William Cash accepts a much-coveted invitation to meet Dora Loewenstein, queen of Londons society events and now doyenne of the corporate do
William Cash accepts a much-coveted invitation to meet Dora Loewenstein, queen of London’s society events and now doyenne of the corporate do
ONE GETS TO a certain point in life when most invitations from PR companies have to go straight in the bin. The same often applies to glossy invitations (especially the rectangular sort printed on silver-laminated board thicker than a book cover) from glitzy-sounding charity gala committees full of names of London’s double-barrelled social lizards who invariably staple their exotic maiden names to their English husband’s, in case anybody dare forget their precious social provenance.
Then there are the invitations that always go straight into the diary, namely those that anybody is lucky enough to receive (too rarely in my case but one always lives in hope) that say RSVP: DLA Events, 4 Cromwell Place, London, SW7. Of all London’s ‘event’ companies, none — and I am quite sure about this after twenty years of scribbling on the fringes of haute society — has the social clout of Dora Loewenstein Associates.
From September, this will also include boardrooms. With the credit crunch forcing even many blue-chip firms to slash their advertising and marketing budgets, companies will have to do everything to look after existing clients and she cannily believes that low-profile, but exclusive, client entertaining is the one area that firms cannot afford to cut back on when budgets are tight. She also thinks — with typical Dora bluntness — that most corporate events are done without creativity or style.
Pictured above: One of Dora Loewenstein’s events. Photograph by James Yates Brown
When I went to see Dora at her South Kensington office in July, she was in the middle of organizing the tents for the Mustique 40th anniversary gala — where her parents have had a house for many years — to be shipped over from India, a typical touch. She was also shipping out London’s fund-raising secret weapon, Sotheby’s Lord Dalmeny. If anybody can get the multi-millionaire Mustique to open its cheque-book, it is Harry.
‘I think there is some real scope for thinking outside the box,’ Dora says, sitting at her boardroom table under a wall of edgy modern art, including a set of sculptured knives by Ann Carrington and Warhol prints of Mick Jagger. ‘A private bank might think of doing a Next Generation event for the children of their private clients in a hotel, for example. But why not take them to somewhere really special? We did a job for a bank eighteen months ago and we suggested they host the dinner at the Wallace Collection. They were going to go to a dull hotel before, and they were really pleased with how it turned out, surrounded by all that beautiful art. My approach is to try and cross over boundaries.’
Dora is also smart enough to know that when there is a downturn, one of the first things that CEOs look to do is cut in-house costs. Why pay large salaries all year when you can hire Dora and her experienced team for an evening?
BUT DORA IS also targeting boutique companies who don’t have an events team. ‘Often events get lumped on the desk of the PA, who actually is so busy with the CEO’s diary that she doesn’t have the time to organise an event properly. Quite often, the firm ends up getting charged more as they do not have the experience to know what the costs are. I think we are very, very good and scrupulous about negotiating the best prices, because there is a lot of room for manoeuvring in the events world’.
For Dora to be opening up her exclusive address book and her event savvy to the corporate world is quite a step for DLA, since the firm is above all perhaps best known for working with private individuals, including royalty, Gettys, Niarchoses, Guinnesses, Flicks and Lord Rothschild (she organised the re-opening of Waddesdon Manor, the Rothschild manor), who simply do not want any publicity at all.
Dora is certainly one of the best connected and international of the top events queens in London: her address book is rumoured to hold more than 10,000 names. From Mustique to Milan, LA to Ladbroke Grove (where she lives in a spacious Victorian house), when Dora and her team are involved, the chances are that it will be the best private bash in town that night, whether it be organizing a VIP after-party for the Stones, a Hollywood film premiere, a theatre opening night or a 40th or 50th birthday dinner for one of her A-list friends.
Also known as the Countess Manfredi della Gherardesca, Dora is a blue-blooded princess in her own right. Her father is Prince Rupert Loewenstein, former manager of the Rolling Stones’ business interests, and her globe-trotting art consultant husband’s family is one of the noblest in Italy. In the high-ceilinged dining room of their London house, an ancestor of Manfredi — who looks like a Pope or Cardinal — glowers down from the wall. One at least knows where Manfredi, possibly the best-dressed man in London, gets his sartorial DNA from.
Before she started DLA Events in 1992, Dora worked in Paris in TV advertising. After that, she worked in New York for her father, managing musicians’ business affairs and also handling their press and their parties. (The combination often resulted in the sort of press that needed to go away.) She then moved to London, where she began to get involved in the production of rock-band tours including the Rolling Stones. After successful involvement in events and tours for the latter, she decided to capitalise on her experience of production, PR and VIP hospitality.
Pictured above: Dora Loewenstein. Photograph by Joth Shakerley
But anybody who knows her famously social father, Prince Rupert (who now runs his own discreet investment business), will know that many of her brilliant networking and social skills were learnt from simply growing up in one of the stylish social families of the 1960s and ’70s. When WASP Americans wax nostalgic about the days of such social icons as Truman Capote and C. Z. Guest, Londoners remember the Loewensteins’ famous White Ball of 1969.
DORA WAS ABOUT three. The party was held in the garden of the family home in Holland Park. ‘I remember being woken up in what felt like the middle of the night and being brought downstairs to see the first guests arrive around eleven p.m., because it was in the days when people would have dinner parties out and then would come in just for a party afterward. I do remember having my photo taken looking at these amazingly beautiful people. My parents were always entertainers and I think that obviously rubs off on one.’
What about Stones parties, though? Presumably they were rather different to her parents’ balls? ‘Actually my parents were quite strict,’ she says, recalling a concert in the mid-1970s when she wasn’t allowed to attend because her mother feared she would damage her ears. ‘I didn’t really get to go until I was about sixteen.’
Ten years later, she was organising the parties herself. But rarely did anything appear in the papers that wasn’t meant to. ‘I think that, aside from doing the exclusive VIP and society thing, I hope that people come to us for our discretion. I don’t really want to talk about my clients.’
Dora’s powerful social influence and address book comes from various sources. She has written, edited and produced several books directly related to her clients and her work. She has been vice chairman of the Royal Academy of Arts Special Events Committee. Currently, she sits on the board of directors of the Mustique Company, is a member of the National Development Board of the NSPCC, and has sat on committees of fund-raising events all over the world.
Like her father, a hugely astute businessman who turned Mick Jagger into a seriously wealthy man, Dora’s natural charm and understated English wit hides a sharp financial mind. DLA has never been cheap, although because she and Manfredi are so well connected, she gets quite a lot of friends calling up saying, ‘Dora, darling, I have not got much of a budget. Can you help me…?’
But she is unlikely to be doing any personal favours for corporate clients, although they will have access to her glittering invitation lists — sure to add some badly needed social zest to corporate parties. So if someone comes to her with a guest list which looks dull, will she suggest a few additions? ‘Yes,’ she admits with a laugh. ‘I have always done that, but that is probably my bossy side coming out.’
Having said that, she prefers clients to have their own guest list. ‘If a client comes and they do not have a guest list at all, I do think quite hard because I would not feel comfortable in inviting, you know, just my friends’. If a client wants to go after a whole new sector she will, reluctantly, start a new list for a client from scratch. ‘It is very carefully thought out and carefully done.’
ABOVE ALL, HER events are synonymous with a certain social style that the world — especially the corporate world — can never have enough of. But she does have a reputation for being frank, even from the pitch. ‘I am probably too honest. If someone says, “Look, I am going to open a shop to sell handkerchiefs in Jermyn Street and I want to know if you can get Mick Jagger and all your other celebrity friends to come”, I will say, “Probably not!”’
If there are any ageing bankers out there who want Sir Mick to rock up to their Christmas party, the answer will probably be no. To perform, or give a talk to senior executives about the Challenges of Leadership? Well, that’s another matter. For the right corporate fee, I’m sure Dora can organise pretty much anything.