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Throwing the perfect party isn’t easy. That’s why we have hostesses like Dorothy Draper, whose 1941 book “Entertaining Is Fun” will be rereleased next month; Kate Spade, whose book “Occasions” was published this spring, and uber-publicists Elizabeth Harrison and Lara Shriftman, whose book, “Fête Accompli,” is in stores now, to show us how. But instead of following advice from just one, why not take a page from all three?

— Marshall Heyman

This story first appeared in the August 19, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

PRE-PARTY PLANNING In the living room, your guests should be greeted with “the little intimate litter of living — the bag of knitting or needlework…the card table with the jigsaw puzzle half done or the backgammon board with its colored counters…the white fox terrier wagging a cordial greeting, the bowl of goldfish or the canary or the finches in their cages.” “Once your guests begin arriving, get them out of the kitchen! And remember: Avoid leaving your guests for longer than 15 minutes. They have come to be with you, not your veal scaloppine, no matter how good it tastes.” “Once your place is spotless, put away your personal items (no one needs to see your birth control pills) and breakables. Lock your bedroom door if you don’t want anyone to hang out on your 600-thread-count sheets. And while you’re at it, do something with Fido.”
SET THE SCENE “I know a woman who put a huge Boston fern in the fireplace in summer with a small electric fan behind it to keep the leaves moving.” “Hospitality has long been associated with the pineapple, once valued as a rare fruit. The hostess who decorated her table with a pineapple signified the esteem in which she regarded her guests.” “Paint the room red for a dose
of instant sultriness.”
TAKE A SEAT “Place cards are a necessity at a dinner party. Is there anything in the world more agonizing than to stand in a huddle at the dining-room door while your hostess fumbles for a scrap of paper and her glasses?” “Instead of paper, we’ve had
cookies made and inscribed with the names of our guests.”
“Buy inexpensive director’s chairs and have them monogrammed with your guests’ names. This is great for movie nights, and the chairs make great party gifts.”
BACKGROUND MUSIC “Choose an evening when a specially fine program is to be broadcast, perhaps a Toscanini concert. …Make the radio or Victrola the center of the room. Get an amplifier.” “Big Yellow Taxi,” Joni Mitchell; “Don’t Stop,” Fleetwood Mac; “Oh Yoko,” John Lennon; “Heavy Metal Drummer,” Wilco. “Hotel Costes #5”; “Cruel Intentions” soundtrack; James Taylor for an outdoor dinner.
GOOD LIBATIONS “Good liquor is not cheap. Cheap liquor is not good. Nor will a lot of fancy canapés make up for poor drinks. They don’t. The whole object of the canapé is to incite the appetite for the drinks.” “Stay away from canned beer. It makes me think of the Indy 500 or something. All that metal!” “If you are serving an inexpensive champagne, we recommend prepouring the bubbly in glasses before your guests arrive and leaving them out. That makes a chic impression and your guests won’t even notice that they’re not sipping Cristal.”
FINGER FOOD “The most successful food I serve at my parties are finger rolls. These are cut the long way, buttered and spread with slices of cold turkey or with creamed turkey mince sprinkled with paprika.” “Eleni makes little pastry cups that she turns into a BLT. She takes the little cups and fills them with chopped bacon, lettuce and tomatoes. Everything’s perfectly chopped and blended. They’re bite-size, and when you have one you really feel as though you’re having a BLT. Which you are.” “Order tacos from a place like Taco Bell and offer freshly made salsa and guacamole, along with a buffet table of toppings like goat cheese crumbles, shredded lettuce, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, and bell peppers.”
SMOOTH SAILING “A delighted hostess is a delightful hostess. Plan your party so that you and your husband (we hope you have one) will have a good time and your guests will have the time of their lives.…Your enjoyment is as contagious to your guests as the measles. Remember that and dispose of that Victorian martyr complex along with the etiquette books.” “Keep a journal of dinners you have given (the date, what was served, and who attended), and take special care to note each person’s likes and dislikes. Indicating food
allergies is a must.”
“It’s always smart to have at least one scene maker (a magician friend, a drag queen, the town mayor, a guy who just came back from a safari in Africa and has pictures to share, the head of a wonderful charity, the local news anchor, some kind of business mogul, someone in the circus who will come by on stilts or any small-town star who knows how to raise an eyebrow or two) on your list, or on hand to pump things up.”
THE PARTY’S OVER People carry away with them from a party the feeling of enjoyment, and what they keep on remembering is the feeling that they were wanted. The feeling that it really mattered to the host and hostess that they were there and enjoyed themselves. The feeling that their hosts are genuinely interested in them and care for them individually.” “Once the decor becomes someone else’s wardrobe, by all means, call it quits.” “Give a live goldfish in a bag. The party then lives on every time each guest sees the fish.”
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