Event Profile: See the Children
Vern Yip created an event that kept UNICEF’s beneficiaries at the center of the décorPublished in January 2010 event profile | Departments
Vern Yip created an event that kept UNICEF’s beneficiaries at the center of the décor
Vern Yip, designer and host of several HGTV television shows, hoped to become more involved with UNICEF when he got a new boss, Jim Samples, a couple of years ago. Samples, the president of HGTV has been involved in UNICEF for some years.
One of Yip’s shows, “Deserving Design,” involves doing home design makeovers for people who give back to their communities, but he wanted to do more. Yip wanted to connect to UNICEF because he believes in the organization’s mission, to save and improve children’s lives worldwide. Very quickly, Yip was asked to put together the 2009 Snowflake Ball, an annual black-tie fundraising event for UNICEF, held December 2. “Of course I said yes, because it’s something I believe in passionately.”
Yip had creative license, but the design of the event had to be consistent with the idea of the Snowflake Ball, which has a long tradition and history. The lighting of the UNICEF Snowflake on First Avenue and 57th Street in New York City, marks the beginning of the holiday season. Guests at the Snowflake Ball include socialites, celebrities of various kinds, politicians, entertainers and more. Barbara Bush and her sister, Jenna Bush Hager, were there, as was Wolfgang Puck, Mariah Carey and Matt Lauer.
“I really wanted the message this year to go back to what UNICEF is all about, which is the welfare of children,” Yip says. “I used the imagery of children from around the world as the starting point and the impetus for the design.”
The venue, Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City, is “an old, glorious space,” Yip says, “but intimidating form a design standpoint. That architecture was the first thing, making that big, huge cavernous space feel intimate and warm.”
The ballroom of Cipriani 42nd Street has a 65-foot ceiling and more than 12,000 square feet of floor space. “I knew I had to make a design statement,” Yip says. “I often go for fewer elements, but they have to be impactful.”
What would be more impactful than the faces of children? Yip went through UNICEF’s library of images and selected photos that reflected the diverse countries and ethnicities that UNICEF works with. He had banners made to fill the walls of the ballroom. There were five 15x20-foot banners on each of the long sides of the ballroom and one large banner at the end of the room that was 30x30 feet.
The banners, including the 30x30-foot banner, were made in one piece, so there were no seams to contend with. Each banner was weighted at the bottom so it wouldn’t sway with the normal airflow of the room.
The large faces created a dramatic impact around the room, but Yip also wanted a more intimate interaction with the children for each guest. Instead of large floral centerpieces for each table, he had photos imposed on the shade of cylinders and used a grouping of eight at each table. “As each was lit, it would illuminate the face of the child.”
Also on the tabletops, simple white bud vases, donated by Ikea, each held a single cymbidium orchid. The cylinders and the bud vases sat on rich red satin linen.
Yip says that he had heard that for some of the previous year’s Snowflake Balls, the floral centerpieces were beautiful, but so tall that it was difficult to see the stage—or even some of the other people at the table. “These [cylinders] were tall and they had a presence, but you could see the people.”
There was an unexpected benefit to the cylinders. “People were so in love with the cylinder centerpieces and kept asking, ‘How do we buy these?’ ‘Can we take them home?’” Yip says. “The auctioneer said at that end of the evening that if they made a donation, they could take one home. They ended up making a good amount of money just selling the centerpieces.”
The response to the design of the event was “phenomenal,” Yip says. “It was one of the very first years that the message has been so heavily relying on the kids. I think people were inspired by looking at the kids’ faces as they were enjoying the evening. That’s really the spirit of the holidays.”
Yip approached the Snowflake Ball as he does any design challenge. “The thing I always try and do is get to the heart of the situation, whether I’m going to someone’s home and doing a transformation for them, or going into an event space,” he says. “What is the meaning of why we’re here? What are we trying to accomplish? I do my homework ahead of time, instead of just taking the theme of snowflakes and doing whatever.”