In 1986, when planning her own wedding with 175 guests at Wave Hill Gardens, a cultural center in the Bronx, Marcy Blum fell into what was then a largely nonexistent profession.
“There was no in-house caterer,” she said, “so we came up with food stations and big balloons with signs that said charcuterie and fromage. Robert Isabell came on as the visual consultant. I didn’t realize this was a job.”
And so began her new career.
When Ms. Blum came up with the idea of starting an event-planning business, she was working as a banquet manager for several restaurants. Wedding and event planners were generally called social secretaries. Hoping to secure clients, she put an ad in New York Magazine. And it worked. “There were pages and pages of personals, mine was the only one to say wedding planner. I got lovely young couples who were having trouble planning their weddings.”
Over the last three decades, Marcy Blum Associates, based in Manhattan, has orchestrated more than 500 weddings. Ms. Blum’s client list includes boldface names, like Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon, Katie Lee and Billy Joel, Padma Lakshmi and Salman Rushdie, Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent, and LeBron James and Savannah Brinson.
Ms. Blum, 65, who grew up in Riverdale, a neighborhood on the western edge of the Bronx, now lives in a Brooklyn townhouse with her boyfriend, Destin Coleman, 47, a veterinary technician.
How has the role of the wedding planner changed over the years?
It’s been extended the same way the lengths of weddings have. A social secretary used to handle logistics, put the guest list together and track RSVPs. The wedding was one day, with a small rehearsal dinner. The ceremony was in a church or synagogue. We’re no longer putting together an elegant dinner with two choices of food — meat or chicken — and bad wine in a banquet hall. We’re creating a collaborative experiential event, usually in different locations, where each room has a different vibe, theme, and entertainment. Food choices have exploded. Now there are tastings with chefs, mixologists, and sommeliers. And food trucks, late-night menus, after parties, and changing of outfits.
What’s your wedding philosophy?
A good wedding should have physical flow and build to a crescendo that doesn’t drop. And unexpected things should be constantly happening that will delight guests and take the event to another level. We’ve done mermaids at a cocktail reception, turned a spa pool into a dance floor, and served customized doughnuts fried to order.
What should couples ask during a preliminary meeting with a planner?
Do you work with only specific vendors or are you open to suggestions? What’s in your contract or letter of agreement? Who would we be dealing with on a regular basis and who would be at the wedding? Who goes to the appointments? How accessible are you? What have been your favorite events that you planned and why? What makes your weddings stand out? What won’t you do?
Is there anything helpful a couple can bring with them to the meeting?
Your guest list because it’s a great way to surmise what kind of wedding you want with how many people and the demographics of who’s attending.
What are some things you’ve learned over the years?
The food will never taste as good at the wedding as it did at the tasting. Some table will always get screwed up. You will always run out of ice and tequila. Pass wine and water after the ceremony because you want to offset the crush that hits the bars. Young crowds always want to do shots. Couples will always think it’s 10 p.m. when it’s 3 a.m. Don’t expect the photographer to be psychic. You must give them a list and explain who’s important.
What’s your best advice for couples choosing a venue with any planner?
Ask how many staffers are being offered at the place you’re using, then add 10 percent more. Ask to see the size of a pour, especially if you’re paying per glass. Don’t put all your money in visuals, it doesn’t matter how beautiful a wedding is, it will fail if there’s no soul, vibe or experience element. Do the walk-through as a guest, not as the couple because you’re going to have a different experience. Lighting changes the way everything looks. Make as many decisions as possible in the room you’re having the wedding with the lighting as close to how it will be that day. It’s imperative to have a bar in the main room because people want to talk to other people not at their table.
How can a couple cut costs?
Cut the guest list. You’re going to look back years later and realize you don’t recognize half the people. The seated dinner dance is not the most fun and will cost you the most money. Consider having a three-hour cocktail party with great music or a brunch with mimosas and bloody marys; it can still be creatively visual and celebratory without having to spend a lot. During the week is cheaper than a weekend, same for daytime as opposed to night. Family style food costs a lot less and can double as the table décor.
What things bother you?
When the invite says “black tie optional” — it’s the passive-aggressive dress code. If you want black tie, ask for it. Announcing the entire wedding party into the room is ridiculous; no one wants to see it. Open mic is a bad idea. After two drinks everyone thinks they’re brilliant; they’re not. First looks are contrived. You will never match the real first look where someone sees you walk down the aisle.
What’s your favorite moment of the process?
It’s when I walk into this ginormous space and no matter how many times I’ve done this, it’s seeing all of the million components come together paired with the fantasy that was in my head, and the couple’s, finally become real. Then I love seeing the married couple enter for the first time and have that exact same experience and seeing the look on their faces. It’s magical, touching, and beautiful.
What are some of the wackiest things you’ve been asked to do?
Hire a channeler to be the officiant. Tell guests they were not allowed to wear hats — the bride had a thing about them. Tell the parents the fiancé didn’t want to sign a prenuptial agreement. I did a destination wedding where I was told no other brides could be visible in the same city. I called other wedding planners and churches to make sure no one else was getting married that day.
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