This Is What It Looks Like When Fashion Girls Throw a Backyard Dinner Party
Many moving parts have to come together to create a truly magical evening. On one serendipitous summer night in Amagansett, the fashion world came together to create a memorable event that would remain etched in the memories of the guests for years to come.
It all started years ago, when Athena Calderone, interior designer, home chef, entertaining expert, and founder of EyeSwoon, needed a dress for an event at her home in the Hamptons—which Australian brand Zimmermann graciously offered. This first encounter started the friendship that blossomed into a love affair between the fashion brand and the entertaining maven.
So when Zimmermann was looking for a place in the Hamptons to launch its Resort 2018 collection, it was only natural to turn to Calderone. From there, the stylish host doubled down on creativity and style to create a real-life fairy tale—much to the delight of the A-listers present.
Take note: Calderone runs us through the evening and what it takes to host a fashion insider–approved dinner party.
"I have always been a fan of Zimmermann. [The brand's] feminine silhouettes are just beautiful and perfectly suited for summer," says the hostess. "As a matter of fact, for the very first dinner I hosted at my home here in Amagansett four summers ago, it was Zimmermann that dressed me for that event, and that really was how [the brand and I] developed a relationship and affection for one another via Instagram, so in a way, I have very much come full circle."
"Nicky and Simone [Zimmermann] really offered me free creative freedom for the design and execution of the dinner; they really put a lot of trust in me," says Calderone. "I asked them to share with me their mood board for the resort collection. They shared fabric samples and sketches, which really informed the overall vibe and palette of the event. There was a pattern for a dress with a white creamy base that offered a black hand-painted brush-mark effect that led way to the initial invitation using the same pattern. This very same pattern was re-created and hand-painted in pink for the menu for the night."
The marriage of Zimmermann's beachy Australian ethos and the carefree nature of the Hamptons backdrop worked out like a charm: "Because the Zimmermann palette from the resort collection offered crisp whites, pale pinks, and blues, and since the brand DNA is rooted in a beach-focused sensibility (coming from Australia), I felt that this controlled palette would fit beautifully for summer in the Hamptons, as these really are the colors of summer, from the sand to the sky and everything in between."
On the evening of the dinner, guests were greeted with a rhubarb basil margarita and small bites from Poppy's Catering: "A rhubarb basil margarita is the perfect signature cocktail that balances both savory and sweet components, as well as using the best of what's in season," says Calderone. "Plus, I love tequila, so we knew that would be the base of the cocktail (it just gets the party going), and rhubarb offered the perfect balance of sweet and bitter. And let's face it, the pink hue certainly fit the overall colour palette. The natural pink colour is from simmering the rhubarb into a simple syrup. And [I chose] the West Elm ribbed glassware they were served because I love how textured glass picks up sunlight and candlelight reflecting and refracting light beautifully on the table."
"I wanted the food to be served family-style to express a casual beachy vibe," says Calderone. "Also, with fresh, clean flavours. I called upon my dear friend, Jamie of Poppy's Catering, and together we worked on creating a hyper-seasonal menu. The first course was a beet and tomato salad. Beets and tomatoes are perfect for a June menu. Still lingering on the spring's bounty and just starting to ripen into summer. We paired the tomatoes and beets over a whipped feta and topped with pistachios for a crunch and nutty flavour. We also loved adding pea shoots as the perfect garnish."
The family-style dinner ensued with a variety of delicious seasonal dishes: "For the dinner, we paired the Black Sea bass with a zesty lime yogurt and topped it with a shaved fennel and radish slaw. The grilled hanger steak was drizzled with salsa verde and had shaved cucumber and rhubarb for garnish. More lime zest brightened up the grilled local vegetable platters packed with zucchini, squash, carrots, and string beans. And finally, a favorite spring potato salad served with hot pink watermelon radishes, pickled mustard seeds, and dill."
And to top everything off, a nod to the brand's Australian heritage: "To finish, we took a nod from Zimmermann being an Australian brand, and did an Aussie favourite of strawberry pavlovas with crème fraîche and elderflowers."
Calderone didn't have to look very far to find inspiration for her tablescape: "Taking note of the colours from the sea and sky and sand at the beach, I made the risky decision to not use florals for the tablescape and instead turned to the seashells as the focal point," she says. "I chose to have white linen as the base for my table and worked together with Rough Linen on both a torn frayed edge tablecloth and napkins both in a very lightweight linen. I worked together with West Elm using its new plate collection that is white with a very subtle edge of a warmer sandy tone, which softened the look. The brand's rosy copper flatware also picked up the subtle pink hue found throughout the tablescape. And for the menus, I worked together with a super-talented calligrapher named Meret to re-create that Zimmermann fabric pattern, but this time in pink."
"I wanted pink to be an undercurrent tone to the dinner, picking up that hue in the seashells, but I did not want it to be too precious," says the host. "At first, I planned to use pink linen napkins but quickly realised that white would be far more understated and elegant. The touch of hand-painted pink in the menu was just enough. Varying sizes of pillar candles offered a touch of height to the table. To add to the romanticism, I wanted to create some intimacy for the dinner, to contain us all within an enclave. I really was unsure if the canopy that I created would feel elegant and beachy or like a wedding and an oversize chuppa—but I'm happy the final design proved to be the former. The billowy fabric gently cascading down ways and swaying in the wind did add to the romanticism and drama of the dinner. And the large lantern was really another decision made exclusively from a point of not wanting to repeat myself since I have used twinkly string lists in the past."
Zimmermann's Resort collection served as the jumping-off point for the entire theme of the dinner: "The actual collection, fabric, and patterns led way to every design choice for the dinner. I just love digging into a brand's DNA and letting that inform any and all creative decisions. The inspiration was abundant, I did not need to look very far for beauty. The brand is certainly symbiotic to my own with the essence of quality, beauty, and sophistication but still with an undercurrent of beach bohemian. There was a clear synergy and mutual appreciation for what we each do. This was a dream partnership and really kicked off the summer season perfectly."
The idea for the dinner itself came about in an equally serendipitous manner: "I don't think Nicky and Simone [Zimmermann] come to the states very often, and since they would be in NYC for their resort show, the timing just seems to work perfectly to come out to the beach for the weekend for an added bonus," says Calderone. "Malcolm is a dear friend and neighbour in Amagansett and also works together with the Zimmermann ladies, so it really was he who pitched the idea to the ladies. Unbeknownst to him, we already knew and swooned over one another, so the idea really took off from there."
The guest list featured a mix of old friends from various walks of life, fashion A-listers, and Hamptons locals: "Katie Lee, who I sat next to, offered me massive amounts of advice for my upcoming cookbook. We also had Pilar Guzman of Condé Nast Traveler and her husband Chris Mitchell of Vanity Fair (whose vintage pale green jeep lent way to some fan and fab pics). There was Selby Drummond of Vogue, Casey Fremont of Art Production Fund, Bettina Prentice, and bloggers Danielle Bernstein and Samantha Angelo. And my core crew of Amagansett and Montauk friends like Leilani Bishop, Rob McKinley, Jayma Cardoso [owner of The Surf Lodge], and Olie and Sacha Benz. And this one was the most important—of all of the events I have hosted over the years, my husband and son have never been to one of them, so having the two of them there meant the world to me."
Calderone's most memorable moment at the dinner happened during magical hour at sundown: "I stepped away from the dinner as the sky was turning that magical midnight blue and walked to the back of the yard to see everyone engaging and enjoying the night under the canopy with the white fabric ever so slightly blowing in the wind and the lanterns reflecting in the surface of the pool. It simply took my breath away," she says. "As you can imagine, so much thought, creating, and preparation goes into an event of this scale, so it was an intimate moment filled with pride and a massive exhale."
Athena's Top 5 Entertaining Tips
- Wash and tumble-dry your linens in advance so that they felt slightly tousled, undone and beachy. This is also a great trick when your linens have fold marks—just dampen and place in the dryer to remove.
- First and foremost for designing a tablescape—pick a controlled colour theme, and stick to it. Carry those through from your florals, linens, and any other design statements.
- Also, a tip for custom menus: If working with a calligrapher is too costly, just have them do one menu and then reprint them—this is precisely what I did. Meret hand-wrote one menu on watercolor paper and we printed the rest.
- Another tip, pre-burn your candles, so they feel drippy and romantic. And use a lot of them; they offer the most flattering light to any scape.
- Creating a signature cocktail and a playlist for the night are two absolute essentials.
Beet, Tomato, and Citrus Salad With Whipped Feta and Pistachios From Poppy's Catering
Serves 4 to 6
Ingredients for Whipped Feta:
8 oz. feta, crumbled
2 oz. cream cheese
1 tbsp. heavy cream
Directions for Whipped Feta:
Combine all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth.
Ingredients for Salad:
2 red beets
2 golden and/or chioggia beets
2 cups tomatoes
1/2 cup supreme oranges and/or grapefruit
Salt and Pepper
1/2 cup chopped pistachios
Directions for Salad:
Roast the beets at 350 degrees in a shallow pan of water, and season with salt and pepper. Roast until tender and cooked through.
Cut the tomatoes into wedges—if using cherry tomatoes, cut in half. Supreme the citrus by cutting off tops and rind leaving only orb of flesh intact. Cut out the slices without the membrane.
Peel the cooked beets, and cut into wedges. Combine beets, tomatoes, and citrus together. Season the mixture with salt, pepper, and olive oil.
To serve, dollop whipped feta at bottom of bowl, and use a spoon to spread it up the sides. Place beet, tomato, citrus mix on top of whipped feta. Garnish with chopped pistachios (and beautiful greens or edible flowers for garnish).