DNA Productions event producer Victoria Smith demonstrates how organisers can be creative with opening parties on a range of budgets
It seems that not a week goes by without a new venue opening, especially in London. While this might be exciting for the industry, giving clients a vast range of opportunities to hold more and more exciting events, it means that organisers have to work hard to make each launch party as memorable as possible.
If your budget isn't going to stretch much further than food and drink, pay attention to the details. The catering alone can create talking points.
When we organised Stella McCartney's London shop opening, part of the brief was she didn't want anything to detract from showcasing the interiors. That meant no performers, theming, decoration, props or entertainment. So we concentrated on adding quirky and subtle elements to the catering.
The shop is a three-storey townhouse with lots of little rooms, so we served a different cocktail and matching canape in each room, such as a watermelon martini served alongside a watermelon, goat's cheese and pine nut canape. This created an element of discovery for guests as they explored each room in search of the next exciting cocktail (while helping us ensure an even flow of people through the shop).
We also tailored the catering to complement Stella's products. For example, in the Shoe Room we served mini chocolate shoes with fondant filling accompanied by a chocolate martini, while in the Perfume Room we created fragrant lavender martinis accompanied by cheese and lavender mini pizzas.
If budget permits, try to create a high-impact entrance that will excite people the moment they arrive. For the first birthday of Stella's shop we created a child's birthday party for adults, which saw a Stella-branded ice-cream van parked outside, while models handed out Mr Whippy ice creams to the press and passers-by.
For the launch of Superbrands at Selfridges, guests had to travel quite a distance from the Oxford Street entrance to the rear of the second floor while the store was open to the public. To make a feature of this, we built fully enclosed maze-like red tunnels that funnelled guests around various turnings and corners before they arrived at the main Superbrands area. This created a sense of drama and anticipation for the guests because they had to find their way into the party, but it also served to separate them from members of the public still shopping in the store.
If you have the cash, provide good entertainment. For the launch of Damian Aspinall's new casino Aspers in Newcastle, a short set by Amy Winehouse went down a storm before the gaming tables opened. But keep it short and sweet; a performance that drags on will kill the vibe.
Big-budget openings also let you go to town with theming. For the Aspers opening the client asked us to create a rainforest theme with lush foliage, trees and planting. At the centre of this, on the floor, we installed a video projection of a pond with fish darting around. The projection was attached to a motion sensor so as guests walked across it the water rippled and the fish swam away from them. Now that's something to remember.