Won­drous wed­dings

Elab­o­rate wed­dings are the rave now in Shang­hai as cou­ples look for fancy ways to leave an im­pres­sion as they get mar­ried

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By XU JUN­QIAN in Shang­hai

Cou­ples look­ing for spec­ta­cle when they tie the knot

xu­jun­qian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Ahuge golden crown hang­ing from the ceil­ing an­chored the Euro­pean set­ting where a cou­ple was waltz­ing be­tween Ro­man pil­lars to the tunes of The Blue Danube by Aus­trian com­poser Jo­hann Strauss II. Pro­vid­ing the acous­tics was a band of mu­si­cians from the Shang­hai Sym­phony Or­ches­tra while a se­ries of crys­tal chan­de­liers cre­ated the il­lu­sion of a night sky re­splen­dent with stars.

But this was not a mu­si­cal or stage pro­duc­tion. In­stead, it was a wed­ding show held in the 1,135-square-me­ter ban­quet room in The Ritz-Carl­ton Shang­hai, Pudong ho­tel on the week­end be­fore the Chi­nese Valen­tine’s Day on Au­gust 20.

Or­ga­nized by Not­ting Hill Wed­ding, the 30- minute show, themed “Crowned Your Love”, cost some 200,000 yuan ($31,297). Li Gang, the co-founder of the wed­ding plan­ning agency, said that the show drew in­spi­ra­tion from the ho­tel’s Swiss founder Ce­sar Ritz who was dubbed the “king of hote­lier and the hote­lier to the king”.

“That’s the most ba­sic wed­ding cer­e­mony we can plan,” said Li, a 33-year-old Shang­hai na­tive. Li, who was for­merly a copy­writer at an advertising agency, founded the com­pany late in 2009 with a col­league and has since es­tab­lished it as one of the top agen­cies in Shang­hai.

Not­ting Hill Wed­ding, whose name was inspired by the Bri­tish film star­ring Hugh Grant and Ju­lia Roberts, has helped or­ga­nize 450 themed wed­dings over the past five years. The agency charges clients a min­i­mum of 50,000 yuan and this fee does not even in­clude the cost of hir­ing pho­tog­ra­phers, em­cees and make-up artists.

Lu Qi, who is the founder of wed­ding plan­ning com­pany Wed­dingIsm, es­ti­mates that half of the wed­dings hap­pen­ing in Shang­hai now are tai­lor-made to clients’ spec­i­fi­ca­tions while 30 per­cent of all wed­dings across China are themed.

Lu and his wife started the com­pany in 2008, when they were un­able to find a wed­ding plan­ner to bring to life their dream wed­ding. He re­called that be­spoke wed­dings amounted to less than 5 per­cent when he first en­tered the in­dus­try. Wed­dingIsm charges a min­i­mum of 60,000 yuan for wed­dings in Shang­hai, and 150,000 yuan for those held out­side the city or the coun­try.

De­spite the hefty price tags, there is an in­creas­ing de­mand for such be­spoke and elab­o­rate wed­ding cer­e­monies.

While Shang­hai’s so­phis­ti­cated brides are al­most al­ways decked out in Tif­fany rings, Vera Wang gowns and Manolo Blah­nik pumps, it is ev­i­dent that these de­signer items are no longer enough to mark the spe­cial oc­ca­sion.

Cou­ples are now de­mand­ing for per­son­al­ized el­e­ments that de­fine their love for one another and help leave an im­pres­sion in their wed­ding guests. Cus­tom-made in­vi­ta­tion cards, wed­ding cakes and even wine bot­tles are all con­sid­ered es­sen­tial these days.

In Shang­hai, the most com­pet­i­tive wed­ding mar­ket in China with thou­sands of play­ers, wed­ding shows such as the one by Not­ting Hill Wed­ding are staged al­most ev­ery week­end at up­scale ho­tels, even dur­ing the “low sea­son” months of July and Au­gust.

There have even been in­stances where bal­leri­nas are hired to per­form along the aisle like a doll in a mu­sic box, pre­sum­ably to sig­nify how a cou­ple’s love story is very much a fairy-tale. In other cases, cranes have even been used to lift the bride as she makes a grand en­trance.

Movie-like wed­ding videos that reen­act how a cou­ple first met have now be­come a sta­ple in the itin­er­ary. Be­cause of this, pho­tog­ra­phers who used to spe­cial­ize in doc­u­men­taries for na­tional TV pro­grams have shifted their fo­cus to the tears and smiles of brides in this lu­cra­tive in­dus­try. Like­wise, light­ing com­pa­nies which used to cater to con­certs for A-list singers and renowned fash­ion de­sign­ers have started to open their doors to wed­ding cou­ples.

“I have never been re­jected by my clients for propos­ing too crazy ideas, but I of­ten have to say no to them be­cause their ideas are im­pos­si­ble to ful­fill,” said Lu, who added that the wildest re­quest he has ever re­ceived was for the groom to pop out from a cof­fin to re­ceive his wife.

“Shang­hai cou­ples may not come with the fat­test wal­lets, as they are known for their shrewd­ness, but they are the most open-minded, wellinformed and have the most spe­cial ideas,” Lu added.

Qian Yali, di­rec­tor of events and con­ven­tion ser­vices at Park Hy­att Ho­tel in Shang­hai, noted that themed wed­dings have ac­counted for more than 70 per­cent of all the mar­i­tal cer­e­monies held at the ho­tel, and this fig­ure is ex­pected to grow in the com­ing years. It is es­ti­mated that 70 per­cent is a bench­mark for the five-star ho­tel in­dus­try in Shang­hai.

Frost Sul­li­van, a global con­sult­ing firm, es­ti­mated that China’s wed­ding mar­ket con­sol­i­dated rev­enues of 800 bil­lion yuan in 2014, ac­count­ing for 1.3 per­cent of the coun­try’s GDP that year.

China Wed­ding As­so­ci­a­tion be­lieves that at least 1.33 tril­lion yuan was gen­er­ated by the 13.27 mil­lion cou­ples that reg­is­tered their mar­riages in 2013, based on the as­sump­tion that each cou­ple spends an av­er­age of 100,000 yuan. It is un­clear if these fig­ures in­clude the cost of jew­el­ries, au­to­mo­biles and apart­ment ren­o­va­tion fees in­curred by the cou­ple.

In com­par­i­son, Amer­i­cans spent an av­er­age of $26,444 on their wed­dings, with cou­ples in Man­hat­tan top­ping the list with an av­er­age spend­ing of over $55,000, ac­cord­ing to US wed­ding web­site The Knot.

How­ever, Fang Jing, the editor-in-chief of ijie.com, the Chi­nese ver­sion of The Knot, be­lieves that cou­ples from Chi­nese cities like Shang­hai, Bei­jing and Guangzhou have the po­ten­tial to spend as much as, if not more than, their coun­ter­parts in the US. This would mean that Chi­nese cou­ples spend a sig­nif­i­cantly larger per­cent­age of their an­nual earn­ings on the cel­e­bra­tions, as com­pared to the Amer­i­cans who al­ready spend about half of their yearly in­come.

“If the ques­tion (from the bride-to-be) five years ago was whether her wed­ding was the most ex­pen­sive one around, she is now most wor­ried if it’s the most unique one,” said Li.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Elab­o­rate wed­ding shows like "Crowned For Love" are a reg­u­lar fix­ture in Shang­hai, home to China's most com­pet­i­tive wed­ding mar­ket.

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Cou­ples have to pay top dol­lar for cus­tom­ized and unique wed­ding cel­e­bra­tions, but many in Shang­hai don't seem to mind.

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