While weddings – even the most perfectly planned – have an element of unpredictability, the COVID-19 pandemic threw yet another agent of chaos into the mix. But, brides, grooms, parents and the wedding industry have learned to pivot and adjust.
“The one constant is that there is no constant,” says Susan Zackin, Owner of Z Event Company, about planning events in today’s sort-of post-COVID-19 pandemic world.
It’s a sentiment echoed by those involved in making special events happen in New Orleans.
Beth Biundo of Beth Biundo Sweets is finding that wedding cakes have become less traditional.
Biundo says pre-pandemic most cakes were the same with some variations, but couples are now requesting color frosting, chocolate or rosemary olive oil cake flavors, embellishments such as more piping and over-the-top flower presentations incorporated into the cakes.
Or, matching the frosting and embellishments to the walls of the venue, as Biundo did for one couple who got married at Hotel Peter & Paul, which was coordinated by Mary Spera of Spera Special Events.
Spera says the wedding had been postponed due to COVID-19, and throughout the two years of planning, the couple didn’t want a wedding cake.
“When we reconvened in person for tastings and final site visits in August 2021 – the week Hurricane Ida hit – the couple who positively didn’t want a wedding cake now wanted a wedding cake. But they didn’t want a white, traditional cake,” says Spera. “They wanted a cake with a moody, dramatic vibe. Our color story was deep red, mauve, copper, dark emerald green and black.”
The bride originally wanted a dark green cake, but Biundo pointed out that those dark, intense colors, although gorgeous on the cake, stain teeth, so Spera suggested pulling in the lightest color in the color story – mauve – that was originally inspired by the interior of Hotel Peter & Paul.
“We pumped up the drama with gorgeous red and rusty florals, which appeared to erupt organically from the cake. We kept the dark emerald green on the velvet table linens and brought in the copper on the cake stand. And the couple did, in fact, take photos with the cake,” Spera says.
Two new elements sparked by COVID-19 that Spera doesn’t see going away any time soon is a shorter time frame in which to plan and guest lists with fewer people.
“There are newly engaged couples who want a smaller, more intimate, luxury affair, with guests counts under 50 and a more curated experience for everyone.”
This is something John Rowland, Owner and Founder of Southern Hospitality Catering, has been experiencing
“We’re seeing an emphasis on more weddings at either the bride’s or groom’s family homes or at a friend’s home,” he says, adding “with an emphasis on making the experience more personal for the couple.”
“We catered a sit-down dinner for 80 for a wedding at home,” says Rowland, “and another for 300 at home with chef’s active stations serving different dishes – shrimp and grits, Louisiana wild mushroom polenta and chargrilled oysters – throughout the house and garden.”
For the sit-down dinner for 80, Southern Hospitality Catering created a menu with items that reflected the bride’s time in France and its culture, featuring French cheeses, French-style Chateaubriand, pommes frites and haricots verts.
“Being the part of the personalization of an event gives us the ability to create elements that are not traditional or follow the norms,” says Rowland.
Z Event Company owner Zackin says, “I’ve done more private home weddings than ever.” She also notes her clientele is doing what they want to do with their weddings and not allowing COVID-19 to dictate their life going forward. And, brides now have an easier attitude about what could happen.
“Everyone wants to celebrate and are spending money to do so,” says Zackin.
She emphasizes that good food, wine and entertainment all come into play for a good party, but she added another important element that a party planner can organize and finesse: How the evening flows. “It is so important … all the things that go into the mix, including guest list and the progression of the evening,” she says.
“Planning a wedding isn’t just ‘throwing a little party’,” says Zackin. “It is a very expensive investment and it should not be done without professional guidance in this day and age. A reputable planner should be retained just like any other type of consultant you would use for other important investments in life. The cost of having one will pay off in the long run.”
Kicking off any wedding are the invitations, with Betty Hunley Designs Inc., a longtime a favorite for couples to turn to: Betty Hunley started designing for customers in 1978, with her store opening in 1983.
“It has definitely been a crazy two years for weddings,” says Hunley. “We had so many couples that had to either cancel, downsize or just postpone their weddings.”
Hunley says she was blown away about how every single bride she met with was such a good sport, adding, “I knew their hearts were broken, but we managed to come up with plan to reinvent their big day,” which often meant inviting fewer guests.
One trend she has seen with couples is to order custom envelope liners for the wedding invitations. “We have done watercolor images of venues, churches and gardens,” she says. And, cyphers are still in demand.
One big change from the pandemic for Hunley is response cards.
“During the pandemic, we recommended couples use a response card that requested the guest RSVP to the wedding website,” she says. “I’m very ‘old school’ and traditional when it comes to wedding etiquette, but because of the mail service being so unpredictable and so many people doing everything electronically these days, I think it makes perfect sense,” adding that is also saves the couple money.
But in some ways, this new tradition recalls an old one that had almost been forgotten.
“If the guest is ‘old school,’ they have the option of sending a hand written response to the bride, which is really the way it was done ‘back in the day’!”
Hunley recommends couples get their lists completed as quickly as possible after the engagement because almost every vendor is going to ask how many people will be invited and make an appointment because most everything is taking longer than normal to be completed and delivered, an issue Mitch’s Flowers also mentioned.
“The market is pretty challenging for us with lack of help at farms, shipping concerns, supply and demand,” says a representative of Mitch’s Flowers. “It’s always good to have a few favorites, but it’s also difficult to break the news of not being able to get that one flower that they have to have.”
Splurging on floral wedding arches has been a trend, and there’s a preference with stylized bouquets as opposed to the standard open-ended flowers.
Moody colors were also trending, “using deep burgundy, reds, blacks and purples. The addition of dried and preserved items has also been a hit all-year long,” the representative adds.
The demand for quality diamonds pushed up prices in 2021, says Brandon Boudreaux, lead designer of Boudreaux’s Jewelers.
But, “I’ve never had to turn away a client for lack of availability. Our sources are worldwide, so as long as a client has a workable time frame, anything is possible.”
Boudreaux says they are finding that the “hidden halo ring is becoming one of our most popular styles. It features diamonds surrounding the gallery of the diamond to give a hidden detail that only the bride sees,” says Boudreaux.
Couples are also becoming more interested in custom rings, which is something Boudreaux’s can do because “We have control over the design process from start to finish to deliver what couples are looking for in a custom engagement ring,” Boudreaux says.
Custom is what Cortez E. Jackson of Lavoisier Suits does. His suits and tuxedos – for men, women, boys and girls – are custom-made and are known for attention to detail.
Originally from St. Louis, Jackson moved down here for a job, but realized his heart was in fashion and made the leap, starting at home in New Orleans East and in 2019, moving to Canal Place office building. Jackson named is company after his uncle, Walter Lavoisier, who made men’s clothing in St. Louis.
“It’s how I honor him,” Jackson says.
Jackson’s process starts with an appointment, followed by the initial consultation to find out what the suit or tuxedo is for, be it for a wedding, business event, Carnival ball or the like.
Based on the conversation, which includes the color palette, Jackson pulls fabric books, filling in with textures, fabric and finishes, such as thread color, monograms and lining. He also takes detailed measurements, including kneecaps and calves.
What Jackson is finding popular with weddings are custom linings, which can include a montage of photos of the important moments for the couples.
Another unique touch: Jackson can add the wedding hashtag under the collar of the suit jacket as a fun reminder of the special day.
Another couturier making New Orleans their home is Suzanne Perron. While she’s known for her Carnival designs for Debutantes, their mothers and Queens, her wedding dresses are among the most coveted.
For 2022, Perron sees sleeker silhouettes for wedding dresses. Unique details also matter, noting she has added feathers on a dress’ skirt and hem. White isn’t the only choice for dress color, as Perron has used shades of champagne and blush.
Beth Biundo Sweets
3917 Baronne St.
701 Metairie Road
Betty Hunley Designs
6057 Magazine St.
Miller Murphy Travel
4843 Magazine St.
Southern Hospitality Catering
3529 Chippewa St.
Spera Special Events
Town & Country Bridal
1514 St. Charles Ave.
Z Event Company
Retail party store: Sparkle & Swag
508 Metairie Road
And, “The mother-of-the-bride doesn’t want to look like the ‘mother-of-the-bride,’ they want to be more fashionable and current in style,” Perron says. “Three mothers-of-the-brides dresses were made with a patterned fabric and had volume at the shoulders.”
Over at Town & Country Bridal, which has been in business for nearly 100 years, Jess Sapera says, “Brides are heavily favoring long sleeved gowns, puff sleeves, exposed corset tops, slits, clean and classic gowns with modern twists and 3D floral laces.”
Sapera, Town & Country’s Business Development Manager and Master Stylist, adds that square necklines or straight-across strapless are popular, as well as fitted gowns with a dramatic overskirt that can be removed, allowing for a ball gown effect, but also a fitted look when the skirt is removed for the reception.
According to Sapera, “Most brides wear ivory, but we’ve seen a large amount of brides going with more of a champagne or honey underlay which makes the laces pop more.”
For bridesmaids, Sapera says, “Brides are loving the silk faille and satin for their bridesmaids’ gowns. We’ve seen a lot of brides choosing a color and fabric, and allowing their girls to choose the dress style.” Sapera mentioned black and ivory bridesmaids gowns are big right now, while champagne and blush pinks remain favorites.
One thing couples definitely look forward to is the honeymoon. According to Stephanie Miller Murphy, CTA, of Miller Murphy Travel, safari and adventure honeymoons are in right now.
Wedding Tips from Southern Hospitality Catering
Southern Hospitality Catering’s John Rowland says, “Be sure to take in the moment,” adding, “Look around at everyone in attendance and think about how much they personally mean to you and your partner. It will probably be the only time all of these people will be together at one time. Realize how amazing you feel at that moment.”
And more practically, Rowland suggests, “Be sure the caterer packs food for the couple, as they will have no time to eat during the reception and will be hungry by the end of the night.”
“What better way to begin married life than with a romantic glamping adventure in the bush of Africa? Adventure and romance go hand-in-hand on a safari honeymoon. It absolutely will be a vacation that can be checked off of the bucket list,” she says.
Or, newlyweds “can pick adrenalin over endorphins and venture to destinations that offer a wide variety of adventures for their honeymoon,” Miller Murphy adds, noting that Australia is a wonderful destination for thrill-seekers and, “Peru offers wonderful adventures for honeymooners and is a great destination to combine with the Amazon or the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador.”
For some couples, the honeymoon adventure can start at the wedding. Infinity Farms is designed as an outdoor wedding venue set in the rolling hills of Carriere, Mississippi. But no worries, if there’s rain, it has a number of indoor spaces to use, the main one a beautiful 7,000 square foot pavilion, overlooking the bucolic scenery, with a party space, catering kitchen and two guest suites. It can hold up to 250 people.
There is a separate residence with two rooms where the bride and groom can get ready, or stay overnight to kick off the honeymoon.
“We are the venue only, clients bring their own vendors,” says Co-Owner Donna Russell, who also adds they’re constructing new buildings to expand overnight accommodations.
“It was designed as a walking venue,” says Russell, describing how the space is laid out: when guests arrive, one area can serve for the cocktail hour, then move to the ceremony space, then to a back yard for a pre-dinner reception or head straight to the pavilion for the reception. “Each experience is unique, whatever your vision is,” says Russell.