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Q and A with the Inimitable Philip Carr: Event Architect and Designer

Philip Carr vent Architect and Designer

Hi Philip Carr, thanks so much for your time day. I am so thrilled to feature such a luminary in the Australian social scene.

Q (Diane Penelope): I can see that your mother was in events and catering in South Africa and you started there originally. Was it something you always loved and wanted to be involved with?

A (Philip Carr): I remember as a child my parents always having parties and extended Sunday family days so I suppose I grew up with entertaining in the house. Then one of my mother’s friends asked her to help with an event at her place and we never looked back.

Q: Tell me about working with Nelson Mandela. Were you a little awestruck at first?


A: It was an unbelievable honour to work for him, especially at that time in South Africa after he had been released from prison. It was obviously quite a surreal experience. Working around his house like any other house and he would always come and say hello and tell me how lucky he was to have me doing parties for him. He knew how to make people feel good.

Q: Do you have any interesting, funny or inspirational anecdotes that happened during that time in your early career?

A: When I first started I was still at university studying psychology and helping my mother out in her business. On my second function, my client said she needed to brief me but was getting dressed. We had the briefing in her bathroom while she bathed. I knew this would be an interesting career.

Q: What prompted your move to Australia if that isn’t too personal?

A: With the changing political climate in South Africa and a recent divorce, I thought it was a good time to move. Australia sold itself as a place where you could have a good balance in life.

Q: Did you find it hard to break into the Sydney event industry or was there a niche that your unique skill sets filled in Sydney?

Wedding Event design
Philip Carr Wedding Event design

A: It was hard coming to a new country and starting again from scratch on many levels. It was also a great opportunity to re-define myself and my business. I was also lucky to get a very large job in New Zealand and a couple of weddings in London and the USA. It was a great metaphor that anything was possible.

Q: Are there any luminaries in the events industry that you admire or look up to, and why?

I think there are people in the world that I look up to in all different careers. I look at how many people came to Australia from war torn Europe with nothing and have developed huge corporations. I also look at other designers and artists who brilliance and work has had inspiration and influence on so many people’s careers and thoughts.

Q: I read that you treat your events from a big picture perspective, enveloping the guests to a multi-sensory experience, from first arriving. If that sometimes difficult to communicate conceptually to a client at the beginning?

Multi-scensory approach to event design
Philip Carr takes a multi-scensory approach to event design

A: I always like to run through my visual of an event with the client. If you are talking to another visual person it is much easier to explain, but I think you have to try connect to the client in their way and take them through the experience in a way that relates to them. Once they can feel the event on all levels of sight, sound, auditory, taste and smell, they begin to understand what takes a function to the next level.

Q: Do you enjoy attending events yourself?  Can you let go at the other events or are you always itching to be involved? (I know my husband, a photographer, finds it difficult to attend an event he isn’t shooting and always brings a camera, just in case). Do you ever “switch off?

A: I am much better doing a function than being at one. I do find it hard to just sit and relax at an invited party. I don’t look too much into other functions that I am invited too to the point of being critical but rather what I can learn from another event.

Q: Where do you get your inspiration? Do you have certain people or places that trigger creativity in you? (For me it is anything from Paris, the scents, sounds and sites engage me to draw, paint and design). Do you have a muse or muses?

A: Travelling is my greatest inspiration. It is normally when I am much more relaxed and absorb new sights, sounds, visual merchandise. I also think I get inspired by things that I can then appropriate and adapt rather than copy. I have just come back from a conference in Paris and one in Venice and so I have been exposed to so much creativity from other event planners and designers as well as two of the world’s most beautiful cities to be inspired in.

Q: How do you tap into the aesthetic, taste, passion and heart of your clients?  It is a unique skill to read people’s minds. I know as a designer I need to know everything about a company or person to connect with that uniqueness. Do you do this sub consciously/instinctively or do you have a methodology to do this?

A: I think each client is different, but I always start by asking them what their vision for their party is. Normally by the sense of design and use of colour in their home or office, I get a sense of the level to start my discussion at a point that they will feel comfortable with.

Q: What is the most meaningful event you have created?

I did a wedding for a couple with special needs. Seeing their happiness and creating something that
made them so happy was a true honour to be involved with.

Q: What is the most extravagant event you have been involve with?

A: I have done a couple of weddings that have been relatively over the top in terms of design
and / or budget. Sometimes it has been a small element that has made the function feel extravagant,
and some have been extravagant on many levels. It is someone’s understanding of what guests would want at a certain time that makes the idea extravagant as it hits the mark. It could be an ice cream cycle just wheeling around the dance floor with magnums in it. Very exclusive toilets and vanity areas in a marquee can make an event extravagant. Extravagance is getting something at a time when you did not expect it to happen.

PHILIP CARR wedding design
A PHILIP CARR wedding event design

Q: I read that your favourite events are weddings, because of the emotional aspect. I can imagine though that with such a personal event this could be quite taxing from a logistical and creative point of view and because it is such a personal investment people can have set ideas. Have you come across this and how do you negotiate ideas that might now always work?

A: People often have very set ideas. I sometimes have to go through the idea and discuss how it may not work. I think it’s the way you learn to negotiate an idea that normally gets people back to thinking practically and logically.

Beautiful lighting plays a part in Philip Carr's event design
Beautiful lighting plays a part in a Philip Carr event design

Q: What is the most creative type of event and why?

Just a plain party because you can take it in any direction with no boundaries that you have with
wedding or religious event. You don’t even have to think outside the box, you can think as if there is no

Q: Can you give me an inside idea of emerging trends in events for 2017/8? For example I worked at Doltone House a couple of years ago massive fake cakes were all the rage, some suspended like chandeliers. It got to the point of each wedding having to out do the next, and the cakes got taller and more ornate. Ceilings were covered in faux wisteria. The following year (I’d moved on by this stage) I saw the trend of authenticity coming through with couples opting for naked cakes and genuine flower walls.

A: There are definite trends but I think one has to try use them and adapt them to create your own new unique event. A good example is how balloons have come back but are being used in a totally different way. Colour will create looks and trends each year depending on the Pantone colour of the year [note this year 2017 it is Greenery].

Certain ethnic groups seem to favour certain looks and just create less or more of that look depending on their budget. The use of fake flowers as a new norm have allowed things to be done over a longer set up time, but I feel often look really fake in its excess and lack of small.

If we have used fake flowers in any form we often spray the room to have a sense that the flowers are alive. I do this very rarely as I am not a big fan of the falseness of all the silk flowers. Also, industrial warehouses and barns and unique spaces have taken over from the traditional hotels – all new unique experiences are being requested.

Q: What are some trends in corporate events and parties that we will see in 2017 – 2018?

Corporate events are often defined by the nature of the business and the sensitivity to the current market. On the whole, there is a greater sensitivity to how money is spent. Alcohol and what alcohol is used is an important aspect and defines many events today. Which Vodka. What Gins at the Gin bar. With millennials being a large part of an event “experience” it is the most important aspect of any event.

Unexpected colour palette, textures and creativity are hallmarks of the Philip Carr event experience
Unexpected colour palette, textures and creativity are hallmarks of the Philip Carr event experience

Q: With regards to corporate events, how do you come up with new ideas month after month, year after year?

A: The client normally has the initial though of what they want and then we try take it as far as possible and extend the ideas to create a whole new level of function that exceeds their expectations.

Q: What tools do you use to plan events? Do you do it digitally or as a physical mood board.

A: I have a strong visual mood board in my mind. I then put it down in a mood board or convert to notes to create a plan.

Q: Do you have favourite suppliers or people that you adore working with and am I allowed to ask this?

A: There are definitely the companies and people that accepted me and helped me when I first came to the country, which I will always be indebted to. I have also worked with many creatives at different times that we have worked and collaborated to take events to higher levels than I could have by myself.

Park Hyatt Event Design
Park Hyatt Event Design by Philip Carr

Q: I was trying to put myself in your shoes, and wondered how do you manage your work life balance? I can imagine with the sheer number and scale of your events it could be quite stressful and demanding of your time, how do you find peace and balance in your life? How do you relax?

A: I am not sure if I relax. I do do pilates twice a week and personal training twice a week to force me to not be a total workaholic. My work does encompass everything I do in life and everything is so inter-related. I don’t know if I would want it any other way.

Q: Who is the off-duty Philip Carr?

A: I am very different in my private life than my work persona. People often read me very differently and assume I am the same in both arenas. My real friends know me but often say that I am the nicest work-a-holic they know.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring event designers?

A: Have a real passion for this work because it is worth it.

Q: What is the most important thing about any successful Philip Carr event?

A: The eye for detail and understanding of how people will want to feel and experience each aspect of every event at what time.

Thanks Philip, for your time on my questions, I’m sure that you’ve inspired many people through this article, and I look forward to seeing your future work with interest!


PR enquiries: Daniel Goldstein at Sweaty Betty PR

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