Stanlee Gatti

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Stanlee R. Gatti
Born October 28, 1955
Raton, New Mexico

University of Northern Colorado
University of Oregon

Francisco Art Institute
Occupation Event designer
Parent(s) Ann and Larry Gatti

Stanlee Ray Gatti (born 1955) is one of the best-known event planners in the U.S.[1] He is among the first Americans to practice event design as visual art. He has been called San Francisco's "resident creative genius".[2]

Background and childhood[edit]

Gatti is the second youngest of five children born to immigrant parents in the small mining town of Raton, New Mexico. His father Larry, a former coal miner born in Arpino, Italy (birthplace of Cicero), became a master craftsman in the United States,[1] and built the family house himself. His mother Ann was born in Montenegro, Serbia, and was a socially-active housewife.[1]

An inquisitive child, Gatti would often explore his father's workshop.[3] He roamed the grounds surrounding his home, collecting soil to mix in mud pots for paint. He learned piano, saxophone, and drums, and was interested in local Native American music and culture.[4] He studied dance in elementary school, and ran a flower shop by age ten.[5]

Education and early career[edit]

Gatti studied music, physical education and art at the University of Northern Colorado in the 1970s, then architecture and art history at the University of Oregon.[6] After college he briefly returned home to coordinate events at the local country club, and worked as a department store window dresser. He worked at a plant store in Aspen, Colorado for several months then, inspired by a dream and a chance meeting with a group of drifters, he moved to San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood.[4] He began as a florist at the St. Francis Hotel hotel in 1978,[4] advancing quickly to Hospitality Manager, a room service post created for him.

Event planning[edit]

In 1985 Gatti's boss at the St. Francis asked him to set up a table for group of self-described ladies who lunch planning a 75th anniversary opening gala for the San Francisco Symphony. In a hurry, he bought a flower-patterned bedsheet from Macy's across the street, borrowed a tablecloth and napkins from housekeeping, and arranged some sweet peas on top. One of the women, California Culinary Academy founder Danielle Carlisle, reportedly exclaimed "Who did this?" Impressed, the women hired him to design the entire event.[5] In his first professional effort, he stirred up the traditionally staid Symphony crowd with unusually bold colors and designs. By next morning he was receiving calls from San Francisco socialites who wanted to hire him for themselves.[7] Within three months he left the hotel to start his own design firm, Stanlee R. Gatti Designs.

Success came quickly. A "great sniffer of power" and friend to "both beauty and bum, bastard and banker," he soon jointed the ranks of San Francisco's social elite, not only creating events but attending, hosting, throwing parties and having parties thrown for him. According to his mother, "He never meets a stranger." In 1998 a columnist deemed him one of the three most powerful people in San Francisco.[5]

Others compare him to New York tastemaker Ward McAllister. A well-known blog ran an occasional "Stanlee Gatti count" to list mentions in San Francisco's gossip columns.[8]

In 1996 Mayor Willie Brown, by then a personal friend, appointed Gatti President of the San Francisco Arts Commission, an important agency that manages a set aside of two percent of all city spending on public works. Gatti used the position to push the boundaries of San Francisco's famously conservative taste in public art.[6] His best-received initiatives were installations by Vito Acconci, Ned Kahn, Robert Arneson, and Bill Viola. Gatti brought ten Keith Haring sculptures to San Francisco, one of which remains at the Moscone Center. However, Gatti generated as much controversy as admiration. He jokingly proposed to mount a 30-foot Louise Bourgeois spider atop San Francisco City Hall. A more serious proposal to install a giant peace symbol by Tony Labat in Golden Gate Park ran afoul of neighborhood activists and was subsequently rejected by the Commission.[9] In 1999, an already-approved commission for Buster Simpson to create a giant naked foot for the end of Market Street was criticized by the public, mocked by the head San Francisco Chronicle art critic, and ultimately de-funded by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.[6] Gatti resigned from the Commission unexpectedly in 2004.

Gatti was president of the San Francisco Arts Commission.[1] He was criticized for his efforts in 1997 to site large sculptures of a peace symbol and a foot along the Embarcadero.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Gatti has cultivated close friendships with people from all walks of life, but especially the women of San Francisco's moneyed social circle. He was best man at the wedding of former mayor Gavin Newsom to his former wife Kimberly Guilfoyle,[6] and designed his subsequent wedding to Jennifer Siebel.[1] Other high-profile friends, living and deceased, include David Blaine, Robin Williams, Elton John, Jason Lewis, Danielle Steel, Peter Magowan, Joni Mitchell,[1] Grace Slick (who introduced him to psychic Carol Simone), Jo Schuman and Steve Silver, Ann and Gordon Getty, and Herb Caen.

An often anonymous philanthropist, Gatti quietly funded the Rigo 23 mural "Sky/Ground" on San Francisco's St. Regis Museum Tower, contributed $50,000 towards the Haring installations, and intended to secretly pay for the Golden Gate Park peace symbol. Gatti is reportedly an insomniac and workaholic, who stays awake long into the night and drinks five twelve[1] espressos every morning. A former chain smoker of American Spirit cigarettes,[1] he carries his ashes away because he dislikes dirty ash trays. Although he works events that serve meat, he himself is a vegetarian.[5] He currently lives in San Francisco's Twin Peaks.


Friends and colleagues praise Gatti's "genius" for creative design.[5] He is among few American designers who approach event planning as a visual art form as much as a business service.[4] Along with New York's Robert Isabell he is "one of the most venerated event designers in the country."[4] The creative process is spontaneous and focuses heavily on color. He follows color trends in fashion (his favorite is green),[5] but in event design, he explains, "I do not know what the trends are because I set the trends."[10] A florist by background, he usually designs elaborate floral displays for events, yet sometimes excludes them entirely.[11] "Everyone expects flowers, especially from me", he explains. "I don’t ever really want to be pegged into a corner.".[12][better source needed]

Stanlee R. Gatti Designs[edit]

Gatti's company Stanlee R. Gatti Designs produces high profile weddings, parties, fundraisers, and other events in San Francisco and elsewhere. Leaving to others details such as transportation, security, and catering, he concentrates on the aesthetic experience. His work involves fabrication and installation of decorations, interior design, tents and other temporary structures, lighting, flowers, costumes, table settings and dressing.[5] Some are mis-en-scene installations, such as simulating a forest inside a tent (including a black night sky, floor mulch, live fir trees, and cold temperature) to celebrate the turn-over of San Francisco's Presidio to the National Park Service, or a cubist theme to honor a biographer of Pablo Picasso.[5]

Working without project proposals or detailed budgets out of three warehouses in San Francisco,[1] Gatti and his staff of 55 employees produce ten events per week.[13] Half are weddings. Projects range from single-table floral designs to large charity events for thousands of guests. Gatti has been known to run large charity events at a loss, personally funding shortfalls, changes and fixes when important to an event's success.[5]

Solo installations[edit]

Commissioned projects[edit]


Other clients[edit]

Gatti has undertaken significant projects for San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Ballet, SFJAZZ, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, de Young Museum, San Francisco Art Institute, the San Francisco Zoo, Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schwab, Peter Magowan, and Dede Wilsey.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Julian Guthrie (2009-12-13). "Stanlee Gatti: Let's party with the best". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  2. ^ a b Bigelow, Catherine (May 4, 2007). "Surreal fete for prince of Pop art at SFMOMA's Modern Ball". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  3. ^ a b Selvin, Joel (December 18, 2006). "Gatti's love of nature blooms sans flowers". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "On the Record:Stanlee Gatti". San Francisco Chronicle. December 26, 2004. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Robins, Cynthia (December 6, 1998). "Party Arty:the SF Arts Commission's Stanlee Gatti, making the move from high-end flower arrangements to conceptual art.". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  6. ^ a b c d Hamlin, Jesse (July 14, 2004). "Arts czar Stanlee Gatti has left his mark on the city. Whether you like it is another matter.". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  7. ^ West, Kevin (November 2005). "Gatti Trust". W Magazine. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  8. ^ Hao, Rita (February 25, 2007). "Swells by the numbers". sfist. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  9. ^ Hamlin, Jesse (May 6, 1998). "Sculptured Vision of City". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  10. ^ partysugar (April 25, 2007). "Stanlee's Secret". yumsugar. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  11. ^ a b Bigelow, Catherine (October 22, 2006). "Swells". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  12. ^ Tiffani Martini (November 18, 2006). "Foregoing Flowers". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved 2007-07-25. 
  13. ^ Garber, Natasha (September 1, 2001). "Stanlee Gatti Has the Last Word". Special Events Magazine. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  14. ^ a b Bigelow, Catherine (April 15, 2007). "Swells". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-07-25. 
  15. ^ Sardar, Zahid (December 18, 2006). "Matrix for Fun: A Stanlee Gatti-designed bar reclaims a bastion of San Francisco nightlife". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  16. ^ Richford, Rhonda (April 2005). "It's Ladies Night". Instyle Magazine. 
  17. ^ Bigelow, Catherine (July 3, 2005). "Swells". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  18. ^ Bigelow, Catherine (December 5, 2004). "Swells". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-07-25. 
  19. ^ Lacher, Irene (January 30, 2007). "Coffee—and Pelosi—Inspire SAG Fete". BizBash. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  20. ^ Lacher, Irene (February 23, 2006). "SAG Awards Turn Flowers Upside Down". BizBash. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  21. ^ Catherine Bigelow (2003-12-28). "Mr. Getty, are you ready for your close-up?". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  22. ^ Bigelow, Catherine (December 24, 2006). "Swells". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  23. ^ "Eye scoop". Women's Wear Daily. 2007-12-20. 
  24. ^ Catherine Bigelow (2009-12-16). "Guests of Gettys aglow". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  25. ^ Janet Duca Norton (April 24, 2007). "Celebrating its 40th anniversary, ACT stages a party for the ages". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-07-25. 
  26. ^ Bigelow,Catherine (May 6, 2007). "Swells". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-07-25. 
  27. ^ Leah Garchik (October 22, 2013). "How Kanye West planned proposal to Kim Kardashian". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  28. ^ Sardar, Zahid (January 21, 2001). "Spaceship Xanadu". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 

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