Grande Affaires: Weddings, Galas and Celebrations Galore
An armory of secrets to create over-the-top experiences for any occasion.
Grande Affaires creative director Robert Torres (Pictured at right) spent hours (upon hours) hand-selecting the white acrylic he’d use to create the entrance to this year’s Make-a-Wish Foundation gala held at the Hotel InterContinental. The theme was Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball but that’s the only information his client provided – it was Torres’ interpretation that would fill the space and divide it into sections for cocktail hour, dinner and later, the after party. So he directed his carpentry team to use the dramatic glass squares to create from scratch a room to greet guests, ordered custom vinyl flooring and searched the world – that’s a literal term, not a figurative one — for huge shipments of white mica and faux leather. There would be no bartenders in tuxes – no way — as Torres instead employed entertainers costumed in dramatic head-dresses and armor to pour drinks as a functional and theatrical part of the scene.
“You have to raise the bar with these people,” says Torres. “They’re so used to going to over-the-top events.”
And Torres is used to designing them. Since 1997 Grande Affaires — company founder Sharon Siegel opted for the French spelling — has been creating larger-than-life backdrops for the most widely attended social galas, weddings and even children’s birthday parties (one company client spends some $200,000 a year on her child’s annual celebration.) Grande Affaires is called upon to style the events that garner the attention of luminaries and media outlets from around the world — it will next month alone work on two star-studded functions associated with the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. And it serves as the go-to wedding and event vendor for the most exclusive hotels in town including the St. Regis, the Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne and Hotel InterContinental.
“We hand over the keys to the house,” says Aurelia Vasquez, InterContinental’s marketing and communications manager. “They create an experience and that’s what the InterContinental brand is all about.”
An important part toward its elevating the atmosphere is — unlike most event companies hiring third party vendors for items such as table clothes — Grande Affaires employs a full time staff of 65 people who work in a 40,000 square-foot facility to customize and create every distinctive detail. For example, the company sews and designs its own chair backs and linens, creating a new collection each year. For spring, the line will feature this season’s bright oranges and hot pinks. It also has a carpentry department that can build custom bars and furniture, as well as chuppahs. Last year, it crafted one featuring four, 16-foot columns, 3,000 crystal strands and a quilted Oscar de la Renta fabric.
“We call them couture canopies,” says Torres. “And we have to be careful not to be repeating and reusing things. We keep careful tabs on the items used at each event as well as who’s attending. Many of our clients travel in the same social circles – and so do their parents — so we can’t present the same design.”
That holds true for the galas attended by the city’s most esteemed social set. In addition to Make-a-Wish, Grande Affairs put together fundraising bashes for Project Newborn, The American Nicaraguan Foundation, Mount Sinai, and Women of Tomorrow. In February, it will work on the South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s sold out Sunday brunch for Paula Dean and the $500 per plate tribute dinner honoring Charlie Trotter and Piero Antinori.
“Whenever I need something really special I call on Robert Torres,” says Susan Kleinberg, the event manager for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. “He’s a talented, talented guy.”