One fine wedding day

Marriages may well be made in heaven, but a divine wedding requires a more luxurious touch - from the card to the cake, venue to wardrobe, and gifts to jewels. Here are the best available services to help make your special day truly memorable.
A wedding gown from Walid Attalah's 2013-2014 Wedding Dress Collection. Courtesy: Walid Attalah Fashion Design
A wedding gown from Walid Attalah's 2013-2014 Wedding Dress Collection. Courtesy: Walid Attalah Fashion Design

Every couple wants their wedding day to be memorable – but in the UAE, where luxury is a byword and the average cost of a wedding is particularly high, there is the added onus to make that special occasion truly one-of-a-kind. “Our visitors are looking to create an event that will be talked about; they want to give their guests an experience,” notes Daphne Cota, director of The Bride Show Dubai.

Walk around the 8,000-square-metre exhibition, which is on at the Dubai International Exhibition Centre until April 5, and it appears that the wedding industry has every conceivable detail covered, from six-week pre-wedding beauty packages to made-to-order tables and chairs.

The difficulty, then, for those who wish to stand out, is that luxury has become the norm for a wedding in the UAE, so an increasing amount of personalisation and creativity is required in order to make a real impression. “The average cost of a wedding in the UAE is US$85,000 [over Dh300,000], so huge compared with other countries,” Cota points out.

Fashions have changed considerably over the Bride Show’s 17-year lifespan, says Cota, with a move away from bling jewellery and crystal-encrusted dresses towards more subtle, sophisticated designs.

“Ten years ago, it used to be a lot of crystals. Now the statement is more elegant rather than heavily embroidered; visitors are looking for simplicity and elegance,” she says.

Olivier Dolz, the founder of a Dubai-based wedding and event-planning company, says that he has organised “some of the most spectacular, innovative, high-profile luxury weddings and parties in the Gulf”, and expects to see even further growth at this end of the market.

“We’re experiencing more and more luxury requests. It seems like the market is growing in the right direction and that customer demands are turning towards a sleeker and classier look,” he says. “The challenge is always to ensure we meet the clients’ expectations and make their dream wedding’s design a beautiful reality.”

According to Cota, couples in the UAE are dreaming bigger and in an increasing amount of detail – every element is now carefully considered, down to the polka dots on tablecloths.

The wedding industry is more than happy to meet this growing demand for the unique and the luxurious, putting ever-greater emphasis on the bespoke, whether it comes to the engagement ring or the honeymoon suite. Here is a selection of some of the most extraordinary options on the market.

The Dress

Mireille Loughlin refuses to be pushed on the point of which of the dresses she has created in her 30-year career was the most special to her. “Every time you do a dress it will be a new experience,” says the founder of Arushi Couture. “There’s always that moment when you think, ‘oh wow’.”

However, a bride who has set her heart on an Arushi dress must first understand that this will be no quick trip to The Dubai Mall. “If you wear a couture dress, it’s a slow process,” continues the French-born Loughlin. “First we discuss design with the bride, take measurements, show her some ideas of embellishment, what type of lace goes with the fabric. Then we do a toile, get the proportions right, discuss the cut and the details, where it’s going to be on her body. Then we start cutting the dress and fit it.”

At times, it takes the entire team to work on a gown, perhaps flying to Switzerland to source a particular fabric, or attaching a lengthy train (the longest Loughlin recalls was six metres) so that it falls just so. But patience is inevitably rewarded with an elegant, form-fitting dress that the guests – and the groom – will never forget.

This detailed approach is something that former Arushi employee Ezra Santos has taken with him to his own atelier, from which he has run the Ezra label for more than a decade. “I personally attend to all the brides who come to our atelier and supervise every single detail for each and every bride,” he says. “All my designs are totally made for each individual’s taste and style.”

Ezra’s creations are lavishly romantic, calling to mind vintage Christian Dior, and he tries to comply with every request. To wit, one bride in Abu Dhabi wanted her dress to illuminate in a darkened ballroom; Ezra obliged, incorporating tiny light bulbs into his design.

For many brides, money is truly no object. When the Lebanese designer Walid Atallah created a $1.2 million (Dh4.4m) gown for the launch of the Burj Al Arab in 2002, his creation, which used silver and gold thread, diamonds, emeralds and chunks of gold, was intended to be a one-off. But at least one bride has since commissioned a replica with a similar price tag.

The Jewellery

From classic princess cuts to pink, yellow and heart-shaped diamonds, perhaps the most romantic jewellery house for a bride is Graff Diamonds. “Graff is known for the most fabulous jewels in the world, incredible one-of-a-kind treasures that no one else will have. Our clients come to us when they want the very best, a precious jewel that will hold its value and beauty, and truly impress,” says Laurence Graff, the chairman of Graff Diamonds.

Traditionally, a jeweller simply fits a stone into a standard-sized mount, but at Graff, settings are handmade to fit each individual gem. “Our diamond engagement rings also rely on this stone-led craftsmanship, meaning each ring is crafted by hand to cradle each diamond’s unique silhouette,” says Graff. “Our minimal platinum settings allow the beauty and brilliance of each diamond to shine through. Master ring mounters ensure a stone is placed into its platinum mount so light can pass through it, amplifying the brilliance of its natural luminescence.”

But a bride who really wants to make a statement might ask Graff to do her hair – last year, to mark his 60th anniversary in the business, he created a $500,000 (Dh1.84m) hairdo using some of his most famous pieces as ornaments.

If you want to feel like a princess on your big day, it has to be Chopard, the Swiss watch and jewellery company that supplied jewellery to Elizabeth Hurley for her $2.5 million (Dh9.2m) fairy-tale wedding to Arun Nayar in 2007.

Chopard regularly channels a royal aesthetic, having been the official jeweller for last year’s film Diana, in which Naomi Watts played Diana, Princess of Wales. The pieces seen on screen included sapphire and diamond earrings that matched the princess’s famous engagement ring, now adorning the finger of the Duchess of Cambridge.

In 2012, Chopard also produced an Haute Joaillerie collection inspired by Disney princesses, including a ruby Snow White apple ring and a floral Cinderella headpiece. This year’s bridal collection includes an exquisite pair of flower-shaped earrings and an 18K white gold and diamond watch. With this much sparkle on her wrist, there’s no way the bride will be late.

The Rest

Design by Louma will wow your guests months ahead of time. The founder, Louma Bardawil, creates bespoke invitations, place settings and seating plans based on each couple’s culture and personality. Previous invitation designs have included a beautiful silk gatefold, brown cardboard “lollipops”, and a napkin displaying the details of a bridal shower.

The cake is always an important focal point of a wedding: Gayu Lewis, the pastry-chef founder of Sugarology, promises to create “an edible work of art” based on your specifications. Past feats of sugar engineering have included a three-tiered cake covered in pink ombre roses (with the shades getting lighter towards the top).

For luxury accessories, it has to be Christian Louboutin, whose super-high stilettos are incredibly flattering. This season, the red soles adorn bridal shoes including the laser-cut gold and white Impera design (Dh4,490), lacy white Pigalace (Dh3,250) and open-toed silver Youpi (Dh2,490). Need somewhere to put your lipstick? Grab the Mina clutch (Dh11,490).

The Venue

To make the most of the UAE’s striking skylines, more and more couples are choosing to hold their wedding ceremony or other celebrations aboard a yacht.

“There is definitely an increasing demand for weddings, along with engagements, pre-wedding dinners and reception parties,” says Jane Daly, the managing partner of Eden Yachting. Vessel hire with Eden starts from Dh40,000, and the company also offers a wedding planner and wedding stylist who can help you to tailor your day with flowers, catering, photography and entertainment. The happy couple will be driven to and from their yacht in either a limousine or Rolls-Royce. It certainly won’t be a wedding your guests will forget in a hurry.

“Last year we arranged a wedding for a small group of 20 on one of our superyachts,” says Daly. “It was a beautiful event, and the couple left the yacht for the hotel on a small boat with ‘Just Married’ on a banner across the back – just as if they were leaving a land-based reception by car.”

Some 828 metres above sea level is Dubai’s most iconic wedding venue: the Burj Khalifa, where the Armani Hotel guarantees a tasteful event from start to finish. Book the Armani signature package (Dh575 per head) and the hotel will supply personalised Armani invitations, a customised menu based on your nationality and tastes, a hand-finished, five-tier wedding cake and even the bridal bouquet. And you can add an extra layer of luxury by purchasing items from the Armani Prive collection – such as watches, sunglasses, perfumes and jewellery – as farewell gifts for guests.

But, of course, the main draw of using the Burj Khalifa is the incredible photo opportunities. Couples typically have their pictures taken on the pavilion, with a view of the Dubai Fountain and the Burj in the background. The hotel can also facilitate photography at At.mosphere, the restaurant on the 122nd floor.

If your tastes veer more towards a destination wedding, Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England – better known as Downton Abbey – is a tempting option. Echoing the many fictional weddings of the Crawley sisters, a bride can get dressed in a bedroom at Highclere before walking around the gallery and down a sweeping oak staircase to greet her guests. With meals available for up to 140 in either the dining room or the Victorian library, the entire castle and its grounds are available for hire at Dh110,000.

Another international option with a touch of celebrity sparkle is the Castello Orsini-Odescalchi in Rome. A fairy-tale castle dating back to the 15th century, it was the setting for the wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, and, more recently, for Petra Ecclestone, the Formula One heiress whose nuptials cost a reported Dh72m.

The Gifts

While the gift registry is a well-established concept in the West, it has not traditionally been a part of UAE wedding culture. But a new Dubai-based company is promising to streamline the whole gift-giving process, offering choice, flexibility and a large helping of luxury.

Positioning itself as the first personalised luxury wedding registry in the region, White Almonds is unique in that it offers offline and online services – meaning that the happy couple can create an online list of their desired items and well-meaning guests can do all their gift shopping at the click of a button.

In a sumptuous showroom on the 21st floor of Dubai’s Sidra Tower, the founder of White Almonds, Sarah Farah, offers a snapshot of the kinds of gifts her clients can hope to receive. Choose from a range of bespoke tabletop and decorative pieces by extremely high-end European heritage brands, including crystal glasses, flatware and sculptural vases – and plenty more besides.

“When I say luxury, I mean luxury because of the programme we offer and its flexibility. I can understand that coming in here could be intimidating because the brands I carry are at such a level. But I don’t want people to be scared away by that. When someone does a wedding registry by White Almonds, you are not tied in to what we have here,” says the half-Palestinian, half-Irish Farah.

“We do the traditional side of things but we are also very, very flexible. So we have tied up with a number of partner stores.” These include furniture companies, kitchen shops, art galleries and even the boutique travel agency, Travel Attaché.

Guests can choose to buy one of the items on the registry straight out, or can contribute an amount of their choice towards a larger, more expensive item, such as a honeymoon or a sofa. These larger items can be broken done into units, which, rather sweetly, are called white almonds. “So guests can buy one or two or three almonds and that’s a really nice way of donating towards a larger item. And about 10 days after the wedding, all the cash that is donated for the gifts gets cashed on to a card – a branded White Almonds card that has been facilitated by Visa. The card is valid for a year and acts as a debit card, so you go around to the stores that we are affiliated with and you swipe it. And you can keep checking your balance so you know what you’re spending.”

Best of all, you can opt to have paperless e-thank-cards sent automatically to all your generous guests. Which is just one less thing to worry about.

Farah recognises that there may be some challenges in changing cultural perceptions about the gift-giving process. “You don’t have to see it as vulgar or rude. The wedding registry is a tradition that has been accepted in all kinds of cultures, and I am trying to show that you can do gift-giving in an elegant format.”

(With input by Selina Denman)

Published: April 3, 2014 04:00 AM


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