As Chief Amazement Officer of Vision Event Co., an event planning company based in New York City, Daniela Grafman wears many hats. She’s a self-described ‘Mama Bear’ to a talented team of individuals who work with clients ranging from non-profit and corporate to couples planning their wedding. Daniela could be planning a gala at the New York Public Library one day, scheduling the speaker line up for a design conference the next, and on Friday, fine-tuning last minute details with vendors for the weekend’s nuptials at The Foundry. Being able to navigate from event to event while catering to each client’s expectations comes from over ten years of experience in the industry.
We’ve had the pleasure of working with Daniela on numerous Real BB weddings. When it comes to making a couple’s dreams a reality, she’s a complete natural. It’s impossible to believe that she initially had no intentions of getting involved in weddings! We knew Daniela had a good story tell and couldn’t wait to feature her in our Women Paving the Aisle series. Here, Daniela talks about what first drew her to working in events, what it’s like to head a major event planning company, and how she stays creatively inspired.
We always like to start from the beginning. When did you know that you had a talent for events?
I can’t say that I knew I had a talent for events. It started out more as a desire to be in this industry. When I was in college, I had internships in the fashion PR world and thought that was where I would end up. I got to do New York Fashion Week, which was the ultimate experience. But I also got to see the nitty gritty of what goes on behind the scenes – people putting up the tents, setting out the chairs. Had it not been for what they were doing, my work in PR wouldn’t matter. That was my turning point in realizing that I wanted to go in to the events world. I ran with it from there and have loved it ever since.
Your background is in non-profit events, which can be extravagant, large-scale affairs in New York City. Looking back, how did this experience lay the foundation for the work you do now?
The non-profit world will always have a place in my heart. I had my first major job working in the events department for a large non-profit. I learned so much – there is so much purpose behind these kinds of events. I saw first-hand managing a big budget, what all is at stake, and the end goals. So when I moved to social events, I took that knowledge with me. For example, weddings are very personal, but I am very aware of the importance of logistics, keeping a timeline, and staying on budget. Certain things have to happen in order for the emotional experience to be possible. On the flip side, our company also does non-profit and corporate events. It’s amazing how doing social events has made our approach unique. We are able to put a personal and emotional touch in our work that our non-profit and corporate clients aren’t used to. They really appreciate it.
Can you talk about the services and resources that Vision provides? How do they differ from others in the industry?
We have a very specific niche – our focus is on event coordination. For weddings, many of our clients have already started the planning process on their own. The have booked their venue and vendors. We step in three months out, sometimes less, to piece together all the logistics so their wedding day is seamless for them. Same with our non-profit clients – maybe they don’t have the budget to hire a full-scope planner. In order to allow their team to make the most out of their event the day of, we come in and manage back end logistics like registration, check-in, and anything else that can be taken off their plate. This way their team can network and schmooze with donors.
How would you describe your work and responsibilities as Chief Amazement Officer of a dynamic event company?
It’s an exciting title, right? As Chief Amazement Officer, I take my responsibilities very seriously and feel grateful to be in this position. My responsibilities are not only to my clients but my team as well. We’ve grown so much, and I always joke that I am the Mama Bear. I feel very fortunate that we have built a company that has many elements and opportunities to create the best experiences for our clients. Weddings are particularly special, because they are someone’s moment, a rare opportunity to have all your friends and family in one place. I take it on as a great honor, and always ask, “If this was me, how would I want the day to go?” At the same time, we give opportunities to our team to do something that they are very passionate about, form relationships with our clients, and do different kinds of events that they may not have had the chance to do otherwise.
Vision specializes in events of all kinds. How does planning for a wedding differ from the other types of events you coordinate?Weddings are definitely very high touch and personal. We are dealing with different couples, family dynamics, venues, vendors, and goals. Weddings almost have a mind of their own. With corporate events, the client may want to do something a little different. But for the most part, we have worked with the client before, know what their standards are, and what to expect. Both require us to be on our toes. But we know we can’t treat a wedding like we did last one, because each couple has their own personality, style, and vision.
Can you tell us about the various wedding planning packages you offer?
We specialize in wedding coordination where our team starts working with a couple about three months out to help put everything they have done up to that point on paper. We schedule deadlines, coordinate logistics with vendors, and oversee other not so “fun” details that have to get done. We do traditional wedding planning, but only take on a handful a year to make sure we can give our clients the time and attention they need. We also find our clients opting for partial-planning, which are customized packages that begin about six months out. The couples have booked a venue and a few vendors. They want to be involved in the planning process, but need more guidance with a budget and time table. We also offer a very boutique experience with DJ entertainment. We represent a DJ and MC duo who are amazing and have been working with us from the beginning.
What do couples have to look forward to when working with Vision that they will not find anywhere else?
First and foremost, it’s our diverse team. We come from all over and have various backgrounds – everyone has their own story about ending up in the events industry. Also, we bring different experiences, personalities, and energy to the table, which gives our company a well-rounded foundation to work with any client. In one weekend, we are doing a barn wedding on Friday, then we’re at Cipriani in Manhattan on Saturday, and then at a warehouse in Brooklyn on Sunday.
What do you enjoy most about doing weddings? How does it feel knowing you are helping to create memories that will last a lifetime for two people?
I really love it! I actually did a webinar yesterday and said that I never saw myself doing weddings. I was always about non-profit and corporate in the beginning. I loved dealing with deadlines, logistics, and problem solving. Getting involved with couples and the emotional side of events just never appealed to me. My business partner was very adamant that we do weddings. And after my first one, I was hooked. It’s so rare to have your friends and family together for a happy occasion. To be part of that experience of creating memories is absolutely invaluable. There’s nothing else like it. Yes, this is my job, but it also feels like this amazing gift.
We had the pleasure of working with you on Adina & Doug’s wedding at the University Club and Nicole & Matt’s wedding at Houston Hall. The weddings were very New York, but different in look and feel. Can you tell us about the work that went into making each so flawlessly beautiful?
They are perfect examples of the different types of weddings that we do. Adina and Doug had a traditionally elegant New York wedding. The University Club is a venue with a lot of character and history. I like to approach a wedding by working backwards and begin by asking the couple what they don’t want. Adina and Greg knew they didn’t want bright colors or anything that would clash with look and feel of the space. They went to Rachel with specifics about the room, style of décor they had mind, and expectations. Going back and forth with ideas from your team, we were able to put everything together and make it a reality.
Nicole and Matt were doing a New Year’s Eve wedding at Houston Hall, which is an indoor beer garden in the West Village. Houston Hall has a distinct character, but you can play around with it. Nicole and Matt wanted a black-tie wedding on New Year’s Eve at a beer garden. So how do you pull that all together? We started by asking what they didn’t want, which was for it to be a cliché holiday wedding. Yet, they were not going to completely disregard the fact. Festive touches were expressed through gold accents, a rich color palette, beautiful arch way, and warm lighting.
I’m not a designer. The beauty about working with Rachel and everyone at Bride & Blossom is that I have ideas of what could work in a space and you translate them into stunning décor. With both of these weddings, it really felt like a team effort.
We are entering high wedding season. Have you noticed any major trends for 2019? Which are your favorites?
There’s that saying, “What is old is new again.” Most recently, we are are seeing more couples using heirlooms from their parents, even grandparents’ weddings such as jewelry, cake toppers, family photos, even dresses and veils. Incorporating sentimental pieces is a nice way to make their wedding day all the more personal.
Do you have a favorite celebrity wedding of all time?
I really don’t follow celebrities! Wait, I have been fascinated by the royal weddings. Not so much as a closeted hopeless romantic, but from a wedding planner’s perspective. The logistics for such an event is unbelievable. How they pull it all together is just amazing.
We heard that you love to travel. What is your favorite travel destination so far? Where are you still dreaming about going?
I have a special place in my heart for Paris. San Sebastian in the Northern part of Spain is also one of my favorite places – it’s a resort town with the most amazing food. On my ‘to go’ list are Greece and Morocco. And I am dreaming about going to Australia.
How do you stay creatively inspired?
Honestly, I find a lot of inspiration on Instagram. It’s been a great way to see how other planners work, the events they are producing, and what’s going on in the industry.
Care to share any guilty pleasures?
I don’t even know if I can call it a guilty pleasure because I just love sweets, chocolate especially. I’m pretty open about my pleasures.
You finally have the day off. How do you spend it?
If it’s the summer, I am definitely visiting my family who lives in Brooklyn near the beach. If I have time off, I am traveling. This weekend I have off and am taking a quick trip to Nashville. I just try to make the most of my free time when I have it.
A big thank you to Daniela for taking part in our Women Paving The Aisle Series!