Svetlana Legetic, Washington Night Life Promoter, Moving to New York

August 18th, 2012

“I’M heading over to Titanic,” said Svetlana Legetic in a text message, stuck off to one side of the National Geographic Museum, just after 10 p.m. on a sweltering Friday in early summer. An exhibit on the doomed vessel was open until 1 a.m., and seemingly packed with more people than had embarked on the ship.

Ms. Legetic, 32, was hard to miss even in this crowd: 6 feet tall and channeling 1970s Bianca Jagger, red-lipped and braless in a thin-strapped silk black pantsuit and long gold necklace with a tassel. The Serbian-born former architect began reorganizing the capital’s night life about four years ago with Brightest Young Things, a webzine. It has grown into a party-production juggernaut that she plans to bring to New York in September.

Cale Charney, her business partner and the organization’s events manager, dashed past. “The photo booth isn’t working!” he shouted.

Ms. Legetic smiled. “You know people love their photo booths,” she said, before vanishing to address the problem, amid a mass of throbbing dancers.

There were D.J.’s in the courtyard and D.J.’s in the National Geographic’s staff dining room, which had been transformed into a dance hall. In the building’s driveway, trucks were offering Lebanese food and cupcakes. Just outside the party barriers, in the street, a group of women in brightly colored silk short dresses asked those departing if they might recycle the fluorescent wristbands that indicated admittance; the event, they said sadly, was sold out.

Costing $ 15 to $ 25 a ticket, the event was part of Brightest Young Thing’s “Local Tourist” series, aimed at getting sometimes overlooked landmarks, like the Spy Museum, to open its space at off hours and interest locals in what’s right in front of them.

What began as a close circle of friends who documented their lives on personal blogs is now a six-person crew often hired for a fee. Ms. Legetic said that fee ranged from the low- to mid-five figures for the crew to pump up the image of embassies, create pop-up art events in not-yet-gentrified neighborhoods, and be behind-the-scenes consultants for those who simply want their aesthetic (and their crowd) to show up.

Ms. Legetic herself has become a fixture in the Washington social scene, attending glittery parties with well-connected guests like the political strategist Juleanna Glover and the art collectors Tony and Heather Podesta.

Now she is hoping to bring her talents to New York, where she said she has secured an apartment in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn and had cordial meetings with representatives of the Guggenheim, the Standard and the founder of Pulse Art Fair, among others, but has not yet set up anything official.

Ms. Legetic said she was challenged not only by New York’s larger scale, but also by what she perceived as a desire among promoters to entice the “right” 100 people. She doesn’t work that way, she said, though ostensibly in the end, the “right” people seem to show.

“I know that in New York, exclusivity is a big thing,” she said. “But we always felt we could do a 2,000-person event that still felt very special and allowed people to feel like they actually belong somewhere and to something.” Indeed, Brightest Young Things began as a group of friends who wanted to make life better in Washington, a city long known for an endless stream of complaints about the social scene.

This started to change as Barack Obama closed in on the presidency, bringing with him an infusion of youthful energy, and by the 2008 election Ms. Legetic’s group was organizing parties that sprawled over hours and through enormous spaces. Their Inauguration 2009 bacchanal began at brunch and went till the wee hours, held over three floors in the Bohemian Caverns, a historic jazz club on U Street.

That was when event planning was part-time work for Ms. Legetic, squished into the margins of her job at an architecture firm in Bethesda, Md. Now her team works full time out of a town house on newly trendy Ninth Street in D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood. From there, carnival-like events are planned, all exhaustively chronicled on the Brightest Young Things blogs.

There was a recent party for 1,700 people at the French Embassy (called “Zou Bisou Bisou,” after the song), which featured softly lighted pink-lace teepees and sponsorship from St. Germain liqueur; it felt peculiarly intimate despite the crowds. There was a charity event with cooks from “Top Chef,” with Bravo cameras rolling as an entire pig was sliced and soft shell crabs were fried. There are the successful weekend-summer pool party series held for the last three years at the Capitol Skyline Hotel, a project of the Rubell family of Art Basel and Studio 54 fame.

Always there is Ms. Legetic’s fleet of photographers: urban photojournalists with a knack for making even the most inebriated look attractive, who put photos online nearly immediately. Always there is a crowd far better-looking and better-dressed than Washington usually gets credit for.

Ms. Legetic “seized on two fundamental things happening in D.C.,” said Karen Sommer Shalet, editor in chief of DC magazine, one of the first mainstream publications to highlight her rise. “An incoming, burgeoning, young creative class, and a kind of celebration of the gay community.” Ms. Shalet said the two groups were young, vital and not simply political, and that they both “needed somewhere to go.”

Jayne Sandman, a principal at BrandLinkDC, a public relations and events company, said that Ms. Legetic “raised the bar … she was the first person to captivate hipster D.C., and she’s built a mini-empire.”

Now Ms. Legetic wants to extend that empire to New York, a city that’s already saturated with events and event planners. She will be facing the challenge of bringing the Brightest Young Things spirit of a hipster egalitarianism culture to a place traditionally more interested in drawing power distinctions.

“The full New York plan is really to do what we do here,” she said. “Have a solid editorial platform that is essentially your best friend whose taste level you trust and who also happens to be a pretty witty writer and has a terrific camera, and then transfer that feeling from online to offline and vice versa.”

Mr. Charney, the events manager, was more frank: “The expansion to New York is scary. It’s a lot harder to get noticed. But we’re bumping into the walls of how far we can go in D.C. It’s a tiny place, so we need to try.”

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