A sultry November afternoon begins to fade as the western sky takes on a tangerine fading to violet glow and a welcome breeze blows a hint of the ocean south from Sydney Harbour through the bustling city streets.
Suits and skirts atop comfortable running shoes clamber for space at bus stops and train platforms as the city empties itself of the army of daily business commuters. The city readies for the incoming nocturnal crowd.
The moon and stars now revealing themselves in the night sky mimic the twinkling lights of a neon city as Sydney takes on a dreamy and elegant ambience.
From all suburbs begin an inward bound cavalcade of white limousines and chartered busses, all turning into the driveways and grand entranceways of magnificent 5 - star luxury hotels and posh function venues. Tunic adorned concierge opens the door and greets alighting couple after couple, then along the walkway, parading into the building like models on the catwalk or moviestars on the red carpet.
A plethora of camera flashes rain over these couples and reflect off the shiny sequins and “bling” as they strut forward to greet each other in mutual admiration of their glamorous appearances. The slinky satin and chiffon masterpieces flanked by pinstriped forms with occasional bursts of bright colour. Hair teased up or swirled into ringlets and everywhere sparkles and immaculate lines and curves embody a spectacle of immense fashion elegance. Hundreds of these dazzling visions of sophisticated charm stream through, one couple after another.
One would be forgiven for assuming that this may be the premier of a Hollywood blockbuster or major international entertainment awards night. Perhaps a society ball attended by visiting overseas dignitaries or a state dinner for the royal family. All of the essential elements seem to be present.
For a few brief weeks spanning November and December each year there will be well over seven hundred such events taking place in Sydney and over one hundred & Forty thousand impeccably dressed and groomed guests will prance this entrance folly by invitation only.
So – who are they?
They are Sydney’s teens. Not merely the wealthy ones either. These are the same teenagers you see pack-hunting for clothes and music in our shopping malls, throwing pop-corn at our cinemas, crowding our bus stops in school uniform every morning and chatting to each other via the internet every night. They are the kid next door, the babysitter, weekend lawn mower, the one with the uncomfortable hat that asks if you’d “like fries with that sir”, the “L” plater that goes just a little slow or the “P” plater that goes just a little fast. These are the fresh-faced carefree images of youth that part of us wished we could revert back to, but another part that thanks heaven we don’t have to. The event is their high school formal, and to most, it’s the biggest night of their young lives to date.
What was once a novelty reserved for those society families with children in the most elite prep schools and colleges, where the parents also attended and the entire school faculty sat on a head table, is now an event not only accessible to, but often exclusively open to, all year 10, 11 and 12 high school graduates around the country. The High School Formal, although not yet being adopted as part of any official state school calendar, has secured its place as a major contributor to the social development of our youth. To many teenagers, the event is as emotionally important as the H.S.C.
The current strong state of the economy in recent years, coupled with an intense upswing in electronic media such as mobile phones, SMS, PXT, MP3 players, Internet, E-Mail & Subscription Television means that today’s teens not only have the financial means to become a very powerful consumer force but are being relentlessly bombarded with information relevant to their interests. In short, compared to their parents and grandparents, today’s teens have buckets of expendable dollars and are seriously savvy about the world and what they want from it. They are discerning buyers and command respect in the marketplace.
Between the Formal itself, and the peripheral expenses associated with the night, it is now estimated to be an industry with a total revenue potential of over $190 Million per annum in Sydney alone, and that equates to $3.3 Billion on a national scale. That’s well beyond the annual revenue generated by many whole Aussie industries. It is difficult to fathom where that amount of money is being spent, but when you consider that the Formal, in many instances, includes more features than the average wedding, and a guest list that is up to 4 times as large, where everyone has to dress up in custom creations and arrive by limousine, not just the bridal party, it places a perspective on the event that makes economic sense as to what this can all be worth.
In today’s Formal scene, a very small percentile of schools will have anything at all to do with the event. This is largely due to vivid memories of times past when something had gone wrong, and rightly so. Although today’s laws are very strict and very specific about what is legally permissible at these events, it not only took ages for the legislation to catch up to the reality of what was transpiring, but decades again after that past before such legislation was having any real influence over people’s actions. Even today, only a fraction of the events taking place are legal and safe. Most place liability for wrongdoing squarely at the feet of the individuals planning the events.
With the spawning of an entire industry from a shift in socio-economics, like the metamorphosis of the School Formal, there evolves a structure vacuum and hence the need for companies to provide specific and expert advice and services to facilitate what’s needed for that industry. For School Formals the requirement was simply a method or product that would provide all of the inclusions, both overt and covert, that are necessary to hold a successful Formal. The trick is doing so while walking the tightrope between what is legal, safe and economically viable while at the same time remaining fun, elegant and conducive to enjoyment by teenagers. This seems, at face value, to be a relatively simple task but ask anyone that has tried to achieve this even just once, and you’ll likely be retorted with anecdotes of stress, grief or plain failure.
It is interesting to note that out of the rubble of many failed commercial attempts, there was the emergence of a single firm that not only managed a decade of total success, but has grown into what is considered the absolute authority on what works and doesn’t work with High School Formals. Sydney based Prom Night Events, a subsidiary of a larger Event Management company, has carved out a niche position for itself, and hence controls a substantial market share of Formals in Sydney each year.
The success of teen products will be largely based the relevance to, and a rapport with, that market. One of the keys to that relationship will be to “pop up” in the places the market looks most often for answers.
“One of the greatest strengths Prom Night Events has is the exclusive, strategic alliances it maintains with many of Sydney’s most prestige establishments” said Elliot Kleiner, Senior Partner of Prom Night Events.
“At these venues (mostly 5-Star International Hotels), school students would normally have no access for Formals. In fact, today’s Formals are not permitted in these venues unless Prom Night Events is in complete control of the event from the planning stages right through to the execution of the Formal on the night” said Kleiner. This not only speaks volumes for the reputation of the company within function and event circles, but also their apparent prowess with marketing and logistics within the teen market. With a captive market that is uninfluenced by world events or local politics, and no longer the realm of only the higher social classes, the School Formal market has plenty of scope for expansion and Prom Night Events is not wasting any time meeting that challenge with the announcement of a 5 year plan to franchise the operation into every Australian Capital city, and overseas.
Prom Night Events offer a complete service that comprehensively includes everything a formal could need or want and does so within State Legislation and for market competitive rates. “We’re not about to give too much away”, laughed Mr Kleiner. “The system we’ve developed is very complex and took years to streamline so I think of it as our secret formula. Just don’t be surprised to see copycats trying this on to catch a quick buck. There are plenty of so-called consultants and even venues out there selling all sorts of illegal and poorly researched Formal packages so you can get burned if you’re not careful”.
For this reason, Prom Night Events offers a free “Formal Check-Up” service, which enables a trained consultant to look over your formal plans and offer advice on any holes or potential problems.
Helen Pinkerton, Operations Manager for Prom Night Events said “Even if we’re not conducting
people’s Formals, this is our contribution to seeing them run safely and legally for the sake of the teenagers and schools. It may, in some small part, help clean up the industry.”
As the parade of fashion and youthful exuberance reaches the grand ballroom of their chosen establishment, the entry ticket is validated by the quick laser scan of a bar code as the soft candlelight dances just above the banquet table adorned with fine crystal and silverware. A popular tune from the stage sees a horde of excited teens dart towards the dance floor. The brightly coloured light from above accentuates the chrome-braced smiles that signify a coming of age. This is their first opportunity to be seen as adults and they’ll relish it their whole lives.
One might ask, “Have we become too americanised in our culture?” In terms of the “Prom”, we’ve overtaken them and are now blazing the trail.