Wednesday, November 25, 2009

And the bride wore... two dresses

Celebrity weddings: Even Marie Antoinette would have blushed...

The mother-in-law is making the wedding cake. The bride's dress was bought on ebay. These days, most sensible couples are trying to find a way to reduce the price of their nuptials from the Irish average of €25,000.

The celebrity wedding, however, is recession-proof. The clients of Tatiana Byron-Marx, New York-based wedding planner to the stars, don't consider it a party unless the bill comes to seven figures.

Weddings, says Tatiana, are theatre. "Basically it's a production for one-night only. You're building an entire set -- you're the director and producer. The bride and groom are the lead actors and the guests are the audience. It is absolutely the goal to create a memory to last a lifetime."

Considering the brevity of some high-profile marriages, that memory might well outlive the marriage. But what memories! One of Tatiana's clients had Cirque du Soleil perform a specially-choreographed dance above the heads of the guests.

"That was fabulous," says Russian-born Tatiana. "We had two performers -- one dressed as a bride, and one as a groom -- doing an aerial act above the reception."

At another private client's party -- Tatiana has to sign confidentiality agreements as tight as a billionaire's pre-nup -- she hired Lionel Ritchie and the Pussycat Dolls to keep guests amused.

'Some of the most decadent nights we've put on have had major décor budgets and crazy themes. We had a Shanghai theme where we transported the guests into a Shanghai world; the waiting staff attire, the décor, the food, it all matched the theme," says Tatiana.

She's worked with Diana Ross and Mary J Blige, En Vogue but no one can touch her client Sean 'P Diddy' Combs for partying like it's 2009.

"Puff Daddy has the best birthday parties. He's having one tonight in New York Plaza for all his nearest and dearest friends -- 700 people," she laughs. "He'll be performing alongside his friends from the hip-hop world. There will be sushi bars and raw bars. It's going to be a party fit for a king."

Despite the Cristal-quaffing propensities of her usual client list, Tatiana reckons she will have plenty of inspiration for the more modest budgets of Irish brides when she speaks at The Wedding Experience showcase in Adare, Co Limerick, this weekend.

"There are so many brides creating their own weddings -- the DIY brides. We can teach brides where to begin, where the hidden costs are, where to spend and where to save," she says.

Where to spend? The décor, the bar and the food. "It's really important because ultimately you want the guests to have a good time and dinner should be an experience," she says. "And if I were to add a fourth, I would say get a good photographer."

Or, presuming you live in a house made of gold bars, you could opt for a blowout dinner party like the one planned by Tatiana for a very wealthy client in the manicured grounds of the palace of Versailles.

"We hired hundreds of actors to be in period costume, mingling around the guests. It was a party within a party," she says. "We had Marie-Antoinette ride in a horse and carriage. The table was the length of a football field, so it took 35 minutes to walk around."

The irony of theming a million-dollar party around a queen who was beheaded for her extravagance was apparently lost on that client. The truth is that the rich don't worry about scrimping on the canapés.

"That Gilded Age look for table décor was very hot this year," says Tatiana. "Special gold-embroidered invitations, fabulous dessert stations, gold linen, fruits in centerpieces ... When Ivanka Trump got married last month, it was very opulent. She had a Grace Kelly theme, an abundance of flowers, and an 18-piece band -- it was like a mini Carnegie Hall."

The trends for 2010, should you wish to emulate them, are sushi bars, Peking duck carving stations, four dinner courses instead of three (smaller portions though, like tuna tartare in a martini glass -- socialites and celebs disdain pigging out, don't you know).

'People eat with their eyes," says Tatiana. "So dessert stations have become incredibly abundant, lots of chocolate fountains, ice-cream sundae stations. Bite-size cupcakes are huge now -- red velvet and Oreo cookie ones, covered with M&Ms, every variety imaginable."

'Convertible' wedding dresses are all the rage -- a long gown from which the bottom half can be removed to create a more daring hemline when the reception hots up. If that sounds a little Bucks' Fizz circa Eurovision 1981, you could opt for two separate dresses entirely. One is for the ceremony and one for the party, a trend pioneered by Katie Holmes when she donned two Armani frocks for her wedding. It sounds like you can never be too excessive when you're having a big, fat, wealthy wedding. "There are some times when I have to stand my ground," says Tatiana.

"We had a client who was getting married in Moscow who insisted on transporting her guests from the wedding to the reception by boat. It would have taken six hours: I had to insist that wouldn't be good for the guests."

Still, surrounded by such opulence must turn a girl's head. "It's so funny you say that," says Tatiana, "When I got married, I had just 11 people at my wedding."

Then she laughs: "I still had a nice photographer and a Sylvia Weinstock (baker to the stars) cake. Three tiers of chocolate on chocolate, with gold and lush red roses to match my bouquet."

Tatiana Byron Marx speaks at the Wedding Experience in Adare Manor, Co Limerick next Saturday. Entry is free but to reserve a spot, call Sarah Stuart-Trainor on 061 605200.

- Susan Daly

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