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When the Party's Over (for the Party Planner)

Ted Kruckel was a high-flying PR guy, planning star-studded bashes for clients from Christian Dior to Cosmo. But when the economy started tanking and the IRS started calling, he woke up with one nasty hangover. Here, his behind-the-scenes, downwardly mobile diary.

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Star Turn: Ted with Jamie-Lynn Sigler at a People en Espanol party.  

JANUARY 1, 2003 If you’re like me at all, you snuck away for the New Year to a beach or slope somewhere, but to assuage your guilt you brought along some work. Me, I was in South Beach. I had a pile of financial documents, smartly shoved into one of those translucent folders with all the cool little pockets, and I was going to try to make sense of where my company, Ted, Inc., had ended up in 2002. And how the picture looked for 2003.

So on New Year’s Eve, while I sat by the Shore Club pool, not 30 feet from where I had just hosted the Helena Rubenstein Miami launch party, in the as-yet-unopened SkyBar Miami Beach (which would soon be pouring my client Zygo’s “energy vodka”—that is, if you believe in “energy vodka,” which I kind of do), I applied my rusty calculator and even rustier accounting know-how.

But even an idiot could see what I saw. I was not only broke; I was in debt. Neither of the quarter-million-dollar loans I had applied for had come through, and for the first time in my company’s ten-year history, I didn’t have any tricks up my sleeve. My hands started to shake, and my throat went dry.

A jog on the beach to the Fontainebleau, which normally would have left me full of ideas and plans, didn’t really do the trick. Sure, it looked like Skechers’ new brand, Michelle K, was about to sign on (stolen, happily, from one of my main competitors, Harrison & Shriftman), and there were several events linked to Playboy’s fiftieth anniversary on the horizon, but neither had coughed up a check yet.

A few days later, on the plane ride back—since when had I started flying JetBlue?—I stewed in my own insolvent juices.

JANUARY 7 Good news, bad news—do they ever come separately? Good news: A meeting with Vanity Fair and L’Oréal on arrangements for the Golden Globes is a success. We’re planning a four-day luxury suite at the Mondrian hotel for celebrities and their satellites to come and primp and borrow. In addition to Vanity Fair and L’Oréal, we’ve got fragrances and fashion by Carolina Herrera and Paco Rabanne, feather boas and furs by Adrienne Landau, plus jewelry, candles, and liquor sponsors to round out what should be a great program. In Hollywood, I’m king of the suites—according to WWD, “The Sultan of Swag”—and the Globes look like a winner.

But Vanity Fair also has bad news. It’s canceling its Fashion Week “Atelier.” Not enough advertisers are interested. This is nothing new: In the past year or so, we’ve spent half our time developing programs and events that get killed. The projects that do get green-lighted tend to be cheap and cheerful. What three years ago would have been a $250,000 event now has to be brought in at $150,000. And the fun part is that a big program or event for a smaller budget means more man-hours—not fewer—so we get squeezed on both ends.

JANUARY 9 Here we are at Sotheby’s for the fiftieth anniversary of Aperture, the fancy photo publisher. I’m running the gala—or, as I like to say, “I’m the event disorganizer.” The mayor’s here, on behalf of chairs John and Susan Gutfreund. Our favorite celebrity is Joni Mitchell, who, after hours of secretive negotiations to get her to show, turns out to be extremely easygoing.

Silent auctions of photos are a Ted, Inc., specialty; we’ve done them for charity events sponsored by The New Yorker, Condé Nast Traveler, even the International Center of Photography. And this is one of our best. There’s a Marilyn by Bert Stern, and donations from Mary Elle n Mark, Mario Sorrenti, Deborah Turbeville, Patrick McMullan, and Walter Chin in the collection of over 30 images. On the day of the event, William Wegman calls to say sorry for the late notice but he’d like to donate a photo. We don’t say no.

The buying fever catches me, and I snap up a $750 image of an abandoned railroad station by Oberto Gili. The stark, sad picture speaks to me. In the cab ride home, as my fellow employees enjoy a high-five over another successful event, I wonder if I can afford a $750 charity photo.

JANUARY 14 I turn 40.

I was 30 when I started my company in my studio apartment with my cousin Gillian. I had been in magazine publishing, most recently as group marketing director for Elle and Elle Decor, and Gillian was just off the boat from producing a documentary in Nicaragua. Honestly, we hadn’t thought we’d start a company; we were just killing time.

But we had a few stunning early successes. My friends Ron Prince and Sandy Golinkin hired us for Travel + Leisure’s relaunch, and the event included Asian street acrobats, flaming cocktail trays, the Abyssinian Baptist Church choir, and a 40-member conga troupe that really ripped it up. All this under the vaulted ceiling of Grand Central Terminal.

Then came InStyle, which took a chance on me for its first New York event. Bloomingdale’s gave us all of its Third Avenue windows, and a counterintuitive combination of guests—Jane Seymour, Salt n’ Pepa (who absconded with their limo), and the lady who sang “I Love the Nightlife”—made for an evening that was at least memorable. Business grew, and along the way we became known as the firm that would take on really big, scary things, make them even bigger, give the clients nervous breakdowns, but pull it off in the end.

So here I am whooping it up in the stratosphere, on a plane to L.A. Fortunately, I’m back on American in business class this time (only 10,000 miles to go to get platinum status). After I land, I sign my life away at the hotel (why are my hotel bills always more than $20,000? Because I have six rooms plus the penthouse booked—that’s why). My friend Muffie Potter Aston, coincidentally in L.A., takes me to dinner.

We go to Koi, the hot Japanese restaurant where Drai’s used to be, to test the food for a People dinner I’ll be running for the Screen Actors Guild. By coincidence, People’s flamboyant and fabulous fashion editor Steven Cojocaru and associate publisher Dan Osheyack are there. We uncork some champagne. Steven and Dan tell me they want me to organize a party for Steven’s new book, Red Carpet Diaries. There’s some business.

"When you miss a tax payment, two things happen. First, they apply penalties. Second, you start to get a lot of fancy-colored mail."

JANUARY 15 Both Muffie and I wake up with major food poisoning. This is not a good sign for the upcoming party.

By the time I stagger up to the Globes suite at the Mondrian, a Fox camera crew is waiting. They love the idea of the Zygo Golden Globe cocktail, which has edible 23-karat-gold flakes floating in it. Trying not to retch, I drink it on camera more than once, reminding myself each time that the edible-gold people need a check FedExed. The stuff costs a fortune.

Maria Conchita Alonso arrives and does a big show for the camera crew. It makes the segment. Only problem is that it’s not Maria; it’s stylist Fati Parsia (the nicest celebrity stylist in the business, and they do look alike). Nobody catches my error. I think.

JANUARY 17 It’s Friday night, Golden Globes weekend, and things are heating up. There’s a party in my suite. Salma Hayek is a peach; Maria Conchita Alonso (the real one) hangs Chinese lanterns. My potential new client, designer MichElle Kelchak, is there and seems impressed.

The manager of the Mondrian stops by to wish me happy birthday, whereupon I learn that I misunderstood the corkage fee for the hotel. When sponsors provide wine or spirits for a restaurant or hotel, you’re often charged a corkage fee per bottle, to make up for the lost revenue. On the phone, I understood this amount to be $15 per bottle. Only now do I realize they said $50. This does not seem to be negotiable, and a quick calculation tells me I misinformed my clients to the tune of a couple thousand dollars.

JANUARY 22 I’m freshly arrived back in New York, and run to the LVMH Tower, where the rest of my staff is setting up for a Christian Dior skin-care launch.

Apparently, when I was in Los Angeles, the team that’s still in New York had a cash-flow problem. While we brought a staff of four to L.A., plus our West Coast manager, to run the Golden Globes, we left a team of five back home to deal with the other twenty accounts. Now the bank won’t give us any money because none of our checks have cleared. And since I have a $22,000 bill on my credit card at the Mondrian, I’m kind of tapped out. So we bought the flowers late (they’re not open yet) and paid the seamstress late (no tablecloths). It’s going to be a long night.

JANUARY 23 After blow-drying hyacinths till 2:30 a.m., I’m back at LVMH five hours later with a very tired-looking crew awaiting the tablecloths, which need to be ribboned and grommeted and on the tables by nine.

As the beauty editors file in, I help hang coats. W’s Jane Larkworthy hands me her jacket and says jokingly, “Ted, has it come to this?” I smile and think, Well, maybe.

To top off the morning, the accountants have called and demanded a face-to-face meeting. It’s time to deal with my tax shortfall.

We had missed a few quarterly payments—not many, but to miss even one is a bad thing to do, trust me. Since then, we’ve cleaned up our act, and we’re paying them regularly, but we’re not making any dent on the past-due amounts. And they’re assessing penalties. Fast and furiously.

We applied for two loans last fall, one from the government and one from a commercial lender, and we were confident of getting one and had a good shot at the other. We even had a loan consultant. Though we haven’t been denied, we haven’t been approved for either one. And the money we have on hand is already earmarked for operating expenses. The goal is to get a big chunk of cash, get the IRS to forgive some of the penalties, and get on a payment plan. But I’ve never been able to get the same person from the IRS on the phone more than once.

So I’m like the actor with two masks. To potential lenders, I’m a thriving small-business owner with a temporary setback, and to the government, I’m a poor but honest shopkeeper trying to do the right thing. The second role comes more naturally.

JANUARY 29 Lunch at The Four Seasons with Adweek and Disney Publishing’s FamilyFun. I bring a check for Julian Niccolini, the suave proprietor, and apologize for letting my account fall so far behind. I notice I am seated not in the Grill Room but in the lesser Pool Room. Julian says it is a mistake.When the bill comes, I let my client get it—a strangely liberating feeling.


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