Sarah Haywood is internationally acknowledged as one of the world’s premier wedding planners and designers. She is the UK’s top- selling Bridal author, and the go-to International commentator for the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Recently Texas Weddings chatted-up the British expert after she finished her keynote address at Houston’s National Association of Catering Executives Wedding Trends event.
TW: Can you tell us how you got into this industry?
Sarah: I first got into wedding planning completely by accident. The first time I ever met a wedding planner, I was at my best friend’s wedding in Washington, DC. I thought, every bride and groom should have one of these, because in England they’re rare. At that time, I was working as a reporter for my local TV news station.
As my career progressed, and I moved further up the ladder, they then used me to plan the station’s parties. Somebody said, “You should do this for a living.” I thought, “No, no, no. I don’t want to be responsible for somebody’s wedding day.”
Then when I was in my early 30s, I looked around the newsroom and noticed there were no women over 40. To cut a very long story short, I ended up planning weddings, largely as a result of planning my own. I was really surprised at the lack of good information out there for older brides.
In the UK, the average bride is 32 years old. About the same time as I started the business, I got married. I then wrote a book, “The Wedding Bible.” It was an overnight success.
TW: For the wedding planners out there, what are your tips?
Sarah: You need innate qualities to be a wedding planner: organization, attention to detail, budget understanding and the ability to deliver things on time. If you’re not a well‐organized person, if you’re not
a person who’s good with figures, then do something else.
TW: Tell us about some of the biggest weddings, or most unique weddings you have done.
Sarah: I don’t go for bells and whistles weddings. We are more about timeless, classic elegance. We’ve seen a few strange things, for example, peacocks going crazy. We had some mirrored pedestals with flower arrangements on the terrace of this stately home. I had not realized at that point how aggressive peacocks are. One saw its reflection in the pedestal, and got very aggressive. The peacock got mad, guests went one way, drinks went another, and flowers went another.
We’ve had swans ending up in swimming pools and not being able to get out, strange things like that. Those are the kind of things that early on in my career I’d make mistakes. Now, I always think, “If we hire an animal, what can go wrong?”
TW: What was it like to cover the Royal Wedding?
Sarah: The Royal Wedding was an extraordinary time to be a British wedding planner. I think it was also
a time we were in the spotlight, and British weddings were in the spotlight.
We really needed to up our game. I certainly looked to this country [America] for inspiration. You do weddings beautifully here and there are lots of people as good as me in America, if not better. I felt our whole industry had an opportunity to raise its game and showcase the best of what we do.
On the day itself, I had the very great honor to be CNN’s wedding expert, sitting there with Piers Morgan and Cat Deeley and Anderson Cooper. Piers was dishing the dirt on all the celebrities that were attending. I really enjoyed the fun element of that.
The day before the wedding, I did something with the BBC. I said, “Please don’t ask me what she’s going to wear. Don’t ask me because I can’t answer it anymore.” The first thing I was asked, “So, Sarah, what do we think she’s going to wear?” I was like, “Everyone’s heard you ask that questions for six months. Let’s move on because none of us know.
TW: And now brides are emulating her style?
Sarah: Certainly she’s shown that pared back elegance is something that we can revisit. If you look at the dress, it’s about long sleeves and lace and we’re seeing a little bit of that on the bridal catwalk. When you compare it with princess Grace’s dress, I look and I think, ‘Princess Grace has been the iconic bride if you like, and has Kate knocked her off that spot?’ Probably.
Time will tell, but that took me back to looking at the great couturiers, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel and actually when you think about it it’s all about the structure of a dress. That’s what we’re now seeing, people going back, looking at the true haute couture and taking inspiration from there.
I’m quite grateful to Kate Middleton for showing that you don’t have to move so far out of the box. Other examples of her influence: the more natural look, the hair, and certainly her bouquet. Back to things like the meanings of flowers, and the flowers themselves.
Shane Connolly, the florist there, he is very well known for using sustainable flowers. He doesn’t cut the flowers, he uses a lot of plants and trees that can be replanted. We’re seeing a little bit of that, although not everyone can afford to fly in a dozen Canadian maples and then have a garden large enough to plant them in.
She also brought back an element of fun in, or I believe this is Prince William’s idea, to have the sports car getaway. A great getaway is always a nice touch to a wedding. It was nice to see they had that mixture of sort of the regal classical look, and then that bit of fun at the end, showing that actually, anything’s possible.
I believe weddings are occasions where we should see the couple reflected. We should see something of who they are, their sense of style. I think the royal wedding just nailed it. They did all the beautiful pomp and pageantry at the beginning, then they had their reception, and then, going off in that car, that was nice to see. It sort of gives everyone permission to do what you think is right for your wedding.
TW: When you meet a bride for the first time, how do you help her if she says, “I’m engaged, and I don’t even know what to do.”
Sarah: The most challenging aspect of wedding planning is actually managing people’s expectations. When a couple first comes to me, I’ll sit them down; we’ll talk a few things through. Then I will tell them I’m going to ask them some questions, ask the same questions to each of them and they’re not allowed to interrupt. I start with, how do you see your wedding day? What time of day would it be? What time of year would it be? Who’ll be there? How many? Can you see any colors? Can you see a theme? I’ll get two completely different answers.
If we then put the parents into that mix, and often times, both sets of parents might be contributing financially, so you might have six bill payers. It’s important to get everybody on that same page. It’s very tempting for a bride to go off on her own, especially when the magazines are saying, “it’s your day and you must have what you want.” But actually, weddings are occasions where we affirm the very concept of family. They are days where we celebrate family and friendship.
They’re days we need to listen to people who have an investment in that day, be it financially or emotionally. I often see when people don’t listen to the people closest to them; that’s when things can start to go wrong. My advice is always (even if you’re not going to take the advice of those around you) do hear what they have to say. They just want to be heard. If you can get all those things sorted quite early on you will have a much easier ride.
TW: How do you help a bride select a gown and know it’s the perfect gown?
Sarah: Ask the bride to cut pictures out from the magazines and print images from the Internet. Then, put them on paper, lay them out and construct a mood board. You start to see a pattern emerging. It’s quite simplistic but either people will go for a more classic covered up look or they’ll go for something a bit slinkier and sexier. It’s not about finding the right dress. I always say, ‘Go dress shopping with a really open mind. Try on shape, after shape, after shape; don’t look at the detail, just try the shape. Then find the shape that’s right for you and then find the dress with the detail.’
If you’ve got the money I always say, ‘Go couture. If you go couture you really will get a dress that fits like a glove and it will be designed especially for you. It will be perfectly proportioned. It will be beautifully finished and you have exactly what you wanted and it will be unique.’
TW: How about new trends in catering?
Sarah: Food is incredibly important at weddings now. I think people have more disposable income despite the current financial climate because right now people’s money isn’t earning them very much interest. They’re tending to spend more. Things like food are really important to people, we know about fine dining.
People are doing one of two things. They’re either going for the fine dining experience or they’re going for something more casual like tapas, and antipasti.
Imaginative foods are in. For example last year we did a wedding in Italy where we did foie gras lollipops. They were delicious by the way. That’s very important to people. You have choices, the fine dining experience or really good‐quality themed, simple food.
The other really big thing over the last few years is people’s knowledge and understanding of fine wines. It’s not unusual for a wine pairing to be an important part of the menu tasting.
Often times in the international wedding market, which is what I work in, we’re actually constructing menus around the wine they want to serve. That brings me an additional challenge, glassware. If you’re going to serve five or six wines and you’ve got to have those glasses on the table, that’s a real challenge.
By Laurette Veres
Photo by Ed Nix