On a decidedly lovely New York afternoon, I entered the foyer of The Plaza Hotel as I had an appointment to meet the charming wedding and event planner CHRISTINE PAUL of CHRISTINE PAUL EVENTS in the elegant PALM COURT for a little afternoon tea and conversation. Greeted with tea, artesian munchies, and a round of champagne courtesy of a mutual friend dining across the room (It’s always 5 o’clock when it comes to champagne at the Plaza), I got to pick Christine’s brain a bit about her (sometimes) glamorous vocation as wedding planner for some of New York City’s elite.
Being in the prime age-range for nuptials, it seems like every time I turn around there is another “Save The Date” in the mailbox, but as it is for many … unless you have planned one for yourself, often the intricacies of planning the big bash are a bit of a mystery and overwhelming (especially when that bill comes!). I asked Christine to an interview to shed a little light to our readers about what exactly goes into the business of planning a wedding – as most of us, if we haven’t tied the knot already, hopefully plan on doing so one day. As well as her picks for her favorite and not so favorite wedding trends and a little advice on relationships and the NYC dating scene coming from someone that sees the “behind the scenes” for more than her share of couples.
KZJ: Picking out a wedding planner sometimes can be overwhelming, since many couples don’t even know what to ask or where to start. As a professional in the field, what are the top three qualities you would advise couples to look for in their planner?
CHRISTINE: Well the most important thing I think is that your personalities match. You have to jive. Sometimes you don’t realize how much time you will be spending with this person. It adds up to be a tremendous amount over the course of potentially a year. You should always meet them in person and see if you click as people. While the relationship will be a professional one, you are essentially inviting this person into your personal life, even dealing with intimate details on occasion – you should always make sure that your personalities get along and click. Second of all, you should ask for their credentials. You want to make sure they are an experienced events professional. A CSEP – Certified Special Events Professional. That is something that differentiates another person or newbie from a person of the field. Finally, you want to find someone who understands your vision. You want to make sure the planner you are hiring isn’t trying to execute their own vision. Their job is to take your vison that you have in mind and make that become a reality for you. The planner has a good idea of your personality as a couple, their purpose is to listen, execute, and make that idea essentially come alive.
KZJ: So what is your favorite part about your job?
CHRISTINE: Ooh! A hard hitting question! I think my favorite part about the job is taking an idea from it’s humble beginnings to producing an event … and seeing the clients eyes light up. That to me is rewarding beyond words.
KZJ: Essentially making someones dreams come true!
CHRISTINE: Exactly. A wedding is the most important, or one at least one of the most important, days in someone’s life. And it’s something that a lot of girls have been dreaming of since they were little, so it’s very fulfilling to be able to do this for them.
KZJ: I can imagine. Especially these days when there seems to be a lot of negativity in the economy, and thereby for many in the workplace – to be able to bring others joy in their personal lives must be very rewarding.
CHRISTINE: Right. It’s a celebration of love. And that’s something I try to keep reminding my clients of. That it’s not just a wedding, it’s not just a party – it’s a celebration of this great love and the fact that they found it in this wild city of ours … that in itself is kind of an accomplishment. (we laugh)
KZJ: That’s a good point! You see a lot of NY couples and have several friends here in the city, I feel like maybe you might have some advice on the “scene” in general. What in your opinion seems to make the NY dating scene so rough? Why does it appear to be harder for people who live in the city to find people they really connect with?
CHRISTINE: Hm.. New Yorkers more than most people are always working. The city literally never sleeps, and a lot of us put career before love. That would be the first obstacle. Secondly, I think sometimes we are afraid to be authentic. There is always someone to impress or network with everywhere you go, sometimes people can get too comfortable with “the show”. To find someone to really put your trust in …
CHRISTINE: Exactly, but especially in a city that moves as fast as NY, I think its hard to slow down for a moment in order to really connect with a person. We are used to being constantly stimulated and are addicted to instant gratification. You’re good, you’re not. In or out. I don’t have time to waste. I think those are two huge things. And so when you do find a great love here, it’s even that much more reason to celebrate. It’s most likely been a loooong road before that wedding came to happen.
KZJ: Pop that bubbly.
KZJ: In the same vein, you are recently married yourself [2 years] and you work with all sorts of couples on a regular basis. I’m sure you see wonderful couples that seem perfect for each other and contrarily, couples that make you wonder if they will last. Using tidbits you have observed from how couples interact over the years, do you have any advice upon couple qualities that make for a strong or lasting relationship?
CHRISTINE: I think you can tell a lot about a couple during the planning process. For example, whether there is over involvement or under involvement. I think some of the best grooms are the ones that kind of let the brides take the reigns, because it really is kind of her day. The act of planning a wedding is extremely challenging. It’s not always a sign of a how “good” there are as a couple – but I think the planning of it is good practice for the marriage itself. This is mainly because a lot of the stress doesn’t come internally from the couple themselves, the bride and groom, but more so from the people around you. The parents, the siblings, the bridal party – there are lots of exterior elements happening and opinions being thrown at you. Then throw in your job, your spouse’s job … I would say to stay open and communicating is key. Be honest with each other. Trust each others choices. And really care and respect each others opinions, even if they might be different. You will both most likely have to compromise. All of these communication skills are great practice for your actual marriage. This is usually the first major hurdle a couple has to endure – this high stress/high intensity production … it’s a good trial in how you will be in marriage when other high stress situations inevitably occur over the course of your lives together. Couples succeed or fail … or really battle that learning curve.
KZJ: Have you ever witnessed something fall apart?
CHRISTINE: In my life yes unfortuantely, but I am happy to say that all my brides have successfully wed!
KZJ: Well that’s good! No Runway Brides!
CHRISTINE: No, no. I think some people are just naturally anxiety prone and others are naturally calm. And that’s part of a planners job, to get a feeling of that person’s personalty. IF a bride is overly stressed, I just have to work harder to alleviate that stress for them so they can enjoy the process.
CHRISTINE: Oh yeah, you wear a million different hats. The planner knows more about the couple, especially behind the scenes, more than most people they know.
KZJ: For anyone considering the wedding planning business, it seems like that might be a key aspect that might get overlooked. You might have amazing vision for events and space design, but if you aren’t really a people person and posses a very calm and empathetic demeanor .. it might not be the best fit for you.
CHRISTINE: Absolutely. You have to be the zen for them. It’s for sure part of your job. If you are naturally a bit more of a high strung person, it might not be the best career choice for you.
CHRISTINE: The Plaza of course!
KZJ: (I smile and gaze around our glorious surroundings) So what is it exactly about this place you like so much or find so appealing?
CHRISTINE: I always say “if walls could talk” …. the stories they would tell at this hotel would be just be just phenomenal. Some of the most iconic celebrations of our time have occurred here. There is just such an energy to this place you cant really put your finger on, it’s just magic. This is I think why it’s many peoples dream to get married here.
KZJ: You have to be prepared for any situation as a planner … What is in your “Wedding Day Survival Kit” – key things you should bring for the day of. Or if there is no planner, things the maid-of -honor should have handy.
CHRISTINE: Safety pins of all sizes! I have yet to be at a wedding where someone doesn’t need a safety pin. Tissues, for walks down the aisle for bridesmaids or the bride. It’s a profound and beautiful moment, and sometimes emotions get the best of you! Miscellaneous items: facial oil blotting sheets, stain stick, hair elastics, deodorant, perfume, dental floss, lint roller, needle and thread in many colors, Band-Aids, Neosporin. And those are just the material things, emotional things can happen too – people are late, they get lost, they disappear. It the job of the planner to have a plan B, C, even D – so that the bride really gets to feel like it’s a flawless enjoyable day
KZJ: Do you have any personal favorite color combinations or color palates?
CHRISTINE: I find color inspirations in lots of different ways and from the personal energies of the people I’m working with. So in that way I think the typical combos – for example pink and green, chocolate and magenta, etc. – I think that trend is kind of fading. Color inspiration for me comes from places and events in the bride and groom’s life. I try to get it from their story – how did they meet, where did they go to school, their hobbies, where they are from- I think the color combo happens organically. When everything is pink, or blue, or green, or has a monogram on it … I find it’s more elevated to do things more individualistic to the couple.
KZJ: What are some current or classic trends that you love or some you deeply wish would go away?
CHRISTINE: I love a European dinner. Where you have your ceremony and then move on to cocktail reception, then move on to another room for dinner. During the dinner appetizer and entrée do the toasts, and then after the ‘party’ would get started. The idea is that the evening has a a progression to it and leads up to a climax. So many times with an American style wedding, there is too much up and down. You come in for salad, then you dance, then you sit down for this, then dance. It becomes jarring when your guests don’t really get to enjoy their meal. You were dancing and now the food is cold. I think the Europeans have it right. I also love to pair the evening’s events with corresponding music. Never the bland elevator type music, but awesome songs that really keep the energy up that you can’t necessarily dance to.U2’s It’s a Beautiful Day is a good example of this type of song. Something to keep the energy up and progressively increase in tempo and excitement through dinner to the party where it’s like “game on” and the party really starts. Something to go away? I think the tented escort card ….I think there are so many beautiful ways to do escort cards. Boring cards on a table… I wish that would go away. For example you could do an escort card tree – where the cards are hung on ribbon in alpha order. Just something a little more interesting with personality.
KZJ: What is some advice you would give to couples about to start planning their wedding?
CHRISTINE: Get a planner! I think it’s a misconception that you can do it by yourself and that it will cost you a lot of money to hire a planner. A planner pays for itself not just in the quality of service they provide you, but in negotiations. They are your advocate and they are taking care of things for you. You don’t really know what things should or shouldn’t cost within the industry, and it’s a truly a business – not really for amateurs. The best way to save money in the long run is to hire an expert, even on a consultation basis – to get an idea of what should be done and costs. You could easily end up overpaying if you don’t know what you are going into. Second thing – make a budget. Pen to paper. How much can we really afford? You don’t want to wake up the next day with buyer’s remorse. It’s a happy occasion, you don’t want it spoiled by worrying about overspending.
KZJ: Do you have any tips about how brides can cut some costs, but still have a beautiful wedding?
CHRISTINE: Well, first don’t go for a raw space, like an empty loft etc. You want a place that has tables, forks, linens, a kitchen. etc. You will incur massive fees to make something bare look nice and become a functional space for a meal and a party. The other thing I like to focus on are what I call “wow moments”. Instead of spending money on a lot of miscellaneous trinkets and things that add up, invest the money into something that guests will really notice. Utilize your money with the most impact. Quality over quantity.
CHRISTINE: Of course, I really love pairing high end with low end. And highlighting that juxtaposition doesn’t have to be über-expensive and over the top. More does not mean better. As I said before, it’s really important to make sure the wedding refelects the personality of the couple. And we at Christine Paul Events are known for creating weddings that truly reflect the couple’s personality. If you are a very simple and understated couple, and your guests walk in to these massive flowers and extravagant space that is so over the top – there is a big disconnect. Although a place like The Plaza is fantastic, it’s not for everyone. If you grew up on the beach, maybe coordinate an airy beachy feel to the celebration, even if the wedding isn’t outdoors. Perhaps work influences from favorite places you have traveled or the couple’s various cultural backgrounds. It is very important that the foundation of where and what you pick reflects you, because everyone that’s coming is your nearest and dearest and they really appreciate a party that is so “you”. So I’d say that is really signature of our style, we create events that is truly authentic to the couple.
KZJ: Do you have a favorite wedding dress designer?
CHRISTINE: (laughs) Over the past decade I have definitely tried a lot of cake! My favorite wedding cake designer is Ron-Ben Israel – he makes a beautiful cake, and it also tastes fabulous. I think my favorite flavor a is classic vanilla and chocolate cake with a chocolate ganache. It looks like a tuxedo when cut!
KZJ: Do you have any favorite NYC locales for weddings in particular?
CHRSTINE: 620 LOFT AND GARDEN on top of Rockafeller Center – it’s a very beautiful loft and outdoor garden that overlooks St. Patrick’s Catherdral. For a smaller wedding, a very iconic NY location I like is THE PRATT MANSION– which is on Park and E. 69th. For a modern and downtown feel: THE TRUMP SOHO. The SoHigh Lounge on 46th floor all glass windows with views of Manhattan is stunning. An interesting space I also like is GALAPAGOS ART SPACE in Dumbo.
CHRISTINE: Paris is a favorite of mine. We once did a beautiful rehersal dinner on the Seine on the L’Acajou yacht. We parked the yacht right in front of the Eiffel Tower, invited people up to the top of the boat, and timed it out just right so the tower lit up as we gathered everyone. It felt like it was lighting just for them. So are those are the kind of moments we try to create. A lot are completely free. A lot of it is just timing! Any of the islands – The Virgin islands are really beautiful. I enjoy St. Thomas – The Ritz there is fabulous, it’s private and exclusive. And the Virgin Islands are fairly close to the States, and that’s key for a destination wedding – it’s a skip and jump, so people can get their easily. A lot of our international clients are doing a reverse destination wedding – they ask us to plan the weddings remotely and then have lavish weddings in NYC.
KZJ: I think that about wraps up the inquisition! Any final parting thoughts?
CHRISTINE: Just my motto for all couples in the midst of planning: Plan Fearlessly. Plan Beautifully Break the rules. I dare you.
KZJ: Well put. I was always one in favor of breaking the rules.
CHRISTINE: Well then feel free to call me up to plan your wedding!
KZJ: Considering my track record and based off the type of men I have met in this town … you might be waiting a while on that one …
(we laugh …. I cry on the inside)
Ms. PAUL’S FAV CITY SPOTS
AFTER DINNER: Gild Hall, Chateau, Mulberry, The James Hotel
TEA: Palm Court at The Plaza
EVENTS: New York Cares Winter Benefit, New York Cares Cirque de Soireé, American Ballet Theater Gala
Want a little CHRISTINE PAUL panache at your wedding? Here are some ideas and tips she gave to pass on for your fete!
ESCORT CARD TREE
Earlier Christine mentioned one of the favorite trends she likes to implement in her events is The Escort Card Tree – as it really creates a “wow” moment as soon as your guests walk into the reception. Here is a great example of one for a Christine Paul Events Wedding at The Plaza created for them by David Beahm Designs (Photo credit – Brian Dorsey Studios)
Christine encourages her brides to write handwritten gratitude cards to her guests. (Thank you for being a part of my life, I love you., it means so much to me that you are here, etc.). This may seem like a bit of a daunting task with a very large wedding, but if you have the time or especially if you have a smaller party, it is a really touching way to express your gratitude to your guests for sharing the day with you. It’s easy to be very “self” concentrated during planning and the day itself. Yes it is “your” day, but your guests are spending time and money to be there for you. More often than not they must take time off work, buy a plane or train ticket, get a hotel room, rent a car, female attendants have to buy a dress, shoes, bag, hair, makeup …. they go through a lot to be in peak form and present for “your” day. So sometimes it’s nice to give a little something heartfelt back.
For more info on Ms. Paul and her company CHRISTINE PAUL EVENTS please visit her website: www.christinepaulevents.com or contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
◊ Post written by: KZJ