A Celebrity Event Planner's Creative Take on How to Celebrate the Holidays in a Pandemic
Forget about ugly sweater parties, 2020 is all about ugly masks...
Edward Perotti means business. The San Francisco native accidentally started his career after his position at a publishing company became obsolete. Being the eternal optimist that he is, Edward realized his potential and quickly began to think outside the box. Today, he is one of the most globally recognized celebrity event planners, creating electrifying events for stars like Ariana Grande and Nick Jonas, in the world’s most lavish locations including the Palace of Versailles and the Great Wall of China.
Most recently, Edward has been making national headlines for his advice on how to create pandemic-proof celebrations for the important milestones in our lives. With holiday season upon us, I was thirsty for the scoop. From creative and out-of-the-ordinary ideas to setting proper safety protocols, here’s what our expert had to say on how you can make this holiday season an unforgettable one.
You’ve been an expert in the event planning industry for over 30 years—an industry that has been deeply impacted by COVID-19. What are some of the biggest work-related challenges you have faced during the pandemic and how have you overcome these challenges?
The biggest challenge has been getting people to understand that they need to be mindful of everything. You can’t just say you're going to do an event and not have all the protocols in place. We’re at the point where we’re getting people to come out of their homes and starting to get into that physical social setting again, but it’s not going to happen overnight. We've spent eight months working from home, having very little physical contact with people, that the psychology of people coming back together again is going to take some time. The events industry globally has been decimated, from hotels to the airlines to the front line, like myself, the team…it's been a really rough haul. But now we need to start looking at how to slowly ease people back into that comfort zone of coming together so that big events will come back.
I can imagine that it's a scary thing for people to even begin thinking about these things. I suppose it’s part of the job, to get them to feel comfortable again.
I've walked away from a lot of business because I could not get people to understand that the protocols aren't just for myself and my team. They're for your guests. In order for it to be a success, you need to lay out those protocols and take it one step further by being 100% transparent, as well as for you to not feel slighted because somebody declined your event. None of this is personal at this point. We want to bring people together. Let's be smart about it. We're not going to do a massive party, especially for the holidays, we’re doing intimate groups of ten. We’re doing one where the hostess gave me names that we placed in a hat. We picked them randomly—that was her guestlist.
Can you give our readers some creative ideas on how they can make the holidays—Christmas, Hannukah and New Year’s Eve—memorable while social distancing and abiding to safety guidelines?
Focus on moments to remember. Let's create five or six moments that will happen and take the pressure off of the whole thing. One surefire way to get everybody to do the first step, wear their mask, is to do an ugly mask party. No store-bought masks, it needs to be your creative voice coming out. People will laugh and chuckle, but they will keep their masks on. And those people who can't make it—we’re bringing up the smart TV with a big zoom grid.
For kids, we did chocolate hallow Santas. I found these beautiful glasses and put cold peppermint hot chocolate in them. We put the straw through Santa’s hat and that was their cup!
What would you say is the key to having a successful holiday celebration this year?
Reverse the event planning process. Think about things you have to do from a safety perspective first, then figure out how to add the zhuzh. Most people go into this with the lens of what am I going to serve? How am I going to correct all those pieces? And that's a completely logical way to go about it, but reversing the planning process means to think about the things you have to do from a safety perspective. Yes, you need to have windows open. Yes, you need to worry about food and how that's going to be presented. Once you have those in place, then figure out how to make it yours from a creative standpoint.
What are some fun holiday-themed activities people can do while celebrating at home?
I am a big advocate this year of not doing a whole lot of activities, but more thought-process activities to get people reconnected. I love the idea of clearing out your living room and dropping hula hoops on the floor to make intimate settings with a comfortable cushion to sit on. We went on Amazon and found these amazing three-tiered metal Indian-style bento boxes: the top was filled with appetizers, the middle was a salad, and the bottom was an entrée. Everyone was set up in their little seating area, but they were all together and it kind of had the feeling of being a team again. I personally want to hear about my family. I want to hear stories that I've never heard before.
What is the one item every at-home holiday party should have this season?
A zoom account! Just kidding! That's a really tough one but I think its connection. I don't think it's a gimmick and I don't think that’s a problem. Individuals are creative enough to figure out what they personally need in that realm. I think most people take each other for granted and that’s the one thing they need, each other. I found a group photo of friends from way back in high school and had it printed on face masks, cups and napkins. I mean, you see me in the 80s with my Duran Duran hair, that's a Christmas gift itself!
What are some post-pandemic changes you expect to see in the event and party planning industry?
I think we've proven that the ability to have guests and audiences all over the world is feasible now. Creating that consistent experience for them virtually or live, we know we can do it. I'll probably get a phone call from Ana (Wintour), but the days of the Met gala being that one time hit, they now have an entire world that they can include in something like that. It’s forcing my industry to rethink how we gather people. At the end of the day, we've been doing the same setups forever, we just change the way it looks. People no longer want to meet that way. People no longer feel comfortable. This generation coming up has an entirely different concept of socializing. It’s going to force hotels, caterers and event planners to really look and listen because we've now proven that we can't go backwards. We can't go back to the same old, same old. Safety protocols have to be built into everything. Covid has given my industry a golden opportunity to reimagine itself, and the ones who figure out how to reimagine events are going to be the next generation of planners and hoteliers.
Is there anything that you've learned about yourself as a result of the pandemic?
Oh, boy. This has been a crazy year for me. Last year I suffered a stroke and was paralyzed. I had to learn how to walk, talk, how to use a toothbrush. And through the process of recovery, they found cancer. So, a year ago today, I had cancer surgery. And what I got out of this entire thing was this: the control freak that I am has never been in control. I needed to learn to trust everyone around me and trust the processes that are in place. I needed to let go and know that the people around me are going to take my vision, my words, my needs, whatever it is, and do the job they're there to do. It was hard for me, but harder for the people around me. But once again, talk about a blessing in disguise.
The funny thing is, there has been such a shift on how I design. I feel much more creative, more free than I did before. There’s a bit of a freeing sense of, why can’t I propose this, what’s the worst that can happen? They could shut it down. Ok, I have a backup plan.
What is one product you turn to that helps you stay calm and relaxed during these stressful and uncertain times?
I use the European Spa Source shower bombs, as well as the shower sprays with the eucalyptus and lemongrass. I'm six-foot three sitting on the floor of the shower having hot water running on me as I'm deep breathing in these essential oils. It's so calming.
There’s also a small company out in Arizona called Quench Naturel. Two women started it from scratch with all organic products. I started using the Everything Bar, I’m not sure if they still have it, on my skin where I knew the surgery was going to happen and have been using it since.
How will you be celebrating the holidays this year? Let us know in the comments below!