Women in Business: Meredith O' Shaughnessy, Meredith Bespoke

10.7.14


Meredith Bespoke is something of an enigma in the world of events.  Its 36-year-old founder Meredith O’Shaughnessy is the industry’s best kept secret, and the woman the well-heeled turn to when the brief is a gathering which is to be the antithesis of the chocolate fountain and canapé, conveyor belt get-together.

With over seventeen years in the luxury event industry, founder Meredith O’Shaughnessy’s vision and ingenuity sets Meredith Bespoke a cut above the rest. Over the past three years Meredith Bespoke have built a stunning reputation, not just for the detailed creativity which goes into the planning and implementation of their productions, but for Meredith’s intuitive foresight for emerging trends in popular culture and leveraging this insight for the benefit of her clients globally.

Recognised in 2013 by Event as one of the “Fab 50 New Comers to Watch”, perhaps what differentiate Meredith Bespoke most significantly from other creative events companies are the other ingenious brands created by Meredith and offered to clients as an offshoot product.  Best known is Ohlala Macarons, which launched the UK’s first macarons and martini making workshops and handcraft macarons, so delectable and aesthetically pleasing that Meredith’s presence was requested at New York Fashion Week by Manolo Blahnik to ensure macarons were the order of the day. Vivienne Westwood clearly agreed, as at her recent bridal wear press day it was out with last decade canapés, and in with hand-painted Madagascan Vanilla and Gilded Orange Blossom Ohlala Macarons, which served as a beautiful accompaniment to the breathtaking couture on show.

Check out my interview with Meredith below! 

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I think having an unconventional upbringing has given me an open-minded attitude and a greater understanding that we all have different stories to tell. As a leader you need to respect that fact in others and draw out the best in them.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Meredith Bespoke?
With over 17 years working in nightclubs internationally the range of people that you work with is immense. The events we create at Meredith Bespoke are all about creativity and I still draw on my memory bank of the wonderful things I have seen, experienced and executed over the years.

My background has also infused in me a passion for events that are well delivered; it showed me that every single little part matters, from the drinking straws right up to the lighting, because people get joy from their entirety of their experience. It also taught me to think on my feet. Events can change in a split second, so you always have to be able to think laterally and beyond the immediate problem in hand. It’s these experiences that have shaped the way we design and run events today for our clients.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Meredith Bespoke?
While setting up a business from scratch is always a challenge, we added an extra layer to that by not accepting any external investment and bootstrapping everything. It’s meant that we often have to think of innovative ways to grow the company, but I honestly believe that it has contributed to our client’s faith in us. We have retained a personal touch whilst delivering the high standards the luxury brands sector demands.

In terms of highlights there have been so many but launching the America’s Cup Worlds Series at the Palazzina G Hotel on the Grand Canal in Venice has to be up in the top five. Having the Prince of Venice arrive via candlelit gondolier whilst the crews of the yachts danced disco provided a DJ we had flown in from London was pretty special!

Tell us about your new venture, Ohlala Macarons. 
Ohlala Macarons started off as a small passion and has now grown into a brand of it’s own. I have always loved the idea of deconstructing things that people perceive to be particularly hard and presenting them in a fun way. During our macaron and martini making workshops, a UK first, we teach the Ohlala Method of macaron making and allow people to create their own personalized cocktails. As with everything we do the focus is on fun and quality.

Recently we have started creating bespoke macarons for our client’s events. Including hand painted gilded Orange Blossom for Vivienne Westwood’s Couture Bridal wear press day and I was delighted to fly to New York to hand craft macarons for the Manolo Blahnik event for New York Fashion Week. Which was amazing, despite the snow storms!



What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
Be fearless. In retrospect I was very naïve when I started, but I think that helped carry me through some of the harder times.

Get advice that is external from your friends. My friends hand family have been amazingly supportive, but at the end of the day it’s your business and you have to learn to run it properly. We are on the Growth Accelerator program through Grant Thornton and have just been accepted onto the Innovation for Growth program with the British Library Business Centre. Both of these programs support us to constantly adapt and improve.

Just start. The first thing you do won’t be perfect, but that’s absolutely fine. It’s the starting that matters. And then listen, learn and adapt.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I have a small puppy, Phoebe, who helps enormously with that. Whenever I need to step away and clear my head I take her for a walk around the hidden squares in Bloomsbury and that resets everything. It can be hard to step away from a new business, but I love what I do, which really helps.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I am the co-founder of an event called “How She Made It” that we host six times a year at the Club at The Ivy. This women only evening gives female business owners an opportunity to discuss the issues that they currently face, or might have faced in the past in the work place. There is still a huge range of challenges but it seems that women are finding their voices and feel more confident is asking for things such as variable working hours and breaking down the “boys club” culture that still exists in some industries. Encouraging women into high level positions and introducing flexibility in the workplace are both positive steps in the right direction.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I’m lucky to have a number of mentors who I turn to for advice and support. I believe mentorship to be hugely important; it has helped me not by providing direction for my business but has also been a calming hand when things have been a bit rough. Often a voice of experience telling you that you “are capable” is enough to spur you on. Personally they have encouraged me to take more time for myself and not allowed me to become too consumed by the business.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are incredible women doing some really inspirational things in the world at the moment. Anyone who is a trailblazer inspires me from Cindy Gallop, who is disrupting the porn industry with her “Make Love Not Porn” campaign, to Brigadier Nicky Moffat, who was the highest-ranking woman in the British Armed Forces. I’m lucky enough to bring these women together for the women only “How She Made It” events I founded with the incredible (and inspirational in her own right), Mary Keane-Dawson. Creating a platform for other women to share their stories and support each other encourages me to always strive that little bit harder.

What top tips can you offer Political Style readers who want to plan the perfect party?
- Be inventive. Always be aware of new trends and original concepts and then add your own unique twist.
- Think about how people will feel at your event, how will you welcome them? Who will you introduce them to? Be as personal as possible.
- It’s always a good idea to have an interactive element, it breaks the ice and encourages people to strike up conversations.
- Be a little bit outrageous, everyone wants something to talk about, so hire that glittery pink flamingo and put it in the middle of the room, people will love it!
- Make it fun! Parties are about bringing people together and creating new stories in their lives, so make sure they leave with a smile on their faces.

Meredith Bespoke
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