The Event Experience with Stanlee Gatti


 I am frequently asked to share my design secrets, but in truth I don’t have any. I don’t always know where the ideas come from.

But because I make a living being creative, there are times when inspiration can’t be found, and I am forced to adapt an idea to something I have crafted before. I don’t copy other people, and I seriously dislike the concept. For that matter, I don’t like duplicating my own work either, because I believe in new ideas. But sometimes it’s a necessary business plan to create in phases and follow through until something new comes along. This doesn’t mean that each and every party isn’t different and unique, it’s just that it becomes a part of a phase, sort of like Picasso Harlequin vs. Picasso Blue.

I create and learn by osmosis, which allows me to adapt to most situations. The requests from my clients are naturally varied, although I do believe at this level of my career, many people hire me to create in the form I do it best, which is without interference. I love guidance but I don’t like to be dictated to, as I leave that up to my muse.

The experience of a party is of great importance to our cohabitation. Whereas some people view it as fluff and luxury, I view it as a necessity. People need time alone as well as time to gather together. Parties are not only celebratory but are often times a relief from burden. Because I view the final result as a vital part of life, I also view the process of creating a party as an art form. For me, the process is to take the subject (the person being celebrated or the person who is celebrating), their cause (a birthday, a wedding, a benefit), and their personality, combine these ingredients, and design.

The basic elements of a party are few in number, with the standard thought being food and drink first, with entertainment second, and decorations third. I view the order of importance in the reverse. Eating is something we do every day. Preparing food or providing food is a skill everyone learns, so the concept is less unique than, say, performing or designing. Being entertained by music, drama, or visual stimulation is oftentimes underrated yet entertainment provides food for the soul.

I am frequently asked to share my design secrets, but in truth I don’t have any. I don’t always know where the ideas come from. In fact, most of the time I don’t know. But if allowing your mind to explore without reservation is a design secret, then the cat is out of the bag, because that is how I work. I edit and censor naturally, but I allow a patron to explore any notion they have when hiring me. The simple truth is I follow gut reaction with an extreme cognizance to be fresh and new.

Take, for example, the very first event I did as a professional, which was the 75th anniversary of the San Francisco Symphony. The Symphony Opening, like other big social events of the time, had a formula that had been defined years before. The event would be under a large tent, as was the current fashion. The color palette was always pastel, and the centerpieces were roses and baby’s breath. The whole process became so formulated, sometimes guests couldn’t tell one event from the next. The 75th anniversary of the symphony broke the mold. I knew from the start that I could not do something that had been done. While I didn’t set out to go against everything I was told to do, that wound up being the end result.

When I began working on the project, I quickly found it was easy to break the rules when the rules felt archaic. Since it was a birthday celebration, I wanted the décor to help create a festive atmosphere. Instead of pastels, I opted for vibrant red, orange, hot pink and moss green, which was a far cry from the pink and yellow that was expected.

Once the colors were set-because, for me, color always comes first-I began looking at the big picture. It felt ungraceful to leave the tent ceiling unadorned with seams exposed, but during that time, tent linings were pretty much unheard of.

I was on my way to discuss the dilemma with the ladies of the committee when I spotted some toilet paper strewn about, blowing in the breeze off a fire escape in the Tenderloin District. This time, the source of my inspiration was clear; we sculpted the ceiling from cloth cut to resemble ripples and irregular forms, which created an effect that is constantly duplicated today.

That was almost 25 years ago. Today, many thousands of parties later, my process of creating is ongoing and the signs of inspiration broaden daily. I love to travel, and because I have a fondness for fabric and paper creations, they are a constant source of stimulation. I love African and East Indian cloth patterns as well as the embroidered fabrics from Mexico and Central America. Whereas I am not a huge fan of pattern in my design, I love to study the lines and forms. Color combinations come organically to me, but I naturally enjoy seeing what inspires others and often build upon it.

I hope you enjoyed this column. Somehow I feel it is very egocentric to write about oneself, but I agreed to do it, and I am a man of my word.

Kind regards,
Stanlee Gatti

Stanlee R. Gatti Designs
1208 Howard St.
San Francisco, CA 94103