Oprah, Demi, Kim…Colin Cowie’s roster of clients don’t even need last names. In this exclusive Q&A we get to know how the man behind the moniker—born and raised in Zambia—grew into New York’s party planning king. From designing unforgettable events to creating once-in-a-lifetime trips, the parallels between ColinCowie and Absolute Travel are undeniable. Read on to hear about the places that have transformed his life, which country tops his travel wish list, how he’s stayed loyal to his roots from so far away, and his single best tip for planning a party. Find out our picks for the world’s most over-the-top honeymoon destinations and gather inspiration for an impeccably executed wedding, ColinCowie style.
You’ve traveled 12 million miles, visited nearly 100 countries, and after growing up in Southern Africa you are now based in New York City. You’ve had many adventures! What are some particularly inspirational moments that have guided your work?
My mind is most fertile when I’m on safari, something happens on the third day that doesn’t happen anywhere else. Istanbul is one of the most fascinating and stylish cities. The people there live and entertain wonderfully and it’s a crossroad of so many different cultures.
There’s nothing quite like the culture of elegance in Paris. It’s the chicest city on the planet. One of the most romantic and authentic experiences is a trip to Venice. It has such a fascinating history.
What destination is at the top of your travel wishlist?
India, India and more India.
Where are you headed to next?
Rio De Janeiro and São Paulo.
We have a lot in common like we are both in the business of making peoples’ dreams come true. Tell us about some of your most rewarding moments on the job.
When guests arrive and the curtain goes up, hundreds of people are working together behind the scenes in perfect sync to achieve one goal. In my mind, I’ve seen it a million times, run through every scenario possible…. It’s live TV meets a Broadway show; there is no second take. When it’s actually happening, sometimes I pinch myself just to make sure what I’m seeing isn’t a dream. Knowing the client is blown away with what we’ve done is the most rewarding feeling.
Let’s rewind a bit. You were born in Zambia and grew up in South Africa—two of our favorite places! What was it like growing up there?
I was born in central Africa Zambia and we had one bad hotel, a couple of restaurants and a country club we belonged to. That said we entertained in our homes and making people welcome and happy was something that was instilled in me from a very early age. Not to mention, I love creating environments where I get to make people happy and comfortable. There’s no better way to express your sense of style than to bring people into your own home.
Tell us about your first job.
I ran a hotel, spa, and conference center outside Johannesburg before moving to Los Angeles with only $400 my name. I soon realized that I could use my passions for food, music, and design to build a business that demystified the art of living well.
How did you get into the business of party planning in the first place?
What started as a small catering company expanded into a full-service event design and production company with offices on both coasts, and quickly branched into interior and product design. Along the way, I got to pen 10 books and produce countless hours of television. Today, the Colin Cowie Lifestyle brand includes everything associated with fine and gracious living. I get to travel the globe, planning and producing some of the most talked about parties for the world’s most discerning people.
Is there a particular destination where you love to plan weddings?
I love to plan weddings in Mexico. Theirs is a culture of kindness and the people are the sweetest. You always get the best service.
What differentiates Colin Cowie from other event planners? What sets you apart?
Many of my competitors focus on the flowers, or the entertainment, or the food, etc. We focus on excellence in all areas. I apply my five-senses approach from concept thru completion to ensure that everything you touch, taste, smell, see and hear contributes to an experience that is tastefully executed with the right amount of style and elegance and to keep it on the right side- the right amount of wrong. For me it’s the sum of all the parts.
You are a big supporter involved with South African organizations like the Lalela Project amongst others. Can you tell us what inspires you to be dedicated to their missions, and any projects you have worked on together?
I’m constantly surrounded by so many privileged people and so much excess. I could never consciously turn my back on the insurmountable amount of problems that exist in South Africa. That’s why I’ve taken to the role of Robin Hood. I support 5 different philanthropic organizations and work hard to raise a lot of money that will make difference.
Straight from the party planner king: What is your single best tip for planning a party?
There is an art to throwing a party and it’s all in the timing. A well-produced party has a distinctive beginning, middle and end with everything smoothly orchestrated without down time. Guests are never looking at their watch wondering when the next thing will take place.
Lastly, as someone who clearly travels in style, we’re curious what your quirkiest or most unexpected travel essential is?
Multiple battery backs so I can always stay connected… and hand sanitizer.
Learn more from our CORE: Club member benefits partner Colin Cowie and get his insider tips on planning the ultimate event here.