Honoring the past when putting on a wedding is the easy part. From engagement ring to honeymoon, weddings are rich with tradition. But today's bridal couples also look for self-expression in their special day of celebration. With an eye toward the past, a finger on the pulse of current fashion and a desire to create an event uniquely their own, couples are setting new trends destined to become fond memories in the years to come.
Amusing stories of surprise engagements abound, with grooms hiding engagement rings in everything from glasses of champagne to pieces of cake. But these days, many grooms are trading in the guesswork that goes with choosing a ring on their own for peace of mind. "Couples are coming in to pick out rings together," says Richard Lee Mathis of Symmetry Jewelers, an Uptown jeweler known for its custom-design pieces. "Also, more women are coming in to make the design decisions on their own. In cases where the groom prefers to pick out the stone but wants to leave the design to the bride, Symmetry places the stone in a simple temporary setting or alone in a box and provides a CD showing a variety of settings. The design is just as important as the stone nowadays," says Mathis. "More older couples are getting remarried or married for the first time and they want something that is unique."
At Lee Michaels Fine Jewelers in Metairie, store manager José Avrill says traditional rings featuring a center diamond with two side stones set in white gold or platinum are the best sellers for women, while plain polished bands remain the No. 1 choice for men. He says many of his customers are looking for the added cachet of name brands they've seen in magazine advertisements.
Brides and wedding coordinators alike agree that one of the first things a bride considers -- second only to her engagement ring, if she's given the choice -- is her dress. She's dreamed about it since she was a little girl, and if she's buying it in the year 2001, local experts agree it's likely to be bare, simple in silhouette and subtly adorned with embroidery, seed pearls or caviar beading -- if adorned at all. "A major trend today is toward sleeveless, strapless or spaghetti straps," says Town & Country manager Carey Watters. "There's a little of everything, but in general, dresses are fairly simple, not a lot of beading. Fabrics can be silk, silk satin, silk organza, shantung -- that runs the gamut."
Bonnie Broel, owner of House of Broel bridal boutique, agrees that bare is the order of the day for brides, many of whom are also opting for bare shoes to complete the look. "We're seeing a return to princess lines, which are very flattering," says Broel, who's been in business for 35 years. "We're seeing some very full ballroom skirts; the sheath is not as popular as it was. We're seeing strappy, sexy sandals, no longer just the closed-in, conservative pump. With more second weddings, we're seeing variations like strapless two-pieces with modified trains. But in today's marketplace, if there's one big change, it's the fact that anything goes and a girl can have anything she wants. There are very few rules."
As resident wedding coordinator for Partysist Special Events, André de La Barre keeps abreast of what's fresh in all aspects of weddings, from venues to photography. He also sees a relaxing of traditional rules and an emphasis on individuality. While many brides used to feel compelled to invite hundreds of guests for fear of offending someone, de La Barre says a number of his clients are now scaling down the size of the event in favor of smaller affairs with upscale food and decor.
"I'm finding the trend to be intimacy," he says. "The time of 800 guests is gone; Barnum & Bailey presents receptions is not the norm. People are calling on us to make their home or their parents' homes work. Many brides want to incorporate indoor and outdoor. We're doing an amazing number of tents."
Other favorite settings include historical venues such as the Herman Grima House, Gallier House and Gallier Hall, elegant settings like the New Orleans Museum of Art, and garden environs like the Botanical Garden at City Park and the Pavilion Of The Two Sisters, which is booked during prime months and weekends several years in advance. Along with style maven Martha Stewart, de La Barre says the sites being chosen have influenced the direction of design schemes. For at-home nuptials, brides might use personal touches like heirloom linens, while the popularity of garden weddings has brought about the use of potted florals instead of fresh-cut arrangements exclusively.
"A lot of people seem to be going back to a lot of romance," says Melissa Whitely, a partner in Monet's, a florist with one location in Mandeville and another opening in Metairie Aug. 1. Among the trends to which Monet's has catered of late are large arrangements made with open European-style roses, gardenias and stephanotis, hand-tied bouquets, mini mother-of-the-bride nosegays, boutonnieres made with mini calla lilies or freesia, and fresh wreaths to adorn church doors.
Fresh flowers also are widely used to decorate wedding cakes, which for many brides have become a focal point for creative expression. "People are trying to be different," says pastry Chef Shane Gorringe, owner of Zoë's in Covington. "They used to come in with a picture from a magazine; now they might come in with several pictures and take pieces from each." Zoë's has had more wedding orders this year than ever before -- a phenomenon Gorringe credits to the popularity of engagements during the millennium -- and the chef's champagne wedding cakes have been hot sellers, favored over the more traditional almond-flavored cakes. Chocolate cakes are still the most popular type of groom's cake, but Gorringe occasionally creates such unusual requests as a mini Sydney Opera House and an open-stomach operation complete with gall stones, scalpels and fake blood for the wedding of a gastroenterologist. The chef even helped pull off a surprise engagement by placing a real ring on the end of one of the satin ribbons traditionally pulled out of the wedding cake by bridesmaids.
For her part, cake designer Maria de La Barre of Come On In in Bay St. Louis, Miss., says she's been inundated with requests for wedding cakes laced with the essence of orange, satsuma or tangerine, while sports-theme cakes like stadiums and race cars have been popular among grooms. Because she caters to a lot of large weddings, four years ago de La Barre began offering clients the option of having a reasonably-sized cake for the cutting ceremony, along with already-sliced cakes served on silver trays, an idea she gleaned from the Japanese. "I don't think the bride's cake should ever be taller than the bride," she says. "And this is an elegant way to serve cake."
Elegant also is a word Dickey Smith, stylist and owner of the Guy Keefer salon in the Omni Royal Orleans, uses to describe the hairstyles that brides are wearing. "Every bride I've done recently has worn a kind of fairy princess dress, usually with a form-fitting top and fuller skirt, some with trains. So we've done the hair elegant and simple, whether it's a French twist or chignon. The last three (brides) wore either a tiara or headpiece with the veil attached at the back, so it's been soft and pretty but with height to balance the headpiece. The makeup has been natural looking with a lot of pink."
Even the style of photography at today's weddings has changed, becoming more natural and candid. "There's no doubt that photojournalism is the way many people are going now," says photographer George Long of George Long Photography. "Today's bride doesn't want to pose for the same pictures her mother and grandmother took. It can be more expensive, because you shoot more film, but it's worth it because you don't have to focus your day around the photographer's needs."