Thursday, April 10, 2008

Going to the Chapel

I love a good wedding, don't you? And one of our loyal readers is off to the chapel. What a wonderful time of one's life this can be. Putting aside the customary cautions towards not allowing yourself to experience too much stress or pressure from family, because certainly you probably have heard that twenty times already, I need to first make a disclaimer: Be safe. No matter how much it pains you do so, please refrain from staring at your diamond from all directions while operating a vehicle. More than one hostess has met with disconcerting, even painful, results from not heeding this warning.

Now and secondly are your parties! And they should be entirely your own. If the chatter around you dies down for a moment maybe you will be able to do a bit of soul searching about what is most important to you in this regard. I have seen a wide array of engagement, shower, and receptions and loved them all. There are those moments when maybe a decision did not serve particularly well for the party the couple had in mind, but those things will happen, and when they do, roll with it. The best hostesses throw the cheap wine into decanters and move on because it is about enjoying the moment, not fretting over it.

I will tell you quite honestly, we had quite a go-around in our family about our wedding. I truly wanted an event planner; not to satisfy the princess in me but because I was in business and working long days to build a career. I did not know very much about weddings then and I thought it was best left to the professionals: I won't swing by your office and have a fit about the flowers if you don't drop by mine and ask me about the price I just negotiated for a factory to make a sweater. That kind of thing. But that was not an agreeable choice and so, it did not go my way. Eventually, we all just pushed through. And time has taught me that generally, it is far easier to enjoy the wedding of another, than your own.

One of my readers asked me to check out the Rich Bride Poor Bride show on the We Network and while I think the discussion of the cost is an unfortunate premise, maybe it does contribute to realism among the engaged and encourage them to spend time determining what they value most in a celebration. Even with all the money being discussed and argued over, this hour of television did help to highlight the remarkable differences in taste which wedding vendors are expected to accommodate. It also highlighted their unwillingness to do so. I would guess that for both cost and efficiency sake, they have maybe 5 formulas they use whether they are florists, caters, whathaveyou, and if you do not slide willingly into one of those scenarios, your costs become stratospheric. And speaking only for the Northeast where wedding vendors should literally and truly be ashamed of themselves, the costs are already staggering from the base. That is why it is so very important to determine what you want before you speak to anyone, you don't need to be swayed to make someone else's margin bigger. Stick to your guns and negotiate, this is your show.

When people ask me about weddings I return to one that is so memorable not for everything it did, but for everything it didn't. One fine spring evening in Charleston, Josh and I were invited to a wedding which took place at St. Paul's. The reception was held at South Carolina Society Hall a building which is magical in it's own right from every angle. This couple was very well-heeled and the gentleman a grand and great-great grandson of two former Governors of that fine state. But their wedding was not about over-the-top nonsense, it was about grace and elegance and visiting. They did not serve dinner. They served an array of wonderful small bites, a potent champagne punch, and had bar service, for four hours. There was a swing band and a good number of cocktail tables around the outside of the room at which you could sit for spell.

But the flowers, the flowers make the memory. Not a million varieties in confusing colors which move the eye around too much but huge spills of hydrangea everywhere all in varying, but close, shades of a bluey-purple. This included a hydrangea arch at the end of the room, meant to be nothing other than a homage to the hydrangea itself, not the day, not the couple. Beauty and simplicity was the whole concept. And one tiny detail which did not escape the attention of the bride that night stays with me: Hanging from her arm, nearly under her bouquet was a small handbag in which she surely keep her lipstick and tissue. But, my guess is she tracked down that talented girl who made custom handbags under the name Moo Roo originally because this bag was a perfect satin in a matching ivory to the bride's gown and it had a hand painted and pieced spill of hydrangea at the top of the purse and flowing down the sides in colors exactly match to her bouquet. It was magnificent.

These are two people who, regardless of their youth at the time, had nothing to prove to anyone. They picked the things about wedding which they enjoyed most and chose to concentrate on what delivered the most beauty to their eye and the most joy to their souls. And because they were not self-conscious about their decisions, this wedding really stood out. I loved not being forced to a seat for three hours. I loved that I could peek over Josh's shoulder and see everyone in the wedding. I loved the gentlemen in the wedding in those ivory dinner jackets. And I love that they did not capitulate to anyone. I hope you will not either. Because you will not have a second chance. And I think the oldest sagest advise still rings true: Do what you love, the money will work itself out.

But now you have another issue afoot, yes? You have to get registered. This is a weedy uphill trail to the butler's pantry of your future. But it is a good idea because everyone gets what they need: You need something to upon which to serve for the rest of your days and your guests can easily give you a gift. Michael C. Fina, the undisputed champion in the registry business, trumps many geographic concerns these days because of the ease of the internet and because their choices are so much better than, well, all of their competition. However, the price of French five-piece place settings has become exorbitant due to the Euro and self-importance. If these prices are truly unrealistic, which is rarely ever the case per my previous discussion on this subject, then, at least have a very good domestically-made service on your registry. And then decide if you want to buy your own good service with your monetary gifts after the wedding, you can buy as you see fit. Or, you can have a sharp eye for things that are almost-but-not-quite the real European thing.

Now, this service in the intro photo today, is my wedding service, known as (the now infamously ridiculous in price,) Raynaud Festivite. Five years on now and I have noticed and even purchased a service of plates over time from the Newport Museum Store, in Newport, Rhode Island. They are a historical reproduction of one of the plate services commissioned for The Breakers by the Vanderbilt's. The reproduction is carefully and skillfully done. It is still porcelain. It was less than $80 per place setting, though it may have gone up a bit by now, made by people called Sadak. You can flip through their catalogs and where-to-buy's on their site. There are many more like them. So, you have options at every level where beginning with something beautiful is concerned.

As a rule of thumb, a registering bride is asked to pick out everyday plates (many seem to pick some version of the all-white Lenox basketweave or close and they are endlessly useful against every manner of table linen), flatware, and glass sets, and then a formal service in sterling flatware, fine china dinner place settings, and crystal. In our more casual culture, the latter group is often left out assuming one will never want or need them and in their place have arrived, pots, pans, knives, luggage, and vacation giftcards (?). I am here to tell you that picking a registry for a life is not unlike picking a wardrobe for a career: Register for the life you want, not the one you have. It is a privileged few who can decide at some later date to buy the whole 64-piece sterling shooting match at nearly $8,000. Or the plates at $6,000. And so on. So, do it now, while you have the invitation.

Secondly, you are going to need those pots, pans, and knives. Williams-Sonoma prides themselves on their quality and you can trust them. Get very good articles, not substandard. They will last you a lifetime. Williams-Sonoma, to their lasting credit, also purchased a little linen company some years ago called Chambers and have incorporated these very fine household linens into their catalogs, gratefully. They are a fine retailer now across a vast amount of quality things, though there certainly are many others with a good deal more creativity and mush finer linen product. I do have a very favorite linen company which is stratospheric as well but decidedly because they are in the business of artful linens in a class by entirely by themselves, and they are more than justified. If you never buy a piece of their goods, they are still a singular pleasure to see and feel. This, is Leontine Linens.

Most importantly, know who you are and what you want from the future. If you do not cook, let alone bake, and you have no interest in either, the costly mixers, food processors, and copper poaching pans will be a loss suffered only in other things you might really have enjoyed on a regular basis for years. Think it over, take your time. Congratulations and good hostessing for all your days!


Anonymous said...

Thank you! I was trying to decide between WS or CB for everyday things- so that was its time to find a china pattern that sings to me!


Anonymous said...

Blushing. this is a great blog. I hope you stick with it. Ken W. NYC

Natalie Finnegan said...

This is a lovely blog. Will bookmark and return frequently! Natalie . New Orleans