For any nightlife connoisseur, there is nothing more exciting than an exclusive, invite-only event. In a city like Los Angeles, where you can get cut in club lines by celebrities or stumble upon a red carpet on the boulevard, such an invite is the golden ticket – the chance to become a VIP, get in with the in-crowd, and step into a life a luxury. And when a private party is hosted by a liquor brand. . . well, then you’ve really hit the jackpot (and the open bar).
In a spacious warehouse in Downtown LA’s Art District, DeLeón Tequila – Combs Spirits’ elite tequila line – collaborated with renowned artist Nelson Makamo to throw what was easily the chicest invite-only event of the fall, and yours truly made the guest list. Art and tequila and Diddy’s sacred stamp of approval? – I was there.
Through my years in New York City, I’d become quite a spectator of art – acquiring a membership to The Whitney and finding my personal favorite gallery in Soho. And, to be blunt, I just love looking at art. You don’t have to be an artist to love it, or know the historical and contemporary big names, or look for the meaning and symbolism in every brushstroke; art is about feeling. In galleries, I take my time, standing in front of paintings, moving in close and pulling back, letting my body swell with emotions that I don’t have to define, and freeing my brain to wander where it may. And, need I say it? – nothing liberates the mind like libations.
The gallery itself sat on a dark, quiet street tucked between towering city structures. When I arrived, I could see a bright light coming from a small door in the white, cement building. I instantly felt like a VIP, like I knew a secret that the rest of Los Angeles envied, like I could walk into the wardrobe and find the enchanted world on the other side. And I did exactly that: the world of “Blue,” Makamo’s first solo exhibit which had been bubbling since 2017, could only be described as pure magic. The sprawling studio space was clean and blank, allowing the large-scale painted portraits in various blue hues to burst from the walls. Three paces in, I was stunned and found myself taking a full step back while the power of the exhibit washed over me. Makamo celebrates the black existence in his work, steering into all the associated complexities and bringing to life a range of emotions. I found myself obsessing over the eyeballs in the neck-up images; it was as though I could see a reflection of what they saw – the outline of figures in glassy, vehement eyes. I could look both at and through the person captured (be it child or adult, male or female); I could be both inside and outside of the painting. Makamo remarked that his blue palette “allows us to finally see ourselves, unfiltered,” and for me, he delivered a type of unfiltered access that was haunting and brilliant. I lingered for a while in front of a particular piece: a dozen or so suited bodies, headless, carrying briefcases on their daily commute. The red boxes, translucent save their borders, dangled from blue hands in blue collared shirts with blue neckties. “This blue summons an age of recognition, transition, and development,” Makamo had commented. I stood so long, turning this statement around in my mind, that the Director asked if I wanted to purchase the piece. (Want was not the issue).
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A second room, deeper into the space held an entirely different ambiance. The seemingly endless area was dark with brick walls and glowing candlelight. The entrance was flanked by two bars, littered with mirrored high-tops, and down the middle hung a long table – suspended from the ceiling with industrial wiring – decorated with smoked glassware and black napkins. Each immaculate detail was simple yet elegant, refined but opulent. It was exactly what an invite-only event should be. Produced by MVD Inc. whose clients include Netflix and Kanye West (think Donda, wink wink), it was immediately evident that the party was, itself, a work of art. The guest list included everyone from Orange County’s top art collectors (who focus on pieces from the African diaspora and riddled me with dozens of galleries to add to my must-visit list) to celebrity singer-songwriter BJ the Chicago Kid, and Raven B. Varona – who most recently photographed the actual Met Gala – was taking individual portraits against a blue backdrop. I’d skip just about any public venue for another night in this swanky scene.
As far as hosting goes, DeLeón went above and beyond. Each of the four craft cocktails served had their own unique flare: from a ball of smoke that burst atop their añejo to a blue edible paint that transformed their take on a tequila mule into a turquoise delight. The liquor itself popped when it needed to and blended when it best suited the drink. With the other guests, I made my way through the menu, filming the mixologists as the cocktails came to life in their accessorized hands. The resulting concoctions could not be paralleled, and – even as a practiced bartender – I felt awestruck by how the exquisite presentation was matched by the harmonious flavors. This was the type of luxury that could only be provided by Combs himself. There was nothing I could do but drink it all in (pun intended).
Exclusive dinners should never begin before 10pm, so in true superstar spirit, we gathered at the gorgeous table at the top of the hour to share a meal and our thoughts. Whether we voiced it or not, I imagine we were all consumed by a quiet appreciation for the group of extraordinary creators that brought us all together in celebration of “riches that nourish, remedy, and build,” as the artist so eloquently articulated. Personally, I was reminded that Los Angeles is a city built on big dreams dreamt by artists – of many natures – who were unafraid to “paint,” and that all of LA’s luxuries are a product of these dreams come true. And so for a moment, being part of LA’s invite-only crowd meant more than simply feeling elite or skipping lines or walking on crimson carpets, it felt like being a part of the Hollywood tapestry, it felt like living the art.