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Wedding Essentials

I do, I splurge

Personalisation is key to weddings these days as couples splash out to make the event reflect their style
The Sunday Times - March 18, 2012
By: Desmond Lim
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I do, I splurge -- PHOTO: KELVIN KOH

A burgeoning $1 billion a year industry has sprung up here on the back of rising demand from marrying couples wanting to make their special day more special than anyone else's.

These romantics go to spectacular lengths to tailor a wedding to reflect their personalities - one that leaps out from the crowd, with extravagant and personalised flourishes, and a zany element or two.

Just as quickly as bespoke weddings have caught fire, a growing crop of companies are catering to every conceivable aspect of customising a couple's big day. It's a business made in heaven as couples are willing to shell out big bucks to say 'I Do' their own way.

Want a vintage Volkswagen Kombi Van for your wedding car instead of a BMW saloon? Check.

Want a specially designed dessert bar to cap off your wedding banquet that describes your love and will leave the guests gasping with delight? Check.

The want-list does not stop there. Weddings with the 'wow' factor include a banquet with a casino room complete with blackjack tables, a $15,000 hip-hop themed dinner, photo shoots in exotic locations such as Paris and Prague, and even concept music videos where the couple act out their romance.

For the fashionable set ready to commit to a life partner, it is no longer enough to stage a traditional ceremony followed by a multi-course meal at a swanky hotel.

Twenty-year-old Precision Printing began tapping this market about three years ago. The company set up a letterpress printing arm, Papypress, catering mainly to wedding couples who want invitations using antique, hand-pressed printing methods. The invites cost $8 to $11 apiece, compared to normal cards which cost from around $2.

'Bespoke invitations create excitement and expectations of the wedding which a generic off-the-shelf card will never be able to achieve,' gushes Papypress' co-owner Corby Tan, 30.

So if a swanky hotel is out, where should the big day be held? Outdoors, such as at Fort Canning or the Singapore Botanic Gardens, is now in vogue.

Burkill Hall, a colonial bungalow in the heart of Singapore Botanic Gardens, is a favourite among wedding couples. A minimum four-hour rent of the premises costs at least $2,100.

Nanyang Inc, an events company set up in 1965, has a wedding arm created in 2003 to cater to the growing demand for outdoor nuptials here.

They do not come cheap though, as renting a classy hexagon-shaped marquee that sits 60 costs up to $1,200.

Not to mention thousands of dollars more for planking, carpeting and airconditioning.

Of course, flowers are old hat for weddings, so Poppy Flora Studio has added wedding styling services. It helps couples come up with a colour scheme, coordinate all aspects of the decorations and choose the necessary props, and rents out furniture to complete the look.

For example, typical church wedding decorations used to consist of a few floral arrangements, pew trimmings and maybe a floral arch.

These days, Poppy Flora's clients spend from $3,000 to $15,000 to dress up a church reception or hotel ballroom with handmade pom-poms, fancy tableware and customised table placards.

A dessert bar, with as many choices as the couple's budget will allow, also provides a sweet ending.

Ms Melissa Wang, 31, owner of Wonderland For Detailed Planners, says that from top to toe, couples now want their special day to radiate their sense of 'personal style' and be 'aesthetically pleasing' from every angle.

The two-year-old firm specialises in event styling and furniture hire. It takes care of table linen, floral centrepieces, and even hires out stately wooden guest chairs for up to $18 apiece. It has clients who think nothing of splashing out as much as $20,000 to dress up a hotel ballroom banquet for 150 guests.

One couple determined to be different were Caleb and Gracie Leong - and it was something of a gamble. They spent about $2,000 on a casino events company to set up two blackjack tables and one roulette table, complete with croupiers and chips, for their Old Shanghai-themed wedding at Grand Shanghai restaurant.

'Our guests enjoyed it so much that we had difficulty getting them to stop so that we could start the dinner,' says 29-year-old Mr Leong, a civil servant.

Ms Melissa Kwek, 30, also spared no effort on a wedding that reflected her personality.

The lawyer and her sales manager groom treated their close friends to a hip-hop-themed dinner at Fullerton Hotel after an earlier church ceremony.

Her 50 guests were asked to turn up for dinner in loose T-shirts, baggy pants and lots of 'bling bling'.

Those who did not were stopped at the door and adorned with accessories such as mock thick gold chains with loud diamond pendants and the type of head scarves worn by hip-hop stars.

Ms Kwek spent more than six months tracking down the accessories from websites in the United States and spent about $15,000 just on the themed dinner.

Transportation is vital to any wedding. VolksWedding, a vintage bridal car firm, has seen business pick up threefold since 2006. It offers vintage VWs for couples who eschew the usual luxury bridal cars.

Owner Janaine Seow, 28, says about 100 inquiries come in each month for her fleet of three Kombi camper vans and four Beetles. Some are deterred by the price, which ranges from $650 to $1,000 a day, as opposed to borrowing an uncle's Mercedes- Benz or renting a BMW saloon for $400 for the day.

But 28-year-old Zyn Ong was thrilled with her experience.

'When we were on the road, everyone was looking at us,' says the business analyst, who rented one of the hippie-style vans for her wedding in September last year.

And instead of leaving the wedding cake to the hotel, couples now flock to wedding cake makers who charge up to $1,200 for multi-tiered marzipan confections, sometimes topped with edible figurines of themselves.

Then, there is the show put on for the guests.

The usual cookie-cutter videos featuring childhood photos of bride and groom are old news.

Since 2004, the owner of Moomedia, Mr Andrew Mok, 36, started conceptualising music videos that feature the couple acting out their romances. Friends take supporting roles.

A six-minute customised video costs upwards of $7,000, but the company's services are fully booked for this year, with bookings stretching into 2014.

More couples are also spurning the usual indoor studio wedding shots.

Four years ago, Mr Kelvin Koh, 37, owner of Lightedpixels Photography, introduced destination wedding shoots as part of his services.

Now, the photographer spends seven months a year in cities such as Paris and Prague doing bridal shoots. His price: $6,000 to $8,000 for a day's work. This fee does not include the cost incurred by the couple for airfare, accommodation and other expenses in the city.

But demand is so strong that as soon as he announces online which city he will be in on which dates, couples start booking his slots and fly there to meet him for the shoot.

There are no official figures for the value of the wedding industry but the Association of Bridal Consultants in Singapore estimates that it is close to $1 billion a year. The figure is derived from the number of marriages in a year and the average couple's spending of $30,000 to $50,000 for each wedding.

A word of caution to aspiring entrepreneurs hoping to muscle in on this flashy end of the wedding market: It is not easy money as highly personalised service takes time, patience and ingenuity.

Mr Faizal Kassim, 35, of The Wedding Chateau, which does about 30 weddings a year, advises: 'For 'mass-market' wedding planners, doing two to three projects a week is, of course, lucrative, but that is usually not personalised. We limit our number of projects and clients to maintain quality.'

Ms Tan of Papypress adds: 'It would be lucrative if being different can be achieved through the click of a button, but unfortunately, a lot of hard work goes into it.'

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