Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Moxie Bride, Part 2: How to - and How Not To - Plan Your Long-distance Wedding

 Part 1 is here. My chat with Renee, The Moxie Bride, continues:

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Liz:  I’m working with three brides right now that are also doing the "reverse commute". They live in another state, but are planning their weddings here in Los Angeles, where they're from. What’s been the biggest challenge in trying to plan a wedding on the East Coast from here? 
Renee: For us, there’s been two. Or, I should say, for me there’s been two – I’m really type A, so I’ve been doing most of the work. Sometimes I say to Bob the Builder, “do you like this? Okay, great,” and then I just move on. That’s just the truth.

But I don’t know Philadelphia really well, to be honest. I’ve been there several times, but I don’t know the…map?...of Philadelphia. Looking for a venue, Bob the Builder would say, “That’s not really in Philadelphia.” Well, it says Philadelphia! (Laughs) I wasn’t clear on the neighborhoods and where everything was. And even though we’ve booked our venue, I’m still having problems with that. Like, I’m  looking for a wedding rehearsal space – I’m constantly mapquesting the distance between my venue and all these different restaurants and the hotel. Can we walk this, do we need transportation? It’s been a little bit of a stumbling block. 

And the time difference, because, you know, I’m not a morning person. But I’ve had to get up at 6 am to Skype with my photographer, because that’s the beginning of her day. So,  I’m there in front of my computer, with two cups of coffee, and a list of questions. Because I knew if I didn’t write down the questions, I wouldn’t know what to say, because I would be half-asleep! We made a lot of great vendor choices, but it’s been a little tricky. And, then there are things like my wedding venue being sold. I didn’t hear about it when it happened, because I wasn’t there to read the paper in Philadelphia. 
But after I sort of lost my mind and my head spun around like the Exorcist, they called me and we talked about it. It was not my finest moment!

Liz: How long did it take you to find a venue in the first place, from so far away?

Renee: Well, we got engaged in April, and we were already planning a trip to Philadelphia in May. We were going for a college graduation. I didn’t waste the trip and not do any wedding planning. So, really quickly, I emailed three or four places that looked really great and asked if we could see them when we were in town. We didn’t have an idea of what we were looking for, we didn’t have a budget, we were just seeing what was out there. Which I don’t really recommend, to be honest. Because we went shopping without a budget, and it was awful and awesome at the same time. The place we fell in love with ended up being at the tippy-top of our budget. And then we had to have a serious discussion, is this really what we want, at the beginning of our married life, to be just slightly in debt from our wedding. And the answer, of course, was No. 

So, we saw three venues on that trip. When we got back to L.A. I decided that I needed to go  to Philly over the summer, and I need to get a place before we’re at the year mark. We need to figure it out. My fiancé couldn’t come with me on that trip but my father – who is very graciously hosting our reception – said, “I want to come with you.” So, we made  five venue visits in one day. I didn’t schedule a lunch break or anything! I said, “we’re going to Starbucks for breakfast, we’re going to see five venues, and then we’re driving back to Connecticut. Don’t do that, either!  My Dad was great, he didn’t complain.

Liz: It was like the best Father-Daughter day ever, though!

Renee: It really was. And I keep asking him, “are you going to cry, Dad? Are you okay?” Because it was a Saturday, and there were weddings going on at each place. And every time he would see another Father of the Bride, he would go up to them and say, “These are good days. These are good days, man.” Which was so sweet. But the other fathers would be like, “Great, it’s nice to meet you, stranger. I’ve got to go set up for the wedding now.”(Laughs)  It was really funny. But he wanted to have a moment with the other Dads. 

What was good about it – so, maybe I would recommend it – was that we got to see all these places side by side by side. The first place was in a weird neighborhood and we didn’t like it. The second place was a little small. The third place, ehh, felt like an office building. And by the time we got to the Down Town Club, my Dad and I were walking around for five minutes. He gave me this side glance and said, “I think this is the place.” And I said, “Okay, Dad, let’s see.” But, yeah, it ended up being the place. Even though it got sold, it’s still the place. It’s actually a good thing, because we’re getting a slightly better deal than we had before, which is unheard of. A little blessing. 

Liz: Sometimes I think it’s better. Of course, there’s the whole worry that you’re going to do this guerilla day, and see all these places and still come away with nothing. But what I found is if you set your mind to it, it eventually works out. And another thing is finding out what you’re capable of, of as well. It was a crazy day, but you approached with an open mind, and a determination to figure it out.  Which is the best way to tackle any of this wedding world stuff. And you didn’t go in blind. You know where the venue was, the basic costs, you’d talked to them. You were prepared. 

Renee: Exactly. I did a ton of research online. I didn’t put any place on that list of five that I wasn’t totally psyched about getting married at, just by the photos online. There were no places on the list that I was sketchy about. I’m sure if we lived in Philadelphia, I would have dragged my fiancé all over town, “Let’s go see this place!” But we didn’t have that luxury of time. 

I’m a fairly decisive person anyway. I know what I like and what I don’t like. It really helped to stay focused on that. As the day went on, my Dad and I would walk into a venue and he would say “Nope,” and it was like, yeah, you’re right, this is not the place, just in a few moments.

Liz:  Was there anything else that worked out, because you were 3,000 miles away?

Renee: I sought out a wedding planner pretty early. I think the job that you do is invaluable. I know that it might not be in everyone’s budget, but I needed the help. I reached out to a wedding planner in Philly, and we talked for two hours on the phone. She understood where I was coming from, and I understood what she was about, and then she emailed me a bunch of recommendations. I’m not going to pretend that I know the area better than someone who works there. I basically booked my vendors from her recommendations. I didn’t have the time to go around all of Philadelphia looking for vendors, it would have been exhausting. It was a step that I was able to skip. I looked at her list, DJs, florists, photographers, chose who I wanted to talk to, and went from there.

I know I wouldn’t have done that if we were getting married in Los Angeles. Here I would have been like, “Oh, I have a friend, who knows a person,” you know. But everything has to be more decisive and clean cut when I’m dealing with it 3,000 miles away. And the other thing, too is that if I email or call someone and they don’t get back to me in a timely manner, then they are out. So, it’s been interesting to see how some people run their businesses, whether they were able to embrace modern technology and roll it with it, or if they were like, “well, I need you to come in.” I can’t come in, I’m in Los Angeles! “Oh, you can’t sign your contract over the internet.” Really?

Liz: So, customer service has been really important.

Renee: I didn’t anticipate it being so, but it’s incredibly important to me.

Liz: I run into that here in L.A., too.   If you can’t call someone back or email them back, then that’s kind of suspect. And, you know, we don’t have to talk now. We can set up a time to talk later, just let me know that you got my email and you’re available on my date! Emails can also just be placeholders. “I saw it, yay! How can I help you? And can I do it later?” (Laughs)

Renee: Exactly.

Liz: And you’ve got a 24-48 hour window, well, it’s 2012, so more like 24 hours to get back to me. And, right now, I’m working on a bunch of weddings that still need caterers, photographers. And if I email you, and I call you, and I email you again, and I don't hear from you, then I can’t really recommend you to any of my couples.

Renee: Yeah, if I can’t get a hold of you now, what about when it gets closer to my wedding day? What about on my wedding day? It’s not going to work. Communication is huge, especially at a distance.

And another thing about email that I love is that if you send me your package, then I always have it. I have it on my phone, I have it on my desktop. I can send it to my father and my fiancé. But you have to send it to me! And Skyping! I’d never skyped before, but now I’m skyping like crazy.

Liz: It's Great, it gives you a chance to talk to all these people face to face.

Renee: Yeah, we were talking to the DJ, and he asked if we could Skype. And then they were able to show us their whole office, and they have an area where they show you all the different lighting possibilities, “this is a red wash, this is a blue wash.” They basically took their laptop around and showed me their office. Which was really cool. And then you feel like you know them better.

Liz:  So, what is the next step for you? You have the rest of the holidays coming up. Is there anything else you have to knock off your list? Are you going to visit your venue again?

Renee:  We are going back over there around Christmas. My fiancé hasn’t seen it. We took pictures, of course, and I have a horrible, really shaky iPhone video that I took of it! We have a few things. We haven’t picked a florist, yet. I don’t know a lot about flowers? I know what I think is pretty, but I’m not clear on the names of things! I’ve pinned a lot things to my Pinterest board, but I haven’t really reached out to anyone. And my Dad had an idea for wedding favors that have to be made by a chocolatier, so we’ll have to find one of those. I like edible favors. Not a big fan of like, salt and pepper shakers, or whatever.

Liz: Yes, those are the best. They’re the only things that I know I’m not going to have to dispose of at the end of the night!

Renee: There you go. I’ve been to weddings where they give trinkets with their names on it. And I think that’s really cute, but I don’t know how people use those after the wedding. So, we’re either going to do something edible, or a donation. Something practical

Liz: At a wedding I did last summer – speaking of flip-flops – they’d given everyone a pair in their wedding colors, and those disappeared pretty quickly! But anything that you put your name on or personalize with your wedding date is going to be left behind.

Renee: And it’s a waste of money that could be put towards something else.

Liz: Edible is good. I have a friend who’d been living in Kuala Lumpur with her fiancé, and I helped her with her wedding last year.  They gave out these colorful wrapper containers of spices, and that was a hit, too. 

Renee: That sounds great. So, yeah, something like that.

Liz: But there was one other thing that I wanted to ask you about – your dress. What did you decide to do about that? Well, first explain what I’m talking about! (Laughs)

Renee: Well, I decided to do something a little controversial. I’m having my dress, by Jasmine’s Bridal Shop, which is a replica dress company in China. I had been saving money for my dress even before we got engaged, a lot of money. But when I started trying on dresses, I felt bad about spending so much money on a dress! I went to Kleinfelds, I went to two other really high-end salons in Los Angeles, ready to buy, but I was standing there in these beautiful gowns thinking,“ Yeah, that’s really a lot of money.” (Laughs) I guess I’m just too practical for my own good.

So, basically what I’m doing is taking two different dress styles, and asking them to make me a "Frankenstein" dress. And they’re going to do it for around $1,000.

Liz: How does that work? Have you already put in your order?

Renee: I haven’t put in my order, yet, no. They don’t have dress patterns, so you send them photos of the dresses that you like, and then they send you a sketch and layout, and you go back and forth until you’re satisfied with the design. It takes about 10 weeks to produce the dress. So, I give them my measurements and a 50% deposit, and 6 weeks out they give me mid-production photos, which I get to approve, or make any changes. It’s very collaborative. And once you approve the final dress, you send them the balance, and they ship it to you.

I don’t know, I feel very good about it. This company has a lot of good reviews, if you go to Wedding Bee or Wedding Wire. On Wedding Bee there are whole threads on their dresses and they look really nice. The dress that I’m getting replicated, it’s inspired by two Jenny Packham dresses. They were around $6,000 each. I feel okay spending $1,000. $6,000 made me think of people around the world who can’t afford to have dinner. I couldn’t wrap my brain around spending that much money on one thing that I was going to wear for a few hours! I didn’t think I was going to have that particular hang-up, but apparently I do.

Liz: No, I understand. I rented my dress.

Renee: You did? I love that. 

Liz: Yeah, I planned my wedding in five months, so I was moving pretty fast, too. And I tried on these dresses, like you said, that were thousands upon thousands of dollars! And I went into this not knowing anything about the wedding industry, and how much stuff cost. I just knew what I was willing or able to pay for it. Plus, I didn’t have the time left to order it in time for the wedding. There was a place down the street from my house, on my way to work, that rented wedding gowns. And I tried on this beautiful Italian silk fluffy princess dress , and I was done[scroll down to the bottom of the page]. They altered it and handed it me with a veil and tiara, I brought it back a few days later, and it was less than $1,000 out the door. Of course, that was 10 years ago, but I get the whole thing about being comfortable with how much you’re spending.

So, when are you going to actually get your dress?

Renee: Well, here’s the thing: In China, they have a national holiday where everything closes down for two weeks. So, I’m going to put in my order right before the holiday, so I’ll be the first one they’re working on when they get back! (Laughs) So, I’m going to place my order in February, I should get my dress in late April, early May? And that should be plenty of time. I’m probably going to have to get it altered even after I get it in. I’m giving them my measurements in January, but I’m going to be losing weight and working out, so I’m hopefully going to be a little smaller by the time the dress gets here. But I already took the alterations into account, as far as the budget, so I’m okay with it.

Liz: So, how is it that you’re feeling about your wedding right now? What is that you would tell other brides?

Renee: I feel really calm and good. I feel like we’re totally organized. And, I’m okay with taking the next month off from it. There’s life happening and holidays and all that good stuff. My biggest piece of advice is that you can only benefit by being organized. Even if you’re not an organized person by nature, figure out what works for you. For instance, I don’t like having pieces of paper around, so everything is either on my phone or my laptop. So, figure out what makes you feel the calmest and head towards that.

I’d done a little bit of event planning before this, and I thought, “Oh, I know what I’m doing, I know how to do this.” But I still hit some pockets where I freaked out. They come every two or three months. “Oh my God, OHH my God,” you know. But then I’d figure it out after a couple of days, and move on. I don’t think you can plan a wedding without being a little stressed. But for me, organization was definitely the key.

Liz: And, it is a process. You start out looking at all this stuff, thinking, I have no idea how what to do. And you have to keep in mind what you want your wedding day to look like, because it’s actually going to happen, and it’s going to be a great day. So, give into the process. Like, you said that your wedding had three different incarnations. And, it can get kind of frustrating, when you say, “This is what I want,” and then you see what that’s actually going to look like and what you have to do to get it, and you realize that it isn’t what you want, at all! And there’s the feeling that you have to go back to the drawing board, and back to the drawing board, and back to the drawing board.

Renee: And sometimes, you just change your mind, too.

Liz: Right, and you shouldn’t feel bad about that, either. With something that is this big, and this social, and really, has this many moving parts, it’s okay for you to change your mind, as you figure out how everything is going to fit together. Everyone does. And it’s so funny, because I’m sitting here saying, “Yes, this so stressful! But try and have FUN!” (Laughs) But you should always remember that there are so many options out there, and it’s going to be nearly impossible for you to not find what you’re looking for. So many things to do, add on, take away, you just have to keep open to the possibilities. They’re out there. That’s my little lecture.(Laughs)

Renee: I love it. One other piece of advice that was really helpful to us. Really early on, I asked Bob The Builder what was important to him. And he told me, “the music, the venue, and what I wear. Everything else can totally be your decision, and I don’t care.” And it wasn’t like he didn’t care about the wedding. We have similar tastes, he trusted me to handle it. But it was really eye-opening for me, because I made sure we made the decisions together on those things that were important to him. But he doesn’t care about the flowers, because, you know, he just doesn’t care. (Laughs) But just because he doesn’t care about doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care about me or our wedding. And that’s one of the biggest lessons I learned from all this. Just let them care about what they care about. That’s enough.

Liz: Definitely. Find out what he cares about, first off. I did the same thing to Zane, and he said, “I want to get my suit made, and I want to eat steak.” Excellent, done and done! And then he just left me alone for five months. (Laughs)

Renee: I just told Bob that it was time to figure out what he was going to wear, and he got all excited. And I love it when he gets excited. Whatever you want, let’s do it!

Liz: And, if at some point they jump into another area of the wedding and say, “No, I want this to be like this or that or the other,” and you feel like, “but I’ve been working on this, and you disappeared and now all of a sudden you want to change this.” Take a deep breath and keep in mind that it’s his wedding, too. And it’s a good way to figure out how you’re going to manage your marriage after the wedding. Because trust me, I’ve been married for ten years and these things come up. All the time. (Laughs)

Renee: A wedding is a little microcosm of your whole relationship.

Liz: Yeah, so save yourself the grief and figure it out now!
Renee, thanks for being such a great sport. You can follow Renee down her road to the end of the aisle at  

See you at the end of the aisle, 
Liz Coopersmith
Silver Charm Events
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