'What Puff Diddy taught me about creating a scene'

Bronson van Wyck, author of Born to Party, Forced to Work, recalls the rap mogul’s last-minute birthday request
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The Plaza Hotel’s Grand Ballroom set for Sean Combs’s birthday party. Image from Born to Party, Forced to Work
The Plaza Hotel’s Grand Ballroom set for Sean Combs’s birthday party. Image from Born to Party, Forced to Work

Sean Combs, the rapper, producer, and record industry executive, was born in New York on 4 November 1969, so his birthday falls in the colder half of the year, in a city where chilly weather is pretty common. However, nobody could guarantee snowfall during his 40th birthday celebrations, nobody that is except Bronson van Wyck.

The world-famous events planner and author of Born to Party, Forced to Work, had been to a few of the gatherings that Combs threw on his East Hampton Estate, and knew that the rap mogul knew how to bring in a crowd.

“You’d run into Leo DiCaprio, Jay-Z, Martha Stewart, Mariah Carey, and, of course, Paris Hilton,” he recalls in Born to Party, Forced to Work. “One year, he flew in a real copy of the Declaration of Independence, complete with four security guards, for his Fourth of July party.”

When Combs turned to Van Wyck to stage his 40th birthday bash, the brief was equally extravagant. “Sean took Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball—the party that launched a thousand themed charity galas— turned it inside out and upside down, and then dropped in on its head down a rabbit hole,” writes Van Wyck. “Sean ditched the white part and ordered black-on-black for every exquisite detail.

“Guests arrived at the Plaza Hotel to find a troupe of Juilliard ballerinas pirouetting on Grand Army Plaza. A winding labyrinth of boxwood hedges, with new discoveries to be found at each twist and turn, led to a sensual garden of earthly delights. Finally, we threw open the doors to the ballroom, revealing a forest of crabapple trees, stripped bare and lacquered black. We had covered over the floor in monogrammed jet-black acrylic, so shiny that it looked wet. Banquettes dressed in fox fur surrounded a rock-crystal bar serving unlimited amounts of icy Cîroc vodka, Sean’s own brand. The Reverend Al Green, a friend of Mom’s from home, performed with Questlove and an army of DJs.”

 

Bronson van Wyck
Bronson van Wyck

That’s a pretty impressive set-up, even for Combs. Shortly before the doors opened however, he wanted to push things a little further.

“The party was scheduled to start at ten o’clock. An hour and a half before, Sean came down to see the setup and ‘kick the tires,’” recalls Van Wyck. “’It’s great, Bronson,’ he said. ‘It really is. But you know what would really take this over the top?’ ‘Tell me,’ I said, although I really wished he wouldn’t. ‘What would take this party over the top is if it snowed.’ ‘If it snowed? You mean here? In the ballroom?’ ‘Yeah. That’d be over-the-top.’ He winked at me and left to go get dressed.

“It’s Saturday night, barely an hour before the party is set to start, and our client wants snow. Ridiculous, you might say. But genius at the same time. He had thrown down the gauntlet. Our team of elves swung into action. A snow machine was located, and a driver was dispatched to retrieve it. Just before midnight, when the party was in full swing, Sean made his entrance. Guests swarmed around him. I waited until he got right in the middle of the ballroom. I pressed the button, and it started snowing. Sean’s eyes grew wide. He turned his head up and reached his hand out to catch the snowflakes. He looked like a kid on Christmas morning, an expression of pure joy on his face. Mission accomplished.”

 

Born to Party, Forced to Work

For more tales of like this one, as well as practical tips on planning your own events, buy a copy of Born to Party, Forced to Work here. In it, the internationally acclaimed event producer shares his ideas and inspiration for ultimate and intimate celebrations, distilling the essential pillars of the art of celebration, with examples drawn from his many successes (and a few entertaining failures). Lusciously illustrated with images from Van Wyck's most spectacular events, this is the perfect primer on throwing parties that are as much fun to give as they are to attend. Find out more here.


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