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Drake's Go-To Event Designer Shares Her Tips On Building A Recognizable Brand

9min read
People

If you follow popular artists like Drake, The Weeknd, Victoria Beckham or DJ Khaled, on social media then you've seen just how luxurious and extravagant their parties can be

You may have also wondered who's behind the creation of these parties that everyone wants to go to. Meet Melissa Andre, the renowned creative consultant who brings these over-the-top events to life. As the founder of Melissa Andre Events and Melissa Andre Blooms, this entrepreneur has captured the attention of A-list celebrities and global brands alike.

Known for her whimsical and other-worldly installations and products, she has become one of the most sought-after event designers in the industry. Andre recently sat down with SWAAY to discuss her work ethic and share her tips on how to create a successful brand in such a competitive industry.

How did you get started with your own business in entertainment and events?

While I was producing events in the fashion and beauty industry, I realized that I had a lot of ideas and aesthetics that I wanted to explore and bring to life. Unfortunately, those ideas weren't a great fit for the brands I was working with. I knew that having my own company with my own clientele was something I'd need to work towards. So, after about 3 years in the field working for a big fashion and beauty brand, I decided to leave my position and launch Melissa Andre Design Co. which grew pretty quickly. I was soon working with A-list celebrities like Drake, Victoria Beckham, Louis Vuitton, DJ Khaled and Deadmau5 to global brands like Google, Instagram, Reebok and Veuve Clicquot.

We all know that making a name for yourself in this industry is extremely competitive, especially in LA, how did you get your brand to stand out from the competition?

High quality work is the best business card. I said 'yes' to hundreds of projects before I ever considered saying 'no'. My work always has a dichotomy: I'm very serious about the process, my business operations and service quality, but I'm also very and playful and buoyant when it comes to design. Those traits, in combination with a lot of hard work, have served me well.

We heard that the events industry is all about who you know. How did you grow your network to include celebrities and such other influential clientele?

I have found it to be quite the opposite (for me, at least). I consistently focused on over-delivering on the projects I took on, and in turn the celebrities/influencers started hearing about my work and reaching out. The nature of my job is extremely time-consuming. It takes hundreds of hours to design, plan and execute the events I put together so I actually wish I had more time to network than I currently do. When it comes to my work, I always think, "It's great now but if I spend another 10 more hours on it, I think I can make it a little better."

You are one of the top celebrity creative consultants in the US and Canada, how do you keep improving on your skills and continuing to deliver the best events? In other words, how do you continuously ensure you're growing as a leader in this space?

I grow with each project I take on, so it's a natural progression. We don't commit to projects based on volume, instead, we do less projects every year because the scale of the projects we take on increases. Also, our work is not very repetitive. We're always learning something new, and because I like to add a magical flair to my projects, the work naturally evolves as I find new materials, references and aesthetics that I'm drawn to.

Can you name some interesting celebrities you've worked with and what you've learned from those experiences?

We worked with Victoria Beckham and Shaq this year. That was pretty great. Every client has different goals for their installations or designs and being able to identify what those are pretty early on in the process is important. I can typically tell within the first conversation what the client is looking for even if they themselves don't yet know what that is. It's also my job to push them out of their comfort zone when it comes to design because I know how to make their vision even greater than it already was.

Or even better, do you have any fun anecdotes from some of your experiences to share with our audience?

I once planned a Grammy party for 400 people that quickly turned into a party for 1200; we ran out of alcohol and everything else within the first hour. No one wanted to leave so they basically drank water all night and partied until 6am.

Melissa Andre with one of her clients, Dj Khaled

I didn't intentionally market my services in any particular way. My clients have found me through personally attending one of my events or having asked their own network for a referral.

Can you describe a day in the life of Melissa Andre?

I start my day with Pilates in Beverly Hills. I walk there and then go get an oat milk latte every morning. My home and office are both in Beverly Hills so then I walk to work as well.

My workday starts with a team meeting around 9am to set intentions and short-term goals for the day. They lay out anything they need me to sign off on, and I let them know if I need any research or sourcing finalized that day or approval from a client so we can go into production, etc. I review social media content or features and quickly flag any general inquiries in our inbox that need special attention.

From there, I typically move between in-person meetings with ease knowing that my team is keeping everything on schedule. It could be client meetings, site visits, or in-person visits to touch base on any custom projects where I want to see the status of something we've designed that is in the process of being created.

I set a few hours aside everyday to look for inspiration for future projects. Sometimes I need to push this to the end of the day after I've left the office, but if I can do it during the day, that's great.

At night I make dinner plans with friends or attend events. I love to checkout new restaurants and venue openings, a new chef, or the interior of a gallery I've been meaning to see in person. If there's nothing I'm dying to see, I love staying in. I definitely go out just to go out. If I can order Sugarfish and catch up with a girlfriend at home, I love that the most. But when something new pops up that I'm curious about, I make a point to check out the design.

You recently launched your consumer brand, Melissa Andre Blooms, tell us a bit more about that and your vision for it.

We were often sending "thank you" gifts to our clients, but there was nothing on the market that I felt right about gifting. So instead, we created these gorgeous Bloom Box vessels about 5 years ago and our clients started asking to buy them for their friends. One of our corporate clients asked to purchase 100 to use as event invitations for their gala and so we started producing them so that others could gift them as well. Our Bloom Boxes are beautifully made, they're high quality and are gorgeously polished. I love the flowers that are designed within a vessel so you're not handing someone a gift that they need to deconstruct and put into a vase they have lying around at home. You can literally receive it and place it anywhere, and it looks beautiful.

We eventually expanded to a few other cities like New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Toronto, and we plan on expanding to a few more. We've also launched a few other products like our pillow talk hearts and a line of beautiful bouquets.

We often customize our Bloom Box for corporate clients in different colors and use their branded ribbons. We recently did a red acrylic bloom box for a beauty company that was gifted on Valentine's day. It was gorgeous!

People may assume that because of the nature of your business, you're living a glamorous life day-to-day planning parties, celebrating occasions with celebrities and meeting interesting people. Is that true? And what are some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome?

That is, of course, a large part of my job, but I don't think anyone can underestimate how much time, effort, energy and hard work goes into delivering all of these events. Having a "good eye" is great but you need to be able to execute your vision efficiently. When I work with anyone, not just celebrities, I'm delivering a dream that I need to seamlessly bring to life—so it takes a lot of research and preparation. But some definite perks of the job are attending events, sampling menus and experiencing really beautiful art.

How do you deal with the stresses that come with event planning? We know it's no small task!

I'm the ultimate Type A personality—organization is the most important thing to me. I make lists, I prioritize and I write absolutely everything down. Every job comes with its own type of stress, but the way you manage the project really counts. I also find that my physical health plays a big role in how I'm managing stress so I work out six days a week, do yoga a couple times a week and practice ballet. I also follow an anti-inflammatory diet and get eight hours of sleep every night.

We've heard from many young women that their dream job is to plan and produce events, what is your advice to them?

Take your job seriously. I once read a quote by Martha Stewart that said, "I think baking cookies is equal to Queen Victoria running an empire." Take your business seriously and focus on operations, then you can start working towards making your designs wondrous and other-worldly.

What is your number one tip for planning a badass event that people will talk about for months?

A great party planner always makes sure their guests' overall experience and comfort are the number one priority. You want them to feel taken care of and have all of the essentials at their fingertips. I have clients that tell me their top priority is choosing a venue that is very remote and has never been used before, but venues like that often take a long time to get to and guests can't arrive to the event with ease. So right from the start, the guest is being inconvenienced. While I personally focus more extensively on design elements, spaces and installations that are visually impressive, the guest experience should be top priority, and we do spend a lot of our time and effort ensuring that they feel this way.

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5min read
Business

My Untold Story Of Inventing the Sports Bra And How it Changed the World (And Me)

Following are excerpts from "Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)" By Lisa Z. Lindahl


There is an idea that has popped up everywhere from Chaos Theory to Science Fiction and New Age memes known popularly as the "Butterfly Effect." Simply put, it is the notion that one very small thing—the movement of a butterfly's wing say, or the ripple in a lake caused by a pebble being thrown into it—can cause tremendous effect far away: the butterfly's wing a tornado, the ripple a large wave on a distant shore. Cause and effect, does it have limits? The field of physics is telling us that it takes only observation to bring a thing into being. We cannot consider these areas of investigation and not acknowledge that everything—everything—is in relationship in some way or another with everything else.

So, it is evident to me that commerce of any kind is, also, just about relationships. It all boils down, on every level to this simplicity. While we usually think of relationships as occurring between people—it is far more than that.

I used to teach a course in entrepreneurship specifically for women in The Women's Small Business Program at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont. I made this concept of relationship and its importance central in how I taught the marketing thought process. I would stress that for a product or service to be successful, it had to meet a perceived need. There is a need, and it wants to be met; or it may be thought of as a problem to be solved. Or there may be an existing solution that is less than adequate.

For example: In my universe as a runner there already were a plethora of bras available, but they were inadequate for my purpose. The relationship between my breasts, my running body, and my bra was creating discomfort and distraction. A new solution had to be found, the relationship occurring when all these things came together had to be fixed. Utilizing this point of view, one sees a set of issues that need to be addressed—they are in relationship with each other and their environment in a way that needs to be changed, adjusted.

Nowhere is this viewpoint truer than in business, as we enter into more and more relationships with people to address all the needs of the organization. Whether designing a product or a service or communicating with others about it—we are in relationship. And meanwhile, how about maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves? All the issues we know about stress in the workplace can boil down to an internal balancing act around our relationships: to the work itself, to those we work with, to home life, friends and lovers. So quickly those ripples can become waves.

Because Jogbra was growing so quickly, relationships were being discovered, created, ending, expanding and changing at a pace that makes my head spin to recall. And truly challenged my spirit. Not to mention how I handled dealing with my seizure disorder.

"My Lifelong Partner"

Let me tell you a bit about my old friend, Epilepsy. Having Epilepsy does not make any sort of money-making endeavor easy or reliable, yet it is my other "partner" in life. Husbands and business partners have come and gone, but Epilepsy has always been with me. It was my first experience of having a "shadow teacher."

While a child who isn't feeling she has power over her world may have a tantrum, as we grow older, most of us find other more subtle ways to express our powerfulness or powerlessness. We adapt, learn coping mechanisms, how to persuade, manipulate, or capitulate when necessary. These tools, these learned adaptations, give a sense of control. They make us feel more in charge of our destiny. As a result, our maturing self generally feels indestructible, immortal. Life is a long, golden road of futures for the young.

This was not the case for me. I learned very early on when I started having seizures that I was not fully in charge of the world, my world, specifically of my body. There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Often a person with the illness may have more than one type. That has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy—with a seizure type now referred to as "Absence seizures"—when I was four years old. I have seen neurologists and taken medications ever since. As often happens, the condition worsened when I entered puberty and I started having convulsions as well—what most people think of when they think of epileptic seizures. The clinical name is generalized "Tonic-clonic" seizures.

In such a seizure the entire brain is involved, rather like an electrical circuit that has gone out as a result of a power surge. I lose consciousness, my whole body becomes rigid, the muscles start jerking uncontrollably, and I fall. Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as "grand mal" seizures, may or may not be preceded by an aura, a type of perceptual disturbance, which for me can act as a warning of what is coming. The seizure usually only lasts for a few minutes, but I feel its draining effects for a day or two afterwards. Although I would prefer to sleep all day after such a physically and emotionally taxing event, I have often just gotten up off the floor and, within hours, gone back to work. It was necessary sometimes, though definitely not medically advised. I'm fond of saying that having a grand mal seizure is rather like being struck by a Mack truck and living to tell the tale.

Having Epilepsy has forced me to be dependent on others throughout my life. While we are all dependent upon others to some degree—independent, interdependent, dependent—in my case a deep level of dependency was decreed and ingrained very early on. This enforced dependency did not sit well with my native self. I bucked and rebelled. At the same time, a part of me also feared the next fall, the next post-convulsive fugue. And so I recognized, I acquiesced to the need to depend on others.

The silver lining of having Epilepsy is that it has introduced me to and taught me a bit about the nature of being powerless—and experiencing betrayal. I could not trust that my body would always operate as it should. Routinely, it suddenly quits. I experience this as betrayal by my brain and body. It results in my complete powerlessness throughout the convulsion. Not to mention an inconvenient interruption of any activities or plans I might have made.

Hence, I am the recipient of two important life lessons—and I was blessed to have this very specific and graphic experience at a young age. It made me observant and reflective, giving me the opportunity to consider what/where/who "I" was. I knew I was not "just" my body, or even my brain.

So, who or what did that leave? Who, what am I? Much has been written about trauma, and about near-death experiences, both of which seizures have been classified or described as. I won't delve into that here except to say that experiencing recurrent seizures and the attendant altered states of consciousness that sometimes accompany an episode (the euphemism for a seizure) changes one. It deeply affects you. It is both illuminating and frightening. It opens you up in some ways and can close you way down in others. For me it made it easy to consider the possibility of other ways to perceive, of other realms. And as an adult I became interested in quantum physics, where Science is pushing and challenging our long-held perceptual assumptions. Me, who was poor in math and disinterested in Science while in school! So if not merely body and brain, who am I? Spirit. And with Epilepsy's tutelage, I was encouraged to question, seek, try to understand what lies beyond.

Living with Epilepsy has also given me great strength. In realizing the futile nature of trying to have "power over" Epilepsy, I developed a deep well of "power within"—that inner strength that comes in the acceptance of that which one cannot change—and looking beyond it.

Through my experience building the business of Jogbra with the unique lens afforded me by my Epilepsy partner, I came to understand more fully the nature of power and what it means to be truly powerful.

Specifically, that having power and exercising it is not simply a manifestation of the ego. It need not be "power-tripping." It is how I wield my power that matters, making the all-important distinction between creating a situation of power over, power with, or empowering and having and creating strength in oneself and others.

Being powerful is a big responsibility.

To put all this another way: do I choose to create situations in which I am able to wield power over others? Or do I choose to empower others, sharing my strengths with them, while nurturing their strengths as well? The first is not true power. It is control. The second I believe to be the essence of true and positive power: strength. And integral to creating a more harmonious world, oh by the way.

While this may be apparent, even basic to others, it was an "aha!" moment for me. Too often in the years ahead I would give away my power and question my own strengths,. Time and again, however, my inner strength, my shadow teacher's gift, helped me survive and thrive until I could take responsibility for and embrace more fully my own power.

© Lisa Z. Lindahl 2019