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Special Design Issue

Life of the Party

Designer Kelly Wearstler Hosts a Bash Where Friends Are the Main Event

November 10, 2002|PETER MCQUAID | Peter McQuaid, a frequent contributor to the Style section, last wrote about men's fashion for fall.

Kelly Wearstler and Brad Korzen have had four birthday parties for their son, Oliver, who is 4 1/2 months old. "We like to have a good time," Korzen says.

Wearstler, who is becoming as well known for her party acumen as she is for her interior design abilities, has a formula of sorts. "You need good people, good music and good food, but not heavy stuff that will weigh people down and make them tired and want to go home," she says.

Oliver's last party was in France. "We couldn't find any cake or even a cupcake," Korzen says. "So we bought a huge loaf of bread and stuck candles in it."

Oliver also will be in his parents' wedding, the guest list for which is reportedly spinning out of control. Wearstler and Korzen are not ones to stand too firmly on formality. "If they like you, they include you," says children's clothing designer Stacey Zinman, one of Wearstler's friends. "They are two of the sweetest people you will ever meet."

And two of the most game, since scant days before her wedding Wearstler seems not the least bit interested in curbing her impulse to throw people together. What you see in the following pages is not the rehearsal dinner; it's not even one of the official wedding week parties. No, the stylish gathering

in the bar of Santa Monica's Viceroy Hotel is vintage Kelly Wearstler and an en pointe example of a new trend in entertaining: a last-minute, casual gathering.

Five days before her wedding?

She laughs. "You know, I really didn't think the wedding would be as complicated as it's turned out to be. It's a real production." The social doyenne in the making laughs at her own naivete. "Sometimes I wonder if we should have eloped."

Wearstler is an effortless socializer, introducing people, building conversational bridges and moving on as people gel. She grew up in Myrtle Beach, S.C., which may have something to do with the "get-on-the-bus" spirit that her gatherings have. "It was a really quaint little town when I lived there," she says of the now-teeming East Coast resort. "We used to have beach parties and keg parties all the time." Which may be why calling her parties and her circle "chic" is doing them a disservice. They're more than chic; they're fun. And Wearstler seems to know that fun is what makes people want to come back. What's more, she's beautiful and petite, with a mane of thick auburn hair and cheekbones you could cut ice on. Korzen, in turn, is lean and pale in that Romantic Hero way, with an equally impressive mop of curly brown hair.

Hate them yet? We're just getting started.

At 38, real estate developer Korzen has created a series of smart boutique hotels, including the Viceroy, the Avalon and Maison 140 in Beverly Hills, and Estrella in Palm Springs. He is also currently developing the Mobil Oil property downtown as a living/work loft space. So far he has cultivated a reputation for creating design-sensitive projects that also make money. At 33, Wearstler heads up KWID (Kelly Wearstler Interior Design), a company whose projects have included the interiors of Korzen's hotels and a handful of apartment buildings. Her work--most simply described as eclectic--has received international attention. She also has a book coming out this spring from Regan Books called "Unexpected Style."

The two are renovating and restoring a modernist home in Trousdale Estates that they bought from the original owner. "It hasn't been touched since 1956," Wearstler says. "We were so lucky."

Not bad for two people who arrived here--he's from Chicago, she was living in New York--just eight years ago. They met when Korzen hired her to do the interior design for his house. "We were friends first," he says.

Wearstler is sitting on a sofa in the lobby of the Viceroy. Seated next to her is Zinman, owner of the Bloomlove children's clothing line, who is holding forth on how Wearstler helped her start her business. "You know, nobody ever thought I could do anything," says Zinman. "Kelly just opened her book and said, 'Let's see who can help.' She's that kind of person. And look at her!" she says with a laugh. Wearstler, who is deep in conversation with another friend and unaware that Zinman is remarking on her style, perks up and asks, "What are y'all laughing at?" She follows up with a query regarding whether her outfit, which includes a Merry Widow from Agent Provocateur (she pronounces it "Agent ProvokaTOOR"), is compromising her modesty.

She poses the question, however, in a much more direct way, which is unprintable in this magazine. The effect, though, is funny and endearing--someone with a bawdy sense of humor who is happy to laugh at herself. Korzen arrives at the party a little late, looks her over and says, "Darling, you look stunning." Wearstler replies, "Thank yew, honey." And Korzen runs off to take care of some hotel business.

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