ALTHOUGH NO HARD data is available, “Anecdotally, we've seen an increase in weekend weddings,” says Association of Bridal Consultants president Gerard J. Monaghan. The rise in weekend weddings dovetails with the rise in destination weddings — 40 percent of wedding guests now fly to attend a wedding, he says. “If you're going to have people travel from A to B, you might as well make B interesting.”
But a weekend of wedding events requires triple the talents of wedding professionals. Here, talented coordinators reveal secrets of creating weekends with memories that last a lifetime.
MY KIND OF TOWN
Although most coordinators never carry one theme through all the weekend's events (“You don't want the prenuptial dinner to steal the thunder of the wedding itself,” notes Frank Andonoplas, MBC, head of Frank Event Design in Chicago), they stress that events should play up the unique aspects of the destination.
Andonoplas stages weekend weddings that show off the Windy City, often including such day-before-the-ceremony events as boat tours to view the city's famed architecture. The amenity baskets he has waiting in guests' rooms frequently feature lists of the bride and groom's favorite Chicago restaurants, museums and shops.
Randy Fuhrman of Burbank, Calif.-based Randy Fuhrman's Creative Concept produced an elaborate wedding in October that featured a girls-only “Dinner at Tiffany's” at the famed jewelry store in Beverly Hills, Calif. — with all the guests dressed as Holly Golightly — a rehearsal dinner on a boat, and a Tuscan-style wedding for 500 at the bride and groom's home.
Although he prefers not to open the bar before the ceremony (“You'll never get anybody seated”), he had white sangria with peaches and apricots and a lavish cheese display waiting as guests arrived at the house for the ceremony. “You can't let them go too long without something,” he notes.
Despite centuries of tradition, staging the elaborate weddings customary in the Middle East still requires plenty of flexibility. Carmen Clews, managing partner of event producer Harlequin Marquees, based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, recalls a June wedding at the Grand Hyatt for 1,300 guests — all women — hosted by the groom's mother to surprise the bride. The evening event featured a lush Victorian theme, including a coronet stage flanked by strings of hundreds of cymbidium orchids, to which the bride promenaded down a catwalk to display her gown.
Among the challenges: Only hours before the event, the groom's mother decided the stage silk should be more pink — an effect achieved by adjusting the lighting. And setups at such events are purely a guessing game: “There tends not to be a seating plan, as no one really ever knows who exactly is going to turn up or not, and who they might bring along!” Clews notes.
THE BAFFLING BRIDE
Despite her experience dealing with celebrity clients, Randie Pellegrini of Cordially Invited in Beverly Hills, Calif., needed all her flexibility to create the November wedding events for MTV star Carmen Electra and musician Dave Navarro.
Not only did Pellegrini have to wade through layers of business managers and personal assistants to work with her client, she also had to make sense of her client's contradictory requests. For example, the client asked for a cake so traditional “I just couldn't do it,” Pellegrini says, then named steamy film “Eyes Wide Shut” as the theme for her reception. Pellegrini crafted a sweetly surreal event with a Garden of Eden theme, with elements ranging from child ballerinas to pythons to pinball machines. Her advice: “When there's so much money at stake, and people can sue the pants off you if you breathe wrong, you have to trust your gut.”
The logistical challenges of destination weekend weddings make them akin to “producing a movie,” notes Kristjan Gavin, creative director of Yountville, Calif.-based Mary Ellen Murphy Destination Weddings. In December, the team coordinated a weekend wedding for 65 guests on Hawaii's Big Island that blended Cambodian, Jewish and Hawaiian elements.
Gavin recommends using local product under the guidance of imported experts. For example, he flew in both a celebrity chef and a florist from Maui. “Working long distance, you don't know exactly what all the parts will look like until you arrive for the install,” he says. “You have to find designers who share your vision.”
Indeed, supportive vendors are crucial to completing the customized look that these sophisticated events require, notes Yifat Oren of Yifat Oren & Associates, Sherman Oaks, Calif.
For an August wedding for 180, she capitalized on the rustic wine-country setting of California's Santa Ynez Valley. The weekend included a prenuptial grill dinner in a barn with long tables covered in lavender gingham, then a vineyard-themed wedding reception with burlap linens, strings of amber light bulbs, and elegant cupcakes as the wedding cake.
For seating, “Everyone does chiavari chairs, but that didn't seem right,” Oren says. She liked the idea of bentwoods, but didn't like the black or white options available. So she called the head of L.A.'s Regal Rents and asked for natural bentwoods, which the company supplied. “Don't be afraid to ask your rental company — they will create things for you,” she notes.
MIND THE MONEY
Although high-end weekend weddings can easily require high-end budgets, coordinators must be careful with their clients' money. Stephanie Esquanazi, founder of D-Events in Hollywood, Fla., specializes in large-scale weddings — at least 300 guests and up — for affluent South Americans who often have second homes in Miami and stage weddings there to avoid the volatile climate at home.
Although such clients are accustomed to throwing elegant events, “They are always watching their costs,” Esquanazi says. “We save money wherever we can, without being ridiculous.”
Coordinators must keep an eye on their own finances, too. “If I'm doing the rehearsal dinner and the day-after brunch, I use a separate fee and a separate contract,” Andonoplas notes. He gives freely of his expert advice, but “If it takes my time and my assistant's time, I charge for it.”
Association of Bridal Consultants, 860/355-0464; Cordially Invited, 310/552-3245; D-Events, 954/647-1327; Frank Event Design, 773/275-6804; Grande Affaires, 305/826-5233; Harlequin Marquees and Hospitality Services, +9714 3470110; Mary Ellen Murphy Destination Weddings, 415/863-4586; MGM Mirage Events, 702/792-7798; Randy Fuhrman's Creative Concept, 818/569-3750; Yifat Oren & Associates, 818/981-9950
Behind the Scenes at the Wedding Lunch
Gowns, gourmet meals, music, romance — no, it wasn't a weekend wedding, but the Wedding Lunch at The Special Event, held Jan. 9 in Las Vegas.
Cheryl Fish, vice president of MGM Mirage Events, teamed with daughter Hayley Sinderbrand, special events director at the Bellagio Hotel, to create an extravaganza for 740 guests that included 75 different tabletops, sleek lounges, tableaux vivants of beautiful brides, a fashion show, three saucy production numbers, a gourmet meal featuring a trio of entrees and a delicious finale — a bride wearing a gown made entirely of chocolate.
The event took guests' breath away, but it also caused some breathless moments for the Fish team. Fish had brainstormed the event elements for several months beforehand, but thanks to her hotels' heavy New Year's Eve party schedules, the team had only six days to produce the event. Load-in for the Bellagio Hotel's Grand Ballroom meant bringing in six 24-foot truckloads of inventory within a 36-hour window.
Along with her daughter, Fish singles out MGM Mirage floral manager Terri Fully, executive director of production and operations Tim Cook, and senior director of sales and operations King Dahl for their tireless creativity and for “never saying ‘no.’” She adds, “I felt really proud to give my creative gift of imagination to our attendees.”