Is there any party that’s more difficult to plan than the Met Ball? Between its scale, stunning visuals, and attention to every (tiny) detail, the answer seems to be probably not. But the question remains: How exactly is this humongous feat pulled off? Meet Sylvana Ward Durrett, Vogue’s Director of Special Projects, who is tasked with overseeing the annual event. Ward Durrett, who works closely with Editor in Chief Anna Wintour and event designer Raul Àvila throughout the process, ensures year after year that nothing slips through the red-carpeted cracks. Here, Ward Durrett advises on her tricks of the trade—as well as her words of wisdom for those hosting fetes of their own.
Make an Epic To-Do List
“I’m a big fan of a one-sheet,” says Ward Durrett. For the lead-up to the Met Ball itself, “We have sort of a running to-do list that just gets longer and longer as we get closer—and we literally go through [it] every day, even if it’s redundant.” Scrolls of never-ending bullet points spring to mind, but Ward Durrett specifies how her list aligns with the order of the evening’s events. “It starts with the tent, and then you [write out] everything that’s involved surrounding [that aspect].” Summarizing succinctly, she says, “helps me to think about the night from start to finish—and to make sure that we’re not missing anything.”
Prioritize a Memorable Invitation
“The invitation for this event has sort of become a keepsake,” Ward Durrett says of the now-somewhat-famous Met Ball invite, which starts out with almost 50 options before being narrowed down to the one and only choice. “When guests receive this invitation, they’ve already been invited, they’ve already confirmed—it’s really just their first preview to see what the event will look like.” She goes on to emphasize: “It’s kind of a clue, [because] we keep everything very secretive.” For her part, Ward Durrett loves the beautiful examples from previous years, and displays them on her office wall. And when it comes to a smaller scale or personal dinner parties, the Vogue Director is still a big proponent of incorporating the evening’s theme into the invite—just be sure to avoid Paperless Post. “I’m of the old-school thought that you should send a paper invitation when you can,” she says. “It’s nice to get something in the mail.”
Consider Investing in Furniture
Raul Àvila, who is the event designer for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund dinner as well, has over the years purchased a number of pieces that are frequently reused. “We have these really beautiful long tufted benches that we have re-covered—I’m not kidding—45 different times in a different material,” Ward Durrett says. “They [just] work!” Most may not have a dire need for that piece in particular, but the lesson here is clear: “If you’re somebody who likes to entertain, it’s worth investing in a few things that you can reuse,” advises Ward Durrett, adding that she just bought two 6-foot folding tables for her own home-based soirees. So consider trying her method—find a tablecloth and skip the party rentals. You’ll be good to go.
The Right Icebreakers Are Key
Be it the Met Ball or at home, Ward Durrett prefers to seat people where new connections are likely to be made—and not next to their own spouse. “My new favorite tip for dinner parties is to write on each table setting a fun question that each guest should ask their dinner partner,” says the expert, who will base her questions on what she knows guests’ shared interests to be. “It’s just a great icebreaker,” she notes. “It takes the pressure off.”
Source: Vogue.com Photo: Courtesy of Raul Àvila Inc.