Alison Events loves going to the ends of the earth for its clients. The boutique event-planning firm is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year and was recently recognized as one of Vogue magazine's "Best Wedding Planners Around The World." The team's commitment to bringing families together has seen them plan and produce over 400 events globally in twenty-seven cities. As founder and principal, Alison Hotchkiss, notes, "taking people out of their element slightly and letting them be pampered allows everyone to sit back and enjoy." That allows her team to organize everything down to the last detail. For Alison Events, each project is about understanding a client and pulling inspiration from local architecture and landscape to create an event that authentically represents the client's wants, wishes, and needs.
The Bay Area-based firm was recently enlisted by actor and producer Sophia Bush and real estate investor Grant Hughes to plan and produce their Tulsa nuptials. The couple's choice of Tulsa as their destination served as a way to showcase the Oklahoma city—its cultural renaissance, the progressive justice work happening there, and its emerging art scene. Creative Manager Ruth Skidmore headed the team tasked with bringing the wedding to life with festivities including Thursday drinks, a Friday tour on the rebirth of Greenwood, and a Friday night dinner and music celebration at a historic Frank Lloyd Wright home. The wedding and reception took place at the Philbrook Museum of Art in June. We had an opportunity to chat with Alison and Ruth recently. They shared their team's journey and more details on the wedding itself, like Sophia choosing to layer in our Brisa Burl Wood Coffee Table, Raisa Burl Wood Nesting Side Tables, and Nature Dinnerware for the dinner and reception. Read on for more, including a few guidelines to stick to when hosting.
Alison Events started with the dual missions of bringing families together and working all over the world. Tell us how your team's journey and whether those goals still drive the company.
Alison Hotchkiss: My personal passions have always been about exploring this planet, culture, and adventure. I know firsthand that when people come together at a new destination, they really feel more relaxed than if they were in their hometown, essentially hosting. They can let go more and be in the moment, have fun, and let us do the hard work of organizing. So I am a big proponent of destination weddings for couples, guests, and families. A wedding can be a time of heightened emotions, so taking people out of their element slightly and letting them be pampered allows all to sit back and enjoy. My team loves traveling, the challenges it brings, and all the new opportunities and experiences. It's a big puzzle to figure out, and we are into that. Doing the same thing every time is boring!
Congratulations on recently being named one of Vogue magazine's "Best Wedding Planners Around The World." What was it like to receive that recognition?
Alison: It's nice to be acknowledged for our hard work in the last 20 years. It takes an army, so by no means are any of our events the result of one human or one company. It's so many people that come together to make it all happen. I am so happy to have a community that supports us to get us there. It took a lot of espressos in Italy, rose in France, and just working with people of all cultures and backgrounds to find a middle ground. We can't just go into a new environment and say this is how it's done—it will fail.
Destination weddings have always been central to Alison Events. Could you describe what it was like working with Sophia and Grant to host their wedding in Tulsa? And the historical and social importance of supporting the Tulsa community amid the festivities?
Ruth Skidmore: It's always exciting to travel and work in new environments. No one on our team had been to Tulsa before or, to be honest, knew much about the community. Our clients typically have some sort of emotional connection to the destinations they decide on for their wedding. However, highlighting the community in the way that Sophia and Grant chose was very unique and special. We were honored to be a part of the weekend.
The ceremony and reception took place at the historic Philbrook Museum of Art. How was it preparing for and running an event on the grounds of a fine art museum?
Ruth: Working at Art Museums can be tricky, and there tend to be many rules and restrictions to protect historic landmarks and artwork. However, the team at The Philbrook Museum was incredibly accommodating and lovely to collaborate with! The museum was fully privatized the day of the wedding, so as guests entered the Rotunda, they were greeted with a glass of champagne and encouraged to explore the galleries before being invited to the South Lawn for the ceremony.
What are your team's go-to sources of inspiration while planning events?
Ruth: For us, it's all about understanding our client's aesthetic, so we can concept and create environments that feel authentic to them. This is really important to us at Alison Events—we don't have a specific look or style as it's not about us as designers! Each project we have is so specific to our couples. In addition, we pull a lot of inspiration from the landscape and architecture of wherever we are working. Our goal is to enhance the natural environment instead of distracting from it.
What drew you to these artisan Nature Dinnerware pieces? Do you feel they help create the vision you were hoping for in this tablescape?
Ruth: We searched and searched for the perfect dinnerware set! The Nature collection may seem simple, but the rippled edges and speckled ceramic added such a warm, textural element to the tablescape. We were already highlighting a lot of rich terracotta, peach, and berry tones through the floral, linens, and paper materials, so it was important to incorporate a more neutral element. So happy with how this design turned out. It was a dream working with the Lulu and Georgia team!
You layered a few of our burl wood coffee and side tables for the lounging areas. What look were you trying to evoke with those styles?
Ruth: This was all Sophia! She selected the burl wood pieces, and man, they are beautiful. I loved how they looked at the entrance of the reception tent paired with that beautiful rust velvet sectional.
Alison, you've said that you still adhere to the advice of "Make friends with everyone locally. Roll the way they roll... Become part of their culture." Could you explain why that has stayed with you?
Alison: I have always been friends with everyone. It started in high school as I was, I guess, considered more of a jock, but I still was friends with everyone. I never stayed in one clique. So when I travel, I know I'm leaving an impression everywhere I go. I encourage my team to be positive and leave a good impression because people really do want to work harder when you're nicer, a good listener, and open to new ideas. I love learning about how people work in their cities or countries and then applying what I know to find common ground.
Each project is customized to fit the client's wants and needs, but are there any qualities you like to always be present in your designed spaces?
Ruth: In terms of design, we tend to say invest in anything your guests will come in physical contact with. Any tangible element should feel luxurious. From tablecloths, flatware, plates, dinner napkins, paper materials, throw pillows, etc. I also am a big fan of statement bars. Whether they are custom painted, wrapped in fabric, leather, or designed with marble or cement slab tops, the list goes on! Everyone gathers around the bars, let's be honest, so it's a great place to invest in the guest experience.
What are a few guidelines you'd give someone beginning the planning process of a wedding or event?
There's still some summer left! What is one tip for hosts that make a dinner/outdoor party in the season of outdoor entertainment?
Ruth: For me, hosting is all about layering in terms of design. Whether you're going for a more neutral and tonal look or bright and colorful, the same rules apply! Give your guests different textures to explore when they sit down through fabrics, dinnerware, candles, and blooms. It will create a much more thoughtful environment!
Similarly, what are some hosting *don'ts* to avoid?
Ruth: Don't get too fussy with the menu! We generally find guests enjoy clean and seasonal ingredients. It's also really fun to decorate the table with seasonal snacks, whether it's stone fruit, kumquats, raw vegetables, herbs, etc. Stick to simplifying, and you can't go wrong.
What's next for Alison Events, and is there a dream city/location your team would eventually love to work in for an event?
Alison: I did a Japanese exchange program in high school and then studied in New Zealand during college. We have now produced three weddings in Japan, so I am so happy about that, but I am dying to work in New Zealand! Cape Town as well, just a love in general for South Africa. Mallorca also looks dreamy.