Bette Midler’s Party Planner Has Great Advice on Throwing a Grown-Up Halloween Bash
OCTOBER 13, 2017 3:32 PM
by ELISE TAYLOR
Despite its ghoulish origins, Halloween is often considered a children’s holiday. After all, dressing up as a superhero and begging strangers for candy works when you’re 8. When you’re 30? Yeah, pretty sure that’s illegal.
But lately, there’s been a shift in the cultural stigma. Maybe it’s this generation’s fondness for nostalgia or a Peter Pan symptom of delayed adulthood, but more people in their twenties, thirties, and even forties are celebrating Halloween. But forget cheap costumes and chocolate—these celebrations are chic ones.
The poster party is Bette Midler’s Halloween gala, Hulaween. The spooky soiree takes over a glamorous locale—say, the Waldorf Astoria or Cathedral of St. John the Divine—and attracts an equally glamorous guest list (this year, for example, Michael Kors is a costume judge).
The mastermind behind it all is Douglas Little, event planner and visual designer, who serves as the de facto creative director for the whole thing. Below, Little shares some Halloween party advice for those who want something equal parts spooky and stylish.
See the Light
The most important aspect of a Halloween party? Lighting. A brightly lit room will kill any sort of spooky vibe—but go too dark and your guests will be bumping into each other all night. “A dimming switch is a miracle for a Halloween party,” says Little.
But if your lights don’t naturally have a dimmer, don’t fret. “Any good horror store sells an extension cord with a dimming switch on it. You can plug any of your lighting fixtures into it to create a moody, sexy atmosphere. I think that vibe allows it to stay elegant without getting too campy,” he says.
Be Team Theme
No, “Halloween” doesn’t count: A great (and grown-up) party has a more tailored vision. Take Hulaween’s theme this year: the Garden of Earthly Delights. The Hieronymus Bosch painting inspires every aesthetic choice, from the centerpieces to the color scheme to the cocktails.
Little suggests looking to history for inspiration. “You need to find something that is macabre but also interesting. Whether it be Anne Boleyn or Lizzie Borden, or a Halloween around Egyptology and mummies, there are so many fantastic historical references that are deeply disturbing.”
If you’re no history buff, go back to the Halloween basics, “working with classics like Dracula, Frankenstein, mad scientists, witches, or any of the classic iconography of Halloween. You can pick them apart and find really elegant aspects with them,” Little suggests. “For example, if you were going for vampires, theming everything around blood: sauces that are reminiscent of blood, drinks, like a spin on a Bloody Mary, that are reminiscent of blood . . . .”
Show Your Color (Scheme)
Boo blasphemy! Little says he’s never celebrated Halloween with a black-and-orange color scheme. “Keep a color palette focused when you are doing something elegant and sophisticated for Halloween,” Little says. “You can do your Halloween in all green and still create a very creepy feeling. Do a moss-covered table and add some odd warty pumpkins. The greatest part of Halloween is the way you can use your imagination.”
Go Au Naturel
As Hulaween doubles as a fundraiser for the New York Restoration Project, Little tries to use all sustainable and recycled materials. But he prefers it anyway: “You can bring a spooky feel without having to bring in, say, a plastic skull.”
For party planners, he suggests heading to the farmers market. “All the farmers markets have really fantastic produce right now. You can still get blackberries, blueberries, black plums, pomegranates, and all these darkly hued fruits and vegetables. They make super-elegant and super-sophisticated Halloween decorations.”
Don’t have a farmers market nearby? Any corner store will do. “You can go to a bodega and buy a couple dozen roses and just let them die. There’s something wonderfully macabre about a bunch of dead flowers and featuring them as an elegant centerpiece.”
It’s Not Just Decor
“You have to consider all five of the senses. What will your guests see? What will they hear? What will they feel? What will they smell? If you can answer all those questions, you’ve just created a fantastic and very memorable party,” says Little. So although the napkins may match the tablecloths and the centerpieces, you’ve only completed one part of the puzzle.
That’s why Little takes food so seriously. “I work very heavily on the menu,” he says. “With the Garden of Earthly Delights theme, the menu spoke back to the garden elements of the painting. We are doing a crown rib, but instead of doing one that is nicely cut, the ribs are exposed. It has almost a grotesque element to it—but it has a primitive and barbaric feeling to it.”
If You Can, Plan Ahead
Little starts planning Hulaween in May, which for most is a little aggressive. But a great bash does “require some planning,” says Little.
But that’s not to say he doesn’t get it. “For a lot of people, Halloween sneaks up on them,” he admits. “If it does, I recommend keeping the color palette really narrow.”
Tricks? These days, not just for kids.