Three years ago, right before the start of the pandemic, Bronson van Wyck wanted to celebrate his parents’ 50th anniversary in Palm Beach. He decided to make it a surprise. His parents traveled to town thinking they were coming for a book party, but instead, arrived at his friend Julia Koch’s estate to find guests dressed in all white and donning rabbit masks. When the crowd took off their masks, Mary Lynn and Bronson Sr. realized that they were actually surrounded by all their friends and loved ones. The next evening, they moved the party, now labeled a zodiac ball, to their friends Mimi Maddock and Leigh McMakin’s house, a 127-year-old wooden church—the original Bethesda-by-the-Sea and one of the most historic homes in Palm Beach. Constellations were projected onto the façade of the house while guests mingled in costumes reflecting their star sign: there were crabs, fish, scorpions, lions, bulls, even a centaur. All dined on fried chicken while the Pointer Sisters performed. At some point during the weekend’s festivities, Van Wyck’s parents renewed their vows in front of most of their original wedding party with an Elvis impersonator officiating.
Grand but intimate. High and low. Classy with just a touch of cheekiness. This is Van Wyck’s signature style. “It should feel authentic but also whimsical,” says the 48-year-old, who has been called the “Wizard of Oz of party planning” and “everyone’s darling” among a certain set. “I want to give some of myself when I host a party,” he says. “So maybe I want to serve fried chicken, but I’ll do it on Royal Crown Derby china. Or if I’m serving caviar, I’ll serve it like bumps of cocaine.”
This outrageous, magical kind of thinking, coupled with his military-style work ethic and extraordinary knowledge of history—from Greek mythology to Imperial China to the Victorian Era—has proven to be a winning formula. Over the last two decades, Van Wyck has thrown many of the most legendary parties around the world: Madonna’s 57th birthday in the Hamptons; the Save Venice ball in New York; the High Line summer parties; and amFAR’s debut event in Palm Beach last spring, where guests dined and danced to Christina Aguilera, and subsequently raised over $5 million for AIDS research, to name a few.
Palm Beach is sort of a homecoming for Van Wyck, who has been coming to the island since childhood. In fact, it’s a place where all three Van Wyck family members like to do events. “I love it because you have these great houses and venues, and there are so many skilled artisans we collaborate with,” says Mimi, who often handles the logistics of shipping in lighting, structures, kitchens, HVAC, and other essentials to remote places around the world. Palm Beach is easier to navigate.
It’s a small, multigenerational city, which means everyone has probably been to parties at every venue in town. Van Wyck knows this (he’s probably been a guest), so he brings a fresh eye to the scene. “He’s working in such a rarefied field where planners can just think: More money. More smoke. More strobe light,” she continues. “But Bronson is more poetic and more intelligent than that.”
Despite his maximalist tendencies and Barnum-like showmanship, you get the sense that he finds equal delight in producing an intimate dinner or a multi-million-dollar blowout. “You can do a lot with a glue gun and fabric,” says Van Wyck, who once used building insulation to create 40-foot-tall tornadoes for a dinner celebrating the premiere of The Tempest at Lincoln Center. “I’ve been to his house for a dinner party,” says Wilkinson Schor. “And he devotes the same level of care.”
And it’s clear that he loves what he does. “It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing before I go to bed,” he says. “I get to take these ephemeral, ethereal ideas and turn them into something real.” He pauses, before adding that he wants to make it very clear that he couldn’t do his job alone. “I don’t want this to be all about me,” he says. “There’s a whole team of people who make this all happen. I struck gold with my work.”
Get a sneak preview of some of Van Wyck’s biggest parties in the gallery below, and read Maura Egan‘s full profile in PALMER Vol. 2, available now.