Mr. Manners sits with Bryan Rafanelli, renowned event planner and Founder/Chief Creative Officer of Rafanelli Events.
How did you first get started in the event planning and design business?
I was born into a family of lawyers, so I went off to Syracuse University following an expected path to study political science. I realized pretty quickly it wasn’t my passion, so I went into retail once I graduated and eventually went back to school to study architecture. Life happens along the way, so when I lost one of my closest friends to AIDS in the early 1990’s I knew I had to act. I began volunteering to run special events for the AIDS Action Committee, which made me realize I had finally found my true calling. The opportunity to create event experiences alongside institutions who are changing the world is what drew me into the event planning business more than 20 years ago. The rest, as they say, is history, and I have been so fortunate over the course of my career to work for some of the loveliest families and most impressive institutions as I have built my company over all these years. Today, we have 35 talented and dedicated staffers and full-service offices in both New York and Boston.
What is the most memorable event that you have planned?
One of the most memorable events in our portfolio was the State Dinner in honor of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in 2011. The event was designed as an open-air dinner in the Rose Garden, something that had never been attempted before. Of course, as the date approached the weather flip-flopped between clear skies and varied chances of rain, and along with the White House Social Secretary we mirrored that flip-flop on what to do. The morning of the event the weather forecast held steady with a 20% chance of rain, a terrible wishy-washy percentage for those of us in the event business! Nevertheless, when push came to shove I looked my client in the eye and said, “We go for it, it’s not going to rain.” Fortunately, I was right, and our gamble paid off with one of the most gorgeous State Dinners of the Obama administration, and one of the biggest successes of my team in our history to date.
How has the event business changed over the years?
Authenticity. I see it more and more every year, that the events we concept, design and execute have become such a reflection of our clients and their guests. There is no one formula, no one-size-fits-all approach to a truly great event these days; every single aspect of the event must be carefully thought through and customized for each and every client we serve.
Is there another passion you wanted to pursue other than event planning and design?
I always felt a draw to the Church, which may surprise you. I love knowing I have made a difference in someone’s life, which is probably most evidenced in our event work for our non-profit and for our private clients. Whether it’s a fundraiser for UNICEF, a Celebration of Life for client near and dear to us, or a Wedding for that special family, I cherish the fact that we have made a lasting impact in people’s lives.
What do you love about the Plaza?
The Plaza is on one of the most iconic venues in New York City. I love the fact that for more than 100 years it has set the standard for beauty and luxury in our city. The intimacy and the grandeur of the Palm Court is a juxtaposition that represents everything the Plaza stands for. Don’t tell anyone, but I also love the Food Court!