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White Lilac Inc. was founded rather serendipitously, without any real foresight or vision behind its inception. Born in Iran, Sunny Ravanbach spent most of her childhood surrounded by television production sets. Her mother was one of Iran’s first women to work in TV, and Sunny was always in the company of movie producers and set designers. “It was awe-inspiring to walk onto those sets they were creating,” she recalls. “It’s so magical when you see your mom and her team making these amazing sets, directing and producing.”

Although the seed for creativity and design was planted from a young age, Sunny went on to earn her undergraduate degree in English, followed by attending graduate school for Russian Literature Theory. It wasn’t until a friend approached her, asking if she wanted to make a bid for an upcoming wedding, that her career as an event designer began. “My first event was completely by accident,” she remarks.

Without knowing anything about coordinating events, Sunny put in a bid of 27K, which was a low enough price point to secure the job. It was also much too low to cover the lighting, florals, tenting and carpeting involved, so she ended up borrowing an extra 100K from her uncle to pay for it. “I didn’t even know the net on the tennis court came off, so we could put the tent there,” she laughs. “I learned everything from that point on.” Regardless of several rookie mistakes, that first wedding ended up being featured in a national magazine as the most romantic wedding of 1999, providing pure validation of Sunny’s natural talent and eye for design.

White Lilac has grown into a full-scale event planning and design company, allowing Sunny and her team to be hands-on throughout the entire process. “I like the combination of the two,” she says, “because I love watching the reaction when the guests walk in, and the first look, and hearing the music at the ceremony as they’re walking down the aisle.”

Rather than implementing her own aesthetic, Sunny focuses on taking cues from her brides and grooms. “From the minute the client walks in, honestly, I look at what they’re wearing,” she explains. “The colors they come in wearing are the colors they want for their event. When you have someone walking in with Swarovski and Louboutin, you know they’re going to want something extravagant. My inspiration comes from my clients, because they have a vision and it’s our job to interpret it.”

The one design aspect White Lilac adheres to is the concept of restraint. If a client asks for a Versailles-themed wedding, for example, the team makes sure it’s not too literal. “Even if it’s always think of how I can restrain the décor so it doesn’t look offensive to the eye.”

Consisting of 75 employees, the White Lilac team has a longstanding cohesiveness that is rare in the event industry. “We’re the best of friends,” says Sunny. “I think that trust and collaboration is what makes us different. We’re not in it to pump out events and make money. We’re in it because we truly enjoy what we do, and we truly enjoy supporting each other through life’s ups and downs.”

Having such a strong team behind her has also enabled Sunny to open her own home store consisting of beautiful, custom-made furniture, high-end brands, products from local designers and commissioned works from artists in Denmark. With many White Lilac clients asking for design advice, it was a natural transition. “A wedding consult would turn into an interior design consult,” she says. “I basically copied my house and made it into a store.”

Whether she’s planning a wedding or handing out advice for home décor, Sunny reiterates the importance of her colleagues. “The people who work with me give me a sense of purpose. We’re all a bunch of outcasts and somehow, within this little White Lilac company, we’ve become a family.” The unplanned creation of White Lilac is a shining example of how unexpected moments can often lead to something special. As Sunny stated during a recent lecture on entrepreneurship at the University of California, “You cannot plan your life. You have to put one foot in front of the other and let life direct you where it needs to take you—because, if you force it, you’ll never really find your passion.”

> Written by Lauren Malamala

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