The New York Minute

Interview Series: Meet Your Remarkable New York Neighbors

The Event Planner

Paul & Vince would like to welcome to the conversation Marc Eliot of Swoop.
You know, anybody can put nice flowers on the table. That doesn’t make a room. But the right lighting, the right color. The right palette, maybe on the floor, the right staging…that creates the atmosphere. The flowers just happen to be an accent.

Marc Eliot is the Chief Creative Officer of Swoop, a luxury event design and production studio. With 30+ years of industry expertise, Marc designs events at prestigious venues and cultural institutions throughout the tri-state region. From award-winning event installations to design insights published in industry heavyweights like Vogue and Town & Country, he prides himself on a team focused on attentive customer service, cutting-edge trends, stunning interpretations of timeless chic, and impactful corporate branding.

Marc’s predilection for all things beautiful is channeled through the recording of his original musical compositions and songs and beloved standards. His resume includes performing in and producing regional theater and cabarets nationwide.

When he’s not producing an event, Marc enjoys quiet time with his wife and family, meandering through his charming town of residence in the Berkshires and traveling around the world.


Paul & Vince: How did you come to be in New York City?

Marc: Well, coming to New York was always a dream. Where I grew up—Comack, Long Island—wasn’t far from the city, but it was a world away from what I wanted.

It was tough at first. I remember moving into my first apartment in the late 1970s, and then I remember moving out of my first apartment again in the late 1970s because, in the early years, I couldn’t afford the rent! [Laughs.] But that first apartment on West 58th was, you know…a little tiny hole in the wall with a hot plate for a kitchen. You don’t forget your first New York apartment.

Paul & Vince: Exactly. And how did you come to be in your career?

Marc: Well, I was always a creative person, into design, music, and theater. But in the mid-1980s, I had a job working in men’s clothing…I liked it enough but didn’t love it, honestly. I was still writing and performing music, but I wanted to be in something more creative. Then one day, one of my customers, the owner of Spitz & Peck, a local floral decorating company, took me aside and said, “What are you selling clothes for when you could sell anything? You should come to work for me.”

It turned out that they were expanding, so I took a leap. Since I knew nothing about the floral business, I remember cutting up photos of flowers. I made a homemade book of flashcards and memorized the flower names, their varieties, and their shape tendency…I mean, I could tell you everything. And that’s how I learned about the flowers! [Laughs.]

Paul & Vince: So, you started working as a floral designer?

Marc: Yes, they called themselves “floral decorators.” And really, what that meant in those days was centerpieces, balloons, and a little bit of lighting when needed. They had me traveling around as the young guy, doing events on Long Island, especially for the kosher caterers, the temples, and the halls—all of which were very active.

So, I was weaned on tent parties, hotel parties, and temple parties, and since you couldn’t get in on a Saturday night until after sundown, it was fast work that needed a lot of pre-planning.

But I always felt like I wanted a bigger stage. So, I left that company in the 1990s. I opened a company in Glen Cove on Long Island called Simply Elegant. That went pretty well.

Paul & Vince: Pretty well? It sounds like you’re being modest.

Marc: [Laughs.] Well, yes, maybe—I guess it was shortly after 9/11—I got a call from someone at the Waldorf Astoria, who had seen my work, and he was offering me a job. I remember walking into the Waldorf my first morning on the job in March of ‘02, turning around ten or twenty times, not wanting…you know, fear always enters into it…and not wanting to take the plunge.

Paul & Vince: Yeah.

Marc: When I walked through the front doors, I treated everyone at the hotel exactly the same, from the men’s room attendant to the doorman to General Manager. And you know what? I worked there for the next 18 years.
I guess I had always known that I could create beautiful atmospheres. But getting to the Waldorf and understanding, embracing, and being inspired by everything that I saw and the clients we were involved with, and just the hotel itself…It opened up just tremendous creativity doors. If it weren’t for my experience at Waldorf, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Paul & Vince: Okay. So—let’s go back a bit because you mentioned the music business. How did your background in music work into this story?

Marc: Well, I’m a singer. I’m a composer. I’m an actor—I still have my Equity card. In the mid-90s and early 2000s, I performed in regional productions of everything from Phantom to City of Angels to I Do, I Do…I played Bobby in Company. I played Marvin in Falsettos…literally up and down the coast. And that was just a tremendous experience. But I also produced Broadway revues. One theater in particular, down in Delray Beach, Florida, I probably did this for about five or six years in a row.

Paul & Vince: Hmmm…Delray Beach sounds like a great place to try out a show…Good target audience but far enough away from New York critics!

Marc: Yeah, Delray Beach was where I honed my skills in producing a show. They had this beautiful theater in what they called Old School Square, right in the heart of Delray Beach, and you’d rent the theater for the week…the sound, the lights, everything that goes along with it, and then you sell tickets…and it’s a business! The show costs you, X, you need to make X to break even, and then there’s Y and Z. So I really learned not only how to be in a show, because I was in all of these shows, but I also learned the business side of it all.

Paul & Vince: Right! Interesting… And I liked the expression you used about…you’ve always had the ability to create beautiful atmospheres. What does that mean?

Marc: So, you know, some people look at things, and they see an empty room, or they see color. When I look at things, it’s almost like my brain turns it inside out before I realize how I’m looking at it. And, you know, anybody can put nice flowers on the table. That doesn’t make a room. But the right lighting, the right color. The right palette, maybe on the floor, the right staging…that creates the atmosphere. The flowers just happened to be an accent.

And don’t get me wrong, a lot of times, the flowers are significant. But it’s taking a white room or a gray day and turning it into something beautiful and inviting.

Paul & Vince: So, when you’re working with a blank slate, that’s a different skill. That’s the ability to see something.

Marc: It is. And it’s not a skill, I don’t think, that you learn in school. I think it’s a skill that, first of all, has to be inside you somewhere before you realize you can tap into it.

But my first experience with this was in men’s clothing when we would take an empty window…this ugly, 8-foot-wide, 12-foot-high space. And the next thing you knew, three hours later, wow, it was amazing. And that’s kind of how I look at designs. They’re layered. I always think of them in musical terms. There’s always a crescendo, a decrescendo! An accent!

Paul & Vince: That makes sense since music and design require a sense of order. So do you see those two as being related in your life—the ability to compose in one world and create in another?

Marc: I think they’re directly related. I was reminded of that not that long ago…I was working on many events, but one, in particular, was driving me crazy. So, at five o’clock at night on a Tuesday, I throw out a month’s worth of designs…I throw it out the window, go outside, walk the streets of Manhattan, and I’m in Central Park. I’m looking at windows, I’m on the streets, and I run into people I know, but they realize I’m in the zone.

Paul & Vince: Okay.

Marc: I do the same thing musically when trying to figure out a melody. And I once had a friend who called me a couple of days later and said, “I saw you. I knew you were working; I could tell by the look on your face that your lips were moving. And I didn’t want to bother you.”

Paul & Vince: [Laughs.] That’s funny!

Marc: And they said, “But I just want you to know, go for it, you know?”

Paul & Vince: Hmmm.

Marc: So, there’s an energy here in this city you can tap into. And you don’t always know…you can’t predict what direction that creative breeze will come in. But you have to be aware that you have to catch it when it does. Because it goes by quickly, and that, to me, is the most important thing about any creativity. Doesn’t matter if it’s music, it doesn’t matter if it’s flowers.


Paul & Vince: So, what is a typical day like for you? You must get up early?

Marc: Yeah, my typical day starts early because…over the years, I’ve just learned that if you need more time, the only time you’re going to get it is while everybody else is sleeping.

Paul & Vince: Right.

Marc: So, many, many years ago, I started getting up at 4, 4:30, 5, and then it just became 4 o’clock was my routine, to where if I slept until five, it was like sleeping in.
But I love those hours…getting up early, having my coffee, making my notes… writing down the questions in my head early in the morning…I work out. And then it’s still 7 o’clock! And I still have two hours before the crazy people wake up!

Paul & Vince: So this interview is later in your day. You’ve been up since four!

Marc: Yeah. This is, well, the joke is, ten o’clock should be lunchtime, you know? One o’clock is almost dinner.

Paul & Vince: So Marc, we have pictures of your beautiful work, but how does that happen? How does it come together?

Marc: You know…people see the beauty of what we do. And I know they realize that a lot of work goes into it, both support staff, design staff… But I think they don’t realize all the stuff that happens between, you know, load-in at 5 am and guests arriving at 5 pm.

They don’t know, you know…tablecloths come in the wrong color or size. They don’t know that the table doesn’t fit in the elevator because the real elevator is broken, and you’re going into a second one, or the truck breaks down. So, I think people don’t realize all that, and that’s where the real work is. But I have to tell you, I thrive. It happened this morning. You know, one, two, three things are not happening. It’s 5:30 am. And, you know, within an hour, everything was fine.

I think people know the work that goes into what they see. But they don’t realize the work that goes on before it gets there. The middle space between your contracts, your design boards, and presentations. Yes, you made your choices. But I think in that middle space between the design and it is created, the actual day of the event, they don’t know how we fill in those blanks.

Paul & Vince: Talk about the typical progression of work. How long does it take to put together a project?

Marc: So, pre-pandemic, I would say the typical job took about two to four months to plan. And that goes from annuals, fundraisers, and corporate dinners, to social weddings, bar mitzvahs, and what have you; they take a little longer.

Post-pandemic, everything needs to be done in a shorter time frame. Because people are either making last-minute decisions about having the event or dragging their feet about it. And then, by the time you design it, you’re kind of out of time. Because if I don’t order what you need, I can’t guarantee the design will hold water. [Laughs.] So, that’s the biggest thing. But the timeframe? You know, the bigger the project, the more time it takes. The more confident the client is in their decision-making process, the easier it is.

Paul & Vince: So, do people appreciate what the spectacular final result costs?

Marc: No!

Paul & Vince: They don’t?

Marc: Absolutely not.

Paul & Vince: [Laughs.]

Marc: And that’s the bad news. Now, say you’re throwing a party; you’re going to jump online. You’re going to send me pictures. And, of course, you have no idea what it costs. And depending upon your taste, color palette, and whatever, you could send me things that cost $20,000 or $2 million. My job is to talk to you first, understand what you like, and certainly understand the budget requirements. And then try to find the sweet spot. That’s the hard part. And even if you have an unlimited budget…you have a budget.

Paul & Vince: Yeah. Well, even if you have an unlimited budget, that doesn’t mean that you automatically know the tone, color palette, and mood you want to exude…that has to come with help from you, right?

Marc: Yes. And it requires many layers, as I’ve said before, of lighting, of texture. It’s the right vibe; it’s…forget about the colors. Is it hip and trendy? Is it cozy and warm? Let’s find a couple of buzzwords and then define them.


Paul & Vince: What’s a project that you’re the most proud of?

Marc: So, I think the biggest project of my life…of my career…was a wedding that, back in November of ’16, I was called into just…to give some design notes. I thought, “Okay, I’ll put together some concepts.” The clients came in, and the caterer came in because he was the connection to the client. Everybody hit it off. We’re laughing; we’re talking; we’re designing. And I said goodnight, and I couldn’t help but overhear as the bride got to the elevator; she said to her fiancé and the caterer, “If Marc is not involved, I’m not walking down the aisle.”

Paul & Vince: [Laughs.] Oh, wow, that’s high praise!

Marc: High praise. And, you know, I get the chills now that you want me to tell it. $2.5 million later worth of design and decor, they got married at a place called Oheka Castle out on Long Island. And we built a 12,000-square-foot facility adjacent to the property. It was quite spectacular.

Paul & Vince: Wow. That’s amazing. And so, now we can see how your theater background informs something like that…that is stagecraft. You’re building an entire world…

Marc: Yeah, that has nothing to do with flowers. That’s right. That is stagecraft. That’s a good way to put it. I had never used that word before. But that’s what it is.

Paul & Vince: Yeah! It looks like all of your background areas feed into each other. And you mentioned the caterers. Where does their job end and your job begin? Or does that have to be negotiated?

Marc: It’s sometimes blurry. But after all these years, I know 95% of the people in charge of catering, we know each other’s process. And it becomes, “Before the party starts, I’m in charge. Once the party starts, you’re in charge.” That’s the general rule because once the party starts, I’m out. It’s not that I don’t understand service or food or wine or alcohol. It’s just that it’s a world unto itself. And you should leave it to that professional.


Paul & Vince: What are some of your favorite things to do in New York on your days off?

Marc: Well, I used to be an avid runner. When I first moved into the city, I lived at 73rd and York. So, I would go west to the park, run around the park, and then run down the West Side. And the crazy thing is…there was this lawn at the top of Battery Park called Penny Park. And I would work out there, you know, I’d do push-ups and sit-ups, run around the tip, up the East Side, back home. And I’d be dead! And I would do this in the snow, rain, sleet, heat, and whatever. Fast-forward, I wound up moving to that area after I got divorced. And when I looked out—I’ll brag a little bit—my penthouse window, I could see that lawn, Penny Park, that I used to work out in, you know, whatever it was, ten to twelve years before.

Paul & Vince: Wait, I thought you were going to say that once you moved to that park, you ran up to 73rd street every day and came down!

Marc: Yeah, I started to, but my days of long runs have since ended. Now, I take long walks, see the neighborhoods, look at the Fifth Avenue windows, and walk through Central Park. And notice the people and the colors. And it doesn’t matter if it’s summer or winter or spring. This city is unlike any other in the world. And thankfully, I’ve been to many, and many of them are unbelievably inspiring.
But this town? I used to say you could take out your electrical cord and plug it into the air. And that would be your Tesla juice for the day. And it’s true. It is true! Yeah, I mean, I love the restaurants. I love the theater. I love the jazz clubs. I’m a guy who used to eat out seven nights a week. I was out with an old friend last night—I’m still trying to get over it. [Laughs.]

Paul & Vince: And what about your downtime at home…

Marc: So, I’m married. My wife’s name is Toby. We have a Cava-Poo named Billy. I have a stepson—I hate that phrase, but I have a stepson from a previous marriage who, when I met my ex, was 10. He’s now 50.

Paul & Vince: Nice.

Marc: I have Toby and my wife’s kids in their 20s. And I have approximately 33 kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, and what I call “special kids” in my life, and I am in contact with them all year long.

Paul & Vince: Wow, that’s great. It’s amazing.

Marc: It could be a text, it could be a “hey, what’s going on,” it could be a visit. And I’m very proud of that.

Paul & Vince: Father’s Day must be really busy for you.

Marc: You know, it’s funny. If I have one regret in my life, I have no children. But all these kids always wish me Happy Father’s Day, and I’m not their father! And I know that! But the fact that they think of me as the cool uncle? That’s the best.

…and one more, Just For Fun

Paul & Vince: So, now, Marc, it’s time for your Just For Fun question…Do you have any superstitions or quirky personal rules that you always stick with?

Marc: I don’t know if you’d call this quirky. But I’m a bit of a neat freak. I mean, to the point where towels have to hang at the right length. I’m the guy who’ll squeegee his shower. So, when I look at it, it’s always beautiful.

I’m the guy who brings his car to the car wash and then wash it when he gets home. Do you know? Because they didn’t do a good job. I mean, it used to be a problem. Now I’ve just realized it’s just part of who I am. But those are a lot of quirky things.
If the chairs at my rectangle dining room table are off, I have to walk over and fix them so the angles match. I sweep the carpet every morning. I’m talking at 4:30 in the morning!

Paul & Vince: [Laughs.] No wonder you have to get up so early!

Marc: I also iron everything every morning before I get dressed.

Paul & Vince: Wow, that is quirky!

Marc: And even when I do the sheets…I even press the pillowcases.

Paul & Vince: That’s pretty quirky.

Marc: The ironing thing is a little pain because, you know…Once, I was traveling with my then-brother- and sister-in-law, their kids, my ex, or whatever. And before we went out at night to go for dinner, I would iron everybody’s clothes!

Paul & Vince: [Laughs.] That’s amazing.

Marc: I mean, shirts, pants…Whatever!

Paul & Vince: Were they offended? Did you say, “Hand over that shirt? You don’t look good.”

Marc: Well, no, they would know! They weren’t going to iron it. So, they would bring it to me, because…I’m sorry. A wrinkled shirt? Really?

Paul & Vince: [Laughs.]

Marc: Once, I was with another friend. We were traveling throughout Southeast Asia. And I looked at him; he looked at me and himself. He says, “How come your clothes aren’t wrinkled? Weren’t they in a suitcase?” And I said, “Yeah, but I ironed them.” He says, “Who irons on vacation?” I said, “Who doesn’t?”

Paul & Vince: Wow! No wonder you have to get up so early.

Marc: If I get past that, I’m good to go!

Original artwork by Jolisa Robinson, Gavriani-Falcone Team Marketing

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