How a Fashion Designer Gets
Her Guests Naked
Ready for a chic spring party (or three)? Designer Cynthia Rowley might be famous for her fashion, but she’s known around the neighborhood for throwing serious ragers. (Even her fashion shows often have party-time vibes; her most recent show, held in the ballroom of the Lotte New York Palace hotel, evolved into a dizzying game of musical chairs before guests sat down to an exquisite dinner.) “I love a fun, high-low feel,” says the New York City–based mom of two, who also cohosts the podcast Ageless with her older daughter, Kit, when not running her global fashion and lifestyle brand. “Like caviar, crème fraîche, and potato chips.” Her easy entertaining strategies are pretty foolproof: a little prep (candles, pillows, thick charcuterie boards, beautiful plates), a long guest list, and an unexpected conversation piece.
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My entertaining philosophy is to mix it up; bring people together who might not necessarily meet. It’s not what’s on the table but what’s on the chairs that counts. I invite surfers, pro athletes, people of all different ages—sometimes my friends and Kit’s friends—a lot of creatives. When people are different, it’s way more exciting. That said, I make a point of not asking what people do. It comes out naturally anyway, but I start by asking what they do for fun, and that allows a different level of connection, instead of using your job as this label of who you are. I like inviting a lot of people, doing lots of dancing—it can get pretty crazy. I’ve ended up with guests naked in the backyard.
Go big on conversation pieces.
I have a grand piano that’s actually an ice bucket in disguise. The bottom is lined with plastic, so for parties we fill it with ice and keep the champagne in there and just pour it all night.
Keep it low-lift.
I’m usually at work right before people come in—I’m practically getting home at the same time as my guests. I love a buffet-type experience—where you cover every surface with food, and people can dip in and out (that flow makes for a more exciting party)—versus a formal sit-down dinner.
I’m not precious when it comes to the food; I usually order in. I heap our big, round table with some nibbles and hors d’oeuvres, like Cape Cod potato chips with a little crème fraîche and caviar, and beautifully sliced veggies and cheese—chunks of parmesan—as well as prosciutto, all put out on big trays. I like big everything: big bowls and a big, chunky board.
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For entrées, I love rustic, spring-vibe dishes like paella or chicken kebabs, and a pretty salad—watermelon and feta with mint and crushed red pepper. You know, things you don’t have to sit down and cut; I like it when people can lounge and eat off their laps.
Dim the lights and dress everything up.
I put out lots of candles—I like the room dim—and lots of flowers. I put out a tall vase in the middle of the table with giant palm fronds tilting out; it looks really tropical.
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I mix up all our pretty print napkins and roll the flatware into them so people can grab what they need.
Keep the drinks simple.
I usually try to keep it to champagne, wine, and a couple of bottles of tequila for those who are ready to party. A complicated cocktail is work.
Embrace the chaos.
I used to live in a loft in Tribeca with wall-to-wall white carpeting. I made everyone at the party put on those surgical shoe covers, but it was such a pain in the ass. Now my house is indestructible: I went out of town, and my younger daughter, Gigi, had a rager. (There may or may not have been a lot of White Claw. She won’t be happy that I’m talking about this.) Let’s just say, while I’m happy the kids can have fun in our house, I do have a giant hole in my beautiful silver wallpaper now. We have a swing inside, and someone smashed right into that wall. I actually left it there because it makes me feel like our place isn’t precious and reminds me that people are having fun.
Wear something chic and comfy.
Pick something you can move in. I want to be able to sit on a pillow on the floor and carry cases of champagne up from the basement. We make these really fun silk pajama sets that I love for a loungey-hostess vibe. I throw on jeans sometimes, and I love a silky caftan with heels—I almost always wear heels; I’m comfortable in them.
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As for hair and makeup—I’m a middle-part, scraped-back-bun girl. And some sparkly earrings are fun.
Pile on the pillows.
My gigantic round couch comfortably seats 12 to 14—and uncomfortably seats about 18. For extra seating, I throw big, fluffy pillows around the room.