A bright star on the DC event scene, Julie Shanklin gears up for a busy holiday gala season.
Julie Shanklin of Syzygy Events International takes a moment to unwind in between producing high-profile, dazzling events around town.
When Julie Shanklin launched a new event-planning business in 2005, she had a three-person staff—including her daughter, who was right out of college—and just one client on her roster. But it was enough to develop momentum. “With each job we did, based on the reputation of what we were providing for the clients, we kept getting more work,” she recalls. Nearly a decade later, her company, Syzygy Events International, is designing the Washington gala circuit at warp speed.
Syzygy—which refers to the rare and nearly perfect way in which the sun, moon, and Earth align to create a solar or lunar eclipse—is known for the intricate and creative details of events that seem to fall perfectly into place. The company’s showstoppers have included a Christmas tree created out of carved Lucite panels for the Four Seasons Hotel, along with a 100-foot, reverse-Kabuki drop at the 125th anniversary gala for National Geographic at the National Building Museum, where guests’ tables were individually carved with topographic maps.
One of Syzygy’s highest-profile achievements is the majestic, 28-foot-tall, ruby-red AIDS ribbon that has graced the North Portico of the White House annually for the past seven years. In fact, the final AIDS ribbon to appear at the Obama White House will be archived in the Obama presidential library, securing Syzygy a place in Washington history.
“It looks like people have bigger budgets this year,” Shanklin observes. “Budgets have been growing over the last three years, since the economy had been down. And this year we’re hearing from people much earlier—usually clients come in around Thanksgiving, but right now we are already deep into proposals.”
Syzygy’s designers and producers strive to make their productions memorable for DC’s discerning gala regulars, but Shanklin is every bit as proud of her company’s pro bono work. “Every year we pick a few charitable events—there are so many—to produce,” she says. “It’s important to us that the money the charities are raising actually goes to help that charity.” She donates design work each year to the Lupus Foundation of America’s gala at the Mellon Auditorium. “My daughter has lupus. It feels so good to give back to something that someday may hold a cure,” she says. She also mentions the Fashion for Paws Runway Show for the Washington Humane Society; two of the napping dogs in her office were rescued at a Fashion for Paws event.
And what about Syzygy’s own holiday party? “We make that one much, much more homespun,” she laughs. “It’s not in our nature to relax at [our clients’] events, so we keep ours simple!”