A Hollywood Party Planner Who Isn’t Instagram-obsessed

Marielle Wakim, The New York Times
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Yifat Oren, an event planner for the rich and famous, at a backyard party she is hosting in Los Angeles, July 21, 2017.
Yifat Oren, an event planner for the rich and famous, at a backyard party she is hosting in Los Angeles, July 21, 2017.Credit: Laura Austin/The New York Times
Marielle Wakim, The New York Times

LOS ANGELES — As the evening sky faded to bluish white, Yifat Oren, 45, surveyed her handiwork. “Don’t light the candles just yet,” the event producer said to one of her assistants. “We need to wait for the wind to die down.” Another assistant was sent to fetch the seating chart for a quick rearrangement.

In only half an hour 50 or so guests, including the Los Angeles restaurateur Jon Shook and his wife, the “UnREAL” actress Shiri Appleby; a founder of Baby2Baby, Norah Weinstein; the celebrity interior designer Molly Isaksen; and the actress Natasha Gregson Wagner, would arrive for a backyard soiree held in the Hancock Park neighborhood. The party was being given by Ms. Oren in conjunction with two close friends, the jewelry designer Lena Wald and an owner of Andy Lecompte salon, Leanne Citrone, who offered up her Tudor-style abode for the occasion.

For Ms. Oren, a party is never fully planned; she makes tweaks and changes until the lights go up and the band stops playing. “She sweats the details like there’s no tomorrow,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former longtime chief executive of DreamWorks Animation who started WndrCo, a new Hollywood venture. Mr. Katzenberg hired Ms. Oren to plan both of his children’s weddings. “I love how unflappable she was,” he said in an email, adding, “Given the circumstances and the customers, that’s pretty herculean.” At the wedding last summer in Florence, Italy, of David and Stellina Katzenberg, guests like Nicole Richie sat at banquette tables adorned with pink and purple flowers, beneath a canopy of lights.

Ms. Oren is one in an elite class of event planners based in Los Angeles whose services are commissioned by the rich and famous. Unlike some of her contemporaries, though, she hasn’t courted much press attention and doesn’t often promote her work on social media. In an era in which the number of double-taps a business garners on Instagram is a measure of its success, she is somewhat blasé about it all. Her business, Oren Co., has just over 4,000 Instagram followers — significantly fewer than other event planners like Sharon Sacks (more than 27,000 followers) or Mindy Weiss (over 179,000), who were behind the nuptials of Kim Kardashian to Kanye West and Ellen DeGeneres to Portia de Rossi, respectively. Ms. Oren’s inconspicuousness has positioned her as an ally for clients who don’t want coverage of their parties, such as Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston.

A centerpiece at a backyard party hosted by Yifat Oren, an event planner for the rich and famous, in Los Angeles, July 21, 2017.Credit: Laura Austin/The New York Times

The event in Ms. Citrone’s backyard was for Ms. Oren a personal affair, a birthday party turned excuse to gather with friends, whom Ms. Oren rarely sees because of the nights-and-weekends nature of her work. Peach begonias, fig branches and honey-scented candles lined two long wooden tables, each set with custom runners and napkins made by the former fashion designer Gregory Parkinson (who was, of course, in attendance).

In lieu of place cards, first names were handwritten on the table in a coral chalk script. At one end of the yard were fresh-cut peaches, sliced prosciutto and crusty baguettes accompanied by a pile of French Normandy butter; over by the pool, the Hollywood Farmers’ Market’s resident “oyster guy” stood over a trough of ice, shucking. “I don’t want to go to a dinner and have it look like a Pinterest party,” Ms. Oren said with a shrug.

She was born in Tel Aviv but spent the majority of her formative years here in the San Fernando Valley. Early in her career she worked in catering; some patrons of the (now-defunct) company took note of her meticulousness and hired her to plan bar mitzvahs and weddings on the side. She fell into the business she was meant to be in. “I was pretty O.C.D. to begin with,” she said.

Every good Los Angeles story has a big break. Ms. Oren’s came in 2001 when she landed Jason Bateman’s wedding to Amanda Anka (though pre-“Arrested Development”). Three years later she found herself at Kevin Costner’s Colorado ranch arranging the actor’s nuptials to Christine Baumgartner (though post-“Waterworld”). Still. A celebrity is a celebrity regardless of where they land on the bell curve of fame.

Yifat Oren, an event planner for the rich and famous, at a backyard party she is hosting in Los Angeles, July 21, 2017.Credit: Laura Austin/The New York Times

As Hollywood types dipped into their Rolodex on Ms. Oren’s behalf, her acolytes skewed more notable: Reese Witherspoon, Anne Hathaway, Donna Langley, Mariska Hargitay, Drew Barrymore, Adam Levine, Natalie Portman, George Lucas and Mellody Hobson.

The list goes on. Try cajoling names out of Ms. Oren, though, and she’ll deflect. (She says her events end up in the tabloids only when stars or their guests share information of their own accord.) With clients dropping a minimum of $2,000 per guest, no precaution is too outrageous: code names, confidentiality agreements, casual espionage. Whatever prevents the paparazzi from showing up with long lenses.

“She is not someone who just plans for people,” Ms. Barrymore said in an email. “She is reliable and respected. She’s tough, and you know she’s got your back.”

Ms. Oren has 10 people on her staff full time, though she will sometimes bring on up to 40 part-time employees depending on a party’s scope. (Earlier this year, Ms. Oren filed a lawsuit against a former employee, one she had promoted to managing partner, after their business relationship dissolved. The suit is being arbitrated.)

A table at a backyard party hosted by Yifat Oren, an event planner for the rich and famous, in Los Angeles, July 21, 2017.Credit: Laura Austin/The New York Times

The parties may take place in the middle of a desert, in an art gallery or on a private yacht. Sometimes events have themes (“One of our favorite clients had a New Year’s Eve party and was like, ‘Let’s do a little Marie Antoinette situation,’” Ms. Oren said), but most are an extension of the customer. “The more you know about them, the more you know about the type of event they’d throw,” she said. “Are these people who would go to Tangier or Istanbul? Tulum or Cabo? What kind of hotels do they stay in? I take in what they wear, I look how they decorate their house.”

Ms. Oren’s clients often have sizable requests, but it helps that they usually have the budget to match. One three-day “Bohemian Burning Man”-inspired event in Mexico required her to hire a team of local macramé artisans. In planning a bar mitzvah for twins, she had mirror images of their silhouettes printed onto invitations, custom guitar picks and the two sides of a Ping-Pong table. “If I had to do the same thing over and over again in three of the same hotel ballrooms or ugly country clubs, this would not be appealing,” she said.

Maha Dakhil and Michael Kives, both agents at Creative Artists Agency, hired Ms. Oren to work with the agency’s in-house events group to produce its Oscar party. “On our first phone call, she declared that our party needed to be held at Kayne Griffin Corcoran gallery,” Mr. Kives said of Ms. Oren in an email. “People are still talking about how she turned each room into a different sensation.”

Ms. Oren is not a yes-person. “We would have an idea, and Yifat would be quick to tell us we were wrong,” Ms. Dakhil said. “She is so assertive about her vision, and her confidence gave us great confidence.”

The dinner held in Ms. Citrone’s backyard was low key by Ms. Oren’s standards, but had a celebratory spirit. “My whole thing is celebrating life,” she said. “Every year something happens. Someone gets sick, or God forbid, someone gets divorced or dies. So here it is, another summer, and I’m so happy I get to do this. I just love a good party.”

Five Tips for Giving a Summer Party

Yifat Oren, secon­d from right­, an event plann­er for the rich and famou­s, at her backy­ard party in Los Angel­es, July 21, 2017. Credit: Laura Austin/The New York Times

LIGHT IT UP Candles are not enough. “You have to do some sort of lighting outside. The simplest is string lights — buy them at Home Depot, Amazon Prime them, whatever you need to do,” Ms. Oren said.

PLAY HOST “To really be a wonderful host, receive your guests, greet them — and put a cocktail in their hand.”

HAVE A MENU STRATEGY “If you’re not going to hire a caterer, put a menu together that’s room-temp. Then you’re not going to freak out about the timing.”

RAISE A GLASS “At some point you have to reel it in and give a good toast. You don’t have to be very formal, but clink your glasses, thank people, be a gracious human. Be jovial and anecdotal, but do not go on and on.”

TAKE A SEAT “I love a good seated dinner. I’m really big on seating the right people together: who can bring out the best in each other? And don’t let dinner go on too long. No one likes to be stuck at the table. Finish and get the party started.”

A backy­ard party throw­n by Yifat Oren, an event plann­er for the rich and famou­s, in Los Angel­es, July 21, 2017.Credit: Laura Austin/The New York Times