Exclusively for Enigma, Preston Bailey, wedding designer to the stars and bestselling author of four books: Design for Entertaining, Fantasy Weddings, Inspirations, and Celebrations put down his magic wand for a while and spilled the dirt on working with royalty, high-profile weddings and Arab parties to Noor El Deeb.
When you’ve got royal families across the world clawing for a piece of you and Donald Trump and Martha Stewart on your speed-dial, you know you’ve made it. And Panama-born design whiz, Preston Bailey, has, by all standards, made it. Oprah calls him the “floral genius”, Joan Rivers is his best friend and Hollywood superstars Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones picked him personally to design their wedding. With such a roster of luminary clients, there’s no doubt that Bailey is the most wanted event designer in the entire world.
And we can see why. This real-life Fairy Godfather has the magical ability to turn empty, ordinary spaces into opulent, whimsical dream worlds. With Bailey you are only limited by your own imagination because nothing – and we mean, nothing – is impossible. From gigantic floral peacocks to trees engulfing huge illuminated ballrooms, Bailey’s work is more opulently artistic than your wildest fantasies; awakening and stimulating all your senses.
What has been your most memorable event?
I’ve had many but recently I did an event for one of my regular clients, Oprah, who was celebrating her new network. I also loved doing her 50th birthday bash. Ivanka Trump’s wedding was also really special – I was a guest as well as the designer. But some of my favourite events are my own. Ultimately I’m in this business because I love throwing my own parties!
What inspired you to become an event designer?
It was an accident actually. I started as a florist 30 years ago. I needed a job at the time and an interior design friend of mine suggested I do weekly flowers for one of his clients. So I became a florist for the first 10 years and it progressed from there. Whenever any clients were getting married or celebrating, it was natural that I did their events. And it just kept growing. It’s something I was very lucky and blessed to find and I’m still very excited about it to this day.
You’ve handled some of the biggest celebrity events and weddings in the world. How do you cope with the pressure?
I have the most extraordinary staff and that really helps a great deal. The 30 people that work for me really are the best people ever. We’ve managed to orchestrate these different productions to the very last inch. Of course, it’s always a learning process, as we keep growing and expanding to different countries all over the world. It’s just a matter of very careful planning.
How do you come up with a vision for each event? Do most clients come to you with their own or do you create it for them?
It varies with each client. Sometimes my clients will come in with a concept or direction or even just a word and I take it from there, develop it and make it into something visual. Other times they come in with specific ideas inspired by something meaningful in their lives that they want to incorporate into their evening. For me, it’s about trying to translate what their concepts are. A lot of our clients are very high end and have many celebrations and events, so often they are very savvy about which direction they want to go in.
Are your own parties as opulent as the ones you organise for others?
Oh yes! Every week or so, a few of my friends call me and suggest we get together. Naturally I tell them to come over later, pick up bits and pieces from my office before I head home, do some decorating, and there’s a party! Then there are the other celebrations, which are larger – like the one I threw to celebrate my new book. That was so much fun putting together and seeing everyone have a great time. Throwing my own parties is something I really love doing personally.
You have organised events around the world, including several in the Middle East. What have you learned from working in this region?
One of the fun parts is to be open to all the different customs and cultures, and learn from them and give them my own interpretation, both in visual and lavish comforts. Every country in the Middle East is similar but not exactly the same, so it’s exciting to find out about each one and interpret it. It’s a great thrill because I am not doing the same thing all the time – there’s always something different.
How do your Arab clients differ from your Western ones?
Most of my clients in the Middle East are royal families. So their way of life is very different to ordinary people – there is a very high expectation of glamour and dramatic effects. Socially, their events represent something very different to anywhere else in the world. For starters, often the events are all women! It’s very special because it’s the one time they can really come out and party and celebrate. Arab events have a different meaning and because of that, the design needs to be just as strong and memorable.
What is your favourite thing about working with Arab clients?
One of the main reasons I work well with my Arab clients is because, like them, I believe in the ‘more is better’ philosophy – it really is never too big! That being said, the challenge is to make every event look as generous and abundant as possible. Because hospitality and entertainment is such a large part of Arab culture, it’s very important for me to create dramatic visuals. Replicating and using elements of nature in their truest form is also something very special with Arab clients.
What’s the most outrageous demand you’ve ever received from a bride?
For me there’s no such thing as an outrageous demand. Basically my job is to turn all requests into acceptable realities.
What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?
A happy client. Absolutely. I love the idea of running into my clients 10 or 20 years later and hearing them say, “Preston, that event you designed – people are still talking about it,” or “I still remember experiencing the beauty of that one evening.” For me those really are the most powerful moments of my business.
So what’s next on your plate?
I want to start producing and designing sets for movies. That is definitely my next step – I am looking into starting a production company. This year I’ll be designing my biggest event to date. I can’t give away too many details right now, but it’s extremely exciting.
Of all the event planners in the world, why do you think you became a superstar in your own right?
Having a bit of luck and a lot of love and excitement for what I do.