Monday, December 28, 2009

Bangalore Wedding Adventure: Part 4 (The Wedding!)

Well.... we did it! The wedding is over and despite some of the worst rain in the history of Decembers in Bangalore, the bride and groom and their friends and family had an amazing evening. I only wish I had time to take photos of the finished site before the rain began, but as is the problem with being both the planner and a designer on the job, there was no time to step away and indulge. So.... here's what I have... I hope to get photos from the professional photographer very soon and will then, of course, post a full recap.

This is the petal pattern for the aisle being created. If you look just beyond where the women are working, you can see the wooden bridge that we built for a little extra drama and to get everyone over the firepit that was built into the ground on this spot.

This is the view of the center of the property from the lower entrance gates. These tables in front of the gazebo are the ones that couldn't be used due to the rain. Such a shame... but when the candles were lit and the sun went down, they twinkled beautifully.

In this shot, you can see a little bit of the structures on either side. To the left was an open-sided pavilion where we had 6 long tables beautifully set in the same style as those on the lawn, but with full place settings. Thank goodness for these because that was the area where most guests ate their dinner in a slow rotation as the staff set and re-set each seat. On the right was the structure that housed the dinner stations (or food counters as they are called in India). That building had a long porch with a bar and became an impromptu dining area. Can you see the amazing flower curtains that framed each "doorway" - in person they were stunning!

Here you have a glimpse of the covered dining area while it was being set up. Guest walked through this dining pavilion to reach the ceremony. When the sun went down, the orange, red and gold lighting cast an amazing glow in and around the pavilion.

One of my favorite elements of the design were the beautiful 6 foot elephants made of flowers. This is one of two which flanked the entryway into the main part of the property.

I didn't have a chance to photograph any of the entrance gate or pond area which was where cocktails and dancing took place, but I am going to try to scrounge some up from the other vendors and then I can post them because that area was spectacular - even in the rain!

What I find the most amazing about this wedding is that while I was having an internal panic attack about the rain and the wet chair covers and snuffed out candles (100s of them!), the family and guests were relaxed and lauding mother nature on her timing as rain at a wedding is considered to be the most auspicious blessing on a wedding day. Most guests continued to sit, stand and walk through the property in the rain and no one complained about there being fewer seats available because of it (I lost 72 seats on the outdoor tables!).

So, after years and years of telling my brides not to stress about rain because there is nothing they can do to change it, I, too, was reminded that a perfect wedding comes in many forms. This day was not how I imagined it, but it was what was intended - a memorable, beautiful, poignant and emotional day for a couple and their families that will be forever remembered.

I can only hope to have many more opportunities like this that challenge me in every way - as a designer, planner and person. It is an experience I will keep with me for my whole life and will always be amazed at how my perspective on the world was forever altered by one wedding.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bangalore Wedding Adventure: Part 3

Before I fall asleep on my keyboard, I am inclined to write a quick post on what was one of the most intense wedding production days of my career. Today started with a few errands before the Mehendi party and continued for 12 hours of intense setup at the wedding venue in preparation for the big day.

One of the morning activities involved my team of assistants stuffing silk pillows for the Mehendi

The Mehendi was fantastic. It was a bit non-traditional in that it was really more like a cocktail party (complete with amazing signature drinks and a rockin' DJ) and in that almost half the crowd was men! Only the ladies had their hands painted with henna, but the mood was festive and it was the perfect event to keep up the amazing energy of this wedding week.

Friends and family mingling at the bar during the Mehendi

One of the artists hard at work

I had to leave early from the Mehendi to get to the venue to oversee day 1 of the production. The goal for today was to get all of the structural pieces in place, hang the fabric, set up the power, audio and lighting and lay out the tables. Mission accomplished! Tomorrow, the wedding day, will be reserved for all of the fresh flower work as well as laying the linen and of course preparing the food. The work today was not without mishap, but overall, I was so impressed with the workmanship, efficiency and attention to detail that I observed from the vendors. About 40 members of the production crew are working all night long to get the job done... so I better get to sleep so that someone can be awake on the job tomorrow!

The beginnings of the entrance gate

Dance pavilion coming to life

One of two floral elephants in production - it takes a village!

Stay tuned for the big post-wedding recap. I can't wait to share all of the amazing details!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Bangalore Wedding Adventure: Part 2

To say that I don't know where to begin hardly does justice to the amount of information that I could share about the last four days I have spent in Bangalore, India preparing for Rushmi and Vikram's wedding.

So, first the big picture.... every single moment since I have arrived has been more thrilling than the one before. Starting from the warm welcome I received from wedding guests who sought me out on the plane from Frankfurt to Bangalore and culminating with a fascinating dinner I shared with a man from my hometown who, after learning that I went to high school with his son and that he was good friends with my grandfather (one of the most special people in my life), decided that god had fated us to be seated together, it is all just too amazing for words.

Now, let me break it down to the nitty-gritty...

Day 1: Tuesday, December 22nd
I arrived in Bangalore just after 2 AM on Tuesday and made it quickly back to the hotel where I had stayed the last time I was here. By 4 AM I was asleep and by 9 AM I was up and at 'em for my first appointments. Since I rarely sleep more than 5 or 6 hours at home, jet lag isn't too much of an issue for me - thankfully! My first stop was the florist (called Nalesa, but they don't have a website). She and I had been corresponding for the past two months about containers, fabrics, flowers and candles, so I needed to see all of the materials she has sourced for me. After going through every detail for more than 2 hours, it was a great relief to feel that things were moving in the right direction. Production here happens so close to an event that it is unnerving, but in this scenario it works to my benefit since, despite my arrival only 5 days before the wedding, I could still make changes to a great number of things.

Next I was off to check in with the hair and makeup stylist. Wedding day beauty, and beauty in general, is a HUGELY important part of the culture here. I have seen more ads for beauty products than most other things combined and while in the US brides focus more on their hair, here, brides are definitely more focused on their makeup.

The last project of the day was a site visit to Tamarind Tree with my team, the florist crew and the caterer. We were able to walk through the venue and detail every inch. It was great to be back there because I had to make a few logistical tweaks based on the way the design had evolved since my last visit in August. Because of the extraordinary volume of traffic in and around Bangalore (think Times Square, but throughout the entire City!), the drive to the venue is an hour each way, though I doubt the distance is more than 12 miles.

Day 2: Wednesday, December 23rd
The day started with a visit from the florist to show me some of the modified products we had discussed the day before. People's willingness to go out of their way and come to where you are really amazes me. She loaded up her team as well as boxes of vases, candles, flowers, etc. and brought them all to my hotel.

I was able to select the finish on the vase I had produced locally - I chose the one on the far left.

Next I met with the photographer and his team. It is such a pleasure to work with a group of people who are as committed to a project as I am - and that is how it is with VizioHub. They had the schedule of events for the entire week up on a white board and we talked through every detail. Their willingness to adapt their scope as well as the amount of research they had done prior to my arrival was just amazing. I came to India determined to show my clients and their guests that a wedding can be distinctive and unique and this group totally gets it.

Tanu and Jyothish - two of the photo/video team

When I began working on this project, I didn't think that I would be able to be particularly helpful when it came to the catering aspect since not only is the food different, but the entire way food service is done is different, but after months of work, I think I can fancy myself an expert in South Indian catering and thus I was off to the ITC Windsor Manor to discuss the intricacies of the menu and the timing of the wedding day as it related to food. Unlike in the US, here the fine, 5-star hotels are often called upon to do off-site catering and are known to be far superior to traditional caterers.

Just two more stops before my day was done... first, to the cake baker - Institute of Baking and Cake Art. Since wedding cakes are not an Indian tradition, it wasn't easy to find someone to make the elaborate, 6 tiered concoction I had designed with the bride, but I have thus far been pleased with the attention to detail and willingness to accommodate my requests, so I feel good about it coming off without a hitch. To top it off, they are also able to make the cupcakes that the
bride requested for the Mehendi... though every time the baker called them muffins, I had to stifle my giggle.

Manish, the owner and head baker

The bakery's kitchen

And, last but not least, I finished off my day by doing a final site visit with the florist at the restaurant where the Mehendi (henna painting party) will be held. This place is not to be believed...though Shiro Restaurant is hard to find online, Google UB City, the mall in which it is located, and it will change the way you think about India as a developing country.

The bar at Shiro

A view from inside UB City Mall

I'm not done... can you take more?? Ok - here it goes...

Day 3: Thursday, December 24th
Rehearsal dinner day!

Before I could get started with the final preparations for the rehearsal and dinner that evening, I had to first go be fitted for a sari. Since I'll be busy working at the wedding, I will not wear a sari that day, but on the day following the wedding I have been invited as a guest to the post-party hosted by the groom's family and my client asked if I would be willing to don a sari for that evening. Of course!

The sari shop

One more meeting with the florist to change a candleholder and then I could focus on the last minute details for the rehearsal dinner. Sourcing liquor is a huge and complicated project in India, so getting the wine, liquor and beer where it all needed to be took a chunk of the day. I also needed to meet the rest of my team who will be assisting me for the remainder of the week and brief them on the entire production. Then, the trek to the venue began again...

The rehearsal and accompanying dinner is not an Indian tradition, so most of the 75 guests were perplexed by what was happening, but after I was briefed by the officiant, I was able to talk through much of the ceremony logistics with the family and bridal party (Hindu weddings do not have bridesmaids and groomsmen, but they are integrated into this wedding).

The leisurely dinner began (mealtime in general here is quite leisurely with even a "right quick lunch" taking more than an hour) and eating, drinking and dancing lasted long into the night. The toasts were beautiful as were the simple white flower arrangements made only of orchids and lilies and wrapped with mango leaves. Despite a quickie power outage (which doesn't even phase an Indian for a second), it was a perfect evening and I was thrilled to receive dozens of compliments on what was most of the guests first-ever rehearsal dinner.

Day 4: Friday, December 25
Christmas in India is a recognized legal holiday, though almost all businesses are fully operational. There is a little less traffic on the streets and more Christmas carols, lights and santas than you may expect, but overall, much like any other day. I didn't schedule meetings in advance for today because I wanted to leave it as an overflow day and I wasn't sure who would work on Christmas. I did speak to almost all of my vendors and team, though, but only on the phone. It worked out perfectly because all of the shopping for the wedding that I had hoped to do earlier in the week hadn't happened yet, so I could spend much of the day buying pillows, baskets and throws for the Mehendi and wedding. I also had a few minutes to buy a handful of things for myself and for gifts. I am almost a bit ashamed of myself that I didn't have the bravado to head out to the shopping areas when I was here in August because it was so much fun and not at all as intimidating as I thought.

There were THOUSANDS of bangles to choose from!

I visited the bride and her bridesmaids at their spa day at the breathtaking White Mantra Spa and then had a little down time to finish all of the paperwork for the wedding and send it to all of the vendors before enjoying a lovely dinner for all of the family and out of town wedding guests at The Century Club where mother of the bride's family has belonged for many years.

Whoa... that was a lot... even for my chatty self! I have certainly learned my lesson and will not wait another 4 days for the next post!

What I could never convey in words or even with photos is the overwhelming warmth and positivity that is in the air here. The pace is slow, but not lazy, which makes it a wonderful place to work.

I can hardly wait for the events of the next two days and look forward to sharing the outcome of this amazing project.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bangalore Wedding Adventure: Part 1

I am so unbelievably fortunate to have the opportunity to plan and design a spectacular wedding in Bangalore, India. A number of years ago, I designed a beautiful wedding at a private home in Pennsylvania and the bride and groom were very taken by the art, architecture and design elements popular in Southeast Asia, so their wedding style was created with that vision in mind. It turns out that two of the guests, originally from Bangalore, loved the modern style with Indian influences so much that almost three years after that wedding, they invited me to design their daughter's wedding in Bangalore. That was about ten months ago, and now the big day (or big week, I should say) is only days away and what has been a career-changing opportunity is finally going to come to fruition. With only 5 days to go until I embark on my journey, I am equal parts excited, exhilarated, nervous and overwhelmed - this is a SERIOUSLY big project. I hope you will follow my experience as it unfolds over the course of the next few weeks as I attempt to share my adventures in creating a Western-influenced South Indian wedding.

First, some important stats that everyone inquires about: there will be 500 guests at the "main event" and between 50 and 200 guests at the various events before and after the actual wedding day. The bride and groom live here in New York City, the bride's parents in Pennsylvania and the groom's parents in Bangalore. Bangalore is in the South of India in the state of Karnataka. It is the fifth largest city in India and is best known as the major technology center in India.

In August, I went to Bangalore to get the lay of the land and to meet some of the prospective vendors that I would be able to contract for the wedding. I traveled by myself as the bride and her family were not able to go to India in the same window of time in which I was available. I had never been anywhere in Southeast Asia before, so this was an adventure on so many levels. I could write an entire book on the cultural experience alone, but suffice it to say that everyone whom I met, without exception, was warm, welcoming and hospitable beyond my expectations and the event vendors with whom I met were thrilled and fascinated to work with a New York planner/designer and to learn about the type of wedding that we wanted to produce.

Weddings in India are so different in so many ways. Most people's first reaction to my telling them about this wedding is "wow - are they having a million guests??" And while that is just one small thing that makes Indian weddings different from American weddings, it is actually very telling about the overall approach to a wedding there. Weddings are a community affair. They are as much about the families as they are about the couple. Because they are multi-day affairs as tradition dictates, there is less focus on the singular day of the wedding ceremony and reception and more on the overall concept of being married. Weddings there are so much more about people coming together than about small details, so it was no wonder that I got dozens of quizzical looks in response to my questions about production schedules, timelines, contracts and invoices.

These vendors are accustomed to making a wedding, not facilitating a production. And "custom" (or "bespoke" as would be said in India) is not integral to wedding style as it is here. So, therein lies the challenge: how does a type A+ designer from the most high-strung, contract-driven city in the world direct a team of talented and capable, but laid-back and last-minute, vendors to make a wedding that looks and feels like, as my client says, "something that no one in India has ever seen?" Stay tuned...

But before I go, just a few sneak peeks at the venue called The Tamarind Tree:

The Pond: In the early part of the wedding, guests will gather around the pond for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Later in the night, this area becomes the venue for their amazing 6-tier wedding cake (one of the Western traditions we are incorporating) and dancing late into the night.

The Gazebo: This is one of the highlights of the property. This centrally set round gazebo will be where the live band plays throughout dinner service.

The Ceremony Site: This patio area will be transformed into the mandap, or traditional Indian wedding canopy. Guests will be seated on the stone area and will be treated to some beautiful surprises along the way!

Next post will be from Bangalore in just a few days. Wish me luck! In the meantime, you can follow my play-by-play on Twitter @lindsaylandman. :-)