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Wedding success with a bit less

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Back in the fall of 1998, I signed on with Vera Wang to produce her very first book on weddings. She expected it to be the encyclopedia of weddings -- the be-all, end-all book of the industry. I was the sole person responsible for pulling it all together.

I jumped in full steam ahead, diligently tracking down Vera's celebrity clients and their wedding pictures. I searched for the world's best wedding photographers. I worked with retailers that sold Vera's gowns, wedding planners, event planners and anyone who was affiliated with the wedding world. As Vera would say, we were "living and breathing weddings."

Even though I was in my 30s and had already been to quite a few weddings myself, nothing prepared me for the weddings I saw while working at Vera Wang. It was a world where the term "budget" meant absolutely nothing.

Hour upon hour, night upon night, weekend upon weekend, I would sit with Vera hashing out ideas, discussing her visions, looking at film and organizing her thoughts. So in April 2000, when I came home to Baltimore to visit family and friends (it was the first weekend I had had off in months) I was not remotely prepared to meet a man -- much less someone who would eventually be my husband.

But as we all know, love does strange things to people. I started driving down to Baltimore every free moment I had to be with this guy.

Thirty-six months and thousands of dollars later, my job was done. Vera Wang on Weddings came out in the fall and, next thing I knew, I was engaged.

I was ecstatic, but I was now confronted with having to plan our own wedding. Having been surrounded by the most exquisite affairs, I had no idea how we were going to plan our own. We had a modest budget (compared with those of the clients I had been working with) and suddenly the expectation of what I would be able to organize with our limited funds was almost too much to bear.

My first thought was to have an intimate, family affair. Of course, my fiance, Kirby, was not interested in a small soiree, so whatever romantic, painless visions I had entertained quickly dissipated.

Where did one begin? We ultimately decided on a small, intimate ceremony at 10 a.m. -- primarily for family -- and a larger, more casual evening party. I attribute our decision to having a morning ceremony entirely to Vera. When I worked with her, she talked incessantly about the elegance of "morning light" and the "chicness" of morning weddings.

Planning that was easy. My mom's house in Lutherville provided a lovely backdrop for the ceremony. We booked a terrific quartet of French horn players, who were Peabody students looking to make extra money.

A party for 120

The evening event was another story. In my mind, all elements needed to be fabulous somehow, and we did not have the budget to do it. More people (120 to be exact), greater expectations, more money, obviously. Does the word "distressing" come to mind? It did for me.

My family did not know what to do with me, and they eventually gave up trying to help.

We started by selecting a simple venue with a brick patio and tent in the Glyndon area. Next came the invitations. They're the first big style statement a couple makes. My fiance and I were psyched about this modern invitation we found, which incidentally happened to be bright green.

We were able to get them at a discount since I was friendly with the designer. In our eyes, green worked perfectly for our garden wedding and evening party. (It never occurred to me that my in-laws wouldn't "get" it or that others would look at the color as "not normal.")

Music was easy. My fiance loved and had always envisioned a zydeco band. We lucked out because a top band was playing the Kennedy Center the night before and wanted another night's gig before heading out of town.

Fortunately, zydeco musicians make themselves available to the average Joe, so we were able to contact them directly over the Internet and ended up getting a great bargain. We had a venue and music, but I was still nervous.

We had a lot to figure out and not much money left.

Planning the menu was more difficult and expensive. Since zydeco music originated in southern Louisiana, we geared our meal around a New Orleans-Cajun theme.

We negotiated with our caterer to provide a "lunch" menu even though our event was at night. Does Cajun chicken fettuccine, jambalaya, pulled barbecue beef sandwiches, and strawberry salad with honey-roasted pecans necessarily sound like lunch to you? It was fantastic and half the cost of more traditional dinners.

As a wedding gift, Vera Wang gave me a dress off her line. It made our day all the more special to know that she was part of it. Instead of using a traditional ivory color, I chose a beautiful blush pink.

Photos were my biggest priority. After having worked with the best photographers, there was no way I would trust someone whose work I didn't know. Fortunately, I was able to negotiate a deal with a fabulous photographer in New York. I committed to redoing his company's portfolios, and he took great pictures of my wedding.

Supermarket solution

The most difficult part was figuring out the overall "look" of the event. Originally, I was stuck on the idea of using wooden picnic tables with long benches. I wanted to create one long, charming table and then put candles down the middle. I was aiming for a rustic, country, Cajun theme with a touch of romance. But when I tried to rent picnic tables, the only options available were green plastic. That was definitely not the look I wanted.

I stumbled across what I was looking for one morning at the local A&P;: candy-colored candles in glass jars priced at 79 cents each. They were perfect. The bright colors were quirky. The clear glass jars were very cool. And if you put many together, the effect was stylish, hip but still casual. It would be just what I was after. I ordered 350.

My family was beginning to wonder about me when I told them my main design statement was coming from the grocery store.

At Baltimore Display downtown, I found big tissue-paper fans to complement the candles. The company, which carries everything from mannequins to shelving units, caters to the retail industry but is open to the public.

Two days before the wedding, I was stringing fans from the ceiling of the tent. It was the only free time I had, and we couldn't afford to pay anyone to hang them. What a mistake. By Saturday night, they were drooping and wilted. My friends said they didn't notice, but every time I looked up and saw the sagging fans, I winced.

Lastly, I knew I wanted a few flowers. Nothing over the top, just a simple Gerbera daisy with green moss in a terra-cotta pot. The perfect touch for our "stylized, informal environment."

My mother picked them up for me the day before the wedding. When I saw them, I took one look and thought: $130 disaster.

The pots were the wrong size, the daisies were wilting, and the moss was stringy and gray. Plus, the nursery had added a strange purple flower to each pot.

I started yelling and yanking out the purple flowers as well as the moss. At first, my mother stood and watched. Then she told me to stop having a tantrum and to grow up.

Eventually, I settled down about the flowers, even though I was disappointed. In the end, we did use the daisies. And again, it was one of those things my friends didn't even notice but caused me such grief.

I can't say for sure whether our wedding would make it into Vera's next book. But I realize now it wouldn't really matter.

My personal expectations were in no way entirely met: wilting fans, drooping daisies and more. But what I am most happy about is that I have a terrific husband, and we pulled off a modest yet stylish wedding that reflected us as a couple.

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