When debutante Charlotte Worley Huger blew a whistle midway through the gala party given by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. James Middleton Huger, it not only signaled a move to another venue, but symbolically the opening salute to seven sensational nighttime parties of the debutante season. Held in different locations, each one had a unique theme and loads of festive flourish. Thousands of party-goers reveled at those bashes, which this column will chronicle. Good times rocked!
As guests arrived at Arnaud’s, they were immediately taken by the luminous “Charlotte” at the restaurant’s front door. Immediately within, rosy-pink lighting set an upbeat holiday mood that announced both formality and fun. On hand in the main dining room at the party’s beginning were Charlotte and her parents, Stephanie and Jim Huger, who welcomed their kin and kith.
Food was an immediate attraction, and Huger hobnobbers delighted in the delicacies from the raw bar and the ice sculpture that mirrored the invitation designed by Gretchen Howard. Other attractions were turtle soup shooters, tuna tartare, Waldorf salad, roasted lamb and beef tenderloin, and for the sweet tooth, mini baked Alaskas and chocolates.
Credit for the look at Arnaud’s went to Monique Chauvin, with Mitch’s Flowers, for the stupendous posies; the above Gretchen Howard and Melissa Henry for the decor; and See Hear Productions, the lighting. Elizabeth Kelleher, with In Any Event LLC, was the event planner.
As guests mingled, they turned an ear to the lively music of the New Orleans Moonshiners, which included Chris Edmunds, and to a spate of familiar songs. “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” was one of them. Others followed with a scintillating beat.
Among the many noted were deb siblings Anna (the 2017 queen of Carnival), William and John; grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Lane Plauche Jr., Diane and Andy; Sally and Jay Lapeyre; Liz and Poco Sloss; Thomas and Deborah Valentine; Miriam and Rusty Lindner; and Caroline “Cabby” Boone. Also, Ben Goliwas, Caroline Worley Goliwas, Anne and Billy Goliwas, Harry and Chrisie Kelleher, Susu and Whit Kellam, Amy and John White, Andrea and Lee Finkelstein, Trey and Elizabeth Macdiarmid, Amanda and Robin Jones, Cassie and Rob Worley, Jim and Caroline Gallagher, Stephen (Rex 2017) and Nancy Hales, and Anne Lynne and Storey Charbonnet. To name a few of the well-heeled crowd (many of whom anticipated a change of footwear).
Arnaud’s was the first party site and when Charlotte blew the whistle at 9:15 p.m., a move was on to yet another site. And sights. And sounds.
A second line soon formed for “act two,” more big-time partying at the House of Blues and the jaunty walk to that location. Fun underscored the peregrination as guests waved handkerchiefs and threw beads as they followed a float led by the Carver High School Marching Band.
Once one and festive all arrived at the House of Blues, more noshes awaited. Late-night food there included fried shrimp and roast beef po-boys, along with a french fries station and beignets at midnight. As for the music, it was Big Blast and the Party Masters, who had a blast performing. All the while, Charlotte and her pack of pals made merry.
“A Journey to Neverland” titled the bash given in honor of debutante Mary Elizabeth Conwill, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel O. Conwill IV, at The Sugar Mill. J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” was the theme.
Guests were wowed upon arrival by a life-size Captain Hook’s pirate ship (built within about four days) with masts more than 25 feet. Up the gangplank and onto the ship, the party pack entered the State Room with artwork and a hand-painted starry night sky. Down in the courtyard, the event planning force, Van Wyck, flooded certain areas for lagoon-like spaces, replete with lumbering 10-foot long alligators. Real ones! An additional small gator was walked around for people to hold. Nearby, but not too close to the alligators, was Nana the dog, based on the beloved “nanny” of the Darlings, the family to whom Peter Pan was attracted. More thematic representation came from Captain Hook’s parrot and the pirate bartenders.
At a certain point in the initial shoulder-rubbing, the momentum was on to — and through — the magical tunnel, which opened into a huge space created as the Lost Boys’ camp. “Don’t Grow Up. It’s a Trap” was then and hours later realized as guests were transported to Peter Pan’s Neverland to relish an adventurous evening exploring a land of dreams in the forest made of fairy huts. Every corner was filled with imaginative details and story book surprises Treehouses with rope ladders and bridges, tropical plants, and lounge areas were part of the Pan-scape, as was the oversize “Neverland” tree. It was full of garlands of flowers, as well as tubes of light-changing colors. A touch of Tinkerbell?
On the ground was glittery “fairy dust,” and above, among many eye-riveting attractions, such as a disco ball, was a sword fight. Yep! In aerial fashion, Peter Pan and Captain Hook battled it out, swinging back and forth above guests’ heads. The villainous captain also had Tinkerbell in his prey purview. Constant changes of lights and lighting added chromatic drama.
Above the stage was “Welcome to Neverland with Mary Elizabeth” and footage from a slew of Peter Pan movies was projected — with a few surprise twists. Wasn’t that the deb honoree (in cinematic form) flying with the Lost Boys and Peter? To soak it all in, many guests sat on comfy lounge furniture, quite a bit covered with faux leopard skin. Lighting changed from red to orange to pink to ice blue and light green.
Further touches were the candles — possibly thousands, the overall carpeting, huge palms and fronds, hanging shimmer, tube-like lights, drapery, mirrors and monkeys. Shirtless, muscle-bound male servers handed out drinks from a bar.
Adding their own decorative aspects were mother Mary Clare Conwill, who turned out in a dress designed by Yvonne Counce, a party-goer, and deb Mary Elizabeth, who wore Marchesa Notte.
Food was super plentiful, thanks to catering by Joel and Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar. During the cocktail hour an hors d’oeuvre array enticed with truffled quail eggs, pickled Kumamoto oysters, torchons of foie gras, blue crab beignets and a party staple, grilled cheese sandwiches in mini servings. On the bars and high boys were praline bacon, assorted nuts, cheese straws and marinated olives.
In Neverland, the seafood station (with lobster tails, shrimp, crab claws, cured wahoo and caviar) attracted hordes, while beef tenderloin, salmon, lamb chops, sushi, and cheese stations added more culinary thrills.
Then there was the musical menu, thanks to the David Torkanowsky Quartet, The Roots of Music, Rebirth, Bonerama, Bobby Rush, Big Freedia, Trombone Shorty and Juvenile. All, a frame of tones.
Saying “always” to “Neverland” were the deb’s siblings, Clare, Marcia, Caroline and Daniel, and grandmother Adrienne Conwill. Closest family chums included Terry and Kathleen "Frog" White, Monsignor Christopher Nalty and mom Jane, Mary Matalin, Archie and Olivia Manning, Michael Meyer, Paula Edwards, Tommy and Dathel Coleman, Philip and Jane Scott Hodges, Anne and Edmund Redd, John and Dathel Georges and about 780 others, who responded to the clever Scriptura invitation and, in the land of the “Lost,” found Mary Elizabeth’s extraordinary take on Barrie’s boys.