Believe it or not, for me partying is a way of life. As the director of special events at Hollywood POP Gallery, one of New York's most iconic event planning, design and name talent booking agencies, I have called on my innate entrepreneurial skills to create what I describe as an ever evolving dream career. Whether at the helm of the year’s most buzzed about celebrity wedding, planning a Destination celebration featuring Tony Bennett , David Blaine or Seal or milestone celebration with Susie Essman, Smash mouth, or Jennifer Hudson, or designing an event featuring Barack Obama or negotiating a contract with Katy Perry, I'm always focused on the ultimate best results.
"I exist in a world that many people would find hard to believe, but that wasn't always the case. I consider my success self made - in no small part thanks the the amazing people I work with."
Although I have worked very hard to get here, I live by the philosophy that if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life and I’m fortunate to get to do what I love the most. As an event designer and wish maker for some of the most powerful and affluent people in the world, I believe I have gained a unique insight into making your dreams a reality and hope to inspire others who have their own dreams & aspirations.
The world of luxury event planning has left few stones unturned. In the many years that I've been with HPG, I've had some crazy business meetings, including everything from stark naked clients in their penthouse apartments to chats with movie icons, CEOs, and rock stars at 30,000ft. on private jets. I've been sent on site visits to exotic destinations and also carried costumes on subway trains to get them to parties on time.
Hollywood Pop Gallery works with billionaires with budgets and middle class moms who want to celebrate a special moment in a way that suits their lifestyle. Each event is equally as important; from a small dinner party to a large celebration, with every detail prepared to reflect their client’s personality and taste. Our job is to make our client’s dream a reality. If it's important to our client, it becomes equally important to us. Our role as memory makers is a very humbling experience because you only get one chance to make a client’s event what they’ve always dreamed of. Every party has to POP!
So, future event planners, design stylists, name talent booking agents and super-creatives from all walks of life, I'm here to tell you that whatever your dream career may be, please realize opportunities abound!
The trick is in recognizing if these opportunities will fit your overall business and life goals. Here, my three main recommendations to help all entrepreneurs find their dream.
THOSE WHO CAN, DO. THOSE WHO CAN'T, LEARN!
With every job you take on, make it a point to step out of your comfort zone.
There will be many pivotal challenges you face that place you in situations you haven’t experienced before. For me it was managing and booking touring and recording artists; booking name talent and handling their production, rider, staging, lighting and sound; and essentially functioning as a travel agent by planning a weekend destination celebration event in an exotic local.
Although each of those skills was initially outside of Hollywood Pop Gallery’s area of expertise, they are now part of their core services. I believe that change in an industry happens from within.
When clients request specific services that may seem outlandish the instinct may be to resist, but instead, research these items if they seem important to the client and especially if they come up more than once. Chances are these items are actually representative of important elements to the future of your industry.
'No’ is not generally an acceptable answer from the client's perspective and saying 'yes' when you don't have a blazed trail yet forces you to grow. At the same time, knowing when to say 'no' also keeps you creatively finding ways to satisfy demands that make sense for all involved.
PARTY PLANNER OR FAMILY THERAPIST?
Earn the trust of clients and figure out quickly how to relate to them- what their style is, what makes them tick, how to best lead them through the process of planning. This is true with most client relationships in many industries, but party planning gets far more personal than most. More often than not, planners are in the homes of their clients, looking through family photo albums, talking about their children's aspirations or their personal struggles.
Find ways to acquire a plethora of material to work with when looking for the perfect strings to pull.
Take the small anecdotes and make them major points. In my case, when someone mentions in passing that their triplets enjoy playing tennis, we make their party their own personalized Wimbledon with tennis pros and a mini tennis stadium in the center of the party.
RIDE THE WAVE OF INNOVATION OR BE LEFT IN THE WAKE
Part of staying in-demand in the event world is to consistently bring what is new and "cutting edge" to your clients. Just as no one wants to wear the same outfit as someone else at the same party, no one wants to see the same entertainment or decor that they've seen at several other events. Get out there and experience what is being done and what has yet to be created so you can share what you know and your ideas with clientele. Especially within the realm of HPG's client base, new perspectives and innovation keeps you afloat.
HPG is Creative Director to the longest running Off-Broadway variety show in NYC and that keeps our roster of international entertainment always growing.
Finally, is always helps to connect with other experts in your industry. We all need the support of one another and the opportunity to learn from each other. Since there are so many options in so many industries these days, it’s through building strong relationships with others in similar businesses that we all can learn and grow.
It's not always glitz and glam and Dubai and Michelin star chef tastings. My team and I work hard to absorb the ugly side of the process so the allure and wonder of it all stays intact. Think of party planning like Disney World - guests never see big garbage trucks or tired princes and princesses sweating and hurrying to their posts. It just doesn't fit their narrative of what you are meant to experience. A party planner's job is to create a flawless wonderland, making sure each moment is perfectly executed. The experiences and amazing opportunities that come along with repeat clients that trust you more and more with different projects make it all worthwhile.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.