Bronson Van Wyck knows he’s thrown a successful party when he looks around and realizes he’s no longer needed. “From the perspective of the puppeteer, or a ringmaster, I see that people are lit beautifully, that nobody is hungry, that no plates need to be cleared, and that more people are talking to each other than are on their phones,” says one of New York’s leading event planners as he arranges a magnolia garland in a breezy NoHo loft. “Essentially, I’m programming human interaction. If I have people connect, that’s a success.”
For two decades, Van Wyck, who founded his firm Van Wyck & Van Wyck with his mother, Mary Lynn, has orchestrated unforgettable evenings for a who’s who of clients—from presidents’ families (Obamas, Bushes, Clintons) and A-list celebrities (Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, Beyoncé) to iconic fashion houses (Hermès, Bulgari, Chanel). Tonight, however, the festivities are decidedly more personal. He’s co-hosting an annual Friendsgiving party at the home of his pal Meredith Melling. “As a working mother of four it’s often hard for me to carve out time for friends,” says the co-founder of fashion brand La Ligne as she enters the candlelit living room. “It’s important to check in with those you love, and not just keep up with each other’s lives on Instagram.”
The vibe this evening feels unplugged, but Van Wyck’s high-style aesthetic is on full display: A serpentine garland of maple leaves dramatically envelops Melling’s modern staircase, and conversation-starting accoutrements, like vintage Gucci silver animal-head stirrup cups and pheasant feathers, are mixed into the fall arrangements. “He leaves no stone unturned and is almost scholarly in his research and concepting for an event he is planning,” Melling says. “This type of total transformation is signature Bronson and all in the details.”
The celebration is also to toast Van Wyck’s first book, Born to Party, Forced to Work: 21st Century Hospitality (Phaidon), whose title is nabbed from his Instagram bio. The 256-page tome gives readers access to his storied party pedigree, plus photos and firsthand accounts of some of his most memorable events, from Diddy’s 40th birthday at New York’s Plaza Hotel and an extravagant 18th-century-themed debutante ball in New Orleans to chic and understated charity events.
A cool and collected Van Wyck, now taste-testing the spiced cranberry sauce while arranging the glazed rainbow carrots, chimes in. “I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about parties. At any given moment, I probably have eight or ten ideas for parties racing around in my brain,” explains the 45-year-old Yale graduate, who cut his teeth coordinating diplomatic receptions at the U.S. embassy in Paris as a protocol aide to a fabled ambassador, Pamela Harriman.
Van Wyck and Melling’s playful friendship began when she first moved to the city. The event planner not only organized Melling’s intimate 2018 wedding to entrepreneur and former U.S. Marine Zach Iscol but also is the godfather to the couple’s 10-month-old son, Wylder.
The 21-person party is in many ways a gathering of Van Wyck and Melling’s chosen New York family of creatives, which also includes Melling’s La Ligne counterpart Valerie Macaulay, designer and actor Waris Ahluwalia, and Lingua Franca and Guest of a Guest founder Rachelle Hruska MacPherson and her hotelier husband, Sean MacPherson, but Van Wyck can’t help paying homage to his childhood in rural Arkansas. “Thanksgiving in my family was always the biggest holiday. It has to do with the rhythms of living on a farm,” he recalls, back in Melling’s kitchen for the requisite turkey inspection and to toss the crispy pancetta into the brussels sprouts. The evening’s menu is derived from his own heritage.
Many of the recipes came from his greatgrandmother, who had a hotel and restaurant called the Red Apple Inn, in Eden Isle, Arkansas, and contain her family’s idiosyncrasies, like chestnut stuffing, oysters in the gravy, and oranges in the turkey. “The pecans in the pie even came from my family’s orchard,” he says.
Dinner guest Nick Bradley, the founder of Pangea Swim (in which Van Wyck is an investor), is quick to point out the common thread of a Van Wyck party. “His wild imagination transports you to another time and place, but the parties always feel inviting with a unifying sentiment of home—even when there are several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of flower arrangements.”
To produce Born to Party, Van Wyck combed through thousands of photos from 20 years of his work. “What stood out to me the most is I don’t ever think of us as having a body of work. I think of each event as so specific and so individual to the client,” he says of his firm, which now includes his sister, Mimi, as partner.
The book mixes practical advice and witty commentary on the overall art and history of party giving, from Versailles to Studio 54, with the celebrations that exemplify his approach, which uses history as inspiration. His 2018 “Homeric Ball” birthday extravaganza, for example, was staged in the ruins of a Doric temple on the Greek island of Mykonos. At the epic event, the self-described closet nerd who loves reading about history—the Greeks and their myths, in particular—seemingly conjured the gods and goddesses of The Odyssey in addition to treating his friends to surprise performances by Duran Duran and Flo Rida. “It was the party I’ve wanted to give since I was ten years old,” he says.
The charm of a Van Wyck soiree comes from a bit of rule breaking and a few counterintuitive elements. Tonight, that philosophy is in full swing as each guest is greeted with an autumnal Tequila Manhattan (aka Distrito Federal) made with 21 Seeds Tequila, a brand of which he’s a cofounder, as well as candied maple bacon and Tsar Nicoulai caviar mischievously paired with potato chips and shots of vodka.
“It feels warm and cozy, without the feeling of pretension—comfortable yet sophisticated—as Bronson’s parties always feel,” says Hruska MacPherson, who was introduced to Van Wyck through Melling. “Every detail is thoughtful but not fussy.” (Upon departure, the guests receive Mason jars of his family’s signature “hellfire” Bloody Mary mix—a hangover remedy—for the morning after.)
Although Van Wyck’s parties are tailored to each client, there are vital guidelines that almost always apply. One example: the 20-minute rule. “Something has to happen every 20 minutes in an event,” he explains. And, as if on cue, Melling inadvertently switches the vibey lounge music to Howard Jones radio on Spotify. “The lights have to change. The food should change. The music must evolve. Someone should come in. Somebody should leave. Something has to happen. That’s important because of the shorter and shorter attention spans everybody has.”
Tonight’s guests are seated casually around the loft rather than at a formal dining table. The informal nature of the evening is especially appreciated by Noah Wunsch, the head of e-commerce at Sotheby’s. “The city is such a melting pot that creating little communities is second nature to everyone who lives here. Friendsgiving feels like a way of celebrating that in a very genuine way,” he says as he cozies up to his girlfriend, Kelly Connor, a director of brand relations at Thom Browne. (The night has special significance for the couple, who met at another pal’s Friendsgiving two years ago.)
With all the meticulously planned bells and whistles that can go into one of Van Wyck’s gatherings, his ultimate goal is simple. “I want people to create new memories and have a conversation they wouldn’t have had otherwise,” he says, then pauses and grins. “I’ve had more parties than I can count where couples have met, or spouses have had children 40 to 42 weeks later. That’s a gigantic success, wouldn’t you say?”