David Tutera, party planner to the stars, has kickstarted entire industries with his decorating decisions. That whole long table trend happening in farmhouse weddings across America right now–he started that. (Or so he claims.)
Demanding clients (with unlimited cash) expect events filled with original and refreshing ideas, not the trends populating plebian Pinterest. Tutera, who has worked on high-profile happenings ranging from Star Jones’s wedding to the Official Post Grammy’s Party in New York City, has succeeded at celebrity event planning because he can think ahead of the trends, and innovate.
He also knows how to handle people who like to think they’re in charge: “‘No’ is not always a good word in the vocabulary of clients,” he told Fast Company. “You find ways to make problems turn into positive solutions. If we can’t accomplish something because it’s physically not possible, I’ll try to come up with a better idea.”
Fast Company spoke with Tutera about how he got into the business, where he gets his inspiration, and how he has innovated his way to a successful decades-long career, which now includes multiple books and the WE TV show David Tutera’s CELEBrations.
Fast Company: When did you start party planning?
David Tutera: I started at the age of 19. I was not intending to get into the business. Somebody asked me if I would decorate a bar-mitzvah. I actually did not know what a bar-mitzvah was.
If you had no experience why would anyone ask you to plan their kids’ big day?
I had a little shop, I had a singing telegram company. The mother came in one day to see if I could decorate her son’s bar-mitzvah like the window and that was the first child’s party I did.
How did you learn to run a party planning business?
My grandfather owned a flower shop. He taught me how to run a little business and how to order perishables, which would be floral, without losing your profit.
When did you transition from teens to rich people?
I started realizing that there is a marketplace for people who have lots of money, who want to spend it on big celebrations. I would go to the country clubs and try to sell my services.
Who was the first huge client you had?
I got a phone call from the St. James Palace to do a party for Prince Charles. Nancy Reagan had heard about me and she was hosting the event for Prince Charles and I got the phone call from the palace. That was my, like, ‘Oh my god that’s crazy’ moment.
How do you think up new wedding innovations for high profile and demanding clients?
I feel confident enough to say that I create the trends and not follow them. I’m putting myself far enough in advance that it becomes a trend. I can remember the idea of having lounge furniture at the event to create these environments. I went to NYC to prop houses that provide furniture for SNL and the soap operas at the time. I said I want to rent furniture for a big party. She looked at me like I was out of my mind. That launched a completely new end of the industry purchasing furniture. I remember being the first person that decided let’s not all do round tables as dining tables, let’s do long and round. These things I just came up with just took off.
Where do you get ideas, if not from Pinterest, like the rest of us?
I eat out in restaurants a lot and I see a lot of great concepts in interior design and a lot of that translates well to events. Ironically I am going to the restaurant to see the restaurant and less concerned about the food. Also, I find a lot of inspiration in Broadway shows and I love movies.
I take a lot of international concepts and recreate them in ways that my clients would not necessarily know I saw something in Asia or in Europe or Africa. It’s a great way to step outside of the box and do something more different than your competitor geographically located where I am.
As a wedding innovator, what trend do you think is on the way out?
The trend I would like to see less of is people consistently shifting movement of space at the event. I started that a long long time ago. You can lose energy in your party if too many people are going in too many different directions.
You started that entire trend?
I was young and I thought: I need to be different. What can I do? The footprint of a party, it’s the same thing over and over. It’s the same formula; it’s the same five hours. They [the guests] need to sit, eat, dance, dessert, and go home. It’s boring. We have to, as planners or event people, we need to treat it as if we’re the choreographer, a conductor, a director. We need to make sure that we are making these people visually and mentally feel like they’re stimulated at all times.
This interview has been condensed and edited.