Grab your South African Sundowner, doll. You’re just in time to meet Colin Cowie, the über handsome, super charming, and supremely talented Zambian-born event designer to the stars. The party planner of choice for A-listers from Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Lopez to Kim Kardashian and Oprah Winfrey, Colin is known as the global maestro of the milestone occasion. He’s also the go-to fête expert on NBC’s TODAY show and the author of nine party books, including this one, which made our list of the ten best entertaining tomes of all time. Colin needs to skedaddle soon—he’s planning 50 client events this year on top of 200 private soirèes—so grab your dop as the Afrikaners say, and let’s get this party started.
Colin, what three words would you use to describe your entertaining style?
Effortless, elegant, and chic.
What are your three party must-haves?
Tasty food, groovy music, and a well-stocked bar…and, of course, a colorful guest list.
Colin is well-known for designing spectacular wedding receptions like this one in Mallorca
What are your biggest party pet peeves?
Guests who arrive late, guests who use or check their phones at the table, guests who don’t engage with all others at the table, and guests who don’t let me know in advance if they have food issues or allergies.
What are the most important qualities of a great party host?
Gracious hosts always make sure their parties start on time, cocktails last for 45 minutes to an hour, and dinner is served in less than two hours. Also, great hosts always have a seating plan that reflects their decision about who will have the best time seated next to whom. They also visit with every single guest and make sure that every guest has the chance to get to know every other guest.
You’ve been a guest at so many parties. Who stands out in your mind as a great party host?
Who is the most interesting party guest you’ve ever met?
Nelson Mandela, Stevie Nicks, Maya Angelou, Tina Turner, Cicely Tyson, and Leontyne Price come to mind.
Which of the parties you’ve planned is your favorite?
My 50th birthday party a few years ago. It was in Mexico with 222 of my favorite friends and lasted for five days.
Colin’s parties often include dazzling après-dinner entertainment
Which party in history would you most like to go back in time to attend?
Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball – we’re still talking about it!
Tell us about your fantasy dinner party. Where would it be and who would attend?
It would be very Out of Africa: on an open plain in Africa and British Colonial in style with pressed white linens, silver, and fabulous wines, and my guests would include Nelson Mandela, Princess Diana, Oprah Winfrey, and Daniel Craig.
What’s the most unusual party request you’ve ever received from a client?
I once had a client ask for life-sized ice sculptures of themselves on a seafood buffet. I was busy that day!
The world turns to you for party ideas and tips. Who do you turn to for entertaining inspiration?
I constantly travel, am always at parties and events, and get inspired by my peers. Today, with social media, we have a front-row seat to those who inspire us. On Instagram, I follow Preston Bailey, Jeff Leatham, Marcy Blum, Bryan Rafanelli, and The Salonniere.
Why, thank you very much, Colin. Okay, let’s get tipsy…what’s your best tip for getting a shy dinner guest to open up?
Ask if they’ve visited any great places recently or if they’re addicted to a television series. People love to talk about themselves.
Colin welcomes actress and television host Padma Lakshmi to one of his soirées
What items would you tell every host to keep in their fridge or pantry to stay party ready?
A bottle of vodka in the freezer, chilled bottles of Champagne and white wine, tons of ice, lemons, limes, oranges, fresh mint, and toasted and salted Marcona almonds.
What would you suggest a party host do if they had only three hours to prepare a dinner party for ten guests?
This happens to me often. I’ll make a trip to the seafood market and put together a platter of seafood that my guests can share. I’ll follow that with a simple Linguine con le Vongole, my all-time favorite quick pasta dish to cook. For dessert, I’ll serve store-bought brownies with store-bought chocolate sauce and chocolate ice cream topped with a chocolate Champagne truffle.
Colin entertains at home several times a week
Let’s talk trends. What are the hottest trends in entertaining right now?
Trends come and go. One day it’s miniature food pairings, the next day it’s tapas. At the moment, the biggest trend is farm-to-table fare. And it’s not just about the food being organic. We want to know the provenance of the vegetable, chicken, or egg. Which farm does it come from? Having said that, the one trend that never goes out of style is making your guests feel comfortable and welcome.
How is entertaining changing? Is it getting more casual?
The basic idea of entertaining has not changed. We still entertain to spend quality time with one another and make a little magic when we break bread together. But it has become more casual. We don’t use finger bowls or have a footman for every guest anymore, and invitations, RSVPs, and thank you notes are all trending to the online side versus being handwritten or printed. This is all paving the way for more casual fare and family-style dinner parties.
Colin’s Christmas Eve tabletop
Looking ahead to the holidays, what are going to be the big holiday party trends and themes?
My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. I will spend an entire day setting the table and arranging the flowers. After a long and colorful summer, I love the dark, moody colors of fall flowers. When it comes to Christmas, it’s all about more. When in doubt, add some more! It’s the one time of year when we have a license to be a little kitschy and gild all the lilies!
Playing Favorites with Colin Cowie
Let’s wrap things up with our favorite party game. Name your favorite…
Florist – Jeff Leatham
Caterer – F.O.O.D. Inc. in Los Angeles
Dinnerware brand – L’Objet
Stemware brand – Steuben, if you can still find it
Flatware brand – Puiforcat
Powder room candle – Seda France Japanese Quince
Powder room soap – Fresh
Well, Colin, you’re certainly one of our favorites. Thanks for popping by.