Lela Rose grew up watching her parents, philanthropists Deedie and Rusty Rose, entertain at their Highland Park home. She planned her first alfresco affair, a Father’s Day brunch, at 10 years old and later navigated a 650-person guest list at her wedding. Today, the fashion designer (who has dressed everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Kate Middleton) continues to break the mold with her entertaining ethos, which extends into her professional life as well. “We don’t really do a traditional runway,” she says of her fashion shows. “Instead, we create the event that you might wear the clothes to.”
Rose recently released Fresh Air Affairs (Rizzoli, $45), a sequel to her first hostess how-to guide, Pret-a-Party. “My first book was more about how you match your drink to your dress and your dress to your table,” she says. “This one is all about outdoor entertaining.” Broken into bite-size sections, the photo-filled book offers elevated suggestions for every occasion, from a chuckwagon-style dinner around a campfire to a candle-lit rooftop soiree surrounded by skyscrapers. Here, Rose dishes up more of the details.
D Home: What’s your planning process like?
Lela Rose: I’ll find one thing and go with it. For example, I saw this fabulous floral arrangement done out of cacti, and that inspired me to do a cactus print that could be used for clothing or a tablecloth, and then that led to a cactus salsa.
What’s special about alfresco events?
LR: It’s the unpredictability. When you’re outside, you don’t know what’s going to happen—like birds flying over at the perfect moment. We have been rained out a few times, but even that can be kind of magical.
Any tips for finding the perfect setting in the city?
LR: My favorite spot in Dallas is the restored Turtle Creek Pump Station, near my parents’ home. I once threw a seven-year-itch party there for my husband and I’s anniversary and had everyone wear wedding gowns. It was a total blast. I will throw a party in a park, on the sidewalk, in the middle of a field of wildflowers—I think you can dress up anything, and the possibilities are endless.
Do you have a party-planning mantra?
LR: I always say, “Don’t aim for perfection; aim for fun.” Nothing kills a mood like trying to have perfection. It’s unachievable. And the more uptight everything looks, the more uptight it feels.
Party Like a Pro
Try Lela Rose’s top four tips for successful entertaining.
Have a signature cocktail.
Rose says she never serves more than one cocktail at an event. “It comes from years of designing and learning how to edit,” she says, “but I find it’s helpful to limit choices.”
Set the table with one-of-a-kind pieces.
Big-box stores have their place, but finding unique new and old pieces makes for a truly original table. Says Rose: “Etsy is my go-to for fabulous place cards, and I also love shopping for vintage items to incorporate into the tablescape.”
Mix high and low.
An event doesn’t have to break the bank to wow guests—an elevated element here and there goes a long way. “I could be having a sunset picnic, but I’m serving caviar on sweet-potato chips,” Rose remarks. “Or say you’re at a crawfish boil, you can pour the bounty onto newspaper, but then button a cloth napkin to your shirt.”
Casual is fine in some cases, but Rose is a proponent of treating special occasions as such. “It makes it more festive for everyone,” she says.