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Fans of the hit television show The Real Housewives of New Jersey know Dina Manzo as the calm and cool housewife who, weary of the hair-pulling and table-tossing, chose to say sayonara to the show partway through the second season. These days, Manzo’s life is still just as full of excitement and glamour, but instead of dueling costars, the drama now comes from creating one-of-a-kind soirees for clients of Designer Affair, her Franklin Lakes–based event-planning company. “The only drama I’ll take now is having pink tulips show up for an event instead of red ones!” she jokes.
For Manzo, becoming a professional event planner was a natural transition from her previous career as an interior designer. “I look at the work the same way,” she says. “You’re designing either a house or a space for an event.” Often, after finishing a decorating project, Manzo’s clients would decide to host a party in their new digs and ask her to handle the arrangements—a task she really enjoyed. “I was able to be even more creative when planning the parties because people will usually take more of a risk with an event than with their house,” she says. Her experience planning her own wedding, which was featured on VH-1’s My Big Fat Fabulous Wedding, cemented the idea of launching a party-planning company. “Our wedding went from 50 guests in early June to 750 in August,” Manzo says. “I was able to plan this unbelievable event with all these guests, 75 centerpieces and lots of craziness in a matter of two months. That’s when it clicked that, ‘You know what? I’m good at this.’”
Manzo says her events—from weddings to birthday parties to business launches— are characterized by her creativity and attention to detail. “I love thinking outside the box. I’m known for bringing in that unique element to parties,” she says. “I think a lot of it comes from my design background.” Her favorite place to host a celebration: at home, of course. “I love to have weddings and throw parties in clients’ homes because that way the event is unique to them,” she adds. She also loves to focus on the little elements that add up to an unforgettable bash.
For instance, she recommends brides skip the ubiquitous white wedding guest book and instead purchase a beautiful, high-quality coffee-table book that reflects their story. Got engaged at the Eiffel Tower? A book on Paris would be perfect. Spending your honeymoon in Kauai? Choose a tome with beautiful Hawaiian vistas. Display it so your guests can add personal messages and well wishes. “After the wedding, you have something special for your home—instead of something that will get tossed in the closet,” she says.
Besides considering such details, Manzo is also known to get sentimental about her clients. “I love to see that bridal tear or to see people get emotional at the reveal [of the party space] and know that my part in their day was really important,” she says. “Having that personal connection is very satisfying for me.”
Bring on the Bling
Running an event-planning business isn’t the only way Manzo is putting her creativity to the test these days. She’s also collaborating on two jewelry lines. She describes one collection, Dina Manzo by Thad Cline, as “upscale, sparkly and glamorous.” Many pieces feature a ladybug, a symbol of hope that has personal meaning to Manzo. “Ladybugs always seem to show up at special times in my life—on the windowsill of my first apartment, on my hand at my wedding rehearsal—or at times when I’ve needed strength,” she says.
The other jewelry line, Dina Manzo Love Rocks, has a strong spiritual influence. “I try to incorporate things into my everyday life that remind me to be grateful and to know that I’m protected,” she says. In that vein, pieces in the Dina Manzo Love Rocks collection have themes such as health and fertility, good luck, new beginnings and gratitude, and feature stones such as turquoise and rose quartz. Both collections are available at dinamanzo.com.
So what’s up next for the design dynamo? In the coming months she’s launching a home-accessories line and publishing a book she calls “a girlfriends’ guide” that will share secrets on topics such as designing your home and throwing a killer party.
And Housewives fans, you’ll be happy to know that Manzo will be back on the small screen. Her new show, which airs on HGTV at the end of the summer, follows her as she runs her event-design business and gives viewers a behind-the-scenes peek at what it takes to pull off her amazing parties. Tune in and you just may find some show-stopping ideas you’ll want to steal for your own big day.
Dina’s Top Wedding Tips. The New Jersey–born and bred planner shares her secrets for a designer affair:
1) Start with a fabulous invitation. “A lot of people just send out a general invitation, but I like to use the invite to give guests a little insight into what they’re going to see at the party—that could be the color scheme or the feel—and to get them excited.”
2) If you have favors, make them meaningful. You won’t see a cliched candle or wineglass favor at one of Manzo’s fetes. “Favors should be directly related to the couple,” she says. “One of my favorite ideas is to make a donation to a charity.” At the recent winter wonderland wedding of a couple who met at a literary agency, for example, guests received snowflake bookmarks noting that a donation had been made to an organization that promotes reading for inner-city children.
3) Go big—lots of food, music and dancing. “If you want to infuse a real Jersey feel into your reception, have an abundance of great food and lots of music and dancing. That’s a very Jersey party!”
4) Do your own thing. “Don’t just go through the motions of the party. If making the day special to you means doing things you’ve never seen before at an event, go for it!” That could mean anything from nixing traditions that don’t feel right to you (bye-bye bouquet toss!) to shaking up the standard cocktail hour followed by sit-down dinner format.
5) Choose a venue not just on looks but on food, too. “You could go to the fanciest place, but if your guests have to go through the drive-thru after a wedding because they’re starving, that’s not a good thing.”
6) Consider having your wedding at home. “I wish more people had their events at home. It sometimes costs a little more if you have to put up a tent but, to me, having your special day in your own space with the people you love is priceless.”
Planning with a Purpose
After years of attending ho-hum charity events and cutting checks to support a variety of organizations, Dina Manzo decided to use her own party-planning prowess to do good. “I thought, ‘I’m an event planner, I could throw a great party for a great cause,’’’ she says. So she approached St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson, where her daughter Lexi, 15, was born, and offered her help. The result: In 2007, Dina launched Project Ladybug, a charitable organization dedicated to supporting children with cancer and their families. “We pay for anything and everything that will ease families’ financial troubles and lift these children’s spirits,” Manzo says.
Funds raised by Project Ladybug have been used to help families with mounting bills and to give young patients gifts such as iPads, game systems and dream vacations so that they have something to look forward to as they’re undergoing treatment. “If their treatment experience is as positive as possible, we hope a positive outcome will follow,” she says. Since its start at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Project Ladybug has expanded to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and, recently, to Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago. The organization now averages two fundraising events a month. The hottest ticket by far is the annual Ladies Night Out affair at the Brownstone in Paterson, which draws upward of 1,500 women. For information on the organization or to find out about upcoming events, visit projectladybug.org.