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WORLD AFFAIRS ARE in flux, while the global economy struggles to find firm ground. But despite the turmoil, one fact holds steady in the world of events: Hard times won't prevent social clients from celebrating the good times in style.

Results from a January 2003 Association of Bridal Consultants survey reveal a 37.8 percent jump in average wedding budgets in 2002 over the preceding year. Meanwhile, Special Events Magazine's recent Forecast 2003 (January 2003) shows event pros reaping 35 percent of revenue — the largest percentage of all market segments — from the social side. Here, the industry's premier party people track emerging trends in weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs — two leading social sectors.


Weddings that represent clients' personalities and interests are in vogue everywhere, according to planners.

“Personalization continues to be the watchword,” says Jean Picard, owner of Ventura, Calif.-based Jean Picard Wedding Consulting and California state coordinator for ABC. For Picard's clients, that personalization often comes in the form of detailed themes, including the popular 1930s and 1940s “glamour era.” Among period theme elements, she has included white calla lilies, crystal and silver tableware, shimmering table linen and big-band music.

Alissa Tibe, vice president of Lexington, Ky.-based Lundy's Special Events, cites a spike in the use of family emblems. “We utilize the crest or monogram throughout the food presentation,” she says, pointing to custom-painted plates and hand-cut monogrammed wafers as examples.

Lisa Grantham of Houston-based Mona Lisa Special Events says culture is coming into play in the weddings she plans. She recalls a particularly memorable Jewish wedding for a bride who had once lived in Thailand. The ceremony featured a bamboo-supported chuppah, paper lanterns and an aisle runner hand-painted with a pattern of koi, water and flowers.

The traditional Indian wedding last year of Sujata Mody, vice president of Anaheim, Calif.-based GBS Linens, is an example of a rise in ethnic weddings — “one of the hottest trends in the wedding business today,” according to ABC ethnic diversity director Lois Pearce. Mody's four-day affair, which incorporated “lots of crushed organza” — a popular item with GBS wedding clients, Mody says — included a henna party for female wedding participants and a Sanskrit marriage ceremony.


As clients look for ways to customize their wedding celebrations, planners are giving wedding staples fresh attention.

These days, tables are a top priority for Picard, who says brides have become more willing to move away from standard rounds. She has been mixing up 54-inch squares, 96-inch rectangles and 60-inch rounds — all well-suited to seat eight guests each, which Picard cites as “the ideal number at a table.”

Barbara Wallace, owner of Corona del Mar, Calif.-based Barbara Wallace Weddings, names unusual unity ceremonies as one of the top trends in her region. For recent outdoor weddings, she has replaced traditional unity candles with wine carafes, from which the couple's mothers pour wine into glasses for the bride and groom. The updated take on the ceremony ensures a memorable moment, and avoids “the negative symbolism of a unity flame being extinguished by the wind during the ceremony,” she says.

According to Carol Marino, president of Fairfax, Va.-based A Perfect Wedding, floral is still a wedding standard, but with a new twist. “The use of anything natural, such as pumpkins, moss, cabbage, stones, quartz and berries on guest tables, with vignettes of flowers, is very trendy,” she says.

Toni DeLisi of Ramsey, N. J.-based Memorable Events adds that floral is getting a big boost from lighting, which clients are including in their decor budgets in increasing numbers. “You can put a $100 arrangement on the table, but if you light it, it looks like a $200 arrangement,” she says.


Paralleling the rise in wedding business, bar and bat mitzvahs are booming, experts say.

For Kristina Sumey, owner of Essington, Pa.-based Event FX Pro-ductions, professional lighting and effects are among the hottest trends at the bar and bat mitzvahs she produces. More and more, Sumey says, she is selling packages that include animation wheels, rotating gobos and slow color changes on centerpieces.

Even laser lighting is gaining ground at the youth-oriented events, she says, as clients discover that “these effects are tangible within a reasonable budget if designed properly, and if the lighting company is educated on lasers.” She adds, “I try to give the client the most for their money by perhaps creating a laser grid overhead or a spectacular tunnel with low-lying fog as an awesome walk-in effect. At some crescendo moment, the lasers search the room — they bounce, spin and energize.”

Linda Reeder, director of social sales for Pembroke Park, Fla.-based ME Productions, also cites lighting as a leading bar and bat mitzvah trend. “Instead of draping a room, we may light it,” she says, noting a rise in the use of intelligent lighting and moving geometric gobos.

In addition to lighting, Reeder points to other high-tech trends, including the popularity of Microsoft Xbox games during cocktail hour, and the emerging use of video walls to add kick to room decor.

For Paula Gild, owner of Los Angeles-based Gilded Events, the movement in bar and bat mitzvahs is toward sophistication. She reports a rise in custom centerpieces, like the pattern-projection lanterns and pavé-rose arrangements in custom-made boxes she incorporated into a recent bar mitzvah's tabletop decor.

Guest favors, too, are taking on a sophisticated tone. Gild says the trend is away from name-emblazoned T-shirts and toward “favors that can actually be used.” Popular choices include scented candles and CDs in custom-designed cases.

But the trend Gild finds most striking is that bar and bat mitzvahs are moving away from full-blown themes, while weddings are moving closer to them. “I think that's because young people are becoming more hip and savvy,” she says, “while older people want to move away from the traditional, and make their events more trendy and fun.”


A Perfect Wedding, 703/691-0133; Barbara Wallace Weddings, 949/640-7843; Event FX Productions, 484/494-4454; Gilded Events, 310/475-6662; GBS Linens, 714/778-6448; Jean Picard Wedding Consulting, 805/642-3201; Lundy's Special Events, 859/255-0717; Memorable Events, 201/934-9979; Memories in Bloom, 713/532-8100; ME Productions, 800/544-0033; Mona Lisa Special Events, 713/466-1585

Spending Trends

While social budgets range dramatically from region to region, experts across the board say clients are expecting more bang for their buck. So just how many bucks are we talking? Five social pros name numbers.

“The average budget range for most of my weddings is $50,000 to $75,000, although I do get a fair share of weddings over $100,000.”
— Carol Marino, A Perfect Wedding, Fairfax, Va.

“The budget range of the weddings I do is from about $45,000 to $300,000. But it's more accurate to state it by cost of guest, which is generally $450 to $1,000.”
— Barbara Wallace, Barbara Wallace Weddings, Corona del Mar, Calif.

“The general [wedding] budget range is $35,000 to $60,000. It has gone up somewhat in the last year.”
— Karen Brown, Memories in Bloom, Houston

“In our part of the world, it's impossible to do a theme bar or bat mitzvah for much under $5,000. On the higher end, it's up to about $40,000.”
— Linda Reeder, ME Productions, Pembroke Park, Fla.

“The general budget range for the bar and bat mitzvahs that we work on is from $1,500 … to over $30,000.”
— Kristina Sumey, Event FX Productions, Essington, Pa.

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