Oh, How She Parties!
Fashion designer Lela Rose’s passion for creativity extends beyond dressing for a celebration. She’s also a maven at hosting them.
All photos © Quentin Bacon
Lela Rose’s Prêt-à-Party (Rizzoli, $40) is an inspirational guide for the Martha in us all. Rose’s best party ideas are brought to life through nine distinctive celebrations. From a rooftop pig roast for friends in Queens to a “Tea-Quila” party in a park, her concepts both surprise and delight. With the holiday season approaching, we tapped Rose for her top tips for a lovely, delicious and oh-so-regaling winter fête.
CHOOSE A THEME
Whether my guests realize it or not, I always choose a theme for my parties. Be it a color or a food or a person, having a theme is a great way to “stay on message” and guide the aspect of planning the celebration. I love the idea of your drink matching your dress and your dress matching your table—it creates a cohesive flow for the party’s aesthetic.
THE INVITATION SETS THE TONE
The invitation is an introduction to what guests can expect at the party, so make it special. If time allows, avoid buying regular paper invitations, and instead aim to make them yourself. For my own parties, I love creating a tableau (see p. 34); I’ll draw out certain details and include elements like plates or decoration elements—anything that speaks to the aesthetic of the party. I then photograph the tableau and send it out. It’s a great way to connect with guests in the digital age.
THE VENUE: UNEXPECTED IS BEST
If your home doesn’t inspire you to entertain, don’t let it stand in the way of throwing a party. But rather than opting for a conventional restaurant or venue, choose an unexpected place, and let it influence your theme. I love the magic that happens while being outside; I’ve thrown parties in parks and parking lots. I’ve even hosted the cocktail portion of a dinner party on the platform of a subway station, and people still talk about it nearly 20 years later. Also, when selecting a venue, follow my rule: Never ask for permission; only beg forgiveness. It’s bound to work in your favor!
LET COLOR GUIDE YOUR TABLETOP DÉCOR
The holiday party included in my book was curated around colors: winter white and silver sparkle. Everything on the table was white or silver—I even considered white when planning the menu, though it was difficult, given there aren’t many appetizing white foods!
I love flowers and love using them, but twigs, branches, vegetables and fruit are economical and unusual props I also use for decorating. I love pomegranates, for example. With their deep red color and interesting seeds, they’re great for a tabletop. Also, things used in repetition are very successful. I’ve decorated my tables with multiple old wine bottles and candlesticks.
A SPECIALTY COCKTAIL IS KEY
Greeting guests with a specialty cocktail provides wonderful insight to the rest of the evening—it’s an absolute must. I’m someone who enjoys tequila (they don’t call me “Lela Tequila” for nothing), so I often serve margaritas; there are endless varieties fitting for any occasion. For the holidays, I love making a pomegranate version. I also love making a Paloma, which of course is tequila based, mixed with grapefruit juice. The drink itself is a gorgeous pink, which is one of my favorite color themes for entertaining.
THE MENU: PLAY INTO THE THEME
On New Year’s Eve, I make a Scandinavian meat pie called Lihamurekepiiras. This dish is perfect for the holidays because you can decorate the pie any way you like so that it fits the theme of your party. The crust is sour-cream based, which makes the dough really easy to work with, and the pie is served with a dill sour-cream dressing that is absolutely delicious—you can’t go wrong with this dish. (Check out this recipe for Lihamurekepiiras.)
My Christmas parties always include a white elephant gift exchange. It’s silly and provides guests simple fun. Another fun thing I often do when hosting a dinner party is to write men’s names on the back of the women’s place cards; then during dessert we flip the cards over and all the men move to their new spots to mix things up. Contests and cook-offs are a genius way to throw a dinner party and not have to prepare all the food alone. They’re a great way to get friends involved, and the competition heats things up, making the evening so much fun.
A LITTLE PRE-GAME CAN’T HURT
A stressed-out host isn’t much fun to be around. Even if the food isn’t perfect or your decorations didn’t come out exactly as you’d hoped, your guests are there to enjoy being with you and others. The reason why I entertain so much is because I truly enjoy it—I love being around people. Entertaining is a lot of work, so make sure you’re having a good time. I recommend having a drink (or two!) before the party starts.
In addition to a holiday celebration, Rose’s book includes creative ideas for themes, menus and party locations, no matter the time of year.