Planning a wedding is tough stuff.
by Shyla Batliwalla
The pressure of choosing the perfect dress, to-die-for centerpieces, and a dream venue can cause even the calmest bride to panic. That’s when Jo Ann S. Woodward steps in the answer to every overwhelmed bride’s prayers. Jo Ann is half of the husband and wife team, Schwartz and Woodward Bridal Consultants. She’s been featured on WE TV’s “Platinum Weddings” three times and brings the passion of an artist and the detail of a neurosurgeon to every wedding she plans.
Couples flock to her because she not only provides impeccable service, but lifelong friendship as well. “When I stop crying as my brides walk down the aisle (and I cry at every single wedding) it’s straight to business.” Whether it’s tracking down a rare white camel or offering a shoulder to sigh on, Jo Ann S. Woodward knows the business of weddings.
How did you decide to become a wedding planner?
I was the director of business development for a hospital. I organized all their galas and events. Right after my own wedding, my position was eliminated.
Everybody said, “Jo Ann, you do such amazing events and parties, would you consider going into event planning?” I loved my wedding. I wanted everyone else to love their wedding. The choice was simple.
How did you make the move from corporate to creative?
Well, I called every wedding planner in Houston. Some were gracious, others were rude and refused to speak to me; I still remember those people today. One in particular said, “Cream rises to the top – there is plenty of room for new people.” We exhibited at the Bridal Extravaganza Show in 2001 with nothing to show but photos of my wedding and the hospital events I planned. We were the only husband and wife team (which the grooms really enjoyed). I signed up 12 weddings at that show. I was like, “Oh my God! This is really good!”
What is the most memorable wedding you’ve done?
It’s impossible to pick just one. We have some unbelievably memorable weddings and they’re not necessarily the million dollar ones. We only do unique weddings – I don’t do cookie-cutter. One wedding I did recently, the grandfather was in hospice-care and not expected to make it to the ceremony. He lived to see his granddaughter get married. When he hugged the bride, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
It’s those family moments – not the $40,000 flowers, tall cake, or the $10,000 dress – those exchanges between people that make it truly special.
What would you tell brides who are striving to make their wedding truly unique?
Explore your family’s history. Find photos of your parents’ and grandparents’ wedding. Ask what was special on their wedding day. Incorporate flowers from your mother’s bouquet in your bouquet. Wear jewelry that’s meaningful. One bride carried her grandmother’s cameo broach on her bouquet.
Pick a special song, plan a special dance – we love to do the anniversary dance. We invite the married couples that have been married one hour or longer (including the bride and groom) and then ask people to stay on the dance floor if they’ve been married longer than five years, 10 years, 20 years, and beyond. We’ve seen grandparents who had been married for 68 years!
How did you get involved with “Platinum Weddings?” (Television show on TLC)
We were hired to do a wedding in Phoenix, Arizona, at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. When we were there for a tasting, the catering director said, “‘Platinum Weddings’ called and wants to know if we have a wedding to submit.” The wedding had to be over half a million dollars. When the caterer saw our menu, flowers, and linens she knew we were it.
The couple, Lydia and Justin, had a touching story. The groom had been in near fatal car accident. His mother wanted him to have the wedding of a lifetime. They had custom invites, gifts for children, a cabana party, a welcome party, and a personal dinner – the works. All of the elements they chose from the vendor to the table decor were just spectacular. It was over the top!
How is a wedding that’s filmed for television different?
They called me and said we were picked, and we were thrilled! We changed all of our plans and set up our appointments according to the filming schedule – it was just crazy. That episode of “Platinum Weddings” was the most watched episode ever.
Why do you think your episode got such high ratings? You did a second “Platinum Wedding” too. How did that happen?
The production staff at “Platinum Weddings” said I represented wedding consultants really well. I spoke with eloquence, described every element and told the whole story of Justin and Lydia without a hitch.
Plus, they were just a moving couple. The doctor who saved Justin’s life was at the wedding. Everyone was so thankful and felt so blessed to share this momentous occasion. Plus, Lydia is gorgeous, Justin’s adorable, and the Arizona Biltmore is spectacular – that’s what made it happen.
They called me again! The folks at “Platinum Weddings” said I made their editing job easy. This amazing Indian couple, Sheila and Santosh, were some of the most gracious and beautiful people I have ever met. I knew they were perfect for television.
After “Platinum Weddings” contacted me, I spoke to the couple. The groom was iffy and nobody was really excited about it, so I let it drop. As we were getting closer, the father of the bride said, “Jo Ann, can’t we be on “Platinum Weddings?’” And I said, “Well of course you can!” The wedding cost over $1.5 million. The groom arrived on an elephant (the first time anybody in Houston has done that!) and the bride wore over $150,000 worth of jewelry. With almost 1,000 guests and four days of festivities, the wedding really was platinum.
Why do you think such an ethnically diverse group of clients selects you?
That’s a good question I often ask myself – I’m just little Jewish Jo Ann! They’re picking me because I’m doing unique things nobody else is. We did the elephant for Sheila and Santosh, we’re doing a white camel in August – anything you want, we can find it. People count on us to find and execute what’s unique and different.
Anybody can spend money, but we help you do it tastefully and beautifully.
Do you feel famous now that you’ve been on “Platinum Weddings?”
Ha, funny you ask that. When we were at the Bridal Extravaganza Show, a gentleman said, “I came here just to see you. I’ve watched every single “Platinum Weddings,” and you’ve inspired me to become a wedding planner! Can I have a photo with you and your autograph?” I was like, Oh My God. This is unbelievable – we’re famous! I don’t take myself too seriously and was shocked that others really do. He took pictures and sent them to everyone he knew.
It made me think, we really do have some sort of impact on people’s lives.
photo courtesy Schwartz & Woodward