and show them that nothing is impossible with the right tools and attitude.

Elizabeth's Cake Emporium

Often, hospitality and event professionals find themselves inundated with work, and find it particularly difficult to avoid burnout. As an internationally renowned speaker, competition judge, author, television host, business owner and coach, creator of luxury confections, and leader of two Masterclasses, how do you maintain a work life balance?

It’s often been said that our industry is about peaks and troughs, that is, feast or famine due to the seasonality of our work. The trick is to ensure that you don’t get caught up in it all.

I love doing a variety of things as I love exploring and developing different sides of me and also nowadays, any luxury business owner has to wear many hats. 

What I do though is to take regular breaks, prioritise my time, set boundaries and work hours and most importantly, I learned to say no! Covid has forced many people to press the reset and rest button and collectively we have come to the conclusion that building healthy relationships with family and friends is one of the most important things in life.

Elizabeth's Cake Emporium

If you were to leave us with something to think about, what would it be? 

I would say; dreams are free, so dream the biggest you can. Having no money or connections should not deter you from following your dreams. I think it just makes for a more creative and adventurous journey.

A bit of tenacity and the right kind of hard work goes a long way. Get over your fear of rejection and reach out to people, but when you network, do it with the intention of giving and not just taking. Have a growth mindset and give yourself permission to keep making mistakes as long as you keep learning from them.

Reciprocity and kindness are two things that have helped me in my journey. Even if the people you help don’t help you in return, someone else definitely will. Create good energy and a great reputation and good karma will definitely find you.

Elizabeth's Cake Emporium

Visit Elizabeth’s Cake Emporium to learn more.

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Carl Dean Hedin, Thomas Preti Events to Savor

Carl Dean Hedin from Thomas Preti

Carl Dean Hedin

Director of Sales & Marketing

Thomas Preti Events to Savor

IG: @ThomasPretiEventstoSavor

About Carl

Carl Hedin is the Director of Sales & Marketing at Thomas Preti Events. Over the past 3 decades, he has managed the Sales Teams from three leading New York Catering firms. During his 9 years at Tentation, Potel & Chabot, Carl subtly transformed traditional French corporate catering philosophy to be more competitive in the contemporary New York marketplace. Carl harnessed the 200-year tradition of European quality and service excellence and applied it to American innovation and creativity. His collaborative catering partnerships include work with Chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud, Rocco Dispirito and Tom Collichio. 

Carl’s next role was at Abigail Kirsch, where he oversaw events for New York’s social, corporate, and political elites, including Presidents Obama, Clinton and Bush. He also lent his creative skills to rebrand Kirsch’s corporate identity, logo, website, marketing materials and developed a custom magazine. 

Most do not know that Carl actually started his career with Thomas Preti selling events and developing business in the 90’s. Carl returned to the family in 2017 and has been busy developing business, managing and supporting the sales team, and sharing his years of experience. In May 2020, Carl and team launched the Preti, Set, Go! line of packaged meals and experiential food kits to meet their clients’ needs.  Preti, Set, Go! is a modern evolution of the classic Thomas Preti experience personalized, packaged, and brought perfectly to you in a timely fashion.

Carl sits on the Board of the Boys & Girls Club of the Bellport Area. He enjoys entertaining friends, creating culinary adventures and sunrise walks with his Cairn Terrier (Mickey).


Traditional catering services have taken a great pivot into offering gourmet boxed meals, which seem to be all the rage. Thomas Preti Catering recently launched this new branch of business, called Preti, Set, Go! What were the most important factors that your team considered when devising how to create this new dining experience?

Our team started research and development this past April when it appeared traditional catering as we knew it would not be returning for some time. At that time, our primary goal was to create a unique and elevated catered experience, delivered safely in a “one of a kind” personalized package to fill the need for in-office grab-and-go meals, virtual meetings, social events and not-for-profit virtual galas.

The PSG Breakfast and PSG Lunch menus provide more straightforward options. Our PSG three-course “Set Meal” suggests an elevated dining experience with formal printed menu and multiple courses. All three menu options can be completely branded with your event’s or company’s logo, details, etc. We can also add interactive elements like custom QR codes to enhance the experience with personalized video or digital content.

How do your chefs curate each seasonal menu? Is it possible to design a custom box?

For our Preti, Set Go! meals, our culinary team has curated rotating weekly menus for breakfast, lunch, and our signature three-course “Set Meal.” The weekly cycle of seasonal menus can be viewed on our website. We’ve made it incredibly quick and easy to see what menu selections will be offered for the date of your event. And, yes of course, we can also create a custom menu at our client’s request.

Once the menus are selected and the order is placed, how exactly does Preti, Set, Go! work?

So many of our clients have used the word “gift” to describe their Preti, Set, Go! experience. The personalization of each bespoke package together with the exquisite food make for a uniquely memorable experience. These meals can be easily delivered to the office or event site. This obviously keeps costs down and minimizes the staff required (for social distancing purposes).

If our client prefers, we’re happy to provide all the front of house service one would typically expect at a catered event (to handle the meals, beverage service, coat check, sanitation, and clean up as well).

Is there a specific type of event, gatherings or other purpose that these boxes are best suited for?

With the complete personalization and customization Preti, Set, Go! offers, we feel that we have created excellent options for every occasion. To name a few: engagement parties, “micro-weddings”, corporate board luncheons, welcome back breakfasts, Kiddush meal, wine pairing dinners, Thanksgiving dinner, video conference meetings, and virtual galas. 

What do you envision for the future of Preti, Set, Go!?

Earlier this year, we introduced Preti, Set, Go! as a “bridge” to meet the needs of our clients and partners until we could all gather together again. Pretty soon after, though, this concept really struck a chord and has taken on a life of its own!

Just this past week we launched Preti, Set, Go! Experiential Kits. Most of these new offerings are mailable and can be fully branded with your company’s logo, messaging, details, etc. We can also add interactive elements like custom QR codes to enhance the experience with personalized video or digital content. Here is an overview: Cocktails & Conversation box, Bubbles & Bites Box, Cheese and Wine Pairing, Harvest Time, Cookies and Cocoa Box.  

If you were to leave us with something to think about, what would it be?

I so look forward to the time in the near future where we all will be together once again collaborating face to face… how fantastic!

Visit Thomas Preti Events to Savor to learn more.

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Marisol Morley, Tiny Kitchen Treats

Marisol Morley

CEO / Creative Director

Tiny Kitchen Treats

IG: @tinykitchentreats

First and foremost, tell us about Tiny Kitchen Treats! 

We are a custom cookie and cookie cake company based in Brooklyn. We do production and content and recently have grown our class and product offerings to include at home cookie decorating kits and spatulas. We have made cookies for the world’s top brands and done huge food styling installations too, like the Gingerbread Village at Madison Square Park and several gingerbread builds for TV and video production.

Have you always been a baker? How did you get your start within the bakery world?

Yes and no. I started baking when I was about 5, but it was always for fun, and for family and friends. Then in 2015, I was working in IB and I started to do it on the side for parties. A year later, I quit my job and baked full time from home until I outgrew that and moved into a shared rental kitchen. Two years after that we bought the bakery!

In what ways has your business changed because of the pandemic?

Every way. More cleaning (and we were already clean freaks by any standard) is the biggest change! We also started to sell cookie decorating kits and teach online classes. We stagger employees so there is never more than three to four people here.

TKT has such an impressive and diverse client list, ranging from Google, to Spotify, Dior, Amazon, Chanel, and Nickelodeon… The list goes on! What advice would you give to bakers that aspire to the same level of success?

Your first orders will always come from family and friends, then one degree of separation orders and beyond, but no matter who it’s for- treat every order and person with the same respect and care. Pretend every order is for the royal family or your mama since she’s my queen ☺

If you were to leave us with something to think about, what would it be?

Please remember to be kind despite your own struggles. You never know what someone else is going through. Conversely, if you need help, please reach out and ask for help. And finally, give back however you can. Money, time, or emotional support. If we all helped each other, the world would be a better place.

Visit Tiny Kitchen Treats to learn more.

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Julie Lindenman Jervis, Julie Lindenman Events

Julie Lindenman
Photo by Kylee Yee

Julie Lindenman Jervis

Owner, Event Producer

Julie Lindenman Events

IG: @JulieLindenmanEvents

After an impressive portfolio of working for high caliber event production and design companies, including six years as a Senior Event Producer at Colin Cowie Celebrations, you ventured out and launched Julie Lindenman Events (JLE). What inspired you to start your own full service wedding and event production company?

It all happened quite organically.  I got to a point in my events career where I was very burnt out.  I took a few months off entirely and having that downtime allowed me to rethink my work/life balance and how important it was for me.  Some friends who heard I was not working asked if I could plan their weddings, and I decided to jump back into things.  

Starting my own business was an opportunity to be in control of where, how, and when I worked.  I was able to pour my energy into our industry in the ways I felt would be best for me.  I think sustainable working habits are so important, especially for a job that can include physical work, long hours, and an emotional investment.  Most importantly, by having a greater sense of ownership I can better service my couples and clients and collaborate with them in meaningful ways.

Julie Lindenman Events
Photo by Kylee Yee

It’s no secret that the wedding and events industry has been hit hard by the impact of COVID-19. How has JLE evolved to continue serving clients during this time?

Our industry has taken a drastic hit, globally.  Being there for our clients is huge, and being there for one another is more important than ever.

While the impact has been major, I’m maintaining a cautious optimism about the future.  Simply said, nothing replaces in-person gathering, so I have confidence in its return.

In April I decided to offer two new services.  The first being Postponement Consultations, which offers couples and families who perhaps don’t have a wedding planner to consult with someone on what to do and how to go about postponements.  From helping with contract negotiations to “change the date” wording and etiquette, these consultations are a low commitment way to get immediate, professional event guidance.  

The second was a Socially Distant Elopement Package, which has since morphed into custom packages for intimate weddings, proposals, picnic-style receptions, and more.  Many couples want to make their marriage official this year and stop losing sleep over the never-ending postponement cycle. We can curate an intimate celebration with a quick turn around, without sacrificing on gorgeous design or special details.

We are still taking on new Full-Service clients too, which helps me see the positive in 2020:  love is still happening, and so are proposals! 

Julie Lindenman Events
Photo by Kylee Yee

Has wedding etiquette changed for guests, or hosts? What should they be aware of when attending a socially distant event?

COVID etiquette has grown into a whole new language of how we interact with each other.  From talking through masks to asking if people are comfortable with an elbow bump or masked hug in advance (waving works, if not!), over communication this year is key.  

As far as hosting is concerned, the more information provided to guests in advance, the better.  Telling guests where the event will take place, how many people will be in attendance, what portions will be indoor vs outdoor, and what precautions the couple and venue are taking (like an abundance of hand sanitizer or tables for family members only) — in my opinion, the more information shared upfront, the better.

Also, consider adding a virtual component for guests who can’t attend.  Technology has quickly evolved with us throughout 2020 as we find ways to be present from afar.  I foresee hybrid events becoming more commonplace, with guests who can’t attend having an option to join virtually.  For those who want to include a virtual component, consider having 3 RSVP options:  Attending, Not Attending, Will Attend Via Zoom.  It’s a way to include more of your loved ones at a time when we wish we could be together.

In terms of guest etiquette, keep your distance until you know someone’s comfort level.   Always pack a mask and a backup mask.  And due to COVID being such an individual experience, don’t hesitate to ask the planner or the host questions about an event beforehand.  The safer we are, the more we can put the ‘social’ back in social distancing!

Julie Lindenman Events
Photo by Kylee Yee

What advice would you give to couples that are debating whether or not to move forward with their 2020 wedding plans?

At this point, I think it depends on how eager someone is to be married this year.  For the couple that doesn’t want to wait, have an intimate gathering for immediate family or elope to make the marriage official.  Most couples still plan to celebrate with a much larger group in the future; I love the idea of a first anniversary party or a bigger wedding that includes a vow renewal.  

One of my clients who postponed has chosen to have 12 attendees for a civil ceremony now, but will wait for their larger celebration once science tells us more.  In their words, they still want a “sweaty dance floor celebration,” so whenever that can safely happen again, we’ll be thrilled to plan it.

If you were to leave us with something to think about, what would it be?

2020 has been a year.  I’m still so grateful to be in the best industry with so many creative, resilient, supportive, love-loving folks.  There is a different vibe now on my calls, a feeling of empathy and understanding.  The feeling of “we’re all in this together.” I was walking through Soho the other day and passed a sign that I stopped to take in: the comeback is always better than the setback.  This felt like the sign I needed, so now I’m passing it on to you.

Visit Julie Lindenman Events to learn more.

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Julie Sabatino, The Stylish Bride

Julie Sabatino, The Stylish Bride, holding a lace wedding gown

Julie Sabatino

The Stylish Bride

IG: @thestylishbride

Chances are, anyone that’s picked up a wedding publication or perused wedding articles online, has likely stumbled upon your work. You’ve been featured in dozens of editorial pieces, such as The New York Times, Vogue, and InStyle, to name a few. Tell us about your company, The Stylish Bride, and the variety of services you offer that so many event planners and clients alike have found invaluable.

The idea behind The Stylish Bride was planted when I was engaged, and looking for my wedding dress. It was 2001, and the market was so different then, because I couldn’t rely on social media or websites to find inspiration. I thought it would be like the movies; I would go into a boutique, get a glass of champagne and find my perfect gown… but it wasn’t. I was having a crisis of confidence. I didn’t know how to understand myself, my style and what I wanted, let alone figure out how to get it. I tried on hundreds of dresses. I was actually on Wall Street working in finance at the time, and I remember one day my boss said that I had to stop leaving the office for dress appointments!

I wanted someone that could guide me and say, “Here are the style options and the best dresses for your body type, that fit within your budget.” I also needed help figuring out what my bridesmaids were going to wear, what was my mother was going to wear… all of that.

After getting married, I decided that I didn’t want to be in finance anymore. I enrolled in FIT, and soon after graduation, I decided to start The Stylish Bride. The last seventeen years have been so rewarding, I love helping women (and men) find something amazing. I’ve also developed a Wedding Day Service, because fashion emergencies can be a real deal breaker! I trained stylists in seven cities throughout the US and UK, to be ‘need anticipators,’ to give brides the best possible experience on their wedding day.

Julie Sabatino, The Stylish Bride, fitting a client for her wedding dress

What inspired you to become a stylist?

What it all boiled down to, is that I wanted to save people from having the same experience that I had. Wedding dress shopping can be really difficult. You have so many eyes on you, so there’s a tremendous amount of pressure. There’s hundreds of options, and for a bride, there’s often insecurities that store consultants don’t see. A bride could look absolutely gorgeous, but if she’s not happy or confident, that beauty might not show through.

I know what it’s like to not feel good in your own skin, and what it feels like to know when you’ve gotten it right for yourself. There was no one out there giving these ladies non-biased advice, to help them look and feel amazing. It sounds cliche, but that’s how every woman should feel on her wedding day. I wanted to be that person for them.

How do you stay on the pulse of wedding fashion?

It’s really through working with the dresses every day. Generally, bridal isn’t all that trendy, and trends we do have repeat themselves. A dress could be five years old, and still be relevant and chic. But there have been a few really defining moments that I’ve witnessed over the last seventeen years, like when Monique Lhuillier introduced the lace dress with the colored sash, there was a huge revolution in bridal. It was new and different, so many dress designers began incorporating lace and splashes of color. Then it happened again with Israeli dress designers coming onto the scene and showing a much sexier look. Of course, bridal also takes a cue from the ready-to-wear and couture worlds, and the trends we see there trickle down as well.

One of my clients once said to me that I have an “Encyclopedic knowledge of wedding dresses.” And it’s funny, because I can’t remember what I did yesterday, but I remember a dress from seven years ago! But it’s really first hand experience, because I work with gowns every single day. When we used to have runway shows, I would attend all of it, I think I’ve attended more than thirty seasons of fashion shows!

I’ve also developed great relationships in bridal fashion, both with stores and designers. I want to be an advocate for them as well as my clients, and facilitate a relationship between the two. I’m familiar with their inventory and newest collections, which keeps my finger on the pulse of wedding fashion.

Julie Sabatino, The Stylish Bride, with a wedding gown

COVID-19 has delayed the wedding planning process for so many couples. What advice would you offer to brides that are finding it difficult to navigate shopping, fittings and alterations for their wedding dresses at this time?

COVID causes a lot of uncertainty for brides surrounding when they’ll be able to get married. Which, makes them more hesitant to pull the trigger on a dress. The challenge is, dresses are actually taking longer to produce given the pandemic. Clients need to make up their minds sooner rather than later, but they don’t have the confidence in their wedding dates.

Also, the experience isn’t what it used to be. You can only bring one person with you, you have to wear a mask, and the consultant doesn’t help you in and out of the dress because they can’t be in the fitting room with you. So there’s a lot of hurdles.

Nobody, unless you’re a debutante, has tried on a long white gown before. We don’t even wear dresses like that anymore, for the most part. So pre-pandemic, when clients were looking for their dresses, my advice was to take into account what’s appropriate for the season as one of the data points they use. I have one bride that planned on getting married in the spring. She bought a beautiful pink floral dress, but was forced to reschedule her wedding to October given the pandemic. Now, I would switch that season data point and suggest that brides find a dress that they feel good in, in any venue, at any time of year.

My advice is to do a deep dive into yourself to find what you’re looking for. Get laser focused on what you want, before you start shopping. But, don’t rely exclusively on Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration. I actually went back and did an audit of my clients, to compare what they initially asked for, to the dress they ended up with. I found that there’s a lot of beautiful pictures out there, but when clients see a dress in person, it’s often totally different.

This is why I’m in the process of creating a “Bridal Style Blueprint.” It hasn’t launched yet, but once it’s available, it will help brides to better understand themselves, and how their personal styles can translate into wedding gown styles. It will empower brides to look at themselves for what they want, instead of finding that they think they want on Instagram or Pinterest.

You shared the sweetest Instagram post last month, showing a beaded bracelet that was handmade by your daughter Annie, with an amazing purpose behind it. Can you tell us more about that?

My business has always been a family affair. My daughter, Annie, started to notice how different our lives were, especially as I was no longer away on the weekends to work weddings. She overheard me talking about saving live events, and wanted to do something to help.

Annie created a ‘Wish I Was There’ bracelet, which was actually a suggestion from a wedding planner, Leslie Mastin. Annie donates 20% of the proceeds to the Live Events Coalition, and a portion to The Love Land Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports the Black Lives Matter movement by providing women with access to therapy. Our events community has really embraced it by purchasing bracelets for themselves, friends, and colleagues. Clients have even purchased bracelets for their event partners to wear on their wedding day.

I’m really proud of Annie, and she loves it. It’s been such an interesting time. The kids aren’t in camp, they aren’t seeing their friends, so this is huge for her to focus on this summer and make a difference in a small way.

If you were to leave us with something to think about, what would it be? 

There’s truth in that, every woman is beautiful, on the inside. The idea that beauty radiating from within is so powerful, and so important. Not just on the wedding day, but every day.

Visit The Stylish Bride to learn more. To purchase a #wishiwasthere bracelet from Annie, visit @StringsAttached.NYC.

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Bonnie Fimiano, CPCE Live Events Coalition

Bonnie Fimiano, CPCE

Director, Membership Chair, National Board

Live Events Coalition

IG: @LiveEventsCo

What is the Live Events Coalition, and why was it formed?

The Live Events Coalition was formed to create one voice for the twelve million people in the live events industry that are unemployed. It was actually born out of an online petition that went viral in less than a week, and has garnered over 480,000 signatures to date.

Here are the facts: 77% of W-2 live event industry people are out of work. 99% of 1099 gig workers are out of work. Most of us have lost anywhere between 80-99% of our incomes. People started reaching out, saying they couldn’t just sit back and watch. We needed to make a change.

We now have twenty-seven coalitions across the United States, with members in every state across the country, with the exception of three. We’re educating local law makers, state legislators and representatives, all the way to Congress, on who we are. Our goal is to call attention to the catastrophic effects of Covid-19 on the business of live events; and ensure that we’re included in the ongoing National conversation and supplemental Federal relief aid packages.

The Live Events Coalition has pioneered strong initiatives to urge Congress for support in providing economic coronavirus relief to the twelve million of us that have been impacted. For those who aren’t familiar, can you describe the people that comprise the live events industry?

The live events industry is so fragmented and segmented, yet we touch every persons daily life. Our ecosystem consists of not only the people who put together huge concerts, festivals, trade shows, conferences, weddings, every sporting event for MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, but also the gig workers, W-2 workers, and 1099 workers that contribute to a culmination of live events as their livelihood.

We are the least represented industry with one of the hugest economic contributions to the GDP; at over a trillion dollars, which was previously expected to double to more than two trillion dollars over the next 6 years. We support more jobs than oil and gas extraction, telecom, automobile, food, as well as chemical & machinery manufacturing.

On September 1st, thousands of event professionals lit up buildings, empty theaters, and concert venues in red. Instagram has been inundated with these photos, along with the hashtag #RedAlertRestart. What is the mission of this movement?

The Instagram campaign, #RedAlertRestart, strived to shed light on the live events industry, one of the hardest hit sectors since the pandemic took hold. It called attention to the RESTART Act, which would offer economic relief, and urge Congress to expand Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. We’ve also organized empty events to bring awareness to the crisis that the live events industry is currently facing (to see this Instagram campaign, follow the hashtag #WishIWasThere). If we don’t receive this funding, which is imperative, the landscape of events that people have enjoyed for their lifetime, is going to be gone.

Venues are already starting to close. The iconic Vizcaya Museum in Miami, for example, is experiencing more than $3 million in lost revenue; they need “financial aid from the public in order to keep their doors open.” The worlds largest concert promotors have reported losing 98% of their revenue since the start of the pandemic.

We want to work, but it’s mandated that we cannot work. This is why we need government assistance. We are more than capable to reopen safely, carefully and effectively. This is what we do as a profession; our job is to keep our guests safe. We have the ability to contact trace, because we know all of our attendees. We are the most creative and innovative industry, and have already implemented very stringent safeguards through the Event Safety Alliance (ESA), which has partnered with the Live Events Coalition.

How can non-event professionals stand in solidarity with the live events community?

They can go to our website, Live Events Coalition, and make a “financial donation to support our advocacy and lobbying effort.” They DO NOT need to be in our industry. Anyone that has attended a sporting event, a trade show, a wedding, a business meeting, or a social event… those are the people that we need to stand behind us.

We’re also looking for any public figure; a performer, broadway actor, singer, or celebrity, to stand up for us in a marketing capacity, and advocate for the Live Events Coalition, because we are the hundreds of workers behind the scenes, who put together their events. We need these people to step forward and support us. Morgan Freeman just did a PSA for the restaurant industry and it went viral. We need somebody, anybody, that is a performer, that would like to step forward and support the work force that supports them.

What resources are available for additional information?

There are a wide variety of resources available on our website.

If you were to leave us with something to think about, what would it be?

The live events industry was the “first to shut down, and will be the last to reopen,” through no fault of our own. Please don’t sit back and be complacent. Anyone within the live events community can join us, and have a voice. Write a letter to your legislators; we have a form on our website that takes under a minute to complete. Donate to our cause, the funds we raise go directly towards our advocacy and fundraising effort. Any large corporations that want to partner with us, please reach out: bfimiano@liveeventscoalition.org.

We were initially bundled in with hospitality, and that’s really hotels, but now, after months of lobbying efforts, we are finally being referred to as the live events industry. So we’ve made a lot of progress, but not enough progress to get a seat at the table.

Visit Live Events Coalition to learn more.

Live Events Coalition

#RestartAct #SaveOurStagesAct #RedAlertRestart #EmptyEvent #WishIWasThere #WeMakeEvents #ExtendPUA #SaveLiveEvents #WeAreEvents #LiveEventsCo

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Brenda Della Casa, BDC Digital Media

Brenda Della Casa interview with All the Best Moments

Brenda Della Casa

Content Creator and Digital Strategist

BDC Digital Media

IG: @BDCDigtialMedia

Personal IG: @BrendaDellaCasa

You’ve written for some of the most esteemed publications in the business, like HuffPost, Redbook, Women’s Day, and Glamour, among many others. How did you get started?

I have always been a writer. Even as a child when I was sure I would be the next Marilyn Monroe, I would spend hours writing short stories and diary entries. When I found out that I could major in communications and spend much of my college years writing, I thought I had struck gold. While in school, I took a magazine writing course taught by journalist, Marianne Szegedy-Maszak, and was mesmerized by her and her stories of life in magazine publishing. That was it for me, I was going to write for magazines. I spent years trying to break into the industry, writing for free anywhere I could, and telling everyone who would listen what my dream was. My boss at Morgan Stanley heard about my ambitions and introduced me to his girlfriend who was an editor at Woman’s Day. She looked at my clips and assigned me my first piece, and I started writing for her monthly after that. My other colleague suggested that I apply to write for a comedy site called The Phat Phree. They signed me and that led to an agent finding me and I sold my book, Cinderella Was a Liar a year later. That’s when my relationship writing career really took off.

For five years, you were Preston Bailey’s Global Director of Content, Marketing, Branding, and Digital Strategy. Were you always involved in the events industry? How were you and Preston connected?

By the time I began working for Preston, I was writing monthly relationship pieces for different publications and working for I AM Staggered, the top men’s wedding magazine in the UK. My former iVillage editor, Josey Miller, told me about the opening for Preston. Her (and now our) friend, Victoria Loustalot, was leaving to write her book and Josey put us in contact. I sat with Preston for 10 minutes and he hired me on the spot. I was intimidated and thrilled beyond belief as he was not only an icon, he was one of the most interesting people I had ever met. Working for Preston was a truly life-changing experience full of fun, opportunity, hard work, challenges, adventure, and a lot of love. Today, Preston is like a dad to me and I met some of my closest friends in that job. I will always be proud to be a part of the PB Family. 

As a business owner, how have you approached these last few months, given the current climate? 

The pandemic hit right as my daughter was born so I was a bit lucky in that I had planned to take a break from work. I have used this time to polish my skillset, mentor business owners, teach free Masterclasses and give as much information to the entrepreneurial community as I can. I feel that the best thing we can do in times like these is to give and exchange information. Not only does it help calm the collective anxiety, but it is also an opportunity to live out core values like transparency, collaboration, and kindness.

Brenda Della Casa, spotlight interview with Kaitlin Donaldson of All the Best Moments

Has social media changed as a result of the pandemic? What strategies have you seen work most effectively during this time? 

Right now, people are struggling with a number of different challenges. From sick family members and mental health challenges to struggling with real financial and emotional distress. The last thing they want to see are celebrities in mansions or a bunch of unrelatable aspirational images. Relatability, authenticity, and transparency are key themes in the content that is succeeding as is content that addresses hard topics and encourages discussions about important social issues. Now is not the time to shy away from showing a pimple or two. People want to engage with something and someone they trust and that starts with being real. 

What advice would you offer to event professionals that want to level up their branding or digital marketing plans?

Take this time to get to know who you are. People use the term “rebrand” but it’s really just a series of consistent tweaks to show that you’re staying at the top of your game. A lot of brands have pretty Instagram galleries but have no idea what their mission is, who their key demographic is, or how to market to them. When was the last time you have researched generational marketing tips or checked if you’re using banned hashtags? How recently have you reviewed the content on your website to make sure it’s up-to-date and what are your themes and plans for your content in the next 3 months? I don’t ask this to overwhelm anyone but to point out that a lot of people just keep tugging along doing what they have always done and not taking control of their brand beyond Instagram. What good is a beautiful gallery if your team has no internal process or your materials all have different fonts and messaging? Try to set aside an hour a week to do a bit of research and another to work on a collateral refresh. You don’t have to do it all at once but just doing what you have always done because it has worked won’t work anymore. I also love to remind clients that winging it is not a strategy.

If you were to leave us with something to think about, what would it be? 

When faced with a decision, my favorite question to ask myself is, “What would 90-year-old Brenda tell you to do?” How would your 90-year-old self feel about the decisions you’re making.

Visit BDC Digital Media to learn more.

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Jessica Doherty, True Date Project

Jessica Doherty, Founder + Photographer of the True Date Project, holding a camera

Jessica Doherty

Founder + Photographer

True Date Project

IG: @truedateproject

What is the True Date Project?

True Date Project was founded to give back to the couples of 2020 who were affected by the pandemic. We are a team of local New England photographers (all experience levels) offering donation based photo shoots to the couples who had to postpone their wedding day. We know this is a difficult time and wanted to give back. We coordinate and lead a photo shoot for the couple, or their mini celebration, to help them remember their True Date in a special way.

How did the project come to be?

Honestly, I was sitting on my couch one night during quarantine because I was furloughed from work… About a week before, I had a phone call with a good friend’s cousin, Jillian Howell. She’s an event professional, who let me pick her brain about the event industry. I had studied Hospitality Management and went back for a fifth year to receive my MBA. Jill gave me so much information that I will never forget, but I remember her biggest piece of advice about this industry very clearly. “This is a bad time to start a business but if you’re going to get to know couples, you’ve got to get creative.” 

I saw so many couples posting about their wedding being postponed and I thought to myself how sad it was that the date they had planned for would no longer be sentimental to them, and it may even be forgotten. This little idea popped into my head about the ‘true dates’ for those couples, and how there should be a way for them to remember it. I posted on my story to find local photographers that would be willing to donate their time, bought a camera, and started sharing on social media about the True Date Project. One thing led to another, and word of mouth started to spread like crazy. I told myself when it started that I would be happy if we could give back to 5 couples; August 16th will be our 37th shoot this summer. We have many more booked and inquiries continue to come in!

What is it like to work with couples on their original wedding date?

Oh my gosh. Magical? Rewarding? All of it. I cannot even find the words. These couples are so appreciative. We have been so lucky to meet people from all over New England, and even had 2 couples in Chicago! Being able to capture them, in a place that they love, surrounded by their nearest and dearest family and friends is unmatchable. Of course we miss big weddings, who doesn’t? But there is something nostalgic about these small intimate moments that never would have happened unless the circumstances were how they are.

Jessica Doherty, founder of the True Date Project

Do you see any trends or patterns in weddings that have rescheduled? 

I would label most of the weddings we have photographed as “micro.” They consist of 20 people or less, so they are extremely intimate. Typically, the officiant is a family member which makes the ceremony personal. I see this being a new trend in the industry. As the pandemic elongates people have to adapt; brides, guests and especially planners. We are used to large, 150+ people events. I think this is a great time to start planning small scale events based on the guidelines. ‘All the Best Moments’ happen when events are intimate, detailed, and sentimental.

How do you envision the future of the True Date Project? 

I envision True Date Project to become, True Date.

Based on the name and what I want to achieve, I’d create a larger network of photographers who are able to capture proposals, engagements, weddings and more. These are all dates that are meaningful to couples. 

Small events are going to be around for a long time. I’d love to continue coordinating large scale events, but for now, I’m adapting to this moment. It’s time for me to show local couples around New England that it’s possible to have your dream event with less than 50 people outdoors, or 25 indoors.

What is your biggest takeaway from the project thus far?

Team is everything. I cannot thank my amazing team of photographers enough for everything they have done for me and the couples of 2020. 

My team: Maria Barakat, Adam Amundson, Nicole Smith, Meg Hibbard, Jake Sundean, and Hattie Wanning.

They have donated their time and continue to teach me things I never would have known if I took this on alone. I’m especially thankful for Maria and Adam for taking on extra when life events have come my way that I could not control.

If you were to leave us with something to think about, what would it be?

People who give back are successful no matter what. Whether True Date turns into a business or its just remembered by the people we met through capturing their moments, I am thankful. This experience has been something I will never forget and I hope the couples of 2020 never will either. 

Being able to have the opportunity this summer to give back, learn, and meet so many new people has been extremely rewarding and I consider that success in itself.

Visit True Date Project to learn more.

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