Colin Cowie | The Story of Your Style

Colin Cowie, a tented reception (photo: Nadine Froger)

Style ... It's what we wear or how we look, but perhaps most important, style is how considerate we are toward each other.

Over-The-Top vs Thoughtful Creativity ... "Sincerity and the spirit are more important than the impression. That comes from designing your wedding where you really appeal to all the guests’ senses — from the time they get out of the car to the time they get back into the car."

Make Every Moment Memorable ... "There should not be one second where you are not being entertained. The valet parking area could have a boom box underneath a welcome table playing Chopin. There could be fragrant candles, potpourri, or rose petals scattered around."

The Story of Your Style: Consideration, Respect, Joy

"A successful wedding is not about making sure each and every thing is perfect," says wedding planner, author, and TV host Colin Cowie. "A wedding is about fun. It’s about celebration. A wedding is like a movie. Because so many things go into it, there’s a large margin for something to go wrong. You have to roll with it and keep going.

"Do not forget that this is about you and your groom first and foremost. The wedding should be an absolute reflection of who you are."

"For the majority of people today, their notion of style is about what they wear and how they look ... but style is about how we behave towards one another, how considerate we are."

Colin feels it has nothing to do with the etiquette books of yesteryear, “or even your well-meaning mother,” who each might say what you can or cannot do.

Consideration, Respect, & Joy

"This is an opportunity for you and your groom to make a ‘joint statement of style’ to your families and friends," he explains. "Every cent should be spent on reflecting your personality, which is infused into the wedding itself.

"If you collect something, or love a particular color, make sure you showcase it in the wedding. If you want to go down an aisle that’s loud and green, by all means do it. My only rule is that your style pervades everything."

To Colin, style is more about how we behave towards one another, how considerate we are of one another. "For the majority of people I work with today, their notion of style is about what they wear and how they look — and not about how they behave.

"But if we have self-respect, we can have mutual respect. If you are not offending anyone, then embrace your idea to the fullest."

Your style is revealed in various ways. What are your favorite and least favorite colors, what do you collect, what is your favorite flower, where do you go on vacation, waht are your favorite foods and restaurants. Do you like small, intimate groups or large groups? Are you a formal girl or do you prefer casual Fridays? After finding out, "I turn it into a story," says Colin.

The story might start with a color or a feeling. "If she says she likes cherubs, I’ll know what direction we’re going in. If she says she loves Armani, that gives me the opportunity to break new ground."

Mango Orange-Watermelon Pink ... "I Love Lucy" ... Champagne & Cherries

Colin Cowie, an elegant placesetting
He recently did a wedding in Colorado. "The couple did the wedding ceremony themselves. They read their vows to one another, and all 140 guests were the witnesses. It was a great way to do it."

Colin did a wedding on the beach in the Bahamas, and when they checked into the hotel, each guest was given a long ribbon in mango orange and watermelon pink, colors the bride loved. "This gorgeous combination looked so beautiful on the beach. Each guest also was given a pen to write a wish on the ribbon. Then, when the guests came to the ceremony, they tied all their wishes on an arch, which the bridal party and all the guests walked through." After the ceremony, all the ribbons were placed in a locked box, which the couple will open on their first wedding anniversary.

Colin recalls a spiritual wedding where each person brought a stone to the wedding site, placing it around the bride and groom. "They had the four elements: earth, fire, water, and air created for them at the top of this mountain."

Wedding Day Traditions

"It’s wonderful to create a ritual as well. Sometimes we’ll give a candle to every single guest. We might have the bride and groom light the first candle and pass the flame to the children." They pass it to the first row, who pass it back, and soon everyone is holding candles that come from unity.

"It adds real spiritual energy. After the ceremony, the candles are passed down the aisle and put into terra cotta pots. When the recession comes, there is group energy with the fire. It’s fun to come up with ideas like this."

He coordinated the wedding of Jenny McCarthy and John Asher. The groom’s father, John Asher Sr., was the director of "I Love Lucy," one of Jenny’s favorite shows, and when they were pronounced man and wife, the orchestra played the "I Love Lucy" theme song.

"Use all the things available to you," says Colin. 'Whether it’s music or something else, personalize your wedding."

He also did a wedding in Venice for a groom who believes that "life is just a bowl of cherries." As the guests checked into the hotel room they were welcomed with champagne cocktails and big bowls of cherries covered in crushed ice. "When they were pronounced husband and wife, they come up the aisle to ‘Life Is Just A Bowl of Cherries.’ It’s important to take the textbook factor out of the wedding and to make it as personal as possible. Don’t lose sight of what it’s about."

Creative Budgeting

"An important word of advice for those on a budget is, don’t do 10 things on the skinny. Pick five things and do them well.

"If you’re on a budget, instead of having a black-tie sit down dinner with the band, dance floor, lighting, and everything else that goes with it, have a rather chic and elegant cocktail party with a jazz trio and a smaller dance floor. You won’t have to have centerpieces and special items for every single person.

"You could have a living room environment with a cocktail bar and small tables, and cut 20-30 percent of your costs."

To Colin, there’s nothing like a Saturday or Sunday brunch wedding, followed by a party later on in the evening somewhere else.

"Sincerity and the spirit are more important than the impression. That comes from designing your wedding where you really appeal to all the guests’ senses — from the time they get out of the car to the time they get back into the car.

"There should not be one second where you are not being entertained. The valet parking area could have a boom box underneath a welcome table playing Chopin. There could be fragrant candles, potpourri, or rose petals scattered around."

The All Important Factor: Timing

"What makes or breaks a wedding is the least expensive item on your entire budget. In fact it doesn’t cost a single cent. It’s timing.

"We’ve all been to the wedding where the bride kept us waiting a half an hour before she came down the aisle. Absolutely inexcusable!

"If you’ve invited 150 people to witness you getting married, bringing them from all four corners of the world to give up their day to be with you, you have to be on time.

"You should go down the aisle a maximum of 15 minutes after the printed invitation."

But each aspect of your wedding must move along as well. Cocktail hour is exactly what it is — one hour.

"After 45 minutes of cocktails, start moving your guests, because it will take them 15 minutes to get to the next place. The idea is that, before they look at their watch, the next activity is happening."

Keep It Exciting

Colin Cowie (photo: Magnus Lanje)"Then take them into the dinner area, introduce the bride and groom immediately, and do 20 minutes of dancing. It breaks the flow of energy, allowing everyone to bond together and to make use of the space. Then sit down and serve dinner right away.

"Don’t do one of these dinners where you serve a course, then dance for 15 minutes, then serve another course. It is exhausting for the band, and they give away all their good songs. As they are getting going, out comes the filet mignon and the whole thing stops again."

For a different approach, he suggests serving the whole dinner. "Have background music so you and I can have a conversation with one another, instead of the big band in the corner making copious noise. When the dinner is over, have the father make his speech and then go straight into the father and daughter dance."

Time To Dance

"That’s a wonderful way to get everybody onto the floor. That’s when you say to the band, ‘This is when I want your peak performance.’ It allows you to showcase what the band does best. After a solid hour of non-stop dancing, cut the cake.

"It is the quality of time you spend versus the quantity of time.

"When you chop it up, it takes much, much longer. You’ve been there for six hours with no sign of a cake! You go home feeling tired, bored, and drunk."

Colin notes that many people don’t understand alcohol. "Alcohol is the most fabulous vice at a wedding. But don’t give it to them before the ceremony, and don’t give them too much during the cocktail reception.

"Hit them with it, and then let it work. Make sure that there is dancing after the cocktail hour. Serve wine through dinner so your guests are tanked to just the right degree, and now you can go and hit the dance floor for an hour and pretend you’re Tina Turner!"

The Schedule of Events

The day you start planning your wedding, you start creating what Colin calls the "Schedule of Events."

Start with the date, the time, the vendors, until it is minute-by-minute. Give a copy to everyone — the banquet manager, clergymen, valets, limo drivers, caterer. Literally everyone is on the same page.

Colin Cowie, a tented reception (photo: Nadine Froger)"Every piece of information goes into that schedule. Every single person’s phone number, right up until the last moment. Not a detail can be left out."

In his books, he has included comments about the psychology of the wedding. "For example, if your future husband is not involved in planning the wedding, it might be a sign of things to come.

"If you are having problems with respective families, this is the time to put up a united front. No one understands his family better than he does and visa versa.

"A wedding is very much like a train," says Colin, "in that when you go from one compartment to another there is always that shaky moment. I’m giving information to guide you, because it sets the tone for all the years to come."

The wedding helps you establish the boundaries, "for the overpowering sister-in-law and the well-meaning mother-in-law," who each have their own vision for what you should be doing.
"This is the opportunity to take a stand, to do it politely and to learn how to choose or how not to choose sides."

Entertaining Today: Combining "Homemade" & "Store-Bought"

"Almost every bride today works nine to five and probably has other projects as well. If we have collected wonderful things we need to use them. In order to use them, we need to be resourceful. Whether you make one course and buy three, or buy a store-bought dessert or gourmet salad dressing, pull it together.

"You’ve got to use your home. You have to learn to entertain. Entertaining is one of the most enjoyable skills in the world once you’ve learned how to do it.

"I never advocate making things from scratch. I’m not Martha Stewart telling you to pick the vine-ripened cherries and bake the perfect shell.

"We no longer live in that world," explains Colin. "Today it’s not about ‘What can I make?' but ‘Where can I get it, and who will deliver?’ It is about being resourceful."

New Time Constraints. Old Graciousness

Though he recognizes the new time constraints, he also acknowledges the value of the old graciousness. "I try to teach brides the importance of being gracious. It’s part of our social skills.

"You have to write thank-you notes for wedding gifts. If you go to someone’s house for dinner and you don’t have time to write a note, send an e-mail, or voice-mail, or speak with them on the phone, or send chocolates or flowers. At least make a sincere acknowledgement.

"We have to change the way we live and re-evaluate who we are as people — because the need to get together, person to person, has fallen by the wayside. Everything is electronic now. It is important to establish these skills."

The Rituals of Entertaining: Staying in Love

"In my books, I teach both the bride and the groom what to do socially, how to meet each other’s needs. This is why entertaining is important.

"It is very easy to fall in love, but very difficult to stay in love. Once the fire, energy, and passion has dissipated, many couples don’t know how to recreate it. They start living their own lives. All of a sudden we hear about this thing called ‘irreconcilable differences.’

"You share your home, its contents, and your friends together. Entertaining is one activity that encompasses all three of the above, whether it is the backyard barbecue or the lazy Sunday morning brunch with scrambled eggs, juice, and muffins."

We need to do these things as a bonding experience. "We are living in a society that is being stripped of all forms of ritual. But ritual is what brings us together." The most common, and perhaps most ancient, form of ritual is dining.

"This is why I urge every bride and groom to listen to yourself, to who you are and what you are about, and to personify that in your wedding. Say to yourselves, ‘Let’s create our own rituals and traditions. Let’s make this a wedding that means something to us, because we need to redefine meanings as we move forth.’

"This new millennium is a wonderful, exciting time to be living in. It’s a time to embrace new ideas, create new trends and traditions.

"As long as it is done tastefully, go ahead and express yourself to the best of your abilities."