FEATURED EVENT PLANNER AND STYLIST

MELISSA McNEELEY

NEW YORK CITY
VIEW PROFILE
From celebrity gatherings like Steve Martin's wedding to small soirées in Brooklyn, farm weddings in upstate New York & high profile parties in Los Angeles, Melissa & her team have 20 years of event planning experience.
Amber Gress
How did you get started?
I have always been drawn to the hospitality industry and hosting parties. Since I can remember I have been decorating and meal planning and setting tables. My love of good food, good drinks, flowers and linens have all lead to this! I always worked in restaurants or as a cater waiter in Houston, Texas (where I grew up) and here in NYC. I worked for a high profile caterer in the mid nineties to the early aughts and absorbed every detail I could, not with a goal in mind, but just out of interest and learned a ton. A side note: I often get inquiries from people wanting to intern because they want to be an event planner and I tell them they should go work for a caterer - you see every aspect of the business if you're watching. I started running parties for a smaller caterer in the East Village and then met a private chef who needed help with parties at his client's home, and then planned that client's wedding a couple of years later and loved every second of the process, and decided right then and there that this is what I was meant to do and finally found a career that I truly loved and was truly good at. I'm on the bossy side, so that helped too.
Amber Gress
Amber Gress
What does your design & production process look like?
Each process is different because each client has different needs. Some want me to just take over, some want to collaborate and some want me to just execute their very clear vision. If we take the "me just taking over" as an example, I start by getting to know the client. I will have already connected them with various vendors - florists, music, food, invitations and that will have given me a lot of information to go on. And we will have by then come up with at least a rough floral plan or at least likes and dislikes. I then dig a little deeper and honestly so many things evolve throughout the process. I think of it as layering. We have a great floral design plan, a floor plan, furniture (lounge areas, etc) and some basic through line or theme (I don't mind a theme one bit but find many people are afraid of that word) so then I finalize with all the little but unique and personalized details. I love signage that is functional and am really big on props for styling the room. There is so much structure in the actual planning of the wedding (timelines, spreadsheets, meetings, contracts) that I'm okay with being a little loose about the styling, which is the gravy and should be fun and really personal. This approach isn't for everyone but I explain how I work up front to clients before they sign on with me. I am working on a wedding right now that is in 3 weeks and was inspired by a visual and it lead to adding a completely new element just yesterday to the wedding, which thankfully the client went for even though it was last minute!
Les Loups
Les Loups
What is one of the more memorable events or creative projects that you've work on?
Honestly, for me, the more unique and personal, the more memorable, but the weddings that are specifically challenging (because of mother nature or because for some reason a dance floor was broken up and thrown away the day before a wedding) are memorable because it is my job to make things work beautifully and seamlessly and it's alway super gratifying to do so. I had a recent wedding with a couple who were artists and they love balloons not in a trendy way (you see large round balloons a little more lately and they are great looking) but in just a genuine love of balloons. The ceremony was at The Watermill Center in The Hamptons and the ceremony was on a platform in the middle of all this green and beautiful garden and the bride wore hot pink and I can't get the picture of her standing near trees holding a large red balloon out of my head. It stays with me and brings me such joy, along with the memory of getting to know such an interesting and sweet couple.
What's the core element that fuels your business and leads to happy clients?
Hospitality! Duh, right? But for me it's an important one that should be in full effect from my initial interaction with a couple/client up until my job is done. I am big on manners and my focus is on the brides and grooms feeling well taken care of and welcome and happy on their day but also during the process. I want all of my clients' guests to feel that hospitality too and have a wonderful time at my weddings/events. I also think that the process should be fun. Obviously the wedding and reception should be fun but to me there is no reason the planning shouldn't be either. I also believe that there is humor in most things and that it is a life saver.
Ready Luck
Ready Luck
Ready Luck
Any logistical things couples should consider if they're considering working with you?
I make it my mission to be as quick to respond as possible and will return all emails within 24 to 36 hours but I ask that meetings be scheduled 2 weeks in advance and that phone calls be scheduled a couple of days in advance. I spend most of my work day on scheduled calls or just email for hours with vendors so a phone call with no warning throws my process off a bit and I want to give my full focus to anyone I'm speaking with. Most of my clients work long NYC hours and can only meet in the evenings so those slots fill up quickly.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Vintage children's books and children's books in general are GOLD MINES! Particularly with color palettes and fonts. Music in general but there is something about jazz from the 50's and 60's that really inspires me. Old movies. I also see things out and about that give me just the right idea. I was having coffee yesterday and two of the mismatched coffee cups next to each other made an exquisite little color palette that I thought about all day.
Tanveer Bidal
Tanveer Bidal
What are you watching and reading these days?
For books I switch from fiction and non-fiction and am reading A Little Life and it's tremendous. I just finished Chrissie Hynde's memoir, "Reckless," before that. I really enjoy most musician bios and Viv Albertine's, "Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys Boys Boys" really knocked my socks off.
Any favorite places in the greater Northeast that you enjoy escaping to?
I live in Newport, RI for most of the summer and it's pretty great. Rhode Island is beautiful and I explore more of it each year - there is a lot to see in such a tiny state!
Mademoiselle Fiona
Any tips for couples out there planning their wedding or for how to make the most of their big day?
Yes, listen to what makes YOU happy. If you think something is "too weird" to bring to the table, think again. If your heart is in it and it makes YOU happy, 99% of your guests will embrace it and have a ball. That other 1% would have found something to not like...
Mademoiselle Fiona
Mademoiselle Fiona
Is Pinterest helpful to you at all?
Yes, it's a good tool to store ideas. I'd love to get better at using it as a showcase for my work but I'm too busy to figure that out at the moment!
Any guilty food pleasures?
I never feel guilty when I eat macaroni and cheese and chocolate cake.
Les Loups
Favorite time of year?
Fall
What are you listening to these days?
Nina Simone, Steely Dan, Sonic Youth, Fleetwood Mac, Best Coast. "Moving to Brussels" by Bhi Bhiman is my new favorite song and I can't stop listening to it.
Les Loups
Les Loups