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Holiday Entertaining Tips

In Andre Leon Talley's foreword to the book Valentino: At the Emperor's Table, he relays one of the principles underlying Mr. Valentino's philosophy of entertaining. "Codes and rules of etiquette," Mr. Valentino tells Talley, give your life "structure and balance."  With the holiday party season in full swing, what better time to learn a few codes of Mr. Valentino's own?


1) There's no such thing as a "casual" meal.


Sure, you can have a easygoing meal, like the Risotto Milanese that Mr. Valentino prefers his chef to prepare light on the cream. But even when he's dining alone, he takes his dinner on a beautiful plate, to mark the occasion. And when he entertains, Mr. Valentino serves his menu à la française, a convention for dining developed in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century of placing food in tureens and platters arranged in decorative groupings on the table. (If you really want to entertain Valentino-style, the tureens should be Meissen porcelain, and waiters in black suits and white gloves should dispense salt from antique Russian saltcellars. But, you know, baby steps.)


2) The guest list is key


As Mr. Valentino told Harper's Bazaar in 2014, "the people in the room are as important as the chairs they're sitting on or the food they're eating." Curate your companions, in other words, split up couples to promote conversation, and pay respect by seating the most elderly (or most important) person to the host's right. Those are the bylaws at Mr. Valentino's dinners, if you're ever lucky enough to nab an invite.


3) Color, color, color.


Get rid of that staid white tablecloth! Mr. Valentino complements his collection of china by setting his tables on cloths of pale yellow, jade, dusty pink or pale blue. And while you're at it, don't stint on the flowers.


4) Speaking of flowers…


Send them to your host after you've dined with them. According to Mr. Valentino, that's a more welcome thank you present than any gift offered upon arrival—especially if that gift is one that clashes with your host's carefully chosen décor.


5) Don't feel compelled to accommodate every request.


As Mr. Valentino told New York magazine's The Cut, he will serve you corn flakes if you ask for them. But only for breakfast and only if you're breakfasting on his yacht.


6) "Anything Goes."


Is this the rule that contradicts the rest? No, it's the title of a classic Cole Porter tune—one of many that Mr. Valentino likes to play at gatherings, along with contemporaneous tunes by George Gershwin. Consider this the starting point for an elegant party playlist of your own: Music serves as any occasion's indispensable grace note.

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