Wedding Maestros

The Planners of that Perfect Day

Weddings! Memorable events filled with beauty and excitement, but also accompanied by a lot of stress and pressure! Because a wedding has so many components and elements to it, preparing for it is very complexed and labour-intensive. In a nutshell, the ‘business of love’ is a billion dollar industry and one where those with creative finesse and superb organisational abilities can succeed.

A wedding can be an incredibly daunting undertaking, especially when one is unsure where to start. Wedding planners are vital when it comes to weddings because they take charge of all the arrangements needed for the special event and although one may be nervous about placing their special moment in someone else’s hands, but going at it alone can be a far more frightening prospect. It is often said that those who do not plan, plan to fail. So it is with wedding planning.

In the last decade, the need for professional wedding consultants has grown exponentially. According to Gerard Monaghan, Co-Founder of the Association of Bridal Consultants, one out of every eight retail dollars is spent on wedding-related products and services. This makes the wedding industry a US$42 billion business, although some place that figure closer to US$70 billion.

Robbi G.W. Ernst III, President of June Wedding Inc., an association for event professionals, says the average cost of a wedding in the United States is now around US$17,500 for 125 to 150 guests. However, the average cost of a wedding can be US$35,000 or more in larger metropolitan areas, where incomes are higher and services are more expensive. This sets the stage for success for both new and established wedding consultants, some of whom, with experience and flair, have helped to tie the knots for eminent personalities.

Bryan Rafanelli’s Unforgettable Weddings

Founder, President and CEO of Rafanelli Events, Boston’s Bryan Rafanelli’s exquisite sense of style, attention to detail and ability to transform clients’ visions into unforgettable celebrations have made him the go-to planner for the nation’s most exclusive and high-profile events.

Having planned weddings for 14 years, Rafanelli was instrumental in producing Chelsea Clinton’s “wedding of the decade” in July of 2010. Set amid the opulent Astor Courts estate in Rhinebeck, New York, guests were enthralled by the view from a private Beaux-Arts mansion nestled in 50 wooded acres overlooking the Hudson River. 400 guests dined and danced the night away inside a premium windowed tent lit by chandeliers. Rafanelli’s skill in transforming any wedding into a fairy-tale setting was reflected in the transformation of the tent’s interior into a garden-like wonderland where the ceiling and walls were draped in fabric, where the supports festooned with flowers and the tables covered in grey-blue cloths adorned with roses and hydrangea arrangements in pink, blue and lavender. Rafenelli does not do modest weddings and the eleven-tier chocolate cake, gluten-free (in deference to the bride’s allergies) was carefully chosen from La Tulipe Desserts in NY.

With numerous awards and accolades to his name and being tight-lipped no matter whom the client is, Bryan Rafanelli choreographs as many as 100 functions a year, from a US$5000 private dinner to a party costing an astounding US$4 million!

Sharon Sacks’ Dream Weddings

No stranger to the business of love, Sharon Sacks of Sacks Productions, believes in flawless execution and imagination without limits. Her repertoire of elite clients includes princes, presidents, athletes and entertainers. Much sought after, Sacks has worked for Kim and Khloe Kardashian and Victoria’s Secret model, Lily Aldridge. Kim Kardashian’s lavish wedding estimated at US$10 million, included 3 custom-made Vera Wang gowns and 30,000 roses. Taking the stress off the wedding couple and micro-managing the gift buying, photography, security management, the music and specialty events, event designing and décor, staging and floral effects are some of the few areas Sacks looks into in order to produce the perfect event.

Sacks Production is also a dedicated supporter of the “green” movement, and, consequently, all of Sack’s projects reflect an eco-friendly attitude. For each preparation and detail, she emphasises an important concern for the environment: many of the materials she utilises are conservational, from recycled paper invitations, biodegradable water bottles, to the use of Hybrid cars for transportation.

Diann Valentine’s Magical Nuptials

In the world of events, Diann Valentine is a true prodigy who set up Memories, her own wedding planning company, even before receiving her high school diploma. Many years later, when she single handedly orchestrated the wedding of Lela Rochon to director Antoine Fuqua, Diann Valentine stepped into the limelight of the wedding planning business and became the centre of attention. The energy and talent to successfully produce an impressive event without a team of assistants, made Valentine stand out among the line-up of famous wedding planners. Suddenly, Valentine’s opinions mattered to the vastly growing industry of wedding planning and D.R.Valentine and Associates.Inc was born.

World renowned, Valentine takes classic traditions and gives them a modern unique flair that sets her apart from others in the industry. Valentine was the creative mastermind behind the jaw dropping wedding of Boyz II Men crooner Shawn Stockman, which saw the couple and guests dance the night away over a fish tank floor.

Another testimony to her versatility, Valentine co-wrote the coffee table tome, Weddings: Valentine Style which hit the shelves in 2006. As if being a renowned event producer and designer sought after by top celebrities and publishing a book weren’t enough, Valentine hosted “Wedding Day,” by Mark Burnett, the brains behind the runaway hit-series “Survivor” and “The Apprentice.”

Preston Bailey’s Visions of Love

Driven by three principles, the love for the Dramatic, Nature and Beauty Preston Bailey is famous for completely transforming raw, ordinary spaces into extravagant, theatrical environments. Hailing from the tropical paradise of Panama and moving to New York in 1968, Bailey is a much sought-after television guest and public speaker. Driven by his passion for floral artistry, he has used his skill with flowers to create breathtaking designs, attracting the attention of celebrities like Ivanka Trump and Uma Thurman. Many describe Bailey’s designs as “over-the-top” but his fascination for working with trees has resulted in his signature design of ‘bringing the outside, in’. Ivanka Trump’s Jewish wedding saw tradition combined with an exciting display of designs inspired by nature as guests were greeted with green and white trees in a glass tent. This unique ability to create memorable and spectacular events has drawn a client base that includes royalty, socialites, business moguls and celebrities.

Bailey’s greatest accomplishment must be the setting up of the first-of-its-kind wedding and event planning course at The Wedding Planning Institute. This course is now available in nearly 2,000 accredited colleges and universities in the United States as well as online. Having authored four best-selling books and appearances on national TV and in publications, Bailey has been signed on for endorsements, launch events and licensing deals by major brands, including Sandals Resorts, Godiva, Hewlett-Packard, 1-800-Flowers, and more. With rates starting at US$250,000, Bailey can make your dream wedding come true, from a stunning Tiffany-glass inspired wedding in New York to a reception with giant floral animals in Bali.

A Colin Cowie Affair

Colin Andrew Wilkie Cowie is a South African lifestyle guru and party planner to the stars, television personality and writer. A celebrated wedding and event planner with offices in New York and Los Angeles, Cowie is known for producing some of the world’s most spectacular wedding events for clients Lisa Kudrow and Paula Abdul. Cowie most recently designed the chic beach wedding of Rob Mariano and Amber Brkich, from the “Survivor” series, in a televised affair where he used 10,000 seashells and wet and dry sand to create an unforgettable evening by the sea. In addition, Cowie lends his expertise as the host of “Getting Married” on Lifetime TV.

Cowie believes in fierce attention to detail and while he respects tradition, his emphasis on modern aesthetics greatly contributes to the success of every wedding. Cowie’s talent is to execute every aspect of an event in such effortless succession that the end masterpiece keeps guests looking forward to other flawlessly executed affairs by the wedding expert.

David Tutera – A Bride’s Best Friend

A dramatic personality, author of four books, professional speaker and bridal fashion designer of gowns, jewellery and now shoes, David Tutera’s net worth stands at US$6 million. Better known for his television series, My Fair Wedding, which airs on WE TV, Tutera is a guru for brides and he has planned numerous weddings for clients such as Star Jones, Shannon Doherty, Elton John and NY Giants Antonio Pierce. Tutera believes that in order to create a successful wedding, guests must be enticed from the moment they receive the invitation. He pays minute attention to details from the cocktails to the dancing, down to the last bite of wedding cake with every detail fine-tuned to perfection. His innate skill and talent has earned him the epithet of “Best Celebrity Wedding Planner” by Life & Style Magazine.

Sasha Souza’s Dramatic Rites

Raised by a hippy who encouraged her flair for the dramatic, Souza went into theatre arts and it was thanks to this experience that she emerged as a businesswoman who incorporates her theatrical styling into organising weddings and other flamboyant events. She approaches these events in the same way a Broadway producer approaches a play – she makes sure that the stars shine and the audience/guests always go home wanting more.

Her eponymous company – Sasha Souza Events (established in 1995), has also been the recipient of the Special Events magazine Gala Award, ISES Westle Awards and the Event Solutions Magazine Designer of the Year Award. It is worth noting that Souza is a MasterBridal Consultant, one of just over 50 in the world, and a distinguished member of the Association of Bridal Consultants (ABC).

Souza was also a featured event planner on the StyleNetwork TV show, “Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?” and is often seen on television shows such as the “Early Show” on CBS and “Primetime” a wedding series special. Souza’s speaking engagements have taken her all across the United States and even to Tokyo to educate her peers and couples on the hottest trends in the wedding and event design industry. 

Yifat Oren’s Masterful Productions

Defined by grace and impeccable attention to detail, Yifat Oren and Associates, was established 13 years ago and has since garnered widespread praise from the media, industry experts and high-profile clients. Oren has the innate ability to translate concepts into reality and this skill has elevated her to the top of the field. With extensive experience in food styling, lighting and floral designs, fabric treatment, space planning and technical production, Yifat Oren and her staff flawlessly manage every aspect of an event. Her clientele include actress Anne Hathaway and Natalie Portman.

Oren displayed her unequivocal skills through the flawless presentation of Anne Hathaways wedding this year on 29th September, when 180 guests were shuttled to a private estate in California, Big Sur. The wedding décor was influenced by the natural surroundings of Big Sur, reflected through the use of branches and other natural elements designed to blend in with the location. Often recognized by her peers and the press as an innovator of industry trends, Oren has been featured in many publications such as People, InStyle and Vogue, to name but a few.

Weddings reflect one of the greatest celebrations in a couple’s life and wedding planners work closely and tirelessly with the bride and groom to help them discover their distinctive styles which reflect each other’s personalities and aspirations. What sets the above planners apart is that they started their own trends rather than aiming to be trendy and were able to transform visions of love into reality through unique artistry and creativity. With their artistic abilities, they wowed their audience with bold statements and small surprises and also managed to educate them, inspire them, open their minds and create moments that left lasting imprints on the timeline of their lives.

One Ring To Bind Them

An engagement ring is an eternal statement of love, promise and commitment therefore it is important that the jewellery reflects this through quality and timeless design. During the wedding ceremony the exchange of the wedding ring signifies the conclusion of the contract to wed and the beginning of a new life together. Though previously plain in design, rings sought by modern couples have to capture their passion, commitment and personality. HIGH Life looks at wedding bands from iconic jewelers who luxuriously meet the demand for imaginative pieces that express endless love.

“With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow”

Tiffany and Co.

Before the creation of the now-iconic Tiffany setting in 1886, engagement diamonds were inset into the ring. Charles Lewis Tiffany sought to expose more of the diamond’s surface and with it, more shine. He achieved this with a raised ‘claw’ that holds the stone securely, yet visibly, atop the band. Since that industry-changing design, Tiffany and Co. has been renowned for their classic, clean cut diamond-jewellery as seen in their best-sellers; the Etoile Three-Row band ring, the Swing ring, Cobblestone band ring and the Victoria alternating ring.  The retailer more than doubled its market value to US$8.6 billion as of 2009, despite the contraction of the U.S. economy. This illustrates Tiffany’s stature, where every woman desires to sport a Tiffany on her finger, especially on the most celebrated day of her life.


The iconic French jeweller and watchmaker, founded by Louis-Francois Cartier in Paris in 1847, was described by King Edward VII as the “Jeweller of Kings – the “King of Jewellers”. Cartier has accessorised royals from the greatest regal courts, from the crown worn by King Edward VII at his 1904 coronation to the tiara worn by Kate Middleton at her 2010 wedding to Prince William. With 200 stores worldwide and flagship boutiques in New York, London, Tokyo and of course Paris, those who are looking to tie the knot are likely to select either a wedding band from Cartier’s LOVE collection or the line of Grey Golden “Lanieres”.


Founded by a Greek jeweller Sotirios Voulgaris, BVLGARI is a global luxury-brand powerhouse, exemplified by its jewellery – which generates a large share of its revenue. Famed for its sublime quality and innovative style, it is little surprise that the popularity of the Parentesi Openwork wedding band for men in 18k white and yellow gold will never fade, because classics never do!

Harry Winston

The reputation of the Harry Winston Jewellery Company was built by its namesake – a single brilliant individual. Just 12 years old, Winston recognised a two-carat emerald being sold as a faux gemstone. He purchased it for 25 cents and resold it days later for US$800. He went on to develop a reputation for owning some of the world’s most famous diamonds, including the glittering Hope Diamond, which he later donated to the Smithsonian Institute. This love-affair with gemstones is captured in the Classic Winston Round-cut ring in platinum, which is set with a round brilliant-cut colourless diamond centre stone and tapered baguette side stones.

Lorraine Schwartz Diamonds & Fine Jewellery

The “Queen of Bling”, Schwartz has popular wedding rings for the entertainment world’s elite. Kim Kardashian was proposed to with a blinding 20.5 carat Lorraine Schwartz-designed ring with an emerald-cut centre stone flanked by a pair of 2-carat trapezoids whilst Beyonce was wooed by Jay-Z in 2008 with an 18-carat flawless diamond worth more than US$5 million. Since Schwartz collections are available only from the jewellery department of Bergdorf Goodman’s and through private appointments at her Fifth Avenue showroom, they have an exclusivity that makes her rings a hunt for the holy grail of wedding bands.