Bruce Robert Isabell (June 2, 1952 – July 8, 2009) was an American event planner who was behind lavish and innovative events including weddings and funerals of the richest and most famous. He helped make Christmas at the White House during the Presidency of Bill Clinton and helped create innovative events that made Studio 54 in Manhattan into the place to be in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
He moved to New York City in the 1970s and was hired by Ian Schrager at Studio 54, after Schrager had seen the creative designs Isabell had developed while he was working for event planner Renny Reynolds who had done work at the club and was the leading planner in his day. Schrager described how Isabell "never tried to do too much, it was never design on steroids, yet there was always the razzle-dazzle".
He started on his own operating a floral shop within Bergdorf Goodman in Midtown Manhattan. He established "a full-service event-production house" in the city's West Village where he would oversee the creation of events around the world, in which the entire setting including flowers, lighting, sound and table decorations would be part of his craft. Anna Wintour of Vogue magazine described him as "the king of the event world" who was "a magician" and the first person that top hostesses would approach to create spectacular events. Isabell created roughly 30 events for writer and editor Tina Brown. She regarded him as "sort of a genius" who had the ability to "take any space and make magic in it". For over a decade, he designed the annual Met Ball for Vogue.
In the late 1970s, he had four tons of glitter dumped on the floor of Studio 54 for a New Year's Eve event, with club co-owner Ian Schrager describing how guests felt "like you were standing on stardust". Bracketed between the 1986 wedding of Edwin Schlossberg to Caroline Kennedy and the 1996 nuptials of John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette, he worked on the 1994 funeral of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. For the July 1995 wedding of billionaire Robert Warren Miller's daughter Marie-Chantal to Pavlos, Crown Prince of Greece at Saint Sophia in Bayswater, London, Isabell created a virtual Greek temple in a tent, including pillars topped with roses, with a budget variously estimated at $5–8 million. For the wedding of Alexandra von Fürstenberg, Marie-Chantal's sister, to Prince Alexandre Egon von Fürstenberg, son of Diane von Fürstenberg, Isabell transformed a tent in Battery Park into a Chinese teahouse complete with a throne room that included hanging lanterns and bamboo trees. For Christmas 1998 at the Clinton White House, Isabell created a massive fir wreath with 1,500 lights individually colored a shade he called "Presidential blue".
His last project was an Independence Day event he co-prepared for Lally Weymouth in Southampton, New York. Ian Schrager stated that Isabell had headed home from The Hamptons on the night of July 4 and had not been heard from before his death.
A resident of Manhattan's Greenwich Village, Isabell was found dead on July 8, 2009, aged 57, in his townhouse at 16 Minetta Lane, where he had suffered a fatal myocardial infarction (heart attack). He is survived by his mother, two brothers and a sister.
- Weber, Bruce. "Robert Isabell, Who Turned Events Into Wondrous Occasions, Dies at 57", The New York Times, July 10, 2009. Accessed July 14, 2009.
- "The Charity Ball Game". New York. 2005-05-21. Retrieved 2011-05-04. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Morris, Bob. "AT HOME AND AT WORK WITH: Robert Isabell; Coming to the Aid Of the Party", The New York Times, April 18, 1996. Accessed July 14, 2009.
- Menkes, Suzy. "RUNWAYS; High Society Transforms Itself Into Shy Society", The New York Times, December 24, 1995. Accessed July 14, 2009.
- Bumiller, Elizabeth. "A Star Floral Designer's Flights of Fancy", The New York Times, December 22, 1998. Accessed July 14, 2009.
- Feitelberg, Rosemary. "Robert Isabell, A-List Party Planner, Dies", Women's Wear Daily, July 10, 2009. Accessed July 10, 2009.