NOW, MORE THAN EVER, is the time to celebrate. That's the word from several of the special event industry's major associations. A post-Sept. 11 survey by the American Rental Association shows that 41 percent of party rental companies experienced growth in the second half of 2001, with the organization's CEO attributing the increase in business to wedding rentals. A January survey from the Association of Bridal Consultants reports that a healthy 63 percent of members expect business to increase in 2002. Meanwhile, social event professionals say that bar and bat mitzvahs also are booming, while birthday parties and just-for-joy fêtes are flourishing everywhere. But, they add, expansion in the social market doesn't mean excess in the look and feel of social events.
Topping planners' lists of social event trends is the changing value clients place on venue.
“People are looking for more intimate settings — settings that really reflect who they are and allow them to create the type of ceremony they really want,” says Mary Litzsinger, president and owner of Simi Valley, Calif.-based Vintage Productions. Transporting small groups of family and friends to multiple-day celebrations in picturesque destinations such as Santa Barbara, Calif., is becoming a more popular choice, she adds.
Wedding planner Marcy Blum of New York-based Marcy Blum Associates says clients are hiring her to create highly personalized occasions. “There are a lot more requests for home weddings,” she says, and adds that clients “don't want their wedding to feel large and amorphous and anonymous.”
Yifat Oren of Los Angeles-based Yifat Oren & Associates agrees that clients are looking for unique venues that reflect their personalities. Popular with her young, well-heeled clientele are “libraries, museums, historical venues — places you wouldn't think of for a wedding.”
TRUE TO TRADITION
As clients turn their focus to family, ritual and tradition are replacing glitz and glamour at social events.
Nancy Chase, owner of Denver-based Nancy Chase Weddings and self-professed fan of family lore — “We're not the big gala designers…we really get into Grandmother's hankie and the music and the programs and the Scriptures” — notes the popularity of heirlooms in today's events. Fourth- or fifth-generation veils, inherited gowns, even nostalgic bouquet re-creations are helping clients connect with family history, she says.
Tom Kehoe of Chicago-based Kehoe Designs agrees that the trend is toward tradition. He cites a recent Orthodox Jewish wedding where he incorporated a grandmother's bridal veil into the ceremonial chuppah.
Among Blum's clientele, “people are definitely becoming more interested in their ancestry,” she says. Ethnic dances, music and party favors that reflect the groom's family and culture are especially popular at weddings where the bride's family is hosting, she says.
While elegance is still in demand, design is leaning toward understatement, simplicity and the textures of the great outdoors.
Kehoe and crew are decorating social events with water, grasses, bamboo and natural fiber tablecloths. To add interactivity to tabletop displays, “We always have river rocks out so people can touch them,” he says.
Seasonal decor is big with clients of Roseland, N.J.-based Party Artistry, according to vice president Tracy Davis-Fox. Particularly prevalent at bar and bat mitzvahs, graduation parties and other social celebrations are “rich fall colors with lots of fruits and vegetables, twiggy things, and flats of sod and grass,” she says.
Kay Davis, lead designer for Norcross, Ga.-based Magic Moments, says her wedding clients are asking for “clean greenery” in floral decor. Bouquets, meanwhile, are “smaller, less fussy, and probably no larger than eight or nine inches in diameter.”
An increasing number of social clients are thinking more about what they can give than what they might get, planners say.
Davis says she sees clients “focusing less on themselves and more on the guests that are attending.” As an example, she points to a recent wedding client who arranged to give away gift-box-style cakes, which had served as table centerpieces, to a handful of close friends and family members.
On the bar and bat mitzvah circuit, guest favors are at the forefront of clients' minds, says Linda Reeder, director of social sales for Pembroke Pines, Fla.-based ME Productions. Always in search of fresh favor ideas, Reeder recently came up with the “do-it-yourself” aquarium. The combination interactive activity and party favor allows kids to choose bowls, live fish, colored gravel and novelty shells, and create their own take-home token.
Thinking outside the room, bar and bat mitzvah clients are also asking for centerpieces that can be given to charity after the event, Davis-Fox says, noting fruit and sports equipment among commonly requested, easily donated decor materials.
SOCIAL STANDS OUT
Social events demand special attention, but for good reason, event-makers say.
“A social event is once in a lifetime,” says Syd Sexton, of Denver-based Alex Brooks Fine Catering. “You do not make a mistake. You do not overcook the meat. You don't let it rain.”
With “a lot less party planning and a lot more emotional planning” going on these days, creating personal celebrations for clients can be a challenge, Litzsinger agrees.
But all the hard work is worth it to be part of life's most momentous occasions, Blum maintains. “In a world where people are feeling unnerved and very uncertain of the future and very uncertain of the present,” she says, “these kinds of celebrations are important.”
RESOURCES: Alex Brooks Fine Catering, 303/233-2250; Kehoe Designs, 312/421-0030; Magic Moments, 770/840-9821; Marcy Blum Associates, 212/688-3057; ME Productions, 954/458-4000; Nancy Chase Weddings, 720/570-1168; Party Artistry, 973/228-2299; Vintage Productions, 805/492-2114; Yifat Oren & Associates, 818/981-9950.