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Wedding Choices 

Gambit Weekly readers to vote on which couple will receive a free wedding reception -- and what that reception will feature.

Every couple dreams of a romantic no-holds-barred dream wedding like noone else's, but very few get a chance to have it all -- planned, executed and paid for by the service providers. Until now. That's exactly what New Orleans premier wedding professionals and Gambit Weekly are offering one lucky bride and groom.

Engaged couples have been registering for the contest at 10 stores in The Shops at Canal Place for several weeks with registration ending May 11. A panel of judges has selected three couples from among the entries as finalists in the contest. Now it's time for Gambit Weekly readers to choose who will be the lucky winners of a generous wedding package valued at more than $36,000. Not only will the reception be free, it will be planned and executed by some of the most innovative event planners and other professionals in the city, who have joined together as The Partners to showcase their combined talents.

"All these partners are wedding experts and have worked together for a really long time and work together very well," says Melissa Daigle of Joel (3930 Euphrosine St., 827-2400), a catering and event planning company owned by Joel Dondis. Last November, The Partners hosted a mock wedding reception for potential clients to showcase innovative ways to make "the big day" exceptional and hassle-free without having to depend on just one provider, such as a hotel, to do all the planning.

"I was thinking of a different vehicle to get a message out there to brides of what's happening in the industry, what's cool, a fresh perspective," Dondis says. "I also wanted to create an untraditional means of meeting potential customers. The vehicle we created was The Big Day Book." That book features several businesses, all of which have acted together as strategic partners and that Dondis felt are all "at the top of the game" in the wedding industry. It boasts several different packages and price points to demonstrate that fabulous weddings don't have to be exorbitantly expensive. From the book and the mock reception grew the idea of sponsoring a wedding giveaway in which an engaged couple would be selected by Gambit readers to receive a well-planned wedding day.

Readers interested in participating in the selection of the couple and various elements of the package can log onto www.bestofneworleans.com for more details, or watch for a special insert about the contest and The Partners in next week's Gambit Weekly. Votes will be accepted through June 6, the couple will be married during August, and their wedding will be featured in the Sept. 16 issue of Gambit Weekly.

Joel will provide catered cuisine for the reception, based on packages chosen by Gambit Weekly readers. The catering company is known for its innovative flair with recipes and exceptional presentation of foods. The three packages include "The Fleur de Lis Cocktail Buffet," including a "Louisiana Couchon de Lait"; "The Orleans Cocktail Buffet," with a Cajun fried turkey among other highlights; and "The Garden District Cocktail Buffet," which includes turtle soup and "Seared Ahi Tuna Carpaccio."

Contest winners will celebrate their reception at Latrobe's on Royal (403 Royal St., 299-0601), a historically significant building in the heart of the French Quarter. The venue has a 21-foot domed ceiling and provides an elegant and sophisticated location for a beautiful reception (or even a wedding) that embodies the best of New Orleans style, says Jan Morel, director of sales at Latrobe's. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Latrobe's can handle all sizes of functions, but the giveaway wedding reception is planned for about 200 guests and will include a full bar setup.

Early in the planning, the experts at Scriptura (5423 Magazine St., 897-1555; 328 Chartres St., 299-1234; 3301 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Lakeside Shopping Center, 219-1113) consult with couples about how to announce their big day to friends and family through invitations. "The invitations set the tone for the party," says Scriptura owner Margaret Jones. Readers will choose from packages that include flourishes such as engraved invitations, handmade stationary, and wax seals and satin ribbons.

Jim Perrier of Perrier Party Rentals (109 Industrial Ave., Jefferson, 834-8570) says he has options in chairs and linens to fit every personality. "We've got 36 solid colors just in plain cotton, then there are plaids, etc.," he says. Readers can choose a traditional "all white" wedding, or opt for the "elegant affair" or "designer showcase" looks. "Some people don't want it to be elegant; they want it to be fun," Perrier says. "We aim to please."

The same holds true for the florals, which will be provided by Urban Earth (1528 Jackson Ave., 524-0100; www.urbanearthflowers.com), a floral design studio with artists known for unique presentations. "Our portion of it is we'll provide the wedding flowers and reception flowers," says James Clawson, designer and logistics manager for Urban Earth.

During the ceremony and reception, the couple's memories will be preserved by Jeff Pounds Photography (711 State St., 891-8888 or 908-6089), which takes an unconventional approach to wedding pictures, opting for candid shots and images that portray a mood or essence of the moment instead of posed wedding party pictures.

"I do some formal shots," Pounds says, "but I even try to keep those open and fun. I try to go for things that aren't cliche and that have a strong integrity to them. I'm an artist first and don't want to do anything hokey."

He will give the winning couple a finished photo album with about 100 select photographs included. "It's a very collaborative effort. I try to get together and get to know them a little bit. It helps everybody to be more relaxed when you show up."

Another Partner in the giveaway will provide the ambience at the reception through music selected for the winning couple. "When it comes to music for weddings or special events, you never know what you're going to do up front," says Deanna Bernard, owner and talent buyer for New Orleans Music Events (1523 Dublin St., 866-8821; www.nomusicevents.com). The choices can range from classical to jazz to zydeco to a combo to a quartet. "New Orleans is so blessed with music that we can customize anything," she says. "At most weddings, they want everybody to dance and have a good time. Others are very upscale and just want jazz or classical playing in the background."

Package options include the band Reggie Hall & the Twilighters, a jazz trio, or a string quartet. Bernard's business not only books the musicians but provides sound and lights, makes certain the group is on time, dressed appropriately and conducts itself well. "Your wedding day is a day you're going to remember for the rest of your life," she says. "If the music is bad or the band misbehaves, you'll remember me the rest of your life."

To make sure everyone gets to and from the reception in style and without any hitches, London Livery Ltd. (771 S. Prieur St., 586-0700 or 915-2292) is also offering a choice of three packages, such as the "St. Charles Avenue Package," which includes a limousine for the bride and her father for three hours, a limousine for parents and grandparents to the ceremony and reception, a transfer that includes champagne for the bride and groom, a mini motorcoach for the bridal party for three hours, and three hours' use of shuttles for up to 55 guests to transport them from a hotel to the ceremony and the reception.

London Livery provides luxury vehicles, professional drivers and helpful staff as well as movement coordination to ensure that everything rolls smoothly throughout the wedding day.

In the end, Dondis and the other Partners say they just want to put together a lasting memory for one lucky couple and get the word out about the talents of the group. "We want to let people get to know us," Dondis says. "Sometimes people are intimidated and think they can't afford [what they want] or just don't know where to find all the components. That was kind of how this all got started."

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