In the fall of 2019, a group that included Aerin Lauder, Jessica Seinfeld, and SoulCycle co-founder Julie Rice gathered to celebrate the launch of the buzzy New York start-up Social Studies from former Vanity Fair events director Jessica Latham and her longtime friend, entrepreneur Amy Griffin. Three years later, the company is anticipating its first profitable year. And they’ve just announced their move from New York to Dallas, a return to Texas for Latham and Griffin.
Some hosts have a natural talent for creating what Food Network star Sandra Lee dubbed a beautiful “tablescape.” Others are at a loss as to how to make their table settings as entertaining as the food about to be served. Coming to the rescue are two über-savvy Texas girls with a tabletop rental agency billed as the dinner host’s resource equivalent of the party girl’s Rent the Runway.
Just imagine, jumping on the Social Studies website, plugging in a party date and the number of guests, selecting from the 40 or so themed table settings, and getting the entire kit and caboodle delivered by UPS to your door. Have your dinner fête, pack up the gear (no cleaning required), and ship it back. There are options for date nights, small weddings, picnics, and birthdays — anything that involves entertaining, food, and drinks.
Friends from their days in Amarillo, Latham, and Griffin, a venture capitalist and founder of G9 Ventures, launched their rent-a-tablescape business in 2019, providing colorful table settings for hosts and hostesses in the Hamptons. Since that time when Reese Witherspoon and Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe were initial investors, Social Studies has expanded across the country, developing partnerships with major brands. The latest of those partnerships is with Goop, the lifestyle brand founded by Gwyneth Paltrow.
Goop and Social Studies collaborated on the Secret Garden limited-edition collection of tableware and decor in an exclusive offering available for rent or purchase. The kit includes a complementary guide with music suggestions, cocktail recipes, and more to take the guesswork out of entertaining. Place settings feature vintage-inspired flatware, shapely glasses, and dinner and salad plates in an elevated, modern floral print, with vintage-inspired silver tapers and elegantly stitched napkins.
All Social Studies kits are available in increments of four and are priced per person from $22 to $52, which equates to $88 to $208 per kit.
As we head full speed into gathering season, we spoke with Latham about the art of thoughtful entertaining.
Social Studies was founded in 2019 — a lot has happened since then. How have entertaining and gathering evolved?
JL: We founded Social Studies right before everyone was told to socially distance. What a time! Gathering and celebrating occasions at home, in smaller groups, has always been my favorite way to entertain. And even during COVID, life’s special occasions were never put on hold. People just got creative about how to celebrate in smaller groups and virtually. So, instead of 30 people sitting down to a birthday dinner in one room, we sent Social Studies to 30 different households nationwide, and our styled looks were the thread that connected people physically. While big parties are back and will never go out of style, we’ve always loved the idea of helping people gather at home with confidence and ease. And now, people have embraced entertaining and cooking at home more than before. We love being a part of our community’s life moments — big, small, virtual, and IRL.
What are your popular party collections?
Jessica Latham: Recently, the more maximalist collections like La Dolce Vita. I think folks are so happy to be entertaining and gathering again, they’re going all out. We have a collection coming out this fall called The Nines that celebrates this return to over-the-top ’80s nostalgia.
A special touch that can make or break a gathering?
JL: Flowing beverages and a good playlist are key. And, as far as a special touch, I like to do something that makes guests feel personally taken care of. For example, leave a little card on everyone’s plate that has a fun fact about the person to their right and to their left. This is a great way to make sure dinner conversation flows from the start.
What cocktails are guests loving right now?
JL: Tequila is still really going strong — it’s hard to go wrong with a spicy something or refreshing paloma. But if you’re ready to mix it up, classic cocktails from the ’90s and early 2000s have really made a comeback, the espresso martini in particular. I’m going to make it my mission to bring back the Appletini, starting right now. There was a bar in L.A. when I lived there in the early 2000s that literally had the best — not too green or potent. Light in color, with a hint of apple. So delicious … Let’s bring them back, shall we?
*The Social Studies Appletini*
Fill a shaker with ice. Add 2 ounces of good vodka, 1.5 ounces of sour apple liqueur, and 1.5 ounces of lemon juice. Cover and shake for 15 to 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a thin green-apple slice.
Tips for a perfect party playlist?
JL: Oh, man, if the playlist were left in my hands, we’d be listening to AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses all night — which I personally love, but they might not fit the mood if you’re serving your famous coq au vin. Fortunately, we have over 40 playlists on our Spotify channel for different moods, and most are created by world-class DJs. It’s my go-to — and far better than leaving me in charge of the music.
For those in the Dallas area, Social Studies is currently developing same-day delivery. The team is accustomed to tight timelines, but if you’re a DFW resident in need of a last-minute order, email [email protected].