Soha Lavin walked into the room she was hired to turn into Italy for a special wine party and stopped. The Railtown warehouse-like space was essentially a concrete box—how was she supposed to make it feel like Tuscany?
But this is the very thing Lavin, founder of Vancouver’s Countdown Events, is an expert at: transformation. So she set to work. “I imagine that I’m the guest, so I start from the beginning,” she says of her process. “I’m going to make up my mind when I go to a party or an event, even walk into a store, at the floor mat. That’s how I think.” A beautiful wrought-iron gate fronted the building, so she decided to wrap it in ivy, “like the garden had always been there.” The hallway inside the doors was another matter, “grotesque,” she recalls, with horrible fluorescent lights. No problem for Lavin, though—she unscrewed all the lights, instead lining it with candles. Inside the main space, a gorgeous and inviting long table set with moss, grapes, and oranges drew the eye. Displays of wood and fruit hung from the ceiling; ivy that was strung by hand crept up the walls. To walk into that party was to feel transported, and to feel Lavin’s invisible hand. Give her any space, ask her to recreate any moment—she’ll find a way.
Lavin began Countdown, an idea that came to her in the shower, 14 years ago. Previously working in marketing, she had a difficult time finding professionals to run her events, so she ended up doing most of the work herself. “I actually liked it, but I never had enough time to really spend on it,” she says of event planning, dressed in black (her “favourite colour”). Then one day, covered in suds, it hit her. Two sleeps later, she started the company.
“I’m going to make up my mind when I go to a party or an event, even walk into a store, at the floor mat. That’s how I think.”
Today, Lavin is one of Vancouver (if not Canada)’s top planners, specializing in luxurious, elaborate, and high-end occasions for a large, international, and affluent client base. Of course, there are countless weddings (she did 2014’s famous 1,200-guest Fung ceremony that lit up the Coal Harbour sky with fireworks), birthdays, baptisms, anniversaries, trade shows, corporate dinners—but there are also special openings (the Dior boutique at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, for one), anything, really, that a person could dream up and want to celebrate. And Lavin approaches each one the same way. “I sit down with the person and, without them knowing, I try to get to know them,” she explains. “I ask them about their day, or I pay attention to what they’re ordering.” These little traits help her discern a person’s priorities, taste, and style. From there, she discovers what exactly they hope to gain from this event, and how she can achieve their goals. Aside from decorating a space, Countdown also takes care of the production side, such as the cue for a special song; if guests are flying in from out of town, Lavin’s crew will send drivers to pick them up at the airport.
Considering Lavin’s past, it is really no wonder she ended up in a career that centres on celebration. She openly shares that she was born in Iran, and that her family fled the country illegally when she was a preteen, fleeing across the border into Pakistan—where a United Nations office was—and being given special entry by Canada. “I remember everything,” she says of being smuggled out of Iran. “I remember the air, the desert air at night. I remember being surprised how cold it was.” She feels as though she has lived two different lives, cut sharply at the Middle Eastern border. “We spent nine years of our lives at war with Iraq,” she says. “I had to grow up really fast.” It is clear now that she has a playful side, a youthfulness that refuses to fade with age. She says she “woke up” when she moved to Canada, and has vowed since then to live a life she loves. “Every day I’m so grateful for what I have, the opportunities I have, my life,” Lavin declares. “For that reason, I make it count.”
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