Written by: Marie Johnson, CMP | Director, Marketing & Strategy
Alexander deHilster is one of the most talented event designers in the industry. His list of accomplishments, customer accolades and awards spans more than 20 years. In 2011, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame by Illinois Meetings & Events Magazine. And, fast forward to September 12, 2018 live at the BizBash Hall of Fame ceremony in Chicago, I was able to catch up with Alexander to ask him about his humble beginnings, favorites design projects, and how it feels to join an elite group of professionals.
In response to what contributed most to his success, he replied “thinking out of the box, coming up with crazy stuff and working with amazing vendors who help me bring my visions alive.” Read the full interview below.
Q. When did you first get started in the events industry? Was it a calling or did it happen by chance?
My first “event” was organizing a 5K run/walk at the age of 15 when I didn’t know that event planning existed. I worked as a volunteer at a youth organization who wanted to host an event to raise money and they needed someone to plan it. Event planning has been a natural fit for me. I’m sure I got it from my parents (well, not the cooking part as I can’t cook, but do love food) as they hosted large parties at our home for 50 or more guests. Each party had a different theme, my dad would cook for days a meal that fit the theme, my mom managed all the logistics, and guests would arrive dressed the part. But, the first real event I planned was 22 years ago when I moved to New Orleans and worked for a DMC, Travel New Orleans.
Q. Of all your events, which one was your favorite or stands out from the rest?
I’m always asked that question and it is hard. It’s like, who is your favorite child, or in my case, which one is your favorite dog. They are all my favorites for different reasons. However, there are three or four that do stand out the most in my long career. And, two were for the same client.
1. A fundraiser at Finkl Steel, a working steel factory. While trucks came through delivering steel and cranes and saws would move the steel and cut them in pieces, we were setting up our event. It took about a week. We built a 30’ volcano out of wood, with build-in screens for projectors and dancers behind them and fireworks coming out of the top. 40’ doors to separate one space from the next space. Hanging sushi buffet stations of ice for cocktails, a never-ending flow of entertainment on a multi-level stage, with a gospel choir, Dave Brubeck and others.
2. Same client, but now at Green Dolphin Street. The club is open each day till 2 am. On a Friday I had moving trucks ready outside till the last guests left. Our event was to be on Saturday night at 7 pm. All tables, chairs and banquets (yes, they needed be unscrewed from the walls), all existing light fixtures and chandeliers removed. The bar was covered with a stage for additional seating, custom chandeliers with florals hanging at the bottom of each chandelier strategically placed above each of the 6-tops and the existing stage covered in white vinyl. The Green Dolphin Street sign covered with a custom sign and the entire building covered in red silk – ala Christo.
3. The Library Club was transformed into a very elegant room with one long dining table seating 60 guests. Over a dozen projectors were used, evenly placed on the left and right side of the room, to project still and moving images onto the curved ceiling. Each projector only showed a portion of the image and all images had to blend together to make it look like one. It took forever to get them all focused correctly. The theme was a culinary journey through France with different imagery for each portion of the night and with each of the 7 courses being served. From full day time, to sun set, champagne cellars for the toast, a display of the windows of the Notre Dame in Paris, lavender fields for the dessert, ceiling covered in roses while “la vie en rose” was performed and a ‘fireworks’ display after the awards program was over.
4. My last one was at the Geraghty and the theme was “Under the Cosmic Sea.” It was a blend of “space” and the bottom of the “sea.” All very organic. Floor to ceiling projections surrounded the entire room, with constantly changing images, a 55’ round and 15’ tall aluminum structure placed in the middle of the room through which guests could walk through, covered in stretch fabric, underneath it hundreds of feet of ropes through which video imagery and lights were sent, over-sized sea anemones and a humongous octopus enveloping the aluminum structure. With the shiny floors and all the tables covered in mirrors, no matter where you were in the room, lights and images were constantly changing and reflected onto every surface. That’s probably my most favorite event.
Q. How does it feel to inducted into the BizBash Hall of Fame?
Amazing. I was speechless when BizBash called me. I don’t like being in the spotlight, unless I’m the one asking for it. I’m the behind the scenes person to make it all happen. Most of my very décor driven events, I’ll stay to the side at the entrance to a room and listen and look at how guests respond to see how well I did.
For more information about BizBash and the Hall of Fame inductees, CLICK HERE. Please join us in congratulating Alexander DeHilster, Event Design Manager with M&IW, and the other honorees for their contributions to our industry.