Bryan Rafanelli knows his way around a good party, from all the details that delight guests to the behind-the-scenes work that often goes unseen. He’s the mastermind behind Rafanelli Events, which has produced some of the biggest and most exclusive fêtes, from Chelsea Clinton‘s wedding to White House events and beyond—he’s even been named one of the best wedding planners in the world by Vogue. Next on the docket? Putting together the upcoming amfAR Gala, hosted by Michele and Howard Kessler.
Ahead of the big night, Rafanelli shares his best party planning secrets and dishes on some of his most memorable events.
What’s your inspiration for the amfAR Palm Beach event?
This year we are focusing on iridescence and a full spectrum of color, representative of all the diverse people that are supportive of amfAR’s mission. The iridescence also has a mirror quality to it, reflecting amfAR’s past and looking toward its brilliant future.
Is there an AmfAR event in the past that resonates most with you?
It’s actually this particular event! It’s our first time working with amfAR, and I could not be more pleased by how the process has been going and the funds that have been raised thus far. The hosts this year, Michele and Howard Kessler, are dear friends of mine, and I’m beyond thankful they are opening their home to host this amazing event. I look forward to having a long-lasting partnership with amfAR.
Why was it important for you to work with amfAR?
When I started my career 27 years ago it was in the non-profit world, volunteering for AIDS awareness events. amfAR’s mission has long been a passion of mine, and while I since worked with hundreds of non-profit organizations since then, ending the global AIDS epidemic remains a top priority in my life. It’s an honor to be working with amfAR for its Palm Beach Gala and helping to advance their mission.
You are known for your incredible events—what’s your secret sauce?
I am a storyteller at heart, and every event starts with a story. It may be a non-profit’s mission, a company’s global brand, or a personal story of a couple for a wedding, but it’s always where we begin. Our job is to weave that story through the entire event, so that it’s a true reflection of the client.
Greatest hostess of all time?
Seated or buffet?
It depends on the specific event. I always love the idea of an intimate seated dinner where I can catch up with whomever sits next to me. One of my favorite party tricks is having guests switch seats between courses, so everyone gets to talk to everyone!
What has been your most extravagant party ever?
While we don’t necessarily like to think of our events in terms of extravagance, one of my favorite experiences was taking 300 Americans to Istanbul for a multi-day wedding. The bride was very close with her grandmother, who was Turkish and lived in Istanbul. When it became clear her grandmother would be too ill to travel to the States for the wedding, we brought the wedding to her. And it was magical!
And the worst party nightmare?
As event professionals the one thing we can never control is the weather. Experience has taught us that planning for every single thing we can control leaves us little room to deal with the things we can’t. We once had a bride whose only wish was to have her wedding dinner and dancing open air, but at the last possible moment the weather forecast turned, and it looked like it wouldn’t be possible. So, we built a second dining room and dance floor inside the venue and waited until the last possible second to make the call. That night our bride and groom enjoyed the evening of their dreams, outside under the stars. The second the fireworks went off we ushered the guests inside for the after party. Almost on cue, the skies opened as the last guest entered the venue. That experience certainly put a few more grey hairs on my head!
Which important detail is most overlooked at a big event?
Classically, everyone focuses on how beautiful the party is, but they don’t focus on the importance of the flow and operation of the event. The execution, planning every last detail of the night, is as critical as the design. The most beautiful room a guest has ever seen won’t make up for a sub-par dinner, or a toast they can’t hear. Don’t just focus on the look, focus on the entire guest experience.
What is the key to a perfect evening?
Start with a great guest list of interesting people, then create an atmosphere where people can communicate and connect with one another. Ideally, we want to give people something to talk about, something beautiful, something funny, something dramatic. Of course, it won’t hurt to have a 100-foot chandelier floating over your head!
What do you do to relax?
My home in Provincetown is my happy place and I love to spend time there with my husband Mark, and our two dogs, George Clooney, and Fanny. Nothing relaxes me more.
How do you personally entertain at home?
I apply the same rules at home as I do for a Rafanelli Event! I aim for a beautifully executed, well-planned evening so that Mark and I can have a wonderful time. We are blessed to have a wonderful group of interesting, thoughtful, talented, open-minded, and kind friends we surround ourselves with so we end up with a great, memorable night full of connection and conversation.