Haitians value hospitality…. If you have been to a Haitian party you know exactly what we are talking about! Marie Danielle Vil-Young’ honors this tradition in every event her company,Á Votre Service Events®, coordinates. It is no surprise she has been published in the Wall Street Journal and Á Votre Service Events® can be found globally in the Ritz-Carlton in-house magazine, Weddings by Ritz-Carlton.We fell in love with her through a set of floral arrangements she had done for a Fleur de Vie fundraiser last summer in New York. The work displayed reflected a skill that could not have been bought or taught: class. That is why we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do a Q & A with this talented, hardworking, and dedicated artist. We hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did.A couple of weeks ago we were exchanging DMs and you shared the story of how you came to discover your talent for event planning and floral arrangements? Would you mind sharing with our readers?
I was working as a Scientist which I had done for about 14 years since graduating with a Masters in Science- Biochemistry. My work at the time involved DNA Cloning, Phage Display, Protein Engineering work involved in oncology research. While, I did well at my work and enjoyed every minute of it, I had always felt that I had more to offer. There was a lot more about me (different skill sets, leadership skills, personal development) that I wanted to explore, but felt limited in my career in Science. I didn’t fit all the stereotypes that one typical hear about and perhaps observe. Even though I am an only child, I am not so much an introvert, but rather out-going, fun loving, intrigued by fashion, culture, history, the arts, architecture, diplomacy, music of all types- from Opera to hip-hop, etc.In 2008, I got married after spending the year and half prior planning my wedding. I became intrigued and obsessed with the bridal industry. What is interesting about the experience is that prior to becoming engaged, I had never spent time thinking about my wedding. I have always wanted a family, but the wedding planning process never occurred to me until I was planning my own wedding. Well, I got married in May 2008, spent just about a month traveling to the different Hawaiian Islands, and when I came back to work sometime in July, my wedding photographer and videographer planted the seed in my brain that perhaps I should start a business in Wedding Planning! That’s all it took! A month later, I registered my business as an Event Planning company and embarked on this insane, but super rewarding journey of growth, self-discovery, and career change!I have discovered much about myself, including my talents in floral design. Imagine my surprise and shock trying my hands on a centerpiece not that long ago and to discover that I have a natural ability to design the most beautiful floral pieces. As I look back, I have always loved and appreciated plants and flowers, but a career in this area simply did not occur to me. I have now learned that a career in my current line of work is a fabulous way to make a living, especially a line of work I am so passionate about and I feel completely in sync doing this work .It is not obvious to most, but the truth is that I haven’t strayed too far from my science still. Floral design is not only an art form, but there is much science behind it. To deliver the most exquisite quality of flowers to my clients, there is much science and process from the time the flower is cut to the way we maintain the flower until it is delivered to our clients. There is much mechanics that goes into floral design work, and sound technical ability from my science work has helped me excel quickly in the area of floral design. I am obsessed with the quality of my flowers and my science definitely makes it easier to maintain that high standard and also my natural curiosity for finding interesting species of flowers and plants to work with certainly helps to keep my work interesting.You recently kicked off your AVS signature Line of Couture Vases and Floral available for retail, can you tell us about this endeavor?
Over the years, my business has grown to become a fully integrated Event Planning and Design company to include all floral design work in-house for our weddings and events. It seems that our Clients are interested in using our services not only for their special occasions, but they are interested in our work for their homes. Hence, I developed AVS Lifestyle as a retail portion of my brand to include products for the home / home accents, unique gifts, candles, bridal accessories, etc. More recently, our clients have been asking about our flowers for their homes and businesses hence I developed the AVS Signature line of couture vases and floral available on a retail level. In creating the Signature line, I should mention is that I have always strive to create work that is classy, elegant, sophisticated, yet generate interest and intrigue… perhaps even edgy with a twist of the unexpected. There are many companies I admire that do nice work, but I approach my work from a place of authenticity. My taste is very eclectic and I allow that to come through in my work, this way, it actually comes easy to me because it is authentically me! It is not to stay I do not stretch my creative muscles at all times, but rather, the end results of my work for my clients will feel polished and beautiful but the results will excite me as well. Your company’s name is “A Votre Service.” Has your Haitian upbringing influence the way you manage your company?
In choosing a name for my business, there is no doubt I wanted a name that carried some weight. I wanted to build something bigger than me and so I never considered using my name. I wanted a business name that had substance and meaning, and somewhat a mission statement. With my industry and line of work specifically, I am in the service business. I value education and integrity, and I believe no matter what the line of work one is in, strive to be the very best in doing that work. What better message or statement to tell my clients that I am, that my team is “at their service”! And we mean it! Great customer service and experience is imperative to me and we strive to not only deliver on promises always, but to exceed expectations on all front.In our Haitian culture, hospitality is extremely important.Being the very best host is something we take seriously and we take pride in. Whatever it takes to make a guest comfortable is what we tend to do. And so the idea of being of service to individuals in our lives, supporting one another comes naturally. The name I chose for my business made sense to me. I initially worried that I would not be able to protect the name with a trademark as it is a commonly used phrase by the French, but I found out differently and so I was able to trademark my business name early on.Based on your experience, what do you think brings the Luxe to a Haitian event?
I tend to approach my events the same way to start, that is to learn more about my client, what is it he / she wishes the event to exude, the look and “feel”, whether there is a theme associated or not for us to keep in mind. I ask questions about the purpose of the celebration, and we use much information about the client’s background, culture, likes, dislikes, sense of style, taste in our overall approach to design the event. We see events as an opportunity to create an experience for our clients, their family, and guests and so we are always interested in learning about our client to start.Haitian culture is very rich, vibrant in its music, art, culture, food, and spirit. To bring luxe to a Haitian event, I would say to incorporate the details we know that are authentically Haitian, however not in a way that is cliché. To bring luxe to any event, including a Haitian event, the details should not feel forced. Everything ought to feel organic while there is much room for sophistication, elegance, and organization.We planned and produced a wedding a few years ago for a couple and the bride is Haitian. The bride is a doctor and the groom was in finance. The wedding was spectacular with over 400 guests invited and so hosting a sophisticated, luxurious affair was not an option. In lieu of floral arrangements on the guest tables, we suggested using plants and tropical greenery indigenous to Haiti and the Caribbean, but in a way that the centerpieces felt lush, abundant, imposing and towering over the tables. The plants and greenery varied from table to table, some tables had large vases full with oversized Banana plant leaves, some tables had Palm leaves, others Monstera leaves, and so on. In lieu of table numbers, we named some of the tables after different towns and locations in Haiti.Incorporating items like Cremas as favors, or perhaps rum-cake can easily be done, but add a twist to the packaging to add sophistication. How about the food, why not have a Fritaille station but presented as small bites. Or how about selecting Haitian food items that lend themselves to being served Tapas style or as passed small plates. Bring on Cola Couronne or Cola Lacaye served alone or infused in a signature cocktail served to all guests upon arrival. In addition to your regular bar, a mini tasting bar with only your favorite Haitian liquors and spirits could be fun. Perhaps consider serving drinks made only of your Haitian liquors and spirits and or pair your drinks to selected foods being served at different times throughout the night of the event.With the use of Digital Mapping, how about changing the scenery of the space throughout the night with scenes of your favorite Haitian locale or artwork from your favorite artists, or perhaps stream Haitian poetry and folktale in different areas of the event to add interest. At cocktail hour, consider streaming black and white Haitian movies or series from well-known Haitian comedian Languichatte!
As you can tell, I can go on and on about fun ideas to create a beautiful, luxe event your guests will be talking about for years to come.What are your favorite places to visit when you go back to visit friends and family in Haiti?
The last few times, I have been to Haiti, I managed to turn my trips into business trips- busy with meetings, location scouting for destination weddings and events in Haiti. I do however manage to eat plenty of my favorite foods, try many restaurants and bakeries always (in the name of business of course), many in Petion-Ville, on the road to Cotes des Arcadins, Cap-Haitian, and other parts of the country.You have overseen many events? What do you think are the attributes of a great guest?
I have overseen many, many events over the years. The attributes of a great guest is one that is grateful, graceful, tactful, and discrete. Hosting an event is almost always stressful for the host for so many reasons. The experience can be very emotionally charged and of course there is a financial component that can become overwhelming at times for the host(s). keeping the host’s needs in mind can help a guest better put everything into perceptive; keep in mind to be grateful that the host has extended an invitation and to be discrete in dealing with issues or concerns regarding the event.We truly enjoyed this Q&A! Marie Danielle Vil-Young is an inspiration to us and we wish her the best. If you are in the New York area and are in need of an event planner, you now know who to call!