The Local: Bridal Industry Remains Very Marry

In another nod to the shaky economy, fewer couples are opting for destination weddings. One bride Ms. Reinhard is working with who had always dreamed of marrying in Spain chose to host the reception in New York instead.

“It’s a lot to ask guests to fly to Europe and pay for hotels, especially with the euro as strong as it is," Ms. Reinhard said, "so we’re seeing more weddings in the States and even the Caribbean.”

Ms. Reinhard has noticed clients taking a little longer to sign on with a planner and commit to a venue; but, once they do, no expense is spared.

Aside from the Plaza since it reopened, David Reinhard does not organize many hotel weddings and throws one a year in a loft space at most. The Four Seasons is popular, and Ms. Reinhard said she is working on two upcoming receptions at the New York Public Library.

“Our clients want something different,” she said. “The Natural History Museum is a great venue. There’s nothing better than having your first dance as husband and wife under the whale,” Mrs. Reinhard said of the giant blue whale hanging from the ceiling of the Natural History Museum’s Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. The space accommodates 1,000 people for a seated dinner, and 800 for a dinner dance, according to the Web site. It says “price upon request,” though the event-planning department referred us to the marketing department when we asked for a quote.

The Public Library is “getting more and more popular,” said the woman who answered the phone at event-planning there, but refused more questions. The 70-foot-long, marble Astor Hall and the domed Bartos Forum each rent for $30,000 for a five-hour evening slot that begins once the library is closed to the public. Many couples opt for a $50,000 package of cocktails in Astor Hall, followed by dinner in Bartos Forum.

Lisa Hoffman, the owner of custom-stationer Ceci New York, said couples on a tight budget are forgoing the “bells and whistles” on their invites, as is the case every year regardless of the economy.

“It is making some people be more cautious," she said, "but at the same time it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event so there’s a strong impulse to get what they want because they’ll never have a chance again."

Invitations start at $22 and run upward of $500 per set; most couples spend an average of between $300 to $500 a set.

More Europeans are coming to the city from Europe to buy high-end designs, Ms. Hoffman said, while plenty of New Yorkers are still hosting extravagant weddings, with invites to match.

A New York-based couple recently commissioned Ceci to design the invitations for their wedding in the Capucine ruins of Guatemala recently. They are one her many recent clients who “did not hold back." The first of three mailings was a 13×10-inch, custom-silk-screened, Plexiglas invitation with two original drawings by Ms. Hoffman inspired by the island where the wedding took place. Arriving in a black crocodile case with custom stamps, the invite doubled in size when opened. A second mailing followed with a guide of activities for guests to do in Guatemala.

Another symbol of the undiluted demand for wedding excess is the popular grooms’ cake. Half a decade ago grooms cakes were not a de rigueur ingredient of a New York City wedding, but now they account for about one-third of Cake Studio’s total sales, said owner Jill Adams. Wedding cakes are the only product she hasn’t seen customers cut back on lately.

“In general a lot of regular clients who never think to ask about price and used to always do really elaborate things are asking how much things cost now,” she said. “They are spending less on things like birthday cakes, but people are always going to spend a lot on their weddings. I mean we specialize in grooms’ cakes, which are totally unnecessary for a wedding, and I still haven’t noticed any impact from the recession.”

Couture bridal boutiques like Angelo Lambrou, favored by what manager Laura Calamita characterized as an “eclectic bunch” of more budget-conscious brides-to-be, are seeing signs of frugality.

“We don’t have any Bridezillas or hall-on-Long Island brides here,” she said.
“I had one bride who had a wedding planner who would have wiped her butt for her, but she cost $20,000. Most of [the customers] like small weddings or destination weddings.”

Angelo Lambrou is popular with students or professionals, most of whom earn between $40,000 to $75,000, she said, and a lot of them are engaged to “ethnic men.”

Since most of the weddings on the spring/summer wedding roster have been planned for at least a year, Ms. Calamita only recently began noticing a few signs of belt-tightening. One woman chopped the reception tab in half by gathering 10 friends for a trip to Hawaii, but she still bought a custom-made dress. Most are sticking to dresses in the $2,000 range, and compared to last year, fewer women are willing to splurge on a $3,000 to $3,500 dress these days.

Maria Martin sipped a glass of white wine at the Angelo Lambrou boutique on Seventh Street and First Avenue Wednesday evening after a dress fitting. The American-born law student fits the profile. Her fiancé is Chinese. She has a subtle nose ring.

They are getting married in July in Hershey, Pa., in an informal ceremony followed by a barbeque for 150 people (at $30 per head).

The $2,700 she spent on the dress is more than a tenth of the total wedding budget—an unheard of price tag for a Manhattan celebration.

Ms. Martin and her fiancé started planning in August and have not changed anything to reflect the recession.

“Our concern is that it will impact our guests because of gas prices or plane flights, but so far we have not had any cancellations,” she said.