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California Dreamin’

The soiree at the famed Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles lived up to all the glamour possible. Orchestrated by me and party-planner-to-the-stars Lara Shriftman, our homage to Old Hollywood was an event and travel experience to remember. Twenty guests. Hundreds of stories. One amazing weekend.

In his renowned book Questionnaire, famed French novelist Marcel Proust asked, “What is the perfect weekend?”Brilliant found the answer. What better way to spend time with friends than to lunch with them at a famed hotel? Not just any hotel but the Hotel Bel-Air. Even His Royal Highness Price Charles once remarked of the Bel-Air hotel, “It’s really not like a hotel. I feel as if I’m staying at the house of a rich friend.”

It’s not hard to imagine that every guest who stays at the hotel feels like royalty. Since the hotel’s inception in the mid-1940s by Texas hotel entrepreneur Joseph Drown, it has been the go-to lodge for Hollywood insiders. Marilyn Monroe loved it here, as did Grace Kelly and Cary Grant. More recently, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and Hillary Swank have chosen it as a home away from home.

From my first experience as a guest at the wedding of Pasadena heiress Tracy DuPont, to sharing several meals, birthday parties and romantic getaways here, the Bel-Air always feels like slipping on a favorite cashmere sweater – familiar yet elegant. “I’ve been involved with the Bel-Air for nearly 30 years and I can honestly say it is a place like no other,” says the hotel’s general manager Carlos Lopes. “There is an incredible history here, and while we are constantly making improvements to offer our guests the very best, we never lose sight of the essence of what makes the Bel-Air unique.” Every stay is made memorable by offering 91 guestrooms and suites with custom fabrics, exquisite furnishings and luxurious Italian linens. On the weekend of the party, I occupied the Chalon Suite 150, rumored to be Oprah’s favorite suite when she visits, with two bedrooms and a hand-painted, ice-blue living room ceiling that perfectly mirrored the Oriental rug. Every room and suite features private entrances from the gardens or fountain courtyards, French doors, fireplaces and cozy, tiled patios with private outdoor spas. Sound dreamy? You bet it is.

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Call me. We’ll Do Lunch

The idea to have a glamorous luncheon to celebrate the magazine with some friends became the perfect Los Angeles getaway with five little words: Call me. We’ll do lunch. Brilliant had just hosted Lara Shriftman and Elizabeth Harrison’s splashy Texas launch for their best-selling book Party Confidential. Inspired by her party planning prowess, we decided to do lunch the Brilliant way. The details to make this happen would be daunting for even the most experienced event planner, but not for Lara Shriftman. The private jet scheduling, the social obligation maneuvering and high level planning required to gather such a busy social set in one room is all in a days work. Shriftman, partner at Harrison & Shriftman, a publicity, special events and marketing company with offices in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, is also a special correspondent for Extra!. She’s made a career of creating remarkable celebrity events, each topping the one before. Throwing parties for Matt Damon or Michael Jordan or tossing a movie premiere to celebrate Charlie’s Angels is just part of her job. Her highly successful books on entertaining, Fête Accompli and Party Confidential reveal that this event mogul knows her stuff.

Shriftman’s in the perfection business and this event was no different, and the Bel-Air’s sense of Old Hollywood glamour set the tone for the event. “Invitations are always a crucial part of any party,” says Shriftman. “This was a special party that required a special invitation. We chose to put the invite directly on a plate. Bernard Maisner is one of my favorite calligraphers and the plate is an excellent keepsake.” Tiffany & Co. came on board to contribute all the table settings, flatware and event serving accoutrement. The white-and-silver Palladium place settings and gleaming Elsa Peretti flatware couldn’t have been more perfect.

The Texas guests arrived at the Hotel Bel-Air Friday afternoon, many in time for lunch at The Ivy in Beverly Hills. The gathering of stunning Texans with their hearty laughs and even heartier jewels couldn’t help but draw appreciative glances. Many of the Los Angeles-based guests joined the party later that night at a dinner party hosted by entertainment mogul Michael Lambert in honor of Dallas celebutante guest Nancy Golden. Guests included Brilliant’s European editor Caroline Whitman; her friend, the 1960s film actress Barbara Steel, television producer Ernie Chambers; Rick and Kathy Hilton (parents of Nicki and Paris); Clive Robertson, star of TV’s Wicked Wicked Games; Texans-turned-Los Angeles “It” couple Blake and Brooke Davenport; as well as Steve, Ava and Blair Late. As the drinks flowed and guests danced beneath the starry night, the stage was set for an amazing weekend.

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Ladies Who Lunch…and the Men Who Love Them

The next morning, the male guests enjoyed the beautiful weather – playing tennis, swimming and sunning by the pool, enjoying the Financial Times on their private terraces. All the action for the women, however, was taking place in Suite 150. Hair and make-up artists who have been responsible for the red carpet looks of Scarlett Johansen, Angelina Jolie and Cate Blanchett began to transform the female guests using products from Sue Devitt’s 24 Carat primer line and Ken Paves Hair-Do. “Chloe and Lilia made us look like movie stars, and it was non-stop giggles through all the naughtiness in the back,” laughs Texas clotheshorse Margaret Krasovec. “All that, with mascara and champagne…it was combustible.” Ron Davis, a Texas-bred television producer agreed by saying, “These women really looked like something out of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s era…of another place and time.”

Shriftman arranged to have the spring collection of wunderkind designer Peter Som flown in from New York for the female guests to wear “It felt like something out of Pretty Woman,” says Nancy Golden. Som’s creations are in high demand and looked delicate on every socialite-turned-ingénue guest. “I felt like a queen, and there's something to be said about how nurturing that can feel,” remarked guest Kristin Nicholas, of Travel & Leisure magazine.

Right This Way, Your Table is Ready

Climbing up several steps to the hotel’s private wine terrace, guests were greeted by savory beverages and crudités served on trays laden with fresh flowers. The chiffon draped tent created especially for the event was a vision. On each of the 16 white chairs surrounding the grand table was a blue Tiffany & Co. box containing one of the party favors – a blue patent leather passport cover. “The décor was intended to be simple, chic, white and classic because the guests were really the décor for this lunch,” Shriftman says. “We used all of my favorite flowers – gardenias, peonies and calla lilies. With plentiful arrangements set down the center of the table and flowers in small crystal votives at each plate, the Tiffany crystal bowls filled with flowers added to the collection, it created an extremely stylish look.”

At each place setting was a hand-calligraphied place card personally written by Bernard Maisner Calligraphy and Fine Stationery. Photographs from the golden era of Hollywood glamour bearing resemblance to each of the guests were placed in sterling silver Tiffany picture frames. From Dr. Greg Mueller’s star turn as Cary Grant to Stephanie Greyson’s interpretation of Lana Turner, the tone was set. “Lunch was a complete throwback to old Hollywood,” remarked New Yorker-turned-Texas socialite Carla McDonald. “Between Dani Janssen waxing nostalgically about her infamous Oscar parties and the framed photos of the ’40s movie stars we supposedly resembled, I really felt like Ava Gardner sitting at lunch between Kirk Douglas and Howard Hughes. For a brief moment, I actually believed Frank Sinatra might walk in.” And according to Lara Shriftman, “A surprise guest is always a great addition to any party. That’s why I invited legendary Hollywoodhostess Dani Janssen to come up.”

“From the draped tent to the beautiful chandelier and magnificent flowers, it all made for a very luxurious ambiance,” says Austin social diva Ava Late. “Every fine detail was perfectly in place to make us feel beautiful and special. So when all these gorgeous people arrived…it was pure fantasy.” Guests were poured champagne and wine while the conversation began to flow over the delectable meal of sea bass and filet mignon, the freshest of salads and vegetable side dishes. The Bel-Air’s executive chef, Douglass Dodd, created the menu with Texans in mind.

Glasses were raised high as toasts were made about the day, the hotel and about the event. “One of the most beautiful moments at the lunch was Carla McDonald’s articulate toast honoring the magazine, the hosts and comparing them all quite eloquently to Brilliant’s recent interview with Roger Horchow about his book, The Art of Friendship.” says Nancy Golden. When a breathless Brooke Davenport, in yellow chiffon, croc Hermes’ Birkin bag in hand and dripping in Lori Rodkin diamonds, arrived a tad late, everyone forgave her. They understood the demands of a busy schedule – she had just hosted an event earlier in the week honoring Sharon Stone and Christian Dior Cosmetics at her home.

For dessert, guests were astounded by what happened next. “One simple party tip of mine is to always do something unexpected, to bring something in from out of town,” says Shriftman. “Celebrity cake creator Sylvia Weinstock is legendary, and her cake was the hit of the party because the design and the floral trimmings were incorporated into the rest of the theme.” The final touch to an already magnificent day was a goodie bag for each guest filled with Hotel Bel-Air and Tiffany & Co. must haves.

The weekend concluded with another dinner party that evening in the upstairs private room at Mr. Chow in Beverly Hills. "Brilliant magazine is the best thing to happen to Texas since the discovery of oil, the birth of Bob Wills and air-conditioning,” says Ron Davis. "It felt like a party in the Hamptons re-imagined by Texans and our California friends." Then it was off to private planes for the Texas set and waiting cars for the Los Angeles-based guests. “Most of all, it was the people who also made it special,” shares Kristin Nicholas. “I love you Texans with your irresistible accents, and everyone I met was truly warm and engaging. I hope to see them again soon.”

The Menu

Chesapeake Style Crab Cake

House Smoke Salmon

Lobster Bisque

Cobb Salad

Chinese Chicken Salad

Spinach Salad

Grilled Vegetable Salad

Filet Mignon

Truffle Whipped Potatoes

Chantarelle Mushrooms and Asparagus

Zinfandle Jus


Roasted Sea Bass

Compote of Salsify, Zucchini and Baby Corn Port Wine-Truffle "Vinaigrette"

Hotel Bel Air Dessert Sampler

Third Anniversary Cake by Sylvia Weinstock

Shriftman’s Lunch Soiree’ Tips


The Hotel Bel-Air is the perfect setting for any party. It’s sexy, it’s private, the grounds are beautiful, no attention to detail is left to chance. The food is incredible, the service is even better and there are so many different options to create different themes and different looks.


I always think it’s important to have a variety of desserts. Barry Diller’s annual Oscar lunch is always my favorite party of the year. He serves five passed desserts trays so everyone can have an assortment. That was my goal here, and everyone picked a different dessert.


Give the guests options. When you are having a seated lunch, you want the food to keep coming so that the lunch doesn’t last forever. As the guests were seated they had an appetizer sampler, a choice of three butler-passed salads and then they picked their entrée.


Everyone loves a gift bag. A general tip would be to give people something they ordinarily wouldn’t buy themselves, or something different and classic. Everyone loves Tiffany & Co., and guests were able to take home their crystal votive and flower arrangement. The Tiffany & Co. box on each chair is a terrific keepsake and gave the room a hint of color.


It is always good to have cocktails as people arrive, because inevitably some guest will arrive late. It should generally be no more than an hour and serve one signature cocktail.


The guest list is the most important part of the party. Nothing matters unless you have a great list. For a lunch of 15 people, over invite by three. Someone is always going to cancel or come late.


The toasts were very special because they were unplanned and came from the heart. It really made this special lunch and will be recalled for many years to come.