PURVEYOR OF GOOD TASTE
Luxury wedding planner Lelian Chew opens up about the grind and sacrifices behind the business of love
When you first speak to Lelian Chew, it’s impossible to tell that she’s perennially sleep deprived. The founder of The Atelier & Co is fresh-faced and chatty, cheerfully offering coffee and baked goods to me and her staff at their newly unveiled global headquarters at Delta House, a 7,000sqft space that occupies the entire eighth floor of the industrial building at Alexandra.
“There just isn’t enough hours in the day to get things done,” she admits, “so sleep is often the first thing to go.” No surprise there, considering how many people are after a slice of the consummate entrepreneur’s time. The Atelier & Co encompasses The Wedding Atelier and The Floral Atelier: the former is the event-planning arm of the company, specialising in weddings, while the latter is an extension of the business, offering not only floral arrangements for weddings but also event styling, workshops and subscriptions, with outlets in Orchard Road and Tiong Bahru.
What Chew has achieved in six short years is remarkable, considering that, prior to starting The Wedding Atelier out of her living room in Hong Kong in 2013, she was working in a completely different industry: finance. She had spent close to a decade climbing the corporate ladder at Goldman Sachs. By the time she left, she was part of an elite team that managed the investment portfolios of Asian billionaires.
Doing a massive career pivot and starting from scratch, understandably, was nerve-wracking. “I loved my job and was good at it,” she says of her time at the multinational.
However, she has no regrets leaving behind the career she had worked for so long to establish: “With The Wedding Atelier, I knew I was onto something. Compared to finance, which requires tons of accreditation and is highly regulated, the wedding events industry has low barriers to entry. I knew I could bring something different to the table,” she says.
From the sparkle in her eyes, it’s obvious that the passion that motivated her to launch The Wedding Atelier six years ago is still what gets her out of bed every morning. “I’m a huge romantic at heart and being in the business of love is really special. We could have done other types of events planning, but it wouldn’t have been as satisfying. There’s no other industry where you get to be a part of the most important days in people’s lives,” she effuses.
Now headquartered in Singapore, The Atelier & Co maintains an office in Hong Kong where Chew launched the business in 2013 and will expand to Shanghai by the end of this year. Expectedly, a lot of Chew’s time is spent travelling for work; she estimates taking around 120 flights in 2018 alone. BBC viewers will soon get a glimpse of this jet set life as she was the subject of an hour-long documentary, which follows her and her team across 12 cities as they go about planning luxury weddings.
At this pace, all other life priorities are on the backburner – for now at least. “My husband and I have thought about having children but that’s just not feasible at this stage,” she admits. “I’ve always believed in giving my 100 percent in whatever I do, so I’ll only have kids when I am sure that I can commit fully to them. I aspire to be the kind of mum that makes beautiful bento lunches for my kids every day.”
For someone who spends so much time organising large-scale events – and personally making sure that every single detail is taken care of – you might think that Chew wants nothing more than to sleep in and do nothing on her rare days off, but she says that few things make her happier than hosting dinner parties at home.
“My husband and I love to cook!” she shares. “I’m Peranakan and have spent lots of time in kitchen since I was a little girl. I love preparing dishes like laksa and ayam buah keluak, whereas my husband enjoys cooking Western food. For us, cooking is all about discovery – and a way for us to spend quality time together.”