Celebrity event designer
As a poor child growing up in Panama, the only lavish wealth Preston Bailey experienced was the lush display of nature. Gazing at the riot of color provided by the tropical vegetation of his homeland, Bailey developed the love of flowers and dramatic sense of design that he would put to use many years later in his career as an event planner. Though Bailey had never imagined he would start a business producing weddings and parties, his sense of style and flair for spectacle proved perfectly suited to creating memorable social events. However, despite his flamboyant success in planning events for some of the most elite members of society, Bailey has never turned less wealthy clients away. He devotes his trademark meticulous attention to even the most modest event, and he greets every client with the quiet, down-to-earth charm that has earned him the trust of celebrities, royalty, and socialites for more than 20 years.
Born in the late 1940s in the town of Chilibre, near Panama's Pacific coast, Bailey grew up with little access to money or higher education. He left Panama in 1969, at the age of 19, to go north to New York City, where he hoped to study to become an accountant.
Bailey was tall and handsome, however, and when he began to get jobs as a fashion model, his plans to study accounting were soon forgotten. His work in the fashion industry led him to open his own men's clothing shop. In 1980, an economic recession forced the closure of Bailey's boutique, and he found himself looking for a job. He had no clear idea of his next career move when two good friends, Vicente Wolf and Bob Patino, came up with an idea. Wolf and Patino were successful interior designers with an exclusive New York client list. Having noted Bailey's love of floral design, they offered their friend the job of creating and delivering weekly flower arrangements to several of their clients.
Bailey agreed and found that the clients enjoyed his arrangements as much as Wolf and Patino had. Before long, he was operating his own business as a "flower couturier," or floral fashion designer, creating dramatic and artistic displays for the homes of wealthy New Yorkers. During the late 1980s, Dr. Betsy Levy, one of Bailey's floral design clients, asked him to plan her wedding. It was the first event he had orchestrated, but Bailey was immediately hooked on the excitement of designing and producing an entire celebration, from wall and ceiling decorations to place settings and keepsake gifts. He expanded his business from floral design to event production and Preston Bailey Design was born.
Though he did take some set design courses at New York University, most of Bailey's learning was done during his first ten years on the job, by trial and error. In the beginning, his mistakes were often painfully costly, but the education they gave him was invaluable. As he told Kris Malandruccolo in a May 2007 interview for EventDV, "If you screw up enough, you become an expert."
Bailey borrowed his design style directly from the natural lushness of the tropical climate in which he had grown up. Unlike some modern designers who strive for simplicity and understatement, Bailey's design philosophy has always been, "More is better." Imitating the profusion of nature, his settings begin with simple themes which he repeats and expands to create magical effects. He delights in making dreams come true and causing hosts and guests alike to gasp in amazement and wonder. In his 2002 book, Preston Bailey's Design for Entertaining, Bailey says, "I approach designing an event like it's an adventure," and this enthusiasm helps him to create a truly festive atmosphere.
During the mid-1990s, Bailey made another friend who would boost his career. Comedienne Joan Rivers not only became a client to Bailey, but a personal mentor as well, supporting him to expand and develop his business. Rivers hired Bailey to plan two important family events, a small luncheon where she invited thirty friends to hear about her recent trip to India, and her daughter Melissa's December 12, 1998, wedding to John Endicott. Designed and executed flawlessly in his signature "over the top" style, both events would become memorable parts of Bailey's portfolio.
For the luncheon, Bailey stunned guests with an enormous elephant made of flowers and lavish table centerpiece replicas of peacocks and the Taj Mahal. Melissa Rivers' wedding took place at the famed Plaza Hotel in New York, which Bailey transformed for the occasion into an ice palace with a royal Russian theme. These two highly public events launched Bailey into stardom as one of the most sought-after designer of celebrity events. His career has been filled with high-profile festivities, from Oprah Winfrey's fiftieth birthday party, where guests entered through a giant "O" made of roses, to the wedding of billionaire Donald Trump and Melania Knauss, where the caviar alone cost $18,000.
However, Bailey has not been content to become simply part of the staff of the jet set. Though the budget for a celebrity event can be over $2 million, Bailey has never believed that beautifully designed parties were only for the rich and famous. His passionate enjoyment of his work has compelled him to share his design ideas and philosophy in several books that teach readers how they can make their own events both magical and memorable. Occasionally frustrated by not being able to find just the right accessories for his galas, Bailey has also begun to design his own crystal, china patterns, and bed linens.
In 2006, Bailey went into partnership with 1-800-Flowers, one of the largest nationwide flower and gift retailers, to make custom-designed Preston Bailey floral arrangements and gift items available to an even wider range of people. In 2007, he worked out a special agreement with Sandals Resorts, a luxury hotel operator in the Caribbean, to design a series of affordable signature weddings for Sandals' customers, complete from flowers to place settings. He is on the advisory board of Modern Bride magazine, has appeared on a wide variety of television shows, and was featured on his own show Preston Bailey, Mr. Fabulous, on cable television's Oxygen network in July 2006.
Preston Bailey's Design for Entertaining, New York, Bulfinch Press, 2002.
Preston Bailey's Fantasy Weddings, New York, Bulfinch Press, 2004.
Preston Bailey's Inspirations, New York, Bulfinch Press, 2007.
At a Glance …
Born 1948(?) in Chilibre, Panama.
Career: Fashion model and menswear retailer, 1970-80; floral designer and event planner, 1980s-.
Addresses: Office—147 West 25th Street, 11th Floor, New York, New York 10001.
Bride's, November-December 2004, pp. 226-8; February-March 2006, pp. 772-6.
Ebony, January 2007, p. 32.
EventDV, May 2007, p. 30.
House Beautiful, June 2005, pp. 86-8.
New York Times, November 7, 2002, pp. D1-2.
Special Events Magazine, November 1, 2004.
Travel Weekly, September 26, 2005, pp.70-2.
Preston Bailey,http://www.prestonbailey.com (September 18, 2007).
"Party Planner to the Stars Will Visit City for Benefit Luncheon," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/s_135032.html (September 18, 2007).
"Floral Designer: Karen Grigsby Bates Interviews Preston Bailey," National Public Radio, Tavis Smiley Show,http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=863364 (October 8, 2007).
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