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The Social-ists 

Twenty-four-hour party people: Bryan Rabin and David Rodgers, wizards of Oz, maestros of spin, designers of the social scene

Wednesday, Jul 10 2002
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Photo by Julie Pavlowski

A MIDCENTURY MODERN HOUSE. WHITE WALLS. White chairs. In one room, Gwyneth Paltrow gazes at a plexiglass vitrine holding two live white mice. The mice run on an exercise wheel. The wheel is draped in diamonds. Someone hands you a cocktail and the music swells. Welcome to a party orchestrated by Bryan Rabin and David Rodgers, of Rabin Rodgers Inc., wizards of Oz, maestros of spin, designers of the social scene.

Rabin and Rodgers are a new breed of event producers who engineer a party from top to bottom. Take those vitrines, which they built to showcase $20 million worth of gems at this year's Women's Wear Daily "White Hot Diamonds" Oscar-week party. "We had to figure out how thick the Lucite should be," says Rabin. "How should it be lit? What should the light intensity be? Should it be a warm white? A cold white? How should the backing be?" As Rabin talks, Rodgers playfully starts to hop around their Hollywood office and jokes: "And then you have to go to the Valley and then you have to take the box to get the neon fit and then you have to go to the pet store and then you have to go and get some eggs . . ." Fits of giggles all around.

Rodgers and Rabin are an exercise in subtle contrasts. In 1985, while David Rodgers was dancing in music videos, movies and commercials, Bryan Rabin was a champion figure skater. Rodgers is large, muscular. He has a charming smile, an infectious laugh. Rabin, who is constantly reining Rodgers in ("Strike that!" and "That's off the record"), has the lithe grace of, well, a figure skater. He is intense and articulate and a little intimidating, save for the fact that Rodgers is constantly undercutting him with ironic asides. Rabin is the people person. Rodgers works the tech. Rabin blushes when asked about his life on ice. "Oh God, here we go . . .," teases Rodgers, who spent the '90s working as a master printer for photographers in New York. Rabin bows his head in mock shame: "I was injured in '87, then I ended up being left here in L.A. wondering, now what? Nightclubs called out my name. I submerged myself into that world."

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In just one year as a formal company, Rabin Rodgers Inc. has been hired to design events by the lifestyle industry's uppermost echelons, to create the realms the pair once dreamed of infiltrating: Absolut Vodka, L'Oréal, the William Morris Agency, Elle, Gagosian Gallery, Thierry Mugler. The company's debut? A gala for the American re-launch of Vespa that drew a slew of boldface-name types. "It must be clever, artful, sexy, with a sense of humor," says Rabin. A patch of grass growing inside a clear plastic cube as a "save the date" mailer for the Nintendo GameCube party. A 9-foot windmill with a Dutch boy handing out tulips for a Diesel event. This is clearly not just a matter of slapping a flier on a photocopier -- this is the process of creating immersive, enveloping environments.

Rabin and Rodgers conceptualize the invitations, the lighting scheme, the music, the food, the costuming of the wait staff, the installations, the furniture. And then they make it happen, building layer upon layer. The thousand and one accouterments of a party, from layouts to the mix of guests and personalities, to the elements of timing within the party itself -- all must blend into a seamless and effortless whole.

"Nights are choreographed," Rabin says. His voice ranges from soothing and hypnotic to a manic-speed fusion of food, art, film and fashion metaphors. Parties have multiple stages -- variable levels of intrigue. "At arrivals the music is playing a certain way. As people are starting to get to a different place with a couple of cocktails, the music changes. Who's coming next? The night builds, and the party starts peaking, you make sure that people start relaxing. We like to keep things very organic, hands-on and couture."

Rodgers cuts straight to the point: "We're like oxes. We just stay there until the job gets done." Both agree that balance is key. "You have to be careful about your mix," says Rabin. "You don't want to stand next to 500 people that look just like you. You want to walk into a room and speak to somebody who can blow your mind and make you think in a whole different direction." Too much sameness and it's boresville. Yet in crafting a guest list, you have to edit, says Rabin. "What makes sense? Who's going to fit together right? Who's going to stir up the most fun? Who's going to cause the most excitement?"

The dichotomies, the balance -- between pushing celebrity and building relationships, between maintaining and dispelling tension. Social hierarchies vs. party democracies. On the one hand, having a VIP room can be detrimental to a party. According to Rabin, "weird chutes and ladders" emerge where everyone outside the room is trying to get in and all the people inside are trying to get out. On the other hand, little nooks and crannies, places where the lighting darkens, are essential -- people need "a place to escape, to flirt," says Rodgers. Such are the intricacies of party planning, paradoxical as a Buddhist koan.

Yet beyond their ability to pull together a polished project, no small part of Rabin and Rodgers' draw is their cachet with a sophisticated and elusive demographic. For years, Rabin has produced Cherry, one of the longest-running weekly clubs in L.A. His mailing list, with a base of 40,000 names, is legend among social cognoscenti and is one of the most extensive in the city. "Rich to poor, famous to notorious, gay to straight," Rabin says, spinning the scene, "the only place they will ever meet is at a party. When you have some hip-hop kid standing next to Betsy Bloomingdale? That's gorgeous! It's completely ridiculous interactive living theater."

Rabin Rodgers Inc., (323) 462-5410.

Reach the writer at galimurung@laweekly.com

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