Bronson Van Wyck dashed up the steps and into the center hall of the Audubon Boulevard estate, slightly out of breath.
“I’m sorry I am late,” he apologized. “I had to put up an extra eight tents this afternoon because of the rain that’s predicted.”
Van Wyck was the party planner for the extraordinary event about to unfold: a deb party themed “Though the Looking Glass, Down the Rabbit Hole.” But the term “party planner” is a poor descriptor of the role his company — Van Wyck & Van Wyck — played in the magical affair.
“The deb picked the theme because, when she was a child, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was always her favorite story,” Van Wyck explained. “She even has a rabbit! We planned the party, and we also built and furnished all of the tents that carry out the theme.”
Just 39 years old, Van Wyck founded the company with his mother when he was 25.
“My sister, Mimi, joined us later, but we thought it would just be silly to change the name to ‘Van Wyck & Van Wyck & Van Wyck’ when she did,” he said.
Arkansas natives, the Van Wycks now base their highly successful business in New York and plan more than 100 parties a year all over the country. They’ve orchestrated celebrations of inaugurations and for stars, including Hugh Jackman, Beyonce and Sean Combs.
Locals were introduced to their special brand of magic when the NBA playoffs were in New Orleans in the spring. Gayle and Tom Benson hired the company to put together a celebration for NBA principals, city officials and other locals. For that event, the Van Wycks took over the Contemporary Arts Center, adding space by building a temporary wing, complete with chandeliers, furniture, carpeting and art.
“Of all ways to meet someone, I met Mr. and Mrs. Benson in a castle in Stuttgart, Germany. That introduction led to the NBA event and the NBA event led to other parties in New Orleans,” Van Wyck said. “In this case, my sister’s husband’s best friend is a business partner of the deb’s father. It’s always word of mouth like that.”
Once the connection is made and a theme established, Van Wyck and crew begin the design process based on the physical attributes of the site of the party, be it a private home or a hotel.
“What I love the most is family parties like this one, because you really get to know the people from visiting their home over and over again,” Van Wyck said.
The “Wonderland” party was given by Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Conwill in honor of their daughter Clare. The family decided to host the party at home, so it was up to Van Wyck to figure out how to stage a dance for several hundred guests on the home’s expansive grounds.
“We covered the pool so we could use that space and then we put up the tent,” Van Wyck said.
“The tent” was far less like a nomadic structure covered in fabric and much more like an immense pavilion measuring at least 50 feet wide and 75 feet long with ceilings at least 20 feet high. Oaks and crape myrtles on the grounds remained in placed and were incorporated into the theme for the space, the Red Queen’s Throne Room.
Red chandeliers provided a provocative glow and candles floated in the air high above the heads of guests. A rose-covered arbor on one side of the throne room sheltered the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, complete with flying teacups and saucers.
Across the dance floor, a British Victorian-style greenhouse was filled with pink desserts and digestifs. At one end of the room, the Caterpillar’s “Opium Den” was outfitted with cushions and hookahs.
At the opposite end of the vast space, the stage was set for the band’s performance against a red and green topiary backdrop in the pattern of a maze. Banners of the white rabbit and other characters from the story hung from above.
Van Wyck estimated it took 10 to 20 of his crew plus 110 to 130 locals to construct the building and the additional smaller environments that led to it from the rear of the house.
“I like working in New Orleans because there is so much local talent available for events like this,” he said. “They are hardworking, honest and creative, and they rival any crews anywhere, including Los Angeles and New York.”
The day after the event, the crews would be on site removing furnishings and sending them to storage facilities around the country. Although some of the items used to create the Wonderland are among Van Wyck’s permanent collection, others were made especially for the event.
Despite the fact that Van Wyck was still issuing requests to his operatives as the doors to the party opened, he insisted he would be able to relax and have fun at the event.
“New Orleanians give wonderful parties on par with any I have been involved with anywhere, because their parties celebrate their eccentricities,” he said. “My field is called party planning, but it’s really about creating experiences that guests will remember, about creating memories. Tomorrow, the party will be over, but the memory will remain.”