"I wanted something a little different,” says Francesca Valles, a New Orleans bride-to-be who hails from California.
She’s showing her ring to two of her bridesmaids as they try on dresses at Pearl’s Place in Metairie. She proudly holds out her left hand, which is decorated with her antique-cut sapphire and diamond engagement ring, and Valles, like her bridesmaids, is still in awe of its unique, dazzling beauty.
Generic weddings are now a thing of the past and Valles’ desire for something “different” isn’t uncommon. As several brides-to-be will say, it’s time to update the “something old, something new, …” adage. “Something personal” is what’s hot now.
“Women who wed today own their wedding,” says Maria McBride, author of Branding the Bride and Party Basics for New Nesters, among others. McBride, who’s a recognized wedding style guru, says that today, “about 90 percent of brides contribute to the cost of their own weddings and they are determined to have highly personalized celebrations, which are easier than ever to create.”
Ann Tuennerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail, also plans social events and agrees with McBride. She says that weddings these days “are being personalized in every aspect.” This involves much more than just monogramming initials onto cocktail napkins that will be tossed away at the end of the night.
Tuennerman also notes the abundant resources, from books to magazines to Web sites, that can help a bride plan her perfect day. “The rules are more relaxed now,” she says. “Two people are coming together. They each have their own style, and they’re continuing that into their new lives together.”
“Most brides work full time, are confronted by an amazing array of options and want to create a smart, sensational celebration,” says McBride. “Decorating concepts should fit the location and personality of the couple. I find theme weddings are theatrical novelties, often with a period tone. I much prefer interesting locations that are decorated to fit the space and mood of the couple.”
Tuennerman says that themes “aren’t necessarily an expression of the couple’s personalities.” Style doesn’t change, she says. “Personalizing it, rather than theming it, actually frees you up a bit. You can find what works best with the venue and your lifestyle.” It’s important for a bride to be true to herself. Tuennerman continues, “If you’re over the top, your wedding is going to be over the top. If you’re casual, it will be a more laid-back affair.”
McBride notes that she admires brides who “find wonderful locations and bring them to life with clever taste, style and ambience.”
Food, of course, is a key factor at a wedding, especially one in the city renowned for its cuisine. McBride says some crowd-pleasing yet unique dishes to serve often include “miniaturized comfort food inspired by all cultures.” Valles’ fiancé, Mike Stanford, is a French-trained chef. “The food we’re serving at the reception is his pride and joy,” she says. “We’re going to include the meal we had on our first date.” They’re also serving a groom’s cake in the shape of a chef’s hat – “to honor his profession.”
Honoring traditions from both sides and blending them together is a great way to create new memories that will be cherished by the couple and their guests, says Tuennerman. “The wedding should tell the story of the relationship.”
For some brides-to-be, this might mean getting the groom more involved with the planning process. “My husband trusted me,” laughs Tuennerman, who planned an intimate, elegant wedding for 24 guests at Arnaud’s. “But there is a trend in that we’re seeing the whole family become involved with the planning process, not just the bride and her mother.” This is true for Valles. “We have tried to do some of the planning together so that the wedding combines both our styles. We are from very different places and backgrounds. We are having a traditional Catholic wedding and are including some traditions during the service as in honor of my Mexican heritage.” Says Tuennerman, “It’s about integrating the two families. A wedding is a chance to introduce customs to guests. It’s especially helpful if they can explain what the customs mean.”
Valles wants to show her wedding guests her true personality. With her impending nuptials, she’ll tell a love story. Sharing varying aspects of her life with her guests is also a main goal. During her December wedding the bouquet she tosses at the end of the night will be made of her sorority’s flower. She’s also allowing her bridesmaids to choose their own dresses in varying shades of red. “Each bridesmaid is very different. I want each girl to feel as beautiful as possible on the day of the wedding,” she says.
Carefully combining your families and taste will clearly involve lots of planning, but it doesn’t need to be a stressful process. “Allowing plenty of time to organize a wedding is the real key to sane planning. Brides plan more because they want a party to remember,” says McBride.
“Plan and go with the flow,” offers Tuennerman. “And concentrate on the gap, not the goal. Making a timeline will help.” She also says that despite even the most detailed efforts, something may turn out differently. “If it’s not exactly how you thought it would be or if something small is missing at the last minute, you don’t have to worry too much – most guests won’t have any idea! So try to enjoy the process.”
While New Orleans has long been hailed as a “melting pot” where cultures come together, a New Orleans wedding is something special and can be a unique and enriching cultural experience on its own. Valles is taking her wedding as an opportunity to show off the city and its effect on her relationship to family and friends. “A lot of our guests will be coming from out of town, so we’re creating gift bags with maps that include special places around the city. The map will include highlights from our relationship, like the restaurant we got engaged at [Vincent’s on St. Charles Avenue]. Our goal is to make all of our guests feel at home in the city where Mike and I met and fell in love.”
Offers Tuennerman: “Just be sincere and everyone will enjoy themselves. You’re bringing them into it.”