Sun-Sentinel January 2, 2009

We know the recession drill: take "staycations," tote bag lunches and cancel premium cable TV. But what of the super affluent? Are they spending like it's 2005? Yes, and with gusto when it comes to rites of passage ceremonies, event planners say. Though wealthy shoppers are reportedly cutting back or engaging in covert consumption by slipping luxe goods into logo-free bags, celebrations by the super rich seem recession-proof."With the big emotional events, they're still spending," said Bruce Sutka, of West Palm Beach-based Sutka Productions International Inc. A coming Sutka project is a "fairy tale" wedding for a film producer's daughter, with a $225,000 decorating budget that will include crystal candelabra centerpieces topped by small jeweled carriages.Or consider the 6-foot-high vanilla-and-rum wedding cake South Florida baker-to-the-stars Ana Paz whipped up in November for 1,000 guests.
"It had $2,000 worth of Swarovski crystals and 23-karat edible gold-covered tiers," said Paz, who has created confections for Will and Jada; Tom and Katie, and Shaquille O'Neal. She said the reception at a Miami resort was hosted by a family in the retailing business."Families like these are giving work to all of us and we are thankful they are not putting their money under mattresses, but sharing it with our bakers, my driver, the florist," Paz said. "Thank God for them.
"Breeze Taylor's Dream Concierge company is planning a $500,000, black-tie spring wedding for 130 guests at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach."I've expected some cuts as clients weigh options, but they always choose 'the best,'" Taylor said. "In these circles, people want their guests to be wowed and surprised. The rule of thumb is never talk about money, but they want their guests to speculate, always!"The wedding, for a family in the beverage business, will have a canopy of 12-foot-tall birch trees draped with hanging orchids and candles for the ceremony, $110,000 of filet of beef and lobster tail, and an even higher floral budget."I understand it because I think for most people, it's usually a one-time thing and they think, 'This is it, pull out all the stops and make it memorable,'" Taylor said.Business continues to thrive, says Taylor, adding, "I raised fees because I was so tightly booked, and no one blinked.

"While the wealthy spend on personal events, charities that depend upon them must balance entertaining their biggest givers while remaining sensitive to real-world struggles: 533,000 U.S. jobs lost in November and 10.3 million unemployed. "There is a direct correlation between the buzz and energy an event produces and the star power in the room," said Richard Kelly, Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida's vice president who seeks price cuts from vendors for various functions. "We've seen that across the years. At our last event, you would not know the economy is struggling."The group's sold-out Nov. 8 ball paid travel costs for actor Adrian Grenier (Entourage) and his band The Honey Brothers and Kim Kardashian. Gov. Charlie Crist and his bride-to-be (now his wife) Carole Rome also attended."The net we raised was $1.6 million," said Kelly, who credited Sutka's "Enchanted Forest" theme and the chance to rub elbows with boldface names as lures to big contributors. Kelly said ticket purchases to the charity's other fundraisers have decreased, as have corporate and in-kind donations, "but the top-tier donor is still there." Still, some organizations are enduring a double dose of anxiety from the recession's impact and about whether donors may be affected by the $50 billion Ponzi scheme authorities blame on Bernard Madoff. "I think a lot of people are in shock and others have seen their assets decrease," said Larry Rosensweig, director of advancement at the Norton Museum of Art. "We've had people increase their giving because they know others can't."The Norton's late January fundraiser tied to the opening of a new Georgia O'Keefe/Ansel Adams show will be low on glitz, with reusable decorations, locally grown food and a green theme."It will still be a beautiful event but we will not go overboard on the expense side," Rosensweig said.A bellwether of big benefactors' financial health may be the invitation-only, white-tails and tiaras 52nd International Red Cross Ball Jan. 31 at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach. The Peter Duchin Orchestra will play for up to 500, including diplomats and celebrities like actress Anne Archer and race car driver Kyle Petty. Tickets start at $1,000 toward a fundraising goal of $500,000 or more."Everyone has been impacted by the economy and we just don't know what's to come," said Julie Ott, a Red Cross staff member. "Everything happens, as far as RSVPs, in the two weeks before."