A Holiday Party With Solid Ice Champagne Buckets and Ornamental Bugs

The designers Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch are known for their detail-oriented approach, which they also apply to a more “heady” version of happy hour.

Article by Emilia Petrarca

13-TMAG-HOLIDAY-PARTY-1For a holiday party at their New York apartment, Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, the co-founders of the design and hospitality firm Roman and Williams, decorated their dining table with candles and glassware from their line of home goods and arrangements by the florist Alex Crowder. Photography by David Chow.

“I used to make fun of happy hour because I hate the term; it’s annoying,” says the designer Stephen Alesch. “But now I realise there’s something really old-school and actually healthy about the ritual.” On a Tuesday in November, he and his wife, Robin Standefer — with whom he founded the New York-based design and hospitality firm Roman and Williams, known for creating dramatic, richly layered spaces including the Boom Boom Room nightclub, in the Standard Hotel overlooking the High Line in Manhattan, and the Metropolitan Museum’s British Galleries — hosted a cocktail party at the NoHo loft they bought in 1997. It started early, at 4 p.m., or “that beautiful moment of dusk,” as Standefer describes it, also known as happy hour.

The occasion was the beginning of the holiday season — the couple have been hosting parties like this in their apartment for years. “But it was also a way to celebrate some of the things we’re making and actually use them,” Standefer explains. “Our home has always been a laboratory to discover how things work together.” Those things included the new Bloesem Haus collection of handmade home goods by Roman and Williams Guild, the firm’s line of original furniture and lighting, as well as objects from around the world, which it sells at a store of the same name in SoHo. The pieces ranged from flatware designed by Alesch and Standefer and produced by metalworkers in Tsubame Sanjo, Japan, to porcelain dishes made by the ceramist Heami Lee in Seoul. “Roman and Williams was founded on the principles of historic ideas and bringing them into a contemporary context,” says Standefer, and the same idea informed the event. “It’s kind of a heady thing to say about a cocktail party, but it’s a philosophical underpinning to everything we do.”

Afternoon light in the living room. The wool shearling throw on the couch is from the Roman and Williams Guild’s new Bloesem Haus collection and the glass vase, also sold through the Guild, is by Hyunsung Cho. Photography by David Chow.

As the sun began to set, 19th-century-inspired glass oil lamps designed by the couple illuminated each room along with tall, reed-like candles originally made by Alesch for Standefer as a birthday present and later produced for the Guild. A deep purple color scheme extended from the drinks to the desserts. “There’s so much uniformity right now with lightness and beiges. We wanted a little more flavor and a little more richness,” says Standefer. Perhaps because of the lighting and the hour, the gathering didn’t reach the level of warn-the-neighbors rowdiness the pair’s parties sometimes have in the past. But per tradition, as guests started to head out — on this occasion around 8 p.m. — Alesch and Standefer began chopping a hulking wheel of Parmesan, which had earlier served as a centerpiece, into chunks for guests to take home with them. “We like a dramatic presentation,” says Standefer, “but we don’t like to waste food.”

The attendees: Alesch, 58, and Standefer, 59, invited a mix of both longtime friends — such as the fashion designer Maria Cornejo, 60; the hotelier and restaurateur Sean MacPherson, 60; and his wife, Rachelle Hruska, 40, the founder of the fashion brand Lingua Franca — and Roman and Williams employees and collaborators, including the food stylist Alison Attenborough, 61; the stylist and art director Colin King, 35; and the florist Alex Crowder, 35, of the studio Field Studies Flora. There were also some first-time guests in the crowd, like the fashion designer Daniella Kallmeyer, 37, and Jess Shadbolt, 40, the chef and co-founder of the New York restaurant King. The idea was to invite enough people to fill the space, but not so many that the hosts couldn’t have meaningful conversations with each one of them.

No inch of the apartment was left undecorated. Photography by David Chow.

The table: “To us, a party is like a 3-D still life,” says Standefer. “It’s the paintings we love coming to life.” Drawing inspiration from old masters, the hosts covered the dining room table with silver flatware, handmade ceramic vessels, jewel-like cut glassware and finger foods. Various cheeses, as well as Muscat and Concord grapes; loaves of miche bread and demi-baguettes, which had a lace motif stenciled on them; and quince from Standefer and Alesch’s orchard in Montauk on Long Island were placed among them. Scattered throughout were floral arrangements by Crowder, who sourced everything she used, including chrysanthemums, cauliflower and purple kale, from within 150 miles of New York City. Here and there were trompe l’oeil marzipan sweets from Brooklyn’s Fortunato Brothers bakery in the shape of sardines, plums, oranges, figs, quince and grapes. A large black beetle, which appeared to crawl up the side of the Parmesan was, however, an actual preserved bug.

On the kitchen counter, poached pears and assorted desserts by the chef Marie-Aude Rose served on stands by Tomoko Sakai (left) and footed platters by Yukiko Wada (right), both for Bloesem Haus. Photograpphy by David Chow.
Baked scallops on the half shell with amaranth, dill and pink peppercorn. Photography by David Chow.
Homemade herbed flatbread crackers. Photography by David Chow.

The drinks: Carl Boltz, 34, the head bartender at La Mercerie and its new Guild Bar, oversaw the offerings. He poured guests Fly by Night cocktails — Alesch and Standefer’s take on a classic Aviation — with crème de violette, Champagne and brandied cherries. For a nonalcoholic alternative, he made punch with Italian plums, blackberries, Concord grapes and purple sage. Purple and dark pink roses were placed in every glass. But the most dramatic touch was the champagne buckets that Standefer had made from solid ice — one of her signature party tricks. Frozen into them were flowers and leaves that gradually emerged as the vessels melted.

A floral arrangement by Crowder, which she described as a “deconstructed Christmas tree,” and two of Standefer’s ice Champagne buckets. Photograph by David Chow.
The kitchen sink also served as a giant ice bucket. Photography by David Chow.

The music: “I always wanted Miles Davis to be a guest at the holiday party,” says Standefer. She settled for a playlist featuring Davis, as well as the jazz saxophonist Stan Getz. Later in the evening, it was Alesch who provided the soundtrack, playing a few chords he’d recently learned on the couple’s newly acquired piano.

Standefer talking with her guests. Photograph by David Chow.
A champagne glass by Haruya Hiroshima. Photograph by David Chow.
From left to right: the fashion designer Rachelle Hruska, Standefer, the hotelier and restaurateur Sean MacPherson, Alesch and Daphne Javits. Photograph by David Chow.

The conversation: Given the abundance of visual details, conversations inevitably sounded something like a game of “I Spy.” King, who has worked with Standefer for years, learned the hard way just how conscious she is of every inch of a space. “The first time I was on set with Robin, there was a console I was styling, and she opened it and was like, ‘Why didn’t you style the inside of the drawers?’” he recalls with a laugh. “I didn’t even think to! It was just a still photo.” Standefer’s previous life as a production designer — she and Alesch met on a movie set in 1992 — had made her ready for any kind of improvisation.

An entertaining tip: “We like things that are difficult,” says Alesch. “Cookbooks and entertaining tips are almost always shortcuts. But when you’re finished with something difficult and time-consuming, you feel a great sense of satisfaction and joy.” Standefer nods in agreement. “Our guests can see that we put a lot of care into creating a meaningful, memorable experience,” she says. “And seeing the joy on their faces makes me so happy.”

A Romantic Mexico City Dinner to Toast a Growing Fashion Brand

How the designer Olivia Villanti, of the line Chava Studio, threw a party and a collection launch that felt sophisticated yet low key.

Article by Michael Snyder

27-TMAG-CHAVA-STUDIO-DINNER-6The vegetarian meal by chef Elena Reygadas came to the table on earthenware plates. Photography by Ana Topoleanu.

In the summer of 2022, the clothing designer Olivia Villanti passed seven weeks driving through France, Switzerland, Italy, Croatia and Montenegro with her husband, Guillaume Guevara, an entrepreneur, and their young son. While on the trip, she would spend most weekends scavenging flea markets, picking out shirts with details like an elegant cutaway collar or an unusual cuff stitched to fold back without cuff links. When the couple returned home to Mexico City, where Guevara, 41, grew up and where they moved in 2020 after 16 years together in New York, Villanti, also 41, unpacked several duffels of old clothes and began designing the latest (and largest) collection for her nearly three-year-old made-to-order women’s wear line, Chava Studio.

Before leaving the United States, Villanti had worked for years in marketing departments at large international brands. “I was trying to reach these enormous sales goals,” she says, “and I was so unhappy.” In Mexico City, where Guevara’s uncle Bruno Gilly Armand had for years supplied boutique men’s tailors with imported cottons and wools, Villanti started envisioning garments of her own using deadstock fabrics. She hoped to incorporate into women’s clothing “these elements that belonged, traditionally, to the world of men’s tailoring,” she says, “these small details” — like double vents on jackets, or functional cuffs — “that women just don’t get.” Since that first collection, Villanti, who handles the brand’s design, sourcing and customer service and works closely with a team of seamstresses out of Gilly’s studio, has been constantly immersed in production. By last summer, the business was established enough that she could consider not just her company’s future — “Chava will always be small,” she says, and always in partnership with local workshops — but also its past. To celebrate both, she decided to plan a dinner.

A dinner hosted by the designer Olivia Villanti at the event and co-working space Proyecto Público Prim in Mexico City. Photography by Ana Topoleanu.

Held on a brisk March night, the event would serve as an informal launch for the new collection — with its slick, nip-waist tuxedo coat and shawl-collared vest in eggshell linen — as well as a tribute to the friends, family members and colleagues who have made the business a success. As the sun set around 6:30, Villanti and Guevara opened the doors at Proyecto Público Prim, an early 20th-century mansion in the central neighborhood of Colonia Juarez. Built in 1906 and occupied by a long line of owners before being abandoned for some twenty years late last century, the house has undergone a series of sensitive restorations over the past decade. With its gracious central courtyard and labyrinth of secondary rooms, its grand split staircase, cracked plaster walls and profusion of plants, the structure today exudes the old-world sprezzatura that has always animated Villanti’s line. “It’s just romantic,” she says, “and I think Chava is romantic — tailoring is romantic.”

By nightfall, guests from New York, Los Angeles, Guadalajara and Mexico City — including the designer Mariana Villeda, who has collaborated with Villanti through her embroidery collective, Jauja, based in the rural community of Temoaya, and the writer and curator Su Wu, who opened her home in the Roma neighborhood for the brand’s first trunk show — had found their seats at a long rectangular table set for 34 attendees with scallop-edged dishware by the Mexico City-based ceramist Perla Valtierra. In lieu of place cards, there were napkins made from leftover scraps of linen from Chava’s studio monogrammed with each guest’s initials.

The table was set with handmade dishware by Mexico City-based ceramist Perla Valtierra. Photography by Ana Topoleanu.
The main course of sweet potato ravioli with sage. Photography by Ana Topoleanu.

Soon after, marbled wheat-and-corn bread arrived with rochers of butter tinted the color of chestnuts by ground chicatanas, or flying ants. Next came several salads served on raw earthenware: Apples, cranberries and grapefruit filled tangled nests of shaved fennel while a crumble of Ocosingo cheese from the southern state of Chiapas enlivened jewel-toned mounds of tomatillo, nopal, fava beans, black beans, peas and eggplant. All served family style and created by the local chef Elena Reygadas, who owns the restaurant Rosetta among other places in town, these dishes — as well as the individually plated sweet potato ravioli main and dessert of poached pears with tarragon and elderflowers — emphasized the profusion of fruits and vegetables used widely in Mexican cuisine.

As the plates came out, Villanti stood to make a toast with a glass of sparkling wine from the foothills of the Italian Alps. “Guillaume always compares a small business to a small glass, filling it drop by drop,” she told her guests. “Some of those drops are bigger, some are smaller, but they’re all essential.” Here’s how she turned what she’d initially conceived as a small dinner into a larger event that, nonetheless, felt special and intimate.

A dessert of poached pears garnished with elderflowers. Photography by Ana Topoleanu.

Focus on the Parts of Entertaining You Enjoy

Villanti prefers to invest her time, whenever possible, in the elements of her work that energize her. With Chava, that’s design, production and customer service rather than packaging and logistics; for her dinner, it was arranging a playlist. “We welcomed everyone with Gustavo Pena and Los Panchos” — respectively, an Uruguayan songwriter and the Mexican and Puerto Rican trio whose boleros traversed the Americas beginning in the 1940s — “then dined with Brian Eno and Helado Negro and finished the night with Sharon Jones, Fela Kuti and Juan Gabriel,” the designer says. To keep conversation flowing, she introduced people before dinner began and arranged the seating to encourage new relationships while ensuring that everyone was also close enough to someone more familiar.

Allow Yourself to Be Outshone

No one should feel uncomfortable at a party, neither over- nor underdressed, which is why Villanti wanted to keep her own look both elegant and slightly “undone,” she says. For the dinner, she wore the tuxedo jacket and pants from Chava’s new collection, made in collaboration with the tailor Edmundo Hernandez (based outside the city of Puebla), sizing up the pant for a looser silhouette. She had on “a beloved white T-shirt that’s been in my closet forever” beneath, left her hair down and applied very little makeup — finding common ground between people who came dressed up and those who’d opted for something more low key.

Villanti, dressed in a tuxedo jacket from Chava’s latest collection, thanks her guests and collaborators as food arrives at the table. Photography by Ana Topoleanu.
Serving the majority of the meal family style was an essential part of the dinner’s emphasis on celebrating community. Photography by Ana Topoleanu.

Keep Everything Relaxed

For all the grandeur of Proyecto Público Prim, which often hosts events like weddings and art fairs, it was important to Villanti that the evening remain informal, in keeping with not only her own aesthetic but also that of the city, which is known for its openness and warmth. Arrangements of eucalyptus and silver dollar wreathed in mauve clusters of amaranth were deliberately sparse — there were only three on the table — so as not to obstruct sightlines or conversation. Villanti also set out lots of handmade candles in a range of shapes and sizes to foster a sense of spontaneity and ease.

Let Your Guests Get Involved

Though Villanti isn’t a natural delegator, she found that including friends and guests in the process of organizing the dinner brought them as much joy as it brought her peace of mind. As the hour approached to open the venue, the New York-based photographer Clémence Polès put together the flower arrangements while Guevara hung mood boards for the collection (created by the Los Angeles-based creative director Johanna Langford, a regular Chava collaborator) from fishing wire.

Take Moments Alone

Hosting is demanding, not just in the planning but in the execution, requiring constant engagement. For Villanti, stepping back every so often for a few quiet minutes in a dark corner was “a great way to recharge and be more present,” she says. Standing at the periphery of her own party allowed her to watch as her guests, who came from different places and different worlds, created new bonds, expanding the community that brought them there in the first place.

The Best Party Games for Adults

Charades is a given. But have you ever played it with Samuel L. Jackson?

Article by T Australia

5-TMAG-ADULT-PARTY-GAMES-2Known for throwing lively parties, the designer Halston (second from left) and the actor and muse Pat Ast (center) entertained friends at Halston’s New York City studio in 1972. Photography by Ron Galella, via Getty Images.

A good party game has the power to resuscitate a dull evening or elevate an already exciting one. Arguably a better social lubricant than alcohol, it can make new friends of relative strangers. And though there’s nothing wrong with a few rounds of Trivial Pursuit, here are some suggestions from hosts and guests for slightly more elaborate diversions.


For the past 40 years, the director and actor LaTanya Richardson Jackson, 73, and her husband, the actor Samuel L. Jackson, 73, have hosted game night on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. Charades is the household favourite but, because of the intensity with which they play it, the game has “morphed into something that scares people,” says Richardson Jackson. Onlookers are not allowed, so anyone who shows up to see what the fuss is about must participate, and “people come armed now with the encyclopeadia,” she says, to stump others with their obscure picks.

Untitled (“Reveal a Secret”)

“I force everyone to reveal a secret about themselves,” says the Lagos, Nigeria-based writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 45. “And invariably I want it to be about their sex lives. It doesn’t always work. Usually, the first person says, ‘Oh no, come on.’ Then the second person says, ‘Well, I did this once…’ And suddenly everyone’s laughing.”

Leopold Kupelwieser’s “Party Game of the Schubertians in Atzenbrugg” (1821). Courtesy Wien Museum Austria.


Named after the main train loop in central Tokyo, Yamanote involves saying the names of the stations on the line in order, so if one person says “Shibuya,” the next person has to say “Ebisu,” and so on. “If you make a mistake, you have to drink,” says the Tokyo-based fashion designer Tomo Koizumi, 34. “It’s fun to play when you’re drunk.”


The name means “scraps of paper,” and it’s a game that the Mexico City-based chef and restaurant owner Mercedes Bernal, 34, has played since middle school. (In the U.S., the same game is called Celebrity or Fishbowl.) Guests split up into two or three teams, depending on the size of the party, and every person writes down the name of a celebrity — or a fictional character — on a piece of paper and drops it in a hat. A player then draws a slip of paper, which only they read, and the game begins. Papelitos is played in three rounds, with teams getting one minute per round to guess whose name is written on the paper. During the first round, the player who picked the paper can use as many words to describe the celebrity or fictional character as possible, as long as they never say the person’s name. “So if it’s Marilyn Monroe, you can say, ‘Blonde actress from the 1950s,’” explains Bernal. In the second round, the player is allowed to say just one word (e.g., “blonde” or “bombshell”). In the third round, there is no speaking whatsoever — just acting. “It’s kind of like Charades, but more difficult,” says Bernal. “My friends hate playing anything with me because I’m so competitive.”


Halo Kaya Perez-Gallardo, 34, the chef and owner of Lil’ Deb’s Oasis in Hudson, New York, believes this game is a real icebreaker. How it works: The host (or judge) picks someone in the room but doesn’t say their name out loud. “It’s the responsibility of everyone else to ask questions that build the profile of that person’s essence,” explains Perez-Gallardo. “It’s subtle. You’re not asking, ‘What would this person buy at the grocery store?’ but more like, ‘If this person were a time of day, would it be dawn, just as the sun is rising, or noon, when it’s beating down on the earth?’ Or, ‘What Mario Kart character would this person’s essence be?’” The round continues until everyone in the room has asked an essence question. Then, on the count of three, they all say the name of the person they think it is out loud at the same time. The person who was profiled then becomes the next judge. “I love playing it with strangers,” Perez-Gallardo says, “because it’s a really beautiful way to get to know someone.”

James Baldwin dancing at a party in New Orleans, 1963. Photography courtesy of Steve Schapiro/Corbis/Getty Images.

Truth, Dare, Mystery Shot

“I don’t know how sick or juvenile this will make me sound, but Truth, Dare, Mystery Shot is a perverse party game that I invented in my twenties,” says the Brooklyn-based author and musician Michelle Zauner, a.k.a. Japanese Breakfast, 33. “It involved some pretty awful truths and dares. The mystery shot — if you were brave enough to opt for that — was a shot [glass] that all of the guests would fill with whatever was in the kitchen: leftover mint liqueur, ketchup, things like that. Not many of us are brave enough to do it anymore.”


In each round of Mafia, a role-playing game that the Seoul- and New York City-based fashion designer Terrence Kim, 35, recently played with his co-workers on a camping trip in Gapyeong, South Korea, the “Mafioso” or “Mafiosi” choose one victim to kill; the “doctor” saves one person they believe the mobsters will target; and the “police officer” gets one stab at guessing the identity of the criminal or criminals — which only the host and the criminals know. The objective is to test one another’s deductive reasoning skills. “Everyone does what they can to survive,” says Kim. “It was interesting to see the conniving side of my employees.”

Untitled (“Face Off”)

“I’m known for tearing my face off at dinner,” says the U.K.-based performance artist Elliot Joseph Rentz, a.k.a. Alexis Stone, 29, who often wears movie-grade prosthetics when impersonating celebrities such as Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand, the socialite Jocelyn Wildenstein and, most notably, Robin Williams’s Mrs. Doubtfire. After Rentz has finished eating his meal (“I have to eat to think”), the artist likes to turn to the person sitting beside him and instruct them to pinch his chin and nose and pull firmly and steadily toward them until the whole facade falls away, revealing his real face underneath. For a more traditional party game, Stone likes “Cards Against Humanity.” In each round, players are prompted to fill in a blank or answer a question using cards that have offensive or taboo phrases written on them. The judge for that round then reads the cards aloud and chooses a winner. Says Rentz, “It’s definitely a ‘let’s turn the phones off and leave them by the front door in a bowl’ situation when that game comes out.”

Reporting by Jason Chen, Michiyo Nakamoto, Juan A. Ramírez, Coco Romack, Laura May Todd and John Wogan.