How to make certain they'll ask you back next year

Sunday, December 5, 2004

The pile of holiday party invitations is staring back at you. Good news: You're really popular. Bad news: You've actually got to show up at a couple of these things. And certainly not empty handed.

But what to bring? Not what you might think, say PR mavens/event coordinators Lara Shriftman and Elizabeth Harrison, authors of "Fete Accompli! The Ultimate Guide to Creative Entertaining."

Flowers are "one of the worst gifts to bring to a party," they say. "Your host will have to drop everything, find a vase and arrange them to fit the decor."

What about wine? Yawn.

No flowers? No wine? Then what?

The part-time Miami residents, who put together P. Diddy's August post-MTV Video Music Awards bash at Ice Palace Studios in Miami, give you their picks for the host gifts with the most.

1. Pamper me: What host in her right mind wouldn't give her best Teflon pan for this? A certificate for a massage -- a godsend for overburdened party planners. For an extra touch, they recommend adding a bottle of "it" color nail polish (try Essie's latest Frozen Assets collection in a cool shimmer-berry color like Hot Commodity, (800) 232-1155).

2. Pack it up: Everyone loves baskets. But use creativity about what you put inside one. Harrison and Shriftman recommend the following goodies that will guarantee a repeat invite next year:

Bath products galore; for guys, a shaving kit.

The host's favorite movie on DVD and microwave popcorn.

A leather journal with profound inspirational quotes on the cover.

For the sports-obsessed, Caseworks International manufactures high-end sports collectible cases (if you've got a Dan Marino-signed ball, this is how to show it off). From www.caseworksfactorystore.com.

A crystal vodka ice cooler from Petrossian with matching vodka flutes (www.petrossian.com, 800-828-9241). Simple and stunning.

Ralph Lauren chrome picture frames at Ralph Lauren at Bloomingdale's and any Ralph Lauren boutique.

A beach towel, flip-flops, SPF and a trashy chick-lit novel; or for guys, a car magazine and a bottle of Armor All Car Wash Wipes.

Long-burning candles in pretty holders are au courant crowd pleasers. Acqua di Parma's deliciously unisex-scented Colonia Assoluta Large Votives work for most households as white goes with most interiors (Neiman Marcus fragrance counter). Or get festive with Crabtree & Evelyn's new Noel home fragrance collection, which includes glass-poured candles in Santa-red holders decorated with stars or stripes. (800) CRABTREE.

3. Give the gift of fitness: Harrison and Shriftman tout this idea as not only healthy but highly "original." Inside a pair of boxing gloves, place a certificate for a boxing lesson. Is your host showing signs of nervous distress? Deep breathing might be the only thing that keeps him in balance (especially if they keep giving all these back-breaking parties). Harrison and Shriftman like the idea of giving a yoga class. Tie up a certificate inside a straw yoga mat (available at most gym shops and athletic stores).

4. Look but don't read: Always good, the two fashionistas say -- trendy recipe books, the glossier the better. Just so long as they have more color pictures than text. A few at the front tables of most bookstores:

"Top Secret Restaurant Recipes: Creating Kitchen Clones from America's Favorite Restaurant Chains," Todd Wilbur

"Nobu: The Cookbook," Nobuyuki Matsuhisa

"Eat at Joe's: The Joe's Stone Crab Restaurant Cookbook," by Jo Ann Bass and Richard Sax

5. A taste of New York: No need to jet up to the concrete metropolis, says Harrison, just go to the source, via the Internet (www.zabars.com). The NY Breakfast Crate, from bagel king Zabars, comes with fresh bagels, nova, cream cheese, as well as other goodies like chocolate babka, coffee and a mug. Bonus: Its packaging, in an urban-chic wooden box.

6. Class act: And lastly, if you really want the invitations to roll in for years, this might be the mother lode, say Lara and Liz: Parisian caviar giant Petrossian's Six Months of Caviar, a pack of Royal Ossetra, Beluga and other salty goodies as well as mini-blinis every month. At www.petrossian.com, (800) 828-9241.

But, then again, for that kind of money, you can probably throw your own party.

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