By Allison Adato
September 13, 2004 12:00 PM

Regular folk might hire garden-variety magicians to amuse their party guests. Elizabeth Harrison and Lara Shriftman get—poof!—David Copperfield himself. Last month the duo broke out the Perrier-Jouët champagne and Krispy Kremes to celebrate Fête Accompli, their newbook on party planning, at a soiree for 300 in Copperfield’s Manhattan penthouse. How did they persuade the conjurer to open his home? “Lara begged incessantly,” deadpans Copperfield. “She’s a very good beggar.”

Call it Harrison and Shriftman’s own magic. In nine years the event and publicity mavens, whose clients have ranged from P. Diddy to Cartier, have earned a reputation for going to great lengths to give high-profile partygoers—Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Debra Messing—a good time, whether marking a film premiere or the launch of a new fountain pen. “They don’t seem corporate,” says Juicy Couture cofounder Gela Taylor, a client. “They’re indulgent and fun.”

And happy to share their secrets: In Fête the two demystify tasks from choosing a tequila to introducing guests whose names you’ve forgotten. Harrison and Shriftman also deconstruct their bashes so readers can emulate their signature mix-it-up style: For a David Bowie after-concert party, they offered caviar as well as cotton candy and set up areas for both boogying and bowling. “It’s a modern way of throwing a party,” says actress Michael Michele, a friend of the duo’s.

Party-giving comes naturally to Harrison, 38, a native Manhattanite and mom of two, and Shriftman, 33, who is single and helms their office in L.A. (they have another in Miami). Both had mothers who entertained frequently: “Mine was always the house where people hung out,” says Shriftman, who grew up in Jacksonville, Fla. At 19, while a student intern for designer Perry Ellis, she skipped an NYU marketing final exam to escort Audrey Hepburn at a fashion awards show. (She later wrote a paper on publicity in lieu of the test.)

Harrison had been working with publicist Peggy Siegal when she met Shriftman through mutual friends in 1995. “Lara convinced me in one evening that we had to start a company,” says Harrison. “Next thing I knew we had an office. She’s a force of nature.” A lone first client, Gucci Timepieces, led to gigs for other fashion houses and for major films. Soon they were attending their own parties almost nightly.

In doing so, they have amassed a wealth of wisdom, some hard-won. Among their rules: When strippers unexpectedly show up, as they did at one Harper’s Bazaar bash, call them “eye candy” and smile. Also: Never neglect the smallest room in your (or David Copperfield’s) house. “I’ve had events,” admits Shriftman, “where I didn’t have enough toilet paper.” Thanks for sharing. No, really, thanks!

Allison Adato. Rachel Felder in New York City and Dana Meltzer in Los Angeles