“Come as you wish to be and not who you are.”
That is the motto of Henri David, the longtime Philadelphia jeweler, host and party thrower who has made and curated the city’s most lavishly extravagant Halloween Ball. Along with pushing and prodding its attendees to dare to dream and come in homemade—never store bought from a box—costumes, David himself is the model for how his Halloween Ballers should roll.
Year-after-year, David and his crew — a team of people who never knows exactly what the other team members are making — concoct a handful of gravity-defying costumes for the host’s many outfit changes during the course of one night. Never exactly scary, but always decadently stunning, David has appeared in the past on 12-foot-stilts with countless feathers of many colors, as an animatronic-moving limbs moving creature, as a faux Mr. Freeze-like thing with more lights than PECO. Consider 50+ years and at least five costume changes per event, and that’s a lot of sequins.
This year, at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown (207 N. 17th St., 215-732-7711), David is promising at least three costume changes, maybe four, none of which he’ll describe in any detail.
“The secrets behind my costumes makes for a fun reveal,” says David from his Pine Street jeweler’s salon, also named Halloween. “Mystery is key to my appearance. There have been Halloween Balls where I was hidden in plain sight, above the crowd, crawling like some sort of spider… I can hear people saying ‘Where’s Henri?’ then magically, ‘POW,’ I appear.”
When David doesn’t appear is when Halloween revelers should be worried. Of course, that happened when COVID-19 forced last year’s celebration to shut down. “Yes, I was sad, but you make the best out of the situation,” says David. “I was determined to somehow celebrate my favorite holiday with those crowds who expect to see me every year at that time.” (David is also famous for doing Philly’s Easter Parade and garishly appearing as a rabbit, a mad hatter, take your pick).
The manner in which David celebrated Halloween last year was to deck a horse-drawn carriage in Halloween finery, dress himself up in his scary-gorgeous usual – plus lots of lights – and hand out candy and Save-the-Date cards for 2021.
“I just had to do something to celebrate Halloween, as everyone was cooped up with COVID. Because I didn’t announce that I would drive around Center City and Old City beforehand, the sense of surprise and delight at seeing me, I think, was overwhelming. I wanted to remind people of what we missing, the good times of Halloween, and what we would do as soon as we could get back to being in-person.”
One fun concession to the pandemic’s dreary routine, where David is concerned, is that Halloween Ball’s crowd – numbering in the thousands at the Sheraton’s main ballroom – is already masked in preparation of the great party.
“I’m, of course, looking forward to people coming with the most imaginative COVID masks possible, and may even add the category to the costume contest portion of the evening,” says David, pointing out recent changes to the contest list such as “Best Superhero” garb.
This year’s Halloween Ball will be held on Saturday, Oct. 30—Mischief Night—which is only the third time in the event’s five decades-long history that he would throw the costume party the evening before Halloween.
“Mischief Night is on a Saturday, which is optimum for any great party,” says David. “Besides, we go way past midnight anyway, so we’ll officially also be partying on Halloween too.”