Matchimalism and Mariachis with Party Planner Fiona Leahy

Tue, 27 March 2018

Producing some of the fashion world’s most elaborate parties, creative doyenne Fiona Leahy trades in visual decadence. Employed by everyone from Christian Dior to Aquazzura, she creates experiences that reflect the person or brand they are for.

Executing concepts for Dita Von Teese, Jade Jagger, Fendi, Christian Louboutin and Middle Eastern royalty, there’s a common denominator to her work; more is more. With a signature style of layered print on print, or “matchimalism” as she likes to call it, trademarks of Leahy’s eye-catching creations include bouquets of balloons, bonafide china, personalised napkins and freshly-picked flowers. But it is the attention to minute details that is Leahy’s carte blanche. Walls have been “tiled” with gold-foil balloons at Anyhoe Park; for Emilia Wickstead she created a festive table in dusty pinks with floral finishes, while hibiscus-palm settings took centre stage for Aerin Lauder’s party in Mexico. Then there was Doha, where Leahy curated an event with Damien Hirst and Prada complete with sand storms and dunes.

From visual branding to window installations, intimate dinners to grand-scale occasions, Leahy creates experiences that are novel and impeccably planned. Taking inspiration from the settings in which she creates, her reference points are as varied as you might expect of a global-trotting party planner. And her maximalist approach translates to packing too… Four Globetrotters and counting!

You fly all over the world staging creative events, what have been some of the highlights?

In January, we staged a week-long influencer event for Aerin Lauder in Mexico. That was a dream because Mexico is one of my favourite countries. Andermatt in Switzerland was straight afterwards and a complete contrast. That’s what I love most – how different places are.

Best place in the world to throw a party?

Probably Mexico – margaritas, mariachi and beautiful beaches, how can you go wrong? Anywhere in nature with a certain degree of privacy and great drinks is a winner.

How much does the culture of a place impact and/or inspire your designs?

Very much. Sometimes it’s great to do something entirely different or a variation on what exists. But I do like to keep things authentic – “when in Rome” as they say. I love going to locations and trawling local markets and shops. For my first ever event in Ireland I used everything local from the food to the entertainment. China, glassware, linens, everything – I enjoy embracing local culture and beauty.

Do you consider your events as immersive?

They certainly can be. I love the idea that an event is a suspended reality and that a guest is taken to a totally different place and experience.

How do you prepare for a trip?

For business I prevision all the situations I will be in and I think practically about what I need. I exercise a lot before business trips as I feel like it’s hard to maintain that when travelling. I also download all my podcasts and meditations so that I know I have that to carve out some self-care time. For leisure trips, I of course do all the beautification one can squeeze in and research where I am going so I know where to eat, what to see, and so on. I used to do this obsessively and now I am more relaxed – less planning and more serendipity and surprise.

What do you think makes a good hotel?

I think a personal touch makes makes a huge difference. Hotels that are owned by individuals instead of chains are very different. Hospitality is so personal and once it becomes a corporate machine it can lose its way. I like dog-friendly hotels, with real fires and great cocktails.

Why is personalisation in events, and travel, so important?

It makes people feel considered and seen and that always leaves a positive.

If there was one destination you could go back to immediately, which one would it be?

Somatheeram in Kerala, India. I did an Ayurvedic retreat there for 10 days and it was really transformative. India is just magical.

One piece of travel advice…

Enjoy the journey. It’s easy to put the emphasis on the destination but the journey is equally important. I start when I pack. Sometimes I pack with a glass of wine and some great music and really get into it . I also upgrade when I can and enjoy travel time by listening to podcasts and reading. I love meditating and sleeping when travelling – it’s a break from reality.

What are your travel essentials?

Incense, rose quartz, a book, headphones, a Smythson notebook, face mist, a silk eye mask, workout gear and a great party outfit because you never know.

Does your maximalist approach to design carry over to your packing?

Yes, it does! I have been the person with four Globetrotters for a week’s holiday… I am not the most practical packer and my love of giant straw sun hats and wicker baskets ensures its always a very elaborate packing puzzle. I think because travel is such an escape from reality that I pack to reflect that. I do envy people that travel with only a carry-on – that must be so liberating!


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