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styleblueprint_chantal14_051113Chantal is known for making things beautiful. That’s why organizations such as Dixon Gallery and Gardens call on her when there is a grand event on the horizon. She recently chaired the Les Bijoux Gala at the Dixon, and coming up in June, she will be the elegant shadow behind memorable Carnival Memphis events.

Even as a child, she would collect design books and magazines. When friends would ask, “What do you want to play?” she would say, “Let’s create a pretend summer home!” Not always a welcome idea with her friends, but she loved it!

After planning many special occasions at the Dixon, it has become a home away from home for Chantal. She and everyone on staff interact like family, no doubt because of the joy and energy she shares with everyone she meets.

When we asked how she consistently creates world-class celebrations with relaxed grace and precision, she explained, “I just pretend I am a guest at each party I plan.”

Chantal, you are known for making things beautiful. Briefly describe your background in the realm of entertaining and aesthetics.

I have a BFA in Interior Design from The University Of Memphis. I have volunteered for Les Passes and co-chaired one of their biggest fundraisers known as the “Stock Exchange.”  It runs about six weeks and is a furniture/jewelry/home accessories consignment shop. You have to be very creative with the items you are given in order to sell them, so any artistic or creative talent is a plus. It was always fun and challenging to create vignettes with said items. I have also been a volunteer with LeBonheur Club and worked on fundraising committees, usually the decor sub-committees, to plan parties or galas for the hospital.

At the Dixon, I am a trustee and have had the great privilege of co-chairing many of their wonderful events, most recently the Les Bijoux Gala a few weeks ago. The ladies that I worked with to put on a Forain Opening Gala (welcoming the Impressionist Jean-Louis Forain exhibit in 2011) joined me again this year. We were approached last spring by Dixon Director Kevin Sharp to create Les Bijoux, and all of us enthusiastically said, “Yes!” Exactly one year ago, we began the process of working on a gala that we hoped would set the stage for the exhibition of French jewels to follow.
The flower tunnel at Les Bijoux, (left to right) Lewis Williamson, Barbara Williamson, Chantal Johnson, Jeff Johnson. Photo credit: Whitney McNeill
The tables at Les Bijoux were set off with large calla lillies, hydrangeas and orchids, all in white to maintain a clean yet dramatic Art Deco theme. Photo taken by Christian Owen.
A glimpse of Les Bijoux at night from the second floor of a grand two-level clear tent. Photo taken by StyleBlueprint Editor Christian Owen.

What do you enjoy most about being involved with these organizations and event planning?

I really enjoy the people that I get to work with, especially at the Dixon. I have learned so much from the ladies I volunteer with there. They are incredibly encouraging and have such wisdom that it makes me want to live up to the standards they have set. No matter their age, they still have a passion for learning that amazes me and makes me realize that I still have so much to learn and lots of questions still to ask. I also love starting the design process with them, seeing it all start to come together and then seeing the final product come to fruition as a result of our group effort.

As a wife and mother to a busy teenager, taking on projects of this magnitude must pose challenges. What inspires you to keep going when the stress of balancing huge events, family and more set in?

I am inspired by a small circle of family and friends who cheer me on and pretty much make me feel like there is nothing i cannot accomplish. I do have doubts, but then I pick their brains and ask for a lot of guidance and advice. They are extremely encouraging, and I know I could not do what I do without their love and encouragement.

Do you typically call on the same vendors to get everything done for large events? If so, who are some of the key members of this team?

I do have a great team! They are amazing!!! Mahaffey Tents; Garden District (Greg Campbell/Erick New); Moonshine Lighting; Riveroaks Restaurant (Jose Gutierrez/Nancy Kistler); Luxe Event Rentals; Whitney McNeill, photographer; and Don Perry, photographer.
(left to right) Barbara Williamson, Steve Morrow, Nancy Morrow, Kevin Sharp, Erin Riordan, Gilles Chazal, Anne Reynolds, Steve Reynolds, Chantal Johnson, Susan Warner. Photo credit: Whitney McNeill

What are some of your favorite things to see at the culmination of a grand event.

I love to cook and enjoy gourmet cooking, so working with professional chefs to create an elaborate menu is one of my favorite tasks. I also love to garden. Flowers can have such an amazing impact in a party setting, especially architectural floral designs. The sky is the limit with this medium. I also love beautiful clothes. One of my favorite things to see at these galas are the beautiful gowns that the ladies wear, and I love to see a man in a tuxedo. Whether the guests realize it or not, they are part of the design for the evening in their elegant evening wear.

You always have on a dress that perfectly complements the gala or event you are involved with. Do you have a particular place you always go to for formal dresses? Describe the amazing “Art deco-style” dress you are wearing at the Dixon event.

I go to several spots when I am shopping for gowns. Stanley Korshak in Dallas, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus … I also look at websites like Net-A-Porter and Luisa Via Roma, too. The gown I wore to the gala was designed by Zuhair Murad. His designs are modern with a soft edge, and he definitely keeps the feminine form in mind, too. I was looking for something Art Deco, and when I saw a picture of the gown, I knew that was the one. It had all of the elements I wanted: It was columnar, had long sparkling black lines and a geometric circle. It was just jaw-dropping beautiful to me.
Susan Warner, Nancy Kistler, Jose Gutierrez, Chantal Johnson, Andre Renard, Barbara Williamson. Photo credit: Whitney McNeill

If you had to describe yourself with three adjectives, what would they be?

romantic, feminine, kind

What are some basic words of wisdom (free advice) you can offer based on your professional experience?

Never take no for an answer. If someone tells you that they can’t do something, then find someone who will. Anything is achievable, but you must be determined to see it through.

Do you have a specific mentor? How has that person influenced you?

Dabney Coors. I met Dabney several years ago through Theatre Memphis. She and I serve on that board together. She has taught me a lot about everything!!! She is a very wise woman, and she is always cheering me on! In my next life, I am coming back as Dabney!! (I tell her that constantly, and she knows that I adore her.)

Best advice you have ever received?

Concerning entertaining, when I was younger I was told that if I act like a guest at my own party and have a good time, then my guests will also follow my lead and enjoy themselves too. So everytime I give a party  I just pretend I am a guest, relax and enjoy myself.

Favorite escape or guilty pleasure?

New York City to escape; guilty pleasure … really good bread and butter (Paris has the best!)

What three things could you not live without (excluding family, friends and  God)?

My Blackberry, my laptop and coffee/espresso.

Favorite beauty product you can’t imagine not using?

Tom Ford lipstick

Favorite vacation or travel destination? (If there’s one place in the world you’d suggest someone visit, where would that be?)

Paris, France (museums, shopping, food), Aix En Provence (most beautiful blue sky I have ever seen); Rome, Italy (food, architecture).

Do you have a playlist of favorite music for a dinner party or a workout that you can recommend?

For a dinner party I like to play singers- and standards-type music such as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, etc. I also like Hotel Costes music. And I really enjoy classical music when I am alone or as background for a dinner party, too. When I workout, I listen to a lot of remixes. (Pure Barre has the best music to work out to, by the way!)

Thank you Chantal … we look forward to your next event!

And thank you to our talented photogrpaher, Whitney McNeill of Moving Screens Inc.!
Moving Screens

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About the Author
Christian Owen