Women of Vancouver is an editorial series featuring stylish and professional women in Vancouver. WofV producer and stylist, Jason Sarai of Style by Sarai, recently interviewed Soha Lavin for this exclusive in-depth photo editorial.
What do you do for work?
How did you get involved in event planning?
Having my start in marketing projects, I noticed a lack of event planners in the city that were willing to step outside of the norm and produce one of a kind events from scratch for our clients – this was the spark for the idea. At the time there was no real official training for becoming an Event Planner but when I look back now, every type of job I had growing up (I started working at a very young age – it was a point of pride for me to earn my own money) there was always an aspect of event planning involved. I started a boutique business with a full-service approach specializing in luxury corporate and social events.
How did you get involved in planning weddings?
One of my corporate clients was getting married and asked me to plan his wedding. I was mortified because I really didn’t know anything about weddings at the time. My favourite colour was (and still is) black so I was far from anything pink and frilly, but he insisted that he couldn’t trust the most important project of his life with someone that didn’t know his personality and style. So I accepted and it turned out to be such a wonderful journey. I was really amazed at how much I enjoyed all the pretty things.
At the time I thought I was making an exception for that one time but two days after his wedding I got a call “I hear you offer wedding planning?” I was sure I was going to say no but I surprised myself and said yes. That was 12 years ago and many, many wonderful weddings ago. Truly a life changing decision as wedding planning is now such a huge part of my business and my life.
What is your source of inspiration for your events?
As a child I was very curious, and I guess I have not lost that. I am still open to learning and I want to be truly inspired every day by life experiences. I am fascinated by people’s cultures, unique life experiences – it could be the aroma of an exotic flower that leads my imagination to a tablescape from Budapest for a dignitary dinner or it could be my clients’ favourite scene in a black and white movie like Casablanca that ends up inspiring the most exquisite black tie reception.
Recently we were planning an incredible classic white wedding at the Vancouver Club but as we began formally planning the details I realized we needed to add a very special piece of the couple’s relationship story to their wedding day. They had an incredibly romantic engagement trip in Spain. I got the impression from them telling their love story that they wished they could have shared everything they enjoyed together in Spain with their family and friends. That story inspired an over the top cocktail reception of blood red roses, Spanish flamenco dancers, Spanish iron candelabras and Latin cuisine. We infused everything hot and sensual from the Spanish culture into that one hour and I can truly say the guests were blown away! So I make a point of finding out personal details of my clients’ story and style since you just never know where and what can inspire the most memorable moment of an event.
Bisou Bridal | 440 West 2nd Avenue, Vancouver
What makes you so passionate about planning events?
Close your eyes, Jason. Imagine that perfect moment you proposed to your fiancée. You probably can remember the scent in the air, the exact song that was playing in the background, how bright it was, what she was wearing – I get to do that, I get to create the perfect moment, hour, evening. I create incredible memories by creating an incredible event for my clients. Really, I consider it a privilege to be part of something so momentous in someone’s life!
What do you enjoy most about your career and company?
It’s hard to pick one part because I really love my job. My job is such a huge part of my life. I know that I am very fortunate to work with many passionate and talented artisans and entrepreneurs. Our clients provide me with daily inspirations and I learn so much by being exposed to their diverse backgrounds, values and style.
During the event day there is always that one moment where I catch myself holding my breath from excitement to see the look on my clients’ faces when something we have collaborated on together comes to life – there is a huge sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in seeing your vision and hard work come to fruition. I also adore the implementation and the weaving of personal details and traditions. I love my job!
Where do you draw ideas from for future events?
Traveling is my secret to always being inspired! I love discovering new places, new cuisines and just seeing what the rest of the world finds fascinating. Often I return with new recipes, new music and a new way of enjoying life.
What has been your most memorable event to date?
Hosting and collaborating with celebrity designer Preston Bailey and Grace Ormonde were certainly career highlights.
But for me, personally producing and elevating the annual Crème de la Crème wedding show at Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver provides a new milestone every year! The showcase takes an entire year to plan and is truly a labour of love created on the shoulders of enormously talented people. While producing this event has been marked by many late nights, lost weekends and many cups of tea, the final product is one of true love and passion for extraordinary weddings and lifestyles. Vancouver brides have incredible taste and style and I am proud to present a showcase worthy of the spirit that makes each bride so uniquely beautiful. Crème de la Crème is my gift to Vancouver brides; a source for countless sensational inspirations for their wedding and ultimately their lifestyle.
What has been your greatest business challenge to date?
I’ve worked in many different industries, and in every one of them, being a woman in the business world always took some extra effort. I’ve been determined in my professional path to establish myself – no matter what profession – as a strong business woman. Another challenge has been pushing the envelope in Vancouver; I truly believe that there are no limits.
Describe a typical work day?
Every day is different! I am an early riser and make a point of spending the mornings having breakfast with my loves. That way no matter what the day holds we’ve had that time together. After breakfast I respond to emails and voicemails, checking in with staff, and then usually a multitude of meetings ensue. My schedule is far from the typical 9 to 5, but I think that every business owner would confess that working all hours of the day, every day, is an aspect of managing a successful business that you can’t really change.
Where do you see your business in 5 and 10 years?
I am so grateful for the journey CountDown Events and Crème de la Crème have taken me on. I am at a point in my career where I am finally learning to enjoy the moment. I have big plans for my business but for now my focus is executing another flawless year of events.
Where does Vancouver stand in comparison to some of the other cities in North America & Europe when it comes to awe-inspiring events?
I love this city but Vancouver isn’t always ready for big ideas. We are still a small city experiencing growth and there is still resistance to change and trying new things. We are growing, and I take pride in pushing the boundaries and being a part of that transition.
Rosewood Hotel Georgia | 801 West Georgia Street, Vancouver
Where do you typically host events and what do you like about them?
I really feel at home at Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver, Rosewood Hotel Georgia, The Vancouver Club, Hotel Vancouver and Fairmont Pacific Rim. They not only offer a marvelous canvas for our events but their team of professionals are also a pleasure to work with.
Image taken in Rosewood Hotel Georgia’s Lord Stanley Suite
Image taken in Rosewood Hotel Georgia’s Lord Stanley Suite
What charitable organizations/programs do you work with?
I give my time, funds and resources to a few non-profit organizations and charities every year. The Forum of Women of Entrepreneurs gala and Neekoo Foundation gala both represent ideals close to my heart. Both organizations are led by entrepreneur women I admire and respect.
Outside of work, what do you do in your spare time?
I love spending time outdoors, taking long walks along the seawall with my family and enjoying the sunset. I also love cooking and entertaining; I take pleasure in preparing beautiful and delicious meals for my family.
YEW Seafood + Bar | 791 West Georgia Street, Vancouver
Four Seasons Hotel | 791 West Georgia Street, Vancouver
One of your favourite restaurants in Vancouver?
Because of the nature of my job, I dine out a lot and like many Vancouverites I have become very appreciative of an innovative menu and exquisite service. The experience of dining is truly an art and a few places do it very well. YEW restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel is a shining example of creativity set in a gorgeous atmosphere, delicious menu and over the top service. My clients and I feel spoiled there and that’s how a fabulous dining experience should always feel like.
Reflections at Rosewood Hotel Georgia | 801 West Georgia Street, Vancouver
What about Reflections and Hotel Georgia do you enjoy?
I love the mix of East & West Coast style at Reflections. I also have some great memories there since CountDown Events planned Reflections’ first wedding ceremony and reception.
How do you think people would describe your style?
My personal style would best be described as New York chic. I am a minimalist at heart; I prefer to buy one exquisite designer piece per season over having my place cluttered with too many things.
What does style mean to you?
I believe that style, grace and beauty should be incorporated into every aspect of your life, including your work no matter what your vocation. When it comes to styling for me it is pretty universal be it my personal style or events and editorials we produce: Bold statements and graceful movements.
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