Special Events

HIGH STYLE IS THE HALLMARK OF HIGH-END SOCIAL EVENTS TODAY

For weddings today, couples are paring down the guest list but beefing up the budget. "Small weddings are coming back strong," says Randie Pellegrini, president of bridal consultants Cordially Invited of Beverly Hills, Calif.

"People want four to six quality catered courses and fine wines. They compromise by having fewer guests," Pellegrini says. A reception may precede the ceremony itself, which is followed by cocktails and dinner. Despite the shorter guest list, "my average budget has doubled since last year, to $150,000."

Perhaps because they have fewer guests to fuss with, "brides are more concerned with details," according to Lois Pearce, president of Beautiful Occasions of Hamden, Conn., an event planning firm specializing in weddings. "In the past, they may have been satisfied with a bouquet of roses, but now they want to know the kind of roses, the size and how the bouquet is put together."

"The single most important trend in social event production is individualism," says event consultant Dodie Jacobi, owner of Designs & Details of Kansas City, Mo. "Clients continue to want something no one else has. Our challenge is to balance the cost of customization with what pricing the market will bear. Custom work is expensive. Every client wants it, but not every client is willing to pay for it."

"The trend is back to traditional, classic weddings," says Mindy Weiss, president of Beverly Hills-based Mindy Weiss Party Consultants. "Less is more, but they're spending an enormous amount on elegance. We don't use a Revere bowl but antique silver urns. We use antique silverware. We're going back to the Old World."

King Dahl of King Dahl Event Design, Agoura Hills, Calif., says today's sophisticated couples are inspired not by just bridal magazines. "They still bring me pictures from Bride's and Martha Stewart Living, but also InStyle and magazines on interior design," he notes.

The high-style look extends to every aspect of the event. "We rent a lot of ornate chuppas [the canopy that Jewish couples stand beneath to be married]," says Gary Pulver, founder of Simchahs Forever of Woodland Hills, Calif., supplier of Judaica. "But we've had a lot of calls lately for chuppas with a clean, plain, Vera Wang look."

Today's couples also want to be involved in more aspects of decor. "I see more brides and grooms paying attention to elements beyond the flowers," Dahl says. "They understand lighting and want their event lighted properly. They care about the entire table treatment-linens, how the table is lighted and the treatment of chairs."

In regard to floral, "everything used to be understated, but we now use an abundance of flowers," Dahl says. "But it's not like the '80s, where it looked big and exploding. Now it's lots of flowers packed tightly together."

"Roses are still No. 1, along with hydrangea. And orchids are coming back," says Carol Caggiano, owner of Glen Head Flower Shop in Glen Head, N.Y. "Everyone wants lots of candles, either glass enclosed or open. There's a demand for candelabras for 24-inch tapers. It's not unusual to have 12 to 15 votives per table."

The centerpiece may not be floral after all: "People are turning their dinner courses into their centerpieces," Pellegrini notes. "If they're serving an Italian course, they might use terra-cotta pots surrounded by biscotti, fruit and cheese to look like a Tuscan marketplace."

"Even the smaller weddings are interested in nicer linens: damasks, sheers, silk looks, shantung," Caggiano adds. "There's more money to spend today."

Jacobi agrees: "Rather than doing five layers of table linens, we might do a single layer-but it's silk organza over an antique round table, and we have to find 50 of them."

Jacobi makes sure the linens reflect the bride's desire for individuality. "Using powerful colors that no one else has is big," she says, "and that involves commissioning and custom-dying linens. My personal taste leans to supersaturated colors, so even when they are pastels, they withstand the lighting."

Weiss has one word to describe the color trend in linens: "Butter! We did a whole linen group with butter satin bottoms and sheer butter overlays with satin trim and butter satin napkins. The flowers were butter yellow, pale apricot and seafoam green."

"Lots of blush colors work well together," Dahl says. "We're also seeing a big surge in lavenders. It depends on the ethnic group; some like deeper colors."

SIZING UP SHRIMP Robert Frungillo, president of Frungillo Caterers of Cedar Grove, N.J., helps his engaged couples find their hearts' desire. "I ask them what they want Mr. Smith to say to Mrs. Smith as they pull away from the valet after the wedding: 'Say, did you see the size of those shrimp?' Or, 'Did they have shrimp?' This helps the couple determine how their budget meets reality."

Frungillo sees a trend toward "upscale buffets over sit-down meals. I can put six entrees on a buffet with the same quality and great service-with captains and chefs slicing the food for you-and do it for $5 less a head." He used this technique to slip the favorite dish of a homesick bride from Minnesota-walleyed pike-onto an East Coast buffet table. Buffets run higher in food cost, "but we make it up in labor," Frungillo notes.

Where they enjoy that buffet is changing, too, he says. "My clients seem to want to get away from what their parents and siblings did. They want untraditional venues, such as castles and Victorian mansions. They want fireplaces, but real fireplaces that work." An inn that Frungillo uses proved popular but too small, so he added on another room to accommodate 175.

One young couple turned tradition on its ear with a wedding at a penny arcade. "During the cocktail hour, the rides and games were open. We served popcorn, mini hamburgers and mini hot pretzels," Frungillo recalls.

Weiss' clients may hold their weddings in hotels, but they call on her to create the look of a private home. "We bring in different settees and group them around the dance floor," she says. "At the last wedding I did, we used four different wine glasses. It was instantly warm. That's what we strive for."

THE BAR/BAT MITZVAH BEAT "In the '80s, when there was a surge in bar and bat mitzvahs, we saw some really outlandish things," Dahl says. "Now, I sell high-end events with a lot less show. They are elegant events with just hints of a theme."

For the bar mitzvah of a young computer fan, Dahl covered the tabletops in black linen with silver crepe overlays. A CD-ROM was tucked into each crepe chair tie. The floral centerpiece included a keyboard. "As you sit at the table, the theme starts to dawn on you. It doesn't hit you in the face."

On the other hand, event producer Richard Magid thinks themes can still add excitement to bar and bat mitzvahs. The president of Famous Firsts Ltd., Pompano Beach, Fla., relies on sports themes and takeoffs such as "Planet Bobbywood," where the event is the "planet" of the guest of honor. "Bar mitzvahs used to have 25 to 40 kids; now, it's 50 to 100," he says. "And their attention span is short."

Consultant Marcy Blum of Marcy Blum & Associates, New York City, draws the line at certain themes: "I won't do a 'born to shop' [bat mitzvah]," she says. But she sees a backlash against ever-bigger celebrations: "I know of one young man who was ill as a child. In his bar mitzvah invitation, he said he had more than he needed and asked his guests to buy a toy for a child in the hospital."

Increasingly, bar and bat mitzvah rituals aren't just for kids. "We're seeing more adults who didn't have a bar or bat mitzvah go through the ceremony," says Pulver. "It represents unfinished business for them. But these events tend to be far more simple."

LONGING TO LINGER "What people are looking for now is how to make the party itself fun and special, which doesn't always mean more is better," Blum says. "People should never leave your event saying, 'God, what they spent on that!' Instead, they shouldn't want to leave at all."

Associate editor Keri O'Brien and assistant editor Tanja Mushenko contributed to this article.

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