When was the last time you were invited to a pool party? Two, four, eight years ago?
Well, get prepared. Pool parties are back, but they have nothing to do with swimming.
Most of it is spectacle--with elaborate floral displays, gondolas and gondoliers, synchronized swimming and diving exhibitions, neon lights, moon rocks and symphony orchestras. And more often than not, it's black tie and French sit-down service.
"We see a lot of people redoing their pools and putting a great investment in the look," said Jason Pew of Special Attractions, a party-decorating company. "They are doing a lot more entertaining at home and have discovered the wonderful space of the pool area as a place to entertain a crowd. It's really great for all concerned--hosts, guests and vendors--because it keeps the private parts of the house from being trashed."
Hosts are using the pool area for cocktails, often moving inside for dinner, then out again for dancing. It's bringing back the music of the '50s along with the costumes of the period.
In fact, the fashions--even when pool attire is called for--are the kind that don't go near the water.
"Nothing that gets the hair wet or nails botched up. Today we're seeing a lot of pool-side fashions reflecting the '50s look, with bobby socks, poodle skirts, shorts, midriffs and bandannas. They are looks that actually are well-suited to pool-side costuming," Pew said.
If the fashions don't pull your guests to pool side, the decor will.
Janet Elkins of American Eagle Productions in Los Angeles said that many of today's parties take on decorating proportions never attempted before with ideas that dazzle and pocketbooks that pinch.
At one party an Olympic diving team was invited to put on a diving exhibit.
"We also brought in seven Esther Williams look-alikes to do synchronized swimming," Elkins said.
A float fashioned in flowers to look like Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello decorated one pool, and real swans another.
Elkins brought in a gondola and gondolier to serenade guests at one party and a catamaran with sails at another.
Pew reports on a party that entailed complex, battery-operated machines oozing fog and clouds with neon lights flashing, for a futuristic pool scene. A lunar effect was constructed as a backdrop for a band.
There were floating stars and a galaxy of battery-powered neon rings representing planets rising from the pool's surface. Blue and silver lame tablecloths with mirrored table tops helped enhance the reflection for an out-in-space effect.
The cost for such doings? Figure on $400 and up for the synchronized swimming group and $250 and up for the floral Frankie-and-Annette look-alike centerpiece, Elkins said.
Now if you want music, nothing works better than a Jamaican steel band for pool-side background music ($250 and up), or, if you have the room, a small orchestra on the lawn ($1,000 and up), Elkins said.
However, you can also get away with less costly and as effective music, using a flutist or guitarist.
Balloon Bouquets in Los Angeles reports that daytime decor with balloons can be just as festive. Cost will depend on the number of balloons and the complexity of the design.
"We've done crisscrossing arches as if erupting from the pool-- with dry ice steaming up the corners for a steamy hot-tub effect," said a spokesperson. Naturally, you don't swim in a pool where dry ice is used.
Arthur Simon of Arthur Simon Co. reports that you can do much of the spectacular effects on a less-costly scale. The gondola, for instance, can be a mini-representation. "You can use it to hold flowers in the pool," he said.
Or you can cut out large foam letters to spell out a birthday name and float it in the pool with greenery and flowers stuck on. Or, a spectacular arrangement of flowers, candles, lights, birds and other ornaments can be used for a floating centerpiece.
Here are some food ideas from Simon, Elkins and Pew:
--Grilled meat, fish or poultry on skewers works especially well. Kebabs of all sorts, from lamb satay to marinated chicken cubes or shrimp, are especially easy to handle.
--Vegetables, may be cut up and skewered to cook on the grill and make serving easier.
--Arrange crudites in a miniature gondola.
--Mesquite-grill tiger prawns.
--Serve ceviche in clam shells.
--Fill a basket with mixed radicchio, endive leaves and other greens. Arrange fillings, such as eggplant, shrimp, chicken or ceviche around the basket and allow guests to make their own lettuce roll-ups.
--Serve fruit soups in scooped out fresh fruit vessels.
--Serve curried cantaloupe soup in scooped-out half cantaloupe shells.
--Serve shrimp, chicken or beef fajitas.