How to put on the perfect elegant soirée
Jackie Gillies is the youngest – and most free-spirited – star of The Real Housewives of Melbourne. She’s the founder of ready-to-serve cocktail brand La Máscara, is a professional psychic and married to Silverchair drummer Ben Gillies. Susie Wilson runs South Yarra’s Antoinette Champagne Finishing School. She’s an etiquette expert and has just opened her own luxury beauty salon. Both ladies share one thing in common: their reputation for hosting fabulous, unforgettable parties.
But who does it better? In a world where home entertaining is becoming a lost art, we invited Jackie and Susie to Campari House to find out whether old school and formal trumps creative and carefree.
What’s your party personality?
Susie: I want to bring back the yesteryear that’s become so lost. I want the manners and the etiquette and the service.
Jackie: I’m very much about having fun – loud music, dancing and sexy waiters walking around.
What beverages do you greet your guests with?
Jackie: Cocktails obviously, but shots, too! Not all the way through the night, just to get the party started.
Susie: Shots? No darling, not at my parties. What would I say to my friends? “Shots, now?”
Jackie: You say, “Bang, it’s on!”
Susie: Well, maybe I’ll introduce shots then! I have Champagne, Cognac, punch and cocktails.
Whatever the size of the party, is there something you would never compromise on?
Jackie: I always make sure that nobody’s hungry. For Ben and I it’s about food, a lot of great alcohol, a lot of great people and live music.
Susie: If I’m hosting a party, whether it’s out or indoors, there’s always starched napkins. There’s an expectation because I’m an etiquette specialist and because I was brought up that way. If you’ve got a dinner party and things are just thrown on the table, what does one wear for that? A pair of – what?
How pre-planned are your parties?
Jackie: We always get party planners to do everything for us but we give them a theme. On Real Housewives, Ben and I had a Mexicanthemed party. We made sure the shots were waiting and the cocktails were flowing!
Susie: I have everything organised. I do rehearsals beforehand. I use a stopwatch and plan what time things arrive. I look at the staff from top to bottom: their shoes have to be polished. I have managers handpicked by me, who are accountable. Have you seen that movie The Devil Wears Prada? That is I. Nothing goes wrong, it’s just perfect.
Jackie: Rehearsals! I love that. I fi nd my parties are a bit more – well, our friends we hang with are rockers. They just walk in. I’ve never had a pre-rehearsal, but I might do that now. When you’re planning a sit-down dinner, where do you seat the guests?
Susie: Don’t seat couples together: separate them. It’s about pairing intellect with intellect, culture with culture. I would break the couples up so the guests can get to know each other.
Jackie: But as a host, you’ve got to be careful! Sometimes I’ve had people go, “I’m not sitting there” and I say, “you are sitting there!”
Susie: Yes, it’s a respect thing! They’ve got to respect that this is the way it is. But there is a right and wrong way of doing things.
Jackie: It is an art form. The people who haven’t lost it are the royals and other European princes.
Background ambience or life of the party?
Jackie: Rock music, of course! I’m also a big R’n’B fan, and I love Michael Jackson. We’ll get live music in as people are eating and drinking. It’s never too loud.
Susie: Not loud. At my parties, I’ve even got the volume down pat: it’s 15. And later when they’ve left the table it goes up to 20. Then it’s ‘woop woop’!
Rules of conduct
Imagine this scenario: you’re hosting a party, and in the corner of the room, two people start making out. What do you do?
Jackie: I shut it down. People don’t want to see you shining over there. I understand a little peck and a hug, but not pashing in the corner. Keep that for your bedroom or your car or wherever else!
Susie: I would just say “get a room”. It’s common.
Is gossiping acceptable?
Jackie: You don’t come to my party and gossip – about me especially. You have to pull that person aside, because you don’t just let them rattle on to other people. It’s boring, anyway.
Susie: I would change the topic straightaway. I’m good at that. Then I put them on my list to never invite again. “Off you go” is my line.
Jackie: I say “Be gone with you!”
Are any topics off-limits?
Susie: One is politics, two is religion and three is sex.
Jackie: Religion and politics: very much so. Sex… you know what? It depends on the context. If there’s five of my girlfriends sitting around, then god bless, let’s talk about it. But not at a dinner party.
Susie: And money’s vulgar. I don’t even carry money. I have people carry it for me, that’s how vulgar it is! Let’s just forget money and status, let’s just get to know the person and enjoy the moment.
Are you allowed to tell people to leave?
Jackie: My husband is so good at it! He says, “Right, music off, time to go home. I need to go to bed, get out!”
Susie: If it’s a business event, it ends at 11pm. If it’s close friends, oh gosh, it doesn’t worry me in the slightest.
Jackie Gillies is the founder and ambassador for her new range of ready-to-serve cocktails, La Máscara Beverage Co.