Special Events

Getting Personal

Whether formal or flip, social events today express who we are

ONE BRIDE CARRIES A prayer book along with her bouquet down the aisle. Another bride - a jewelry designer - has crystal beads everywhere, from the chandeliers to the wedding cake. The honoree of a 50th birthday party takes his guests through a time tunnel spotlighting each decade of his life.

Whether they embrace tradition or eschew it, social events today share one theme: They express the distinctive personalities of those they honor.

PRESENTING US

Today, the bride and groom want their wedding to "say who they are," says Antonia van der Meer, editor in chief of "Modern Bride," which, like Special Events Maga-zine, is published by New York-based Primedia. "It might mean they will highlight their ethnic background with a bagpiper at the reception or put their baby pictures in frames on a favors table."

Instead of throwing her bouquet, one bride "presented it to her grandmother," notes Judy Kilkenny, director of catering for The Westin Grand, Washington. "She was honoring their families and tying them together."

For a July wedding catered by Los Angeles-based Patina Catering, the elaborate meal included a raw seafood bar, tray-passed hors d'oeuvre and five courses including the groom's favorites - hamachi (yellowtail) sashimi and filet of beef. The couple's menu "was all about who they are, their love of travel and love of food," says catering sales manager Cynthia Allred.

Some couples go be-yond merely suggesting their heritage. "People are choosing family recipes and asking caterers to reproduce them," says wedding consultant Lisa Wagner, president of Enchanting Affairs, Rock-away, N.J.

THE LOOK SAYS IT

Decor is another powerful way to express personality and heritage.

"Colors that are unique to the African-American heritage, especially those symbolic of royalty, are very popular in weddings," says wedding producer Diann Valentine of Los Angeles-based D.R. Valentine & Associates. "We're seeing lots of deep reds, including crimson and merlot." Valentine produced the wedding of Los Angeles Dodger Gary Sheffield, "and we used 70,000 rose petals to create blankets of red and gold."

Wedding specialist Randie Wilder-Pellegrini, head of Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Cordially Invited, worked with a couple to create a Zen garden at Shutters on the Beach hotel in Santa Monica, Calif. The ceremony area featured banners reading "honor," "unity," "humor," "trust," "insight" and "honesty," declaring the bride and groom's values. In contrast to the serenity of the ceremony, the reception featured a lively mix of hip-hop, disco and Motown music, including one performance by the bride. "A bride and groom from across the hall came over to our reception," Wilder-Pellegrini notes.

Using the theme "sparkle," Los Angeles-based event coordinator Yifat Oren worked with local florist Velvet Garden to create the wedding of a jewelry designer. Crystal beads were everywhere: on the unity candle, the guest book, cocktail napkins, soap dishes, napkin rings and the cake server.

For the bar mitzvah of a boy obsessed with news programs, Oren created Fred TV, a reception dominated by television monitors and satellite dishes. The band's stage looked like the interior of a newsroom. The parting gift was a chocolate TV screen with the Fred TV logo.

FORMAL AND FUN

Many events are returning to their religious roots. "In the Catholic Church, I'm seeing more and more high masses," notes Janie Glade, director of event planning company An Event to Remember of New Orleans. "It's been over 18 months since I've seen people writing their own vows. Generation X people are looking for some ritual, something solid."

Carole H. Sachs, owner of San Marcos, Calif.-based Events by Sachs and Associates, encourages the parents of bar and bat mitzvah candidates to include the Jewish "tzedukah" tradition of charity. "It's extremely important for children to know there are people who need their help," she says.

Offsetting the traditional ceremony is often a cut-loose reception.

Events at the Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottawa, Ontario, increasingly feature entertainment, says Kathryn Davis, director of catering and conference services. To accommodate the acts, "rounds have gone to hollow squares with the entertainment in the middle," she says.

That's because wedding hosts are more concerned with "creating a party for their guests," explains Siobhan Craven-Robins, a London-based wedding coordinator. "It's gone beyond a meal, chat and go. Close-up magicians, caricaturists, graphologists and live statues" are popular, she adds.

At bar and bat mitzvahs, "you see many more special effects," notes Barry Ress, general manager of the Crystal Plaza mansion in Livingston, N.J. For a bar mitzvah with a jungle theme, "we transformed the room with backdrops and special lighting with filters."

Entertainment also can express the values and traditions of the honorees. "Because religion has traditionally played such an important part in African-American culture, we're seeing a lot of gospel choirs in wedding ceremonies," Valentine says.

Live entertainment is taking the place of recorded music. "People are thrilled by it," says event producer Christopher Marella, founder of Design Quest, Chats-worth, Calif. "It draws lots of energy into the crowd when the performance is right in front of you."

The spectrum of social events is broadening, extending be-yond weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs to birthday parties for grown-ups (see page 31) and, in some areas, commitment ceremonies. For Design Quest, "they are up 25 percent from five years ago," Marella says.

SOME THINGS STAY

In some regions, local customs hold fast.

"In the South, we do receptions rather than dinners," says Rick Vita, director of conference services for the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans. "But at our Boston property, all weddings are sit-down affairs."

"Here in the Pacific North-west, the style of entertaining is somewhat more reserved than in other parts of the country," notes Howard B. Weiner, executive vice president of Seattle-based Two Downtown. The events "are still lavish but incredibly tasteful."

For a recent hydrangea-themed wedding for 400 guests, Two Downtown provided books on hydrangeas to departing guests, each book with a personal message from the bridal couple tucked inside. "It didn't have a big date screaming on the front," Weiner says.

Putting a personal stamp on a special event isn't difficult. As Ress puts it, "The predominant theme is learning what's important to the individual client."

Resources: All Occasions Event Rental, 513/563-0600; An Event to Remember, 504/894-0818; Chateau Laurier, 613/562-7003; Cordially Invited, 310/552-3245; Crystal Plaza, 973/992-8100; D.R. Valentine & Associates, 323/857-5592; Design Quest, 818/678-0490; Enchanting Affairs, 973/586-7906; Events by Sachs and Associates, 760/510-0152; Gilding the Lily, 760/251-6666; Good Gracious! Catering & Event Production, 323/954-2277; Party Rental Ltd., 888/774-4776; Patina Catering, 323/467-1628; Siobhan Craven-Robins, +44 171 481 4338; Royal Sonesta Hotel New Orleans, 504/586-0300; The Westin Grand, 202/955-4429; Two Downtown, 206/441-0811; Yifat Oren & Associates, 818/344-2304

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