NO LONGER CONTENT WITH THE FRUITCAKES AND MATCHY-MATCHY DRESSES OF YESTERYEAR, COUPLES ARE NOW GOING TO EXTRAORDINARY LENGTHS TO MAKE THEIR BIG DAY SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT – BUT IT COMES AT A PRICE
From 007-inspired entrances to walls of roses, welcome to the world of six-figure mega-weddings.
It wasn’t the $740,000 Sydney wedding he recently arranged that tipped event stylist Philip Carr over the edge, nor the endless requests to have six-figure floral walls featuring rare flowers – it was one betrothed couple’s request to have their upcoming nuptials fully staffed by little people. “I’ve been in the industry for 35 years and during this time I’ve seen the evolution of weddings from, ‘Well, we like pink and blue,’ to helicopter arrivals and $40,000 light installations, but I draw the line at little-people theming,” he says.
Wedding planner Fiona DeansDundas drew hers at grooms tumbling through the air. “Everyone assumes the brides are the ones with the crazy requests, but the men can be just as imaginative,” she says of a groom who was insistent on staging his own James Bond-esque spectacle for his big day. Not content with a run-of-the-mill helicopter transfer, 007 Mark II wanted to charter a plane and parachute down onto the aisle just in time to say “I do”.
“In the end, I had to talk him into arriving by speedboat – still classy, but with far less chance of broken bones,” laughs Deans-dundas.
Parachuting grooms; $740,000 weddings… Whatever happened to fruitcake and a dodgy MC in cheap polyester? They belong to a long-gone era, according to Carr: “The new norm is extravagant with a capital E.”
As stated in the annual Cost of Love survey by Bride to Be magazine, the average price of a wedding for Australian couples is $65,482 – up $17,000 from 2011, when the average was $48,296. But industry experts such as Carr say couples are increasingly spending above the $100,000 mark to achieve their picture-perfect day. “I’d say 80 per cent of my clients now spend between $150,000 and $350,000,” he says. “And it only gets bigger and more expensive with every passing year.”
It’s a trend Bride magazine editor Lisa O’brien sees at her desk every day.
“The rustic farms and reception halls still have their place, but we’ve noticed within our submissions there are a growing number of brides emulating super-luxe weddings they’ve seen online, which may have taken place on the Amalfi Coast, in the Middle East or even in an English castle,” she says. “It’s clear they want to create the same buzz with their weddings, so other people in turn will pick them up as inspiration.”
O’brien touches on an important point: while community, social standing and heritage can often play a role in how large – and costly – your wedding is (“Imagine a guest list of 500; at $150 to $700 a head, you’re looking at $75,000 to $350,000 for the reception alone,” points out Carr), the biggest factor driving more opulent weddings is, of course, social media.
“I’m getting brides showing me Instagram feeds of Arabian princesses and the partners of Russian oligarchs, so we’re talking very extravagant gowns and limitless budgets,” says wedding-dress designer Steven Khalil, whose celebrity clientele incudes models Nicole Trunfio and Rachael Finch. “They’re saying, ‘I want this level; you need to get me to this level.’ As they come in for fittings, they’re already thinking about their own feeds – how many likes are they going to get for their shots? What will they have to do to get the shots to go viral? It’s a whole new pressure they’re working under.”
Not only is she looking at others’ feeds and thinking about her own, but today’s social-media-savvy bride may also choose her suppliers based on their number of followers. “If a dress designer or stylist has half a million followers on Instagram, then some brides will choose that because they figure if they go with them, the chances of their wedding photos going viral are that much higher,” says Deans-dundas.
PERHAPS THE MOST famous viral wedding photo of all time was from Kim Kardashian’s 2014 wedding to Kanye West (2.4 million likes on Instagram). Their wall of white flowers kicked off the biggest trend in weddings today. “I used to have to work hard to convince couples to spend $10,000 on flowers, but now they’ll easily spend $20,000 to $50,000 on flowers alone,” says Deans-dundas, adding that requests she’s had lately include a $7000 aisle made entirely of mirrors, a light cathedral made from one kilometre of fairy lights, and gold charger plates that had to be imported because the bride wasn’t happy with local options.
“Budgets are always bigger if parents are helping out with the bill,” she adds. “But even those people who don’t have a six-figure budget will stretch themselves beyond their means to have the one thing they think will add that ‘Insta-wow’ factor to their wedding, such as gold cutlery or a light displaying their initials on the dance floor.”
Floral walls aside, light installations are also big news, as is fine dining (“Crepes Suzettes have long been replaced by snow eggs,” confirms Carr) and bespoke experiences such as masseuses, custom-made $3000 Jimmy Choo heels with initials engraved into the soles, and $75 thank-you candles for the guests. And the dresses? Think fuller and more detailed, says Khalil, who adds that, 15 years ago, his most popular dresses were slimline, slinky and in the $3500 price range, whereas today they’re priced between $15,000 and $30,000, and are showier than ever before. “If you think about it, weddings are a great way to show people your wealth and social standing, and your dress is the perfect representation of your brand, or what you want your brand to be,” he says.
With social pressures showing no signs of abating, where does the wedding industry go from here? Experts say that while styles tend to be cyclical, those who can afford to push the boat out on the budget will only go bigger. “What we’re experiencing within the industry is in line with everything else that’s happening in the world,” says Carr. “Everyone wants a bigger house, a better car, a high-end lifestyle – the only thing that throws some people is when you apply what has become our normal attitude to a one-day event. But if you’ve got the money to spend, why not?”
O’brien agrees. “The greatest thing about what’s happening in the bridal industry today is the only rule left is that there are no rules,” she says. “Whether you want to throw a picnic wedding for $5000 or a formal sit-down for $200,000, everyone has the freedom to do what’s right for them and their budget – and that’s the way it should be.”
Lawyer JESSICA ELIA, 29, and JOSEPH HATEM, 32, owner of online retailer My Hair Care, spent $150,000 on their wedding. They held a reception for 250 people at the Palladium, Crown Melbourne. Jessica: “I don’t know if there was an expectation that we’d have the wedding we had, but Joey and I come from large families, so 250 was actually quite small compared to a lot of other weddings we’ve been to. Also, our parents
helped with a larger budget, which obviously gave us more freedom to do what we wanted to do.
“I didn’t buy any bridal magazines; I got all of my inspiration from social media – predominantly Instagram. There are thousands of wedding pages with countless amazing ideas for your big day. I would actually end up confused by all the different ideas! That said, I soon learnt to choose vendors based on their level of service, and not their social-media following.
“In the end, my big spend was on having two wedding dresses, one for the ceremony and the other I could dance easily in for the reception, and also for my florist to create an ‘enchanted forest’ with the arrangements. They really brought together my vision and were well worth the money.
“I know it sounds clichéd, but at the end of it, I realised that a wedding is not only about the bride and groom, but also celebrating our families who have sacrificed so much to actually get us to that specific point in our lives. It was a gorgeous day.” NATASHA LAU, 24, a doctor, and ANDREAS WONG, 27, a PHD student, spent more than $150,000 on their wedding. They married at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney, followed by a high tea for 300 guests in the cathedral’s Chapter House. A reception for 150 people was later held at Quay Restaurant. Natasha: “I didn’t think much about weddings as a child, but for several months before the big day, I became obsessed with Pinterest and collected hundreds of images as inspiration. Initially, I’d dreamed of a rustic wedding, but it evolved organically into quite a different, beautiful event.
“Andreas’s parents have a high standing within their own families and ethnic community, so there was a certain expectation for our wedding, but perhaps people didn’t expect it would be as grand as it was. Our parents set our budget, as they mainly financed it, and after we had a good idea of what we wanted, we cut anything we didn’t need. After paring things down to our irremovable ‘needs’, we were left with a figure that we fortunately could afford.
“The more opulent elements of our wedding were the four Rolls-royce limousines, St Andrew’s Cathedral, and the eight-metre, cascade-shaped red rose flower wall. We wanted them because we felt they would provide a sense of grandeur worthy of the occasion. I also had two wedding gowns, and our seven-tier cake was cut on the balcony overlooking Sydney Opera House while our private firework display lit up the sky behind us.
“The day went down perfectly. It’s true social media has become a platform for competitiveness and this risks an exaggerated grandeur that subtracts from the true beauty of a wedding. It was important for us to remember, in the midst of stylist appointments and floral mood boards, that a wedding is a celebration of love, not a pageant – and that’s what it was for us.”
“OUR SEVEN-TIER WEDDING CAKE WAS CUT AS FIREWORKS LIT UP THE SKY BEHIND US”