Planning a classic and elegant wedding

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Most brides and grooms head to a food tasting with a view to deciding on the direction of courses such as the entrée, main course and dessert.

But at Hawthorn Arts Centre in Melbourne, they’re often more excited about the prospect of the chocolates afterwards. And it’s no surprise when you consider their pedigree.

Deniz Karaca is the executive pastry chef for EPICURE, which is contracted to manage the ceremony and reception venue, originally completed in 1889 and not long out of an $18 million refurbishment.

However the title that would probably take precedence on his business card – at least in the eyes of many brides – is from last year’s World Chocolate Masters in Paris, where he was named the third best chocolatier in the world. That followed a clean sweep of the Australian and Australasian awards where he beat off plenty of big-name competition to claim victory.

The success means event sales manager Christie Knox, who oversees eight spaces – six of them available for receptions – is never surprised when couples want to try his handiwork at a tasting.

“Yes,” she says with a laugh. “The award is definitely something a lot of our couples know about, and I can tell you firsthand his chocolate is phenomenal.”

It’s elegant and sophisticated with a fresh edge, reflecting an overarching move towards these sentiments for couples planning their celebration.

It’s a focus on timeless luxury that Christie, who rates tailored packages as her specialty, is in a prime position to notice. She talked us through some of the evolving trends.

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The simple things are the best

“One thing we’ve definitely noticed with ceremonies is that couples are looking for a classic and traditional feel, but not in a church,” says Christie, who can cater for numbers ranging from 10 to about 280.

“What they’re looking for is a venue with a sense of grandeur but also flexibility. And the prevailing mood is for short and sweet ceremonies so that, in their own words, they can get in, get out and then move on to the exciting part of the day.”

It’s also not uncommon for couples to split their wedding, sharing the ceremony only with their closest intimates before the reception guest list widens substantially. And with celebrants increasingly guiding couples through their vows, exchanges have become ever more personal, from the heartfelt to the humorous.

It’s all about giving the bride and groom their moment in the sun, something which begins with her grand entrance.

“One of the great things about getting married in a historic venue is the opportunity to create that elegant milestone moment,” says Christie, whose packages include a red carpet and aisle runners.

“We’re not talking about going over the top, but about having the doors to the room closed and then creating that really dramatic sweep as they open to admit the bride looking beautiful.” It’s small touches such as this, rather than over-the-top gestures, that add a tiny bit of positive drama and make the bride feel really special.

It also suggests the need for two cameras – one trained on her and the other up the other end of the aisle to capture that nervous yet excited little smirk all grooms get.

Colour dials down

“I’ve been working in weddings for almost a decade now, and was previously at another EPICURE venue called ZINC at Federation Square,” says Christie, who points out the company manages specialty wedding venues across Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane.

“While I was there it was all about colour – everyone wanted that bright pop.” But these days tastes seem to be muting, and more and more people are bringing the vibrancy down and opting for neutral shades.

One freshly popular combination of tones is a classic white and green look; that’s something really beautiful which never goes out of fashion. All white, or a single shade with the addition of a classic red flower, are other combinations guaranteed not to date.

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Entertainment gets elegant

The lull between the ceremony and reception is one of the most important passages of the day. For the bride and groom, it’s a short window in which to turn their excitement at becoming husband and wife into beautiful photographs that will become memories for a lifetime.

For guests, however, it can easily become ‘dead’ air, especially now that many couples choose to wed and celebrate in the same venue, cutting out expectations of travel time. In order to circumvent any risk of a lull, modern brides and grooms increasingly look to schedule some form of entertainment for the break, often paired with champagne and canapes.

This could be an upbeat set by a jazz quartet, an informative recap on both their lives, coffee at a café or something a bit more sophisticated. “We are lucky enough to be home to the Town Hall Gallery, so we always encourage guests to have a wander and enjoy a dose of art and culture,” says Christie.

“The best thing is, because the installations are curated by the City of Boroondara to support local and international artists, they’re not static – they change once a month so there’s always something and someone new to discover, no matter how many weddings you attend here.” If you were really ambitious – and wanted to ring every last moment out of the available time for photos – you could even ask an art guru to come in and give a guest lecture, in a wonderful partnership between education and entertainment.

Similar ideas for void fillers include a museum visit, heritage walking trail or even a wine tasting class.

Photography turns timeless

Photography is another area where the buzzwords of vibrant and funky are gently being muted in volume. “For the last couple of years we’ve seen plenty of set-ups with couples in the middle of tram tracks, or on traffic lights or doing something kooky,” says Christie.

“But what we’re seeing now is a return to classic elegance, one which draws on soft enhancements such as sculptures, artworks and gardens.” Naturally, of course, there’s always room for a balcony, as there is in so many of the very best love stories.

“We actually have a portico balcony with city views looking out across Hawthorn, and it’s amazing up there,” she says. “If the photographer is down on street level looking up at the couple, in front of the clock tower on the front of the building, it’s an absolutely breathtaking sight.”

Other gorgeous yet timeless backdrops to consider include a favourite painting, a beautifully crafted doorway, or even a bespoke set-up focusing on rooms such as a library and furniture pieces such as a chaise lounge.

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Venues tell a story

The very act of marriage is both wholely unique and also utterly timeless, following in the footsteps of those who have gone before. So many couples are choosing to pledge eternity somewhere with its own sense of heritage and history. This doesn’t have to be overly formal – it can be a private garden, a museum or, in the case of the arts centre, a space called The Chamber, which originally served as a courtroom in the 1930s.

Yes, there’s probably a joke to be made about marriage being a life sentence, but there’s an almost palpable sense of tradition and elegance that comes with a space like this, with exposed beams and a look that has the classic feel of a church without being boring. Elsewhere, other options include the Mayor’s Room, literally named from when the building actually was the town hall, and he needed a private space for before and after meetings.

“The room would only fit 40 people at a maximum, but of course he still had to have his chandelier,” says Christie, noting other touches such as high ceilings, cornices and drapes. It’s all about that sense of history that just can’t be replicated. For more ideas, talk to your local historical society about meaningful places and spaces in your city.

Less is more when it’s time to adorn

We’ve all seen the photos of OTT weddings where an entire floor or ceiling is covered in flower petals. Sure, the resulting photos look amazing, but there really is no equal to a timeless sense of elegance. Think chandeliers, cornices, eye-catching fretwork, wooden staircases and more, which combine to create a backdrop that needs little adornment.

“We often find brides just add a touch of floral here and there, and that’s it,” says Christie, who helps with the styling as much or as little as needed. “For receptions, they’re also embracing the elegant feel, but with something a little bit edgy or unvarnished.

So they might use soft classic colours but leave handwritten notes on the gift table or at place settings.” Christie, who also explains they are one of the few venues allowed to have open candlelight, further points to the enduring popularity of candelabras. “Candlelight at any evening event just adds a beautiful touch of romance, and when you have candles sitting in gorgeous tall candelabras that add a sense of height and drama, it just looks amazing,” she says.

Chairs are also playing a role in setting the tone, with vintage style options such as Tiffany or Bentwood also a people pleaser. Something she has noted, though, is a dramatic decrease in the styling of head tables.

“What I’ve found is that couples are increasingly going back to fitting the table in with the rest of the room, instead of having opulent flower arrangements or décor, or a sweetheart set-up with just two chairs. The concept has been simplified, and it looks amazing.”

Carefully thought-out food

The wedding menu, just as much as the seating plan, is always an exercise in balance. And the couples who pull it off with aplomb are the ones who understand it’s not about diving headfirst into fads or trends, but about offering classics with a twist. Christie, who points to EPICURE’S focus on seasonality and sustainability, says it’s about serving modern classics.

“As a general rule, people don’t want anything too gastronomically new,” she says. “So it’s about using clever techniques but not creating intimidating flavours and combinations.”

It’s taking something like a roasted farmed Queensland barramundi and serving it with warm nicoise style vegetables, Mount Zero olive tapenade, quail egg and lemon and dill beurre blanc. Or opting for a Port Lincoln kingfish ceviche, curing it in ginger and lime and serving it with red radishes, borage flowers and spicy guacamole.

Other mouthwatering dishes draw on ingredients such as silken tofu, Limestone Coast beef short ribs and Wimmera duck breast to create menus that are almost works of art in their own right. Grazing options are also really popular, from weddings where only the main course is seated to live oyster shucking stations and roaming tapas and dessert canapés. “Something I really love to tell people is to use their food to capture their personality,” Christie says.

“I ask them: ‘What do you guys love? What are you known for? What do you put together when your friends come over? What do you love to cook?’”

From there you can start to focus on elements that reflect them as a couple – especially if it’s something fun. “I had one groom who was really obsessed with donuts. It was well known that all he used to eat was donuts.

So we made some really beautiful varieties that we sent out later in the night, after dessert had been served, and they were a hit.” So that’s definitely something couples are increasingly searching for – that wedding menu on which they can put their personal stamp.

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“In the end, I think what always makes a wedding unique is that little bit of personality,” says Christie. “Everyone is going to go to so many weddings in their life, so it’s the sense of occasion and personal touches that sets them apart.

They’re what people will remember and what people will talk about. So that’s what you look to create in planning a wedding – a memorable day that is uniquely you.”

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