Bronson van Wyck is the picture of southern hospitality. Growing up on a farm in a remote part of northeastern Arkansas, he learned the art of entertaining early on in his life, mostly out of necessity.
“It was a trip — people had come a long way to get there,” van Wyck recently told Business Insider. “There wasn’t a lot going on there, so we were responsible for entertaining, and we have a really big family.”
After graduating from Yale, van Wyck went on to organise nightly receptions as a protocol aide to US Ambassador Pamela Harriman in Paris, before making his way to Hollywood and set design. Since 1999, he and his mother, Mary Lynn, and sister, Mimi, have been putting their hosting skills to good use, planning events for the most high-end of clients — think superstars like Beyonce, Madonna, and Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton — through their event production firm, Van Wyck & Van Wyck.
Van Wyck’s taste is theatrical. For his 40th birthday party in 2015, for example, guests donned extravagant costumes and headdresses that made them look like wild animals, with van Wyck himself in a cape covered in peacock feathers.
Earlier this year, the Van Wyck team launched a new company out of their production firm. Called Workshop, the new company focuses on producing similarly high-octane events for brands like Coach, Mercedes-Benz, Hermes, and Range Rover.
“If we can make someone love something, they will not only buy it, they will also go and tell everyone they know,” van Wyck said. “We’re reaching the next level of emotional engagement, and you get there by having moments where people have fun.”
We stopped by a recent branded event put on by Workshop to get a sense of what a Bronson van Wyck party is really like.
We snagged an invite to the annual Summer Party to benefit Friends of the High Line, which funds the well-known elevated park in Manhattan. Several thousand stylish people showed up for the fundraiser, including popular young fashionistas like Chloe Grace Moretz, Hailey Baldwin, and Meghan Trainor.
An inner passage of the High Line was transformed to fit the party's 'urban jungle' theme. Van Wyck told us it took the team two full days and a night to assemble the leafy decor.
Setup time can vary from event to event, van Wyck told us. For an event he worked on at the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas, for example, he and his team had a full two months to deck out the ballroom, which stretches over an acre of space. For a different event with the New York Public Library, they had only two hours.
'Oftentimes (a client will) come to us, and they will have it all figured out, and they just need help building it, or with shipping it over from Europe, or coordinating docks and figuring out how to install it in a museum. In that case, we're a partner and they know exactly what they want,' van Wyck said. 'But we're excited to stand up and give big-picture advice as well.'
'We've worked on events where we might be lucky to speak with Hillary Clinton for five minutes while she's waiting on the tarmac for her plane to take off,' van Wyck said. 'Our goal is to become part of their team, in a capacity they might not have.'
Since this particular party was presented by Coach, van Wyck's Workshop team incorporated lots of dinosaurs -- the brand's new favourite animal -- into the design.
'Tonight is about feeling fresh and young and free,' Coach creative director Stuart Vevers told Vogue in regards to the scene.
'It was a visual and sensory stimulation from a lot of different angles, but the whole point of it was to bring guests inside the creative world of Coach,' van Wyck told Business Insider. 'At the same time we were raising thousands of dollars to benefit the High Line, we were also getting consumers to engage with the brand.'
Signs everywhere, like on this custom shaved ice stand, reminded guests to upload their photos with the branded hashtag. Having a strong message is especially important in the age of social media, van Wyck says.
'For Workshop, the goal is to use the time they're in the room to change their relationship with the brand. Ideally they come away from an event wanting to capture some of that and include it in their lives. How they do that is go and buy the product,' he said. 'Any brand that doesn't have a content strategy is leaving money on the table.'
Van Wyck's work with Workshop and his private firm takes him all over the world, from the media and finance worlds of New York City to the tech centres of the Bay Area, to exotic locales in Europe and the Caribbean. He goes out to parties most nights in a week, both to network and take inspiration from other event producers' work.
'Every day is a little bit different,' he said. 'I'm a sponge for creativity and information. I'm reading constantly -- design, art magazines, history. I'm making binders all of the time, filled with ideas, and I read about 100 pages a day.'
Whether it's for a brand like Coach or for a private event like this wedding in Tuscany, van Wyck emphasises the importance of using aesthetics to connect to people's emotions. 'I have a sincere appreciation for how generosity and graciousness can make people feel warm,' he said. 'We wanted to take the essence of southern culture and make the most fun events for the absolute best clients in the world.'
'When you're planning a wedding, there's the sacred part of it, which is the relationship between the two people who are coming together, and you can witness and participate in that relationship,' he said. 'But there's also the aspect of throwing just a knock-down party, and that can be fun. We're creating memories, and there's no brand motive -- the brand is delight, and whimsy, and freedom.'
Here, Gwyneth Paltrow speaks at an event celebrating Goop's collaboration with Valentino. Van Wyck has also planned a birthday party for Madonna, and fragrance launches with Beyonce and Katy Perry.
The party he threw for Sean 'Diddy' Combs was called 'the party of the century' by several news outlets shortly after it happened in 2009. 'I get in the room sometimes and I can't believe they want to be in the room me,' van Wyck said.
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