About two weeks ago as we walked onto the plane to find our seats there was something very different about this flight than any other I had been on. Rather than the overhead compartments filling up with small suitcases, the bins began to fill up with large colorful boxes. Yes- hatboxes! People opted to put their luggage below in the plane to keep their hatboxes safe for one very special reason, it was Derby Weekend! And if the hatboxes hadn’t tipped us off, as soon as we stepped foot in the Louisville airport we were greeted with live music, bourbon balls, and red roses galore. This year at the Kentucky Derby I had the incredible opportunity to collaborate with a number of teams on one of the most amazing experiences in my career.
During the time that I lived in Columbus I got to meet the wonderful Chenalt James of Chenalt James Interiors. Recently Chenalt’s roots have pulled her back to Louisville, Kentucky where much of her family still resides. And as I found out very quickly, it is pronounced LOU-a-vul, not LOU-iss-vill. Chenalt and her two sisters, Louise and Carrie, are fourth generation Van Winkles, of the Rip Van Winkle Bourbon Empire. The sisters have founded Pappy & Co, a line of bourbon inspired products to share the passion and dedication that their Great Grandfather “Pappy” embodied. Through my friendship with Chenalt and her family I was invited to collaborate on the Derby Party of the year, a party to recreate the great Van Winkle parties of the past. My collaboration with Chenalt James Interiors, Pappy & Co, Kat McCall Papers, Lisa Bailey, and others led to the incredible experience that I had at the Derby this year that I cannot wait to share with you all!
In the 1930’s the Van Winkle family began hosting what Life Magazine then called “Mint Julep Parties” before the derby in the afternoon. Mrs. “Pappy” Van Winkle was the ideal hostess, providing an exquisite menu and of course plenty of mint juleps to go around in glistening silver cups. She would pick fresh flowers for the occasion in her yard and one year came across a four-leaf clover. After sending the clover and a couple of mint juleps across the street to the racetrack for a visiting neighbor’s horse, with instructions to put the clover under the saddle for good luck, the horse defied great odds to win the race. The next day, the entire horseshoe of red roses was sent across the street to Mrs. Van Winkle. The legend of the clover and also her love of all things coral colored was a great inspiration to the party that the sisters threw this year.
We had the privilege of staying in an incredible Kentucky home with a number of old and new friends and because we arrived a few days before the Derby, we got to see everything that goes on around Churchill Downs before the big event. On Thursday- or Thurby, as it is known in the area, we awoke early for a tour of the track where under a perfect sunrise we got to watch the trainers prepare. For most of our events we fly in flowers from all over the world and the Derby was no exception. With peonies and tulips coming in from Holland and of course roses flying in from South America we headed to the airport that afternoon to pick up our flowers. While there we happened to see Air Horse One, yes Air Horse One! It was quite the experience to watch the horses unload from their private jets. All throughout the days leading up to Saturday we continued to collaborate with our wonderful team in great anticipation for the Derby!
Finally, the greatest day in the year of the Kentuckian had arrived. We were all brought to tears as My Old Kentucky Home was sang across Churchill Downs and in homes all across the state. All of our collaboration had let up to the brunch which was held at the sister’s parent’s home, right next door to the old “Pappy” Van Winkle Home! Guest’s invites had been sent out weeks before with coral details and the famed clover image from great collaboration with Kat McCall Papers. The menu was a wonderful tribute to the parties of the past with classic dishes such as beaten biscuits made especially by Chenalt’s dad and aunt, Bennidictine spread, bourbon balls, and of course the party would not have been complete without sweet ice-cold mint juleps. One of the party’s most incredible details was the use of “Pappy” Van Winkles actual silver for the mint juleps! The party was the perfect start to a wonderful day in the rolling hills of Kentucky. Collaboration with Pappy & Co, Chenalt James Interiors, Kat McCall Papers, Chef Michael Crouch, Jess Graves, Lisa Bailey, The Wooks, Bartender Kyle Higgins, and many others made this event a highlight of my career!
Through our incredible collaboration with so many wonderful friends, recreating this event of the year was such a wonderful experience. The party was a great success and watching the Derby with great friends afterwards let us experience all the Derby Weekend had to offer. We love doing events for friends and clients and the Derby Party was no exception!