Fairies, football, Frozen or French chateau? Princess, pool party or Project Runway? Brenda Wilson can take a theme and turn it into an event to remember.
The statuesque Hong Kong Mom of six-year-old Brooke, is originally from Los Angeles and after stints in New York and London, has called Hong Kong home for the past 11 years. Not only does she have her MBA from Cass School of Business in London, she was a partner at a consulting firm and spent over two decades in corporate human resources and marketing. Finally, it was time for a change. But where to channel those well-honed organizational and troubleshooting skills? Party styling, mais oui! Hence, Swoon Soirées was born.
How did Swoon get started? What inspired you to start a business?
As the youngest of three daughters, I didn’t do much around the kitchen when it came to domestic goddess duties. So just before Brooke was about to turn one, I decided I had better learn how to frost a cake! A lot of baking, experimenting, failing, taste testing, and calories since then I can proudly say I can make a pretty mean cupcake, or so my 6-year-old will say!
After styling Brooke’s 1st birthday, two things happened: 1) I found a creative outlet to express my love for design, entertaining, and all things paper and 2) other mommies started asking for help! So, in the early days, we would literally smuggle party supplies back to HK from the United States every time anyone in my family would travel. I was like a sugar mule hiding sprinkles in every nook and cranny of my suitcase. I would get “randomly searched” by TSA literally 100% of the time.
Planning a party in Hong Kong is like an adult scavenger hunt. You never know where you are going to find that coveted item you just can’t live without. You need to knock on a lot of doors before you check off your entire list. So, after several years of buying supplies here, there, and everywhere, (and personally improving the stock price of FedEx) I decided to start a boutique business that offers stylish partyware for the modern hostess.
What has been your favorite part of having Swoon so far?
There are so many amazing and rewarding elements to owning and running Swoon Soirées. I want to create a whimsical, magical experience that delivers every element in perfect detail. The creative journey in that process is extremely rewarding.
I am also obsessed with partyware. Some psychiatrists may call it hoarding. I like to think of it as a healthy love affair with all things related to entertaining. Looking for those special party supplies to offer our clients, curating the themes, designing our own personalize partyware collections, and searching for new brands to import into Hong Kong has also been an amazing part of the job.
Where do you source your items?
Swoon Soirées finds goodies from all over the world. When you visit the online shop look for a beautiful new line called Boutique Collections. This is a fluttering of small enterprises and independent artists and designers who have a passion for entertaining and crafting all things fabulous. We have also started designing a small partyware collection under our own brand. Our first collection will feature contemporary accessories for hosting a stylish cocktail party at home or perhaps in your favorite local restaurant. Everything you need will be shipped directly to your door in the quintessential Swoon pink and white stripe box, save for the Rosé Dom.
When styling an event for our clients, we source unique products from all over the world to create an “authentic experience” for the celebration. Whether it’s an eight-foot, vintage, wrought-iron frame from Italy for a cheese tasting table at a French Chateau-themed wine dinner; designing a family crest, casting it in metal and hanging it around each child’s neck at a sports day for two brothers; or sourcing vintage bowling trophies and wooden bowling pins for a retro bowling party — we love to find the “it” accessory to make the event special.
For our own daughter’s birthday this year, we found a vintage, circa 1950’s, green leather suitcase in an antique shop in the Amish country in the United States. It was used as the platform to raise the cake on the dessert buffet for a “glamping”-themed birthday party.
Which party “themes” have you loved recently?
I really enjoyed planning a 10th birthday Halloween party this year. Picture an old witch doctor’s laboratory with creepy apothecary jars filled with unicorn horn dust, toadstool clippings, and werewolf fur. Candles burning, skulls churning under giant glass domes, and black crows with real feathers perched carefully on the tables made the experience look far too real. Each guest received a little black box with a severed finger in it wearing a gothic skull ring (party favor, anyone?). We painted all the pumpkins black and brushed them with glow-in-the dark paint for a faint eerie look. Glow sticks were glued into black witches’ hats and then suspended like chandeliers floating over the dining table. Drinking goblets were made with a skeleton hand gripping a champagne flute filled with a magical, yet “poisonous”, concoction made from the breath of a dragon (and red Snapple!)
For a recent Project Runway party, the backdrop of the dessert buffet was a series of seven wooden picture frames in varying sizes with different fashion-forward images and personalized printables in each. We graphically designed each picture to perfectly match the color palette and theme of the event. We created a runway with a huge foam-board backdrop at the end for that perfect paparazzi moment. Of course, a fabric market was set up complete with haberdashery, yards and yards of fabric and fun fashion accessories ready for the girls to compete for the best designed outfit.
We did a “safari” party and imported near life-sized stuffed jungle animals as party props, had pith helmets for each little guest, and the most amazing cupcakes with 3-D safari animal heads made from fondant.
Quick Planning Tips
Last minute/easy way to bring a party together:
If you are planning a children’s party, you can really never go wrong with having three things:
- Balloons: helium and/or lots and lots of balloons filled with love and tossed around the room. Perfect for taking up lots of visual space in the venue and a great party favor once the event is over.
- Marshmallows: they are easy to find in HK, kids love them, and they are enormously versatile. You can put them on sticks, you can dip them in chocolate and cover with sprinkles, you can pour them into jars for a great table display, you can let kids make their own candy kabobs, etc. All this for less than a Starbucks espresso (which you will need before 20 of your child’s best friends coming running in your door.)
- Bubbles: This is a fun and simple must-have but you should provide two types: 1) Kid’s bubbles are fabulous for entertaining small children and big children responsible for blowing said bubbles. They are a perfect party favor: cheap, come in many shapes / colors / sizes and easy to find in HK. 2) Arguably more important than the first, is the bubbly for the grown-up guests. Let’s face it, most children’s parties are attended by mommies. When hosting an event, you are not only entertaining the little guests but the big guests, as well.
How to look creative (if you are not):
- Create visual harmony by picking a theme and color palette, and sticking to it. Mixing this, that, and the other results in visual discontent.
- Create visual impact by clustering party decorations. Instead of spacing out single balloons, bunch three at different heights and secure in one location. The same goes for pom poms or paper lanterns, for example. Always think of odd numbers when clustering items: 3’s and 5’s look better than 2’s, for example.
- If time and budgets are in short supply, focus on making a statement by clustering most of the decorations in one area. A sweets or savory buffet is a perfect place to start. To style like a pro, think of it like building a pyramid. Create height in the middle of the table by selecting a funky platform (like the green vintage suitcase from the “glamping” party, for example, an old wooden box, or a set of on-theme books, perhaps). Your aim is to raise the height of the cake or cupcake tower to create a central visual focal point. Then cascade the other elements down from there. Work towards adding three visual levels to your pyramid shape. Be sure to balance each side of your table by adding items on both sides of your central focal point. Ideas: Use apothecary jars filled with candy, old vases filled with marshmallows, bowls sitting on top of two books filled with grapes, or other theme-specific props. Not everything needs to be an edible prop. Use fun props from your home to build out the theme of the event. Finally, display the last few goodies on plates or platters and set directly on the table.
And most important, don’t forget to have fun along the way (and never let them see you sweat)!