When I think of planning a luxury wedding, my mind conjures up all sorts of breathtaking imagery – everything from glittering ice sculptures to haute cuisine, incredible entertainment, and phenomenal gifts for guests.
I’ve often wondered precisely what elevates a wedding to “luxury” status, and how planning a luxury wedding is different than planning a more mainstream one. To find out more, I sat down with Em Devaud, the luxury wedding planner behind Em Devaud Events.
I’ve always believed that every wedding is unique and beautiful in its own regard. So the question I was most looking forward to asking Em was what exactly was the difference between planning a luxury wedding and a more traditional one.
What Is A Luxury Wedding?
“Every wedding is perfect, and just right for each one of my clients. That’s something I feel really passionate about,” Em explained. “But I would define a luxury wedding as anything costing over $200,000.”
Many of the clients Em works for have a budget above $150,000, compared to the US average of around $25,000.
“For my clientele, it’s not just the amount of money you’re spending, but it’s the style and the way that you host these events. It’s very much an experience for the guests, and I think that’s an incredibly important factor in what makes a luxury wedding.”
Most of Em’s clients are from the Eastern US, including couples from Boston, New York, and Rhode Island. She fondly remembers one client who had just graduated from law school and had such a great experience working with Em that they recommended her services to all their other friends in the same field.
“I did all of the weddings in the graduating class that year of Boston College Law School,” she remembers. “That was really fun. When you do a wedding in Newport, there’s this expectation that it’s not just a wedding, it’s a whole weekend. You have a welcome party the night before, oftentimes with boat rides or tennis, and then there’s a post-wedding brunch. I do all of it.”
What Goes Into Planning A Luxury Wedding?
What goes into planning these ultra-luxurious, weekend-long wedding extravaganzas? Well, Em says that planning these amazing events all begin with getting her clients in touch with the right people and assembling a “wedding team” that fits them like the perfect wedding dress.
To top it all off, Em is on-hand at the wedding 24/7, making sure that everything goes off without a hitch while her clients get hitched. “I really pride myself on being right there with them the entire time. From the minute the bride and her entourage start their hair and makeup to when everyone is leaving at the end of the night, I’m there. I’m always the last one to leave the venue.”
Em keeps her clients on track by hearkening back to her days as a corporate event planner, a job she started when she was just 17. But she’s always ready for surprises.
“I planned one luxury wedding a decade ago. On a whim, the couple had come to Newport, Rhode Island, and gotten engaged. It was the first of April, and it was chilly. They decided that they wanted to get married at the end of that month, so we literally had one month to plan this incredible, over-the-top affair. That was really great.”
And I can’t resist a quick ThymeBase plug – using event planning software to stay on track can really help.
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What Is The Vendor’s Role In A Luxury Wedding?
I asked Em if there were many more vendors involved in planning a luxury wedding than a regular one. She was happy to enlighten me, explaining that it’s the unique variety of vendors that’s key.
Em can’t help but smile as she remembers one client that brought in clay pizza ovens so guests could indulge their end-of-the-night cravings. “I think they probably had 23 different vendors,” she attests. “They were bringing in ice cream trucks, too – on top of it being a tent wedding! So that was incredibly interesting, and in the end, it was a total success.”
Luxury Wedding And Event Design
I couldn’t help but ask what else that $200,000 plus budget covered in this world of cutting-edge extravagance and elegance.
Em was happy to explain, telling me that half the budget usually goes to the venue, which almost always features in-house catering. The next thing to consider is design. “I have one wedding booked for next year that’s taking place in a tent, but all of these beautiful wildflowers are going to be hanging from the ceiling, so it feels as though you’re walking upside-down through a field of gorgeous wildflowers. It’s going to be unbelievable.”
When a luxury client hires Em, she delivers the wedding of their dreams by listening carefully to what they want. “I know that sounds simple, but it’s true. You get some up-and-coming girls who start their own companies, and they’re out of business in five years because they don’t realize how much work goes into it. They come in and tell the bride what to do. You need to remember that it’s her wedding, not yours. You might have a client tell you that their wedding is going to be timeless and classic, so you take what they’re envisioning and build on that. And in the end, they say, ‘Wow, this is exactly what we wanted.'”
Becoming A Luxury Wedding Planner
What advice does Em have for wedding planners looking to branch into the field of luxury weddings?
Em says the one thing that wedding planners need to arm themselves with when entering the world of luxury weddings is patience. “When you break into that luxury clientele, you have to have so much patience. I actually joked about it with my husband when we started having kids. I said that I would be fine – I was made for it because I already don’t sleep. I’m good at performing under a lot of stress.”
I asked Em if there were ever any weddings that tested even her boundless patience, and she couldn’t help but laugh. “I can keep a smile on my face in almost every situation. My clients expect me to perform at a certain level, and I rise to the occasion. So if you can’t handle that type of stress, this isn’t the job for you. Of course, there are days when I feel like throwing in the towel, but if you’re a wedding planner who wants to break into the upper echelons of luxury weddings, you have to be on point 100% of the time.”
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Keeping On Point As A Luxury Wedding Planner
Part of being on point, she tells me, is always responding to clients within a 24-hour window, having an excellent organization system, and keeping your cool. “I can keep my clients on track, even when they throw me curveballs. You need to exude a certain kind of grace, even if on the inside you’re saying, ‘What the f*ck is happening?!’ I just say, ‘Great, no problem. Let’s do this.'”
Part of what helps her keep her head in the game is the simple but mighty to-do list. “Even brushing your teeth or getting dressed – sometimes it can be really important to put those things on your event to-do list because you can’t feel accomplished if you haven’t crossed something off of the list. You actually get more things done if you’ve already checked some things off your list. So I’ve even made a to-do list for my clients that include announcing their engagement on social media.”
The Importance Of Apprenticeship
Em is also quick to sing the praises of the internship, apprenticeship, and mentoring system in the wedding planning field. “That’s so incredibly important,” she attests. “There are some universities that offer certain courses, and there’s also online certification for wedding planners. It’s pure bullshit. Especially for high-end wedding planning, you can’t attend a college class and expect to be taught that grace that you need. That’s just something you have to learn on the job.”
Em illustrates this by sharing with me a story of a very memorable wedding that she planned. “I had a wedding one time where, at the venue, there were two different spaces. In one space, there was this big Rastafarian wedding, and in the other, a luxury Jewish wedding. And the officiant for the Jewish wedding didn’t show! So I grabbed the officiant from the Rastafarian wedding — he was this big guy with dreadlocks down his back and these cool robes. He was just amazing. So I brought him to this beautiful Jewish wedding, with this gorgeous crystal chuppah, and had an uncle tell him quickly about all of the Jewish customs and traditions. And he ended up marrying the bride and groom. Handling a situation like that is not something you can learn in a college class.”
Em fondly remembers her own mentor, who she still keeps in touch with to this day. “She was an inspiration. She was such a real person, but she also pulled off these amazing, high-end events and absolutely helped me understand that it’s important to be myself, to be authentic. I want to help share that message with others. That’s why I’m very enthusiastic about taking on interns. I want to share everything I know.”
For more on finding a mentor, read: Tips For New Wedding Planners From An Expert
Changing Trends When Planning A Luxury Wedding
A lot has changed in the wedding planning scene since Em got her start 17 years ago.
“I always like to tell my interns about my first wedding ever, which was at a high-end venue in Boston. I’ll never forget it. I was wearing my cute wedding planner clothes and had my brand-new clipboard, and I was thinking, ‘I’ve got this!’ And suddenly, I was faced with a stack of notes that was two-feet tall. Every single magazine had about 70 post-it notes on every page showing me what the bride wanted.”
Now, Em can get a lot of things done online that she could never have dreamt of before. “I can do things now virtually that I couldn’t do years ago. Pinterest is a perfect example, and so is WeddingWire. All of these things just didn’t exist back when I started. It was all about magazines back then.”
Another thing that’s changed a lot, Em says, is fashion and event design. “If you go back even ten years ago, you still had pops of color everywhere. And now what’s trending is a very neutral palette or green and natural colors. People are going for a timeless, whimsical feel. I can actually look at photos from weddings I’ve done, and I’m able to pinpoint exactly when they took place. I can say, ‘Oh, that was seven years ago,’ and I’m right almost every time.”
Coping With The Stress of Planning A Luxury Wedding
What does it take to keep on top of things in the fast-paced, ever-changing field of luxury wedding planning?
Em acknowledges that it’s not the most relaxing career, but she wouldn’t change a thing. In general, weddings tend to be stressful to plan, so I asked Em if this was even more true for planning a luxury wedding.
“I always say that weddings are to people what salt is to food – salt brings out the flavor, and weddings bring out the crazy. The double-edged aspect of luxury weddings is that the clients want to put on a show, to be over-the-top, and it’s a lot of pressure.”
Em says the best way to deal with all this pressure is to find balance. “A lot of times I don’t know what’s going to stress my clients out until their wedding day arrives. You get that pressure cooker feeling. I have the highest respect for doctors, military personnel, and essential workers.”
When I asked Em how she copes with the stress of planning luxury weddings, she was quick to share a few of her self-care skills with me.
“I run. I’m a big runner,” she told me. “I’ve had times where I’ve gotten off a call and thought, I just need to go for a run.”
“And wine! Wine is beautiful!”
Luxury Weddings And The Uncertainty Of Coronavirus
In this time of shelter-in-place orders and worldwide pandemics, Em says she’s definitely had to deal with some things she had never thought about before. “I have a bride who’s supposed to be getting married this September, but both of the groom’s parents came down with coronavirus. So we put all planning on pause. Who am I to be telling her she needs to pick out linen samples when she’s dealing with such an emotional situation?”
In the end, Em jokes that professionalism, adaptability, and caffeine are what’s needed to succeed at luxury wedding planning – that and a strong group of supportive friends. “There are a couple of wedding planners in this area that, ironically, I’m friends with. It’s a small enough community with a big enough pool of clients that we can be friendly. We really support one another. Especially with COVID-19, we lean on each other. It’s really cool to talk about it all with them because we all are going through the same thing.”
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Dedication Makes The Planner
My biggest takeaway about the world of luxury weddings is just how dedicated planners like Em are. For the brides and grooms lucky enough to have a wedding planner like Em, planning for and looking forward to a once-in-a-lifetime, fit-for-royalty wedding could be just the thing they need during this uncertain time.