The Wedding Atelier, the two day-long event that took place last week at the Pearl Continental Hotel in Karachi, may have been a good idea.
For one, it tapped into the single-most lucrative, incredibly extensive market for weddings and all the nitty-gritties associated with them.
Secondly, it’s an exhibit that’s tried to bring together the crème de la crème in the wedding business all under one air-conditioned canopy. They were all lined up in stalls, ready to sell off-the-rack, make appointments, be part of consultations or simply network with prospective customers.
“I have tried to gather all the best in the business into this exhibit,” explained The Wedding Atelier’s organiser, Sara Chapra of Carbon Events. “I wanted all my favourite brands here, the ones that I would opt for myself.”
It was all very tasteful when I visited it on the evening of the first day and I feel that over the next few years, it could possibly become the event to visit when there’s a wedding on the horizon. There was so much that could easily bowl over the bride, groom and their brood of family and friends. And yet, I wondered...
Where were all the people?
Had they gotten discouraged by the Rs500 apiece ticket price? Brides usually travel with an entourage consisting of cousins, aunts and sisters and that can sum down to quite a hefty amount in ticket purchases.
“We gave visitors the option to pre-register beforehand and they would get as many passes as they wanted,” explained Sara.
But given that the event is not yet well-known, how many people pre-registered? “We have a wedding in the family and we saw the option for pre-registering online. So we did,” said a mother and two daughter trio.
Other people didn’t know about the pre-registration. “We had to buy Rs500 entry passes for ourselves because we hadn’t known. But we really wanted to meet Natasha Lakhani of Natasha’s Salon so we decided to pay,” said two girls.
Most people, I observed, were walking about with special passes in their hands, invited by the various vendors. “We got about 50 passes and we gave them out,” said one vendor. “But we couldn’t give them out to all our friends so most of them haven’t turned up. No one wanted to pay the Rs500 entry charge.”
Shouldn’t Sara have priced down the entry charges in order to ensure that more people came?
“I kept it at this price so that only people who were truly interested would come,” she explained. “I have had experience organising the annual Karachi Eat Festival and I know how difficult it can be to control crowds. The Wedding Atelier is not an elitist event but it is a serious one and I only wanted serious customers to come. When you do something for the very first time, you have to work hard to convince people to come on board. I had about 30 stalls that I could have just sold out to any vendor but I refused to do so. I wanted to deliver high quality. People who appreciate this have been willing to pay the Rs500 pass and besides, quite a few of them pre-registered and are here for free.”
Regardless, the exhibit was one fabulous wedding-centric ride...
There was just so much I loved and I don’t even have a wedding to go to. I could only imagine brides flipping out over the stalls.
There was gold and diamond jewelry on display by brands like Kiran Fine Jewelry and Private Collection by Rehana Saigol. Given that this was pure, precious jewelry, it came with a hefty price tag but both brands are well-known for adding designer ‘twists’ to their collections. All this was on display to see, to buy or for the placing of orders.
Intricate formal clutches by brands like Esfir Jewels ranged between Rs15,000 and Rs20,000 while the brand’s costume jewelry flitted about a Rs6,000 tag.
Pomegranate Linen’s standout hand painted bed linen and upholstery ranged from under Rs5,000 to Rs10,000.
Yum By Amna’s beautiful floral wedding cakes had prices that began at Rs1400 per pound.
The quirky knick-knacks at Topstone had prices between Rs10,000 and Rs12,500 for marble accessories, wooden accessories ranging from Rs16,000 to Rs50,000 and furniture that began at Rs20,000 and spiraled up to more than Rs100,000.
O’Shoot Photography had a photo booth set up that pitched the concept of wedding guests posing for their images and getting them printed immediately. Their services begin at Rs100,000.
Sara Salon and Spa had a makeup menu that started off at a sedate Rs8,000 – ‘party makeup by assistant without glittery eyes’ – on to a full-blown ‘bridal package – mehndi + bridal + valima’ at Rs90,000. Rukaiyya’s salon, also at the event, had a range that began at Rs5,000 for party makeup and Rs20,000 for the bridal makeup (which normally costs Rs30,000 at the salon but was available at a discount at The Wedding Atelier).
‘Wedding Packages’ of assorted furniture at Celeste Home’s kiosk began with a ‘Bronze’ option at Rs199,000 and culminated with the ‘Platinum’ at Rs325,000.
Designer wedding-wear at The Pink Tree Company’s stall began at Rs65,000 and could be purchased off the rack or ordered. The brand’s wedding-wear started from Rs350,000.
And then there were the event decorators! Arij Hashimi had created a wedding wonderland with candles, filigree, butterflies and even sound effects of twittering birds. The RAKA space was similarly beautiful, replete with florals adding in a dash of quirkiness with an upside down bouquet suspended from the roof.
“Prices for event décor vary from client to client, depending on the venue, number of people, whether it’s outdoor or indoor,” says Arij. “Sometimes, a beautiful event can be orchestrated at a very low price and at other times a large amount of the budget gets invested simply on the roof cover and air conditioning.”
A ballpark figure for grandiose event décor? Rs10 lakhs, perhaps, but it usually skyrockets beyond this!
There was more... candles, chocolate displays, consultations with dermatologist Dr Tasneem Nakhuda, makeup and the ‘Through the Looking Glass Installation’ in collaboration with Fashion Pakistan Week. Displayed in glass windows was one bridal outfit each by designers Sana Safinaz, Sania Maskatiya, Nida Azwer, Republic Womenswear, Deepak Perwani, Tena Durrani, Zainab Chottani, Zara Shahjahan and a new label called Talha Batla for Hilal Silk. Accessories were also on display by brands like Ali Javeri Jewelers and Esfir Jewels.
Adding to the fashion gloss were the designers casually strolling about: Deepak Perwani and Maheen Khan offering their support, Sana Hashwani stepping in for a panel discussion on bridal-wear and an enthusiastic crowd of brides-to-be and their families waiting to talk to salon owner Natasha Lakhani of Natasha Salon and get tips on makeup. Sara’s Salon, similarly, offered makeup tutorials for free and both Rukaiya’s and Sara’s gave free blow-dries to visitors.
It was all very sophisticated and very well-conceived.
But what sold the most?
“We’ve been doing really well,” said the designer duo Yousuf Agha and Zairah Maher of Pomegranate Linen on the first day. Point to be noted: their prices were mostly under Rs10,000 and often under Rs5,000.
“The earrings are being picked up more; the clutches, a little less,” said Tasbih and Hafsa of Esfir Jewels, defining their clientele’s spending power.
Overall, though, this seemed to be more of a networking event rather than one where sales were hauled in by the truckloads. “People are taking my card more often than making purchases,” said Kiran Aman of Kiran Fine Jewellery. “Fine jewellery isn’t really bought on a whim and people prefer to make an appointment and observe it at length before they buy it.”
Furniture was apparently also being appreciated. “I like some of the tables at the Topstone stall,” said one shopper. “But I am going to go to their store and see all that they have before I place an order.”
“People are making a lot of enquiries about the wedding packages that we have just introduced,” I was told at the Celeste Home stall. “Some have made purchases but a lot more are going to visiting our store.”
Were the vendors happy about visitors’ reluctance to buy? “I think that with a wedding, people take their time to research and decide,” said event planner Aarij Hashimi. “This is a great place to see all that is on offer, zero in on what they like and then take things further with an appointment later.”
“It’s all about imagery,” pointed out Sana Hashwani of Sana Safinaz. “Today, a young 16-year-old girl may see a dress worn by an elder cousin at her wedding or at an exhibit like this. Some years later, when she’s about to get married, she’ll remember that dress and will decide to meet up with that particular designer. An event like this, tastefully done and drawing in potential clients, helps in setting mindsets that may generate business in the future.”
“I will first talk to Natasha and make an appointment for my wedding which is in March,” planned out one bride. “And then I will make a visit to the dermatologist for advice. It’s great that they’re both here at one place, together.”
And then, the question that had been foremost in my mind...
With winter wedding season upon us, isn’t it too late to set up a wedding exhibit with decorators and bridal designers on display? All that, surely, gets planned months prior to the wedding!
“I may select a wedding cake,” one visitor told me. She and her sister had just had a look at Yum By Amna’s towering floral confectionery. “I get married in December, so everything else is decided. The formal clutches are also really pretty.”
“Yes, this event may be too late to cater to most winter weddings,” accepted Sara Chapra, “but you’d be surprised how many clients come to me weeks before the wedding, requesting a particular décor. A lot of people don’t realise the many details that are essential to creating a certain setting and they might just walk in here, like a particular kind of décor and make an appointment with that specific vendor.”
“There are also a lot of people here who have weddings coming up in January or in Spring and they are still deciding upon their bridal dress, venue, décor,” continued Sara.
“There is really so much to a wedding and this exhibit covers about 20 different genres. We have Natasha of Natasha’s Salon here for makeup advice, fitness coaches who can give the lowdown on how to slim down before the wedding and a popular dermatologist like Dr Tasneem Nakhuda who promises that she’ll make the mother of the bride look as beautiful as the bride herself. We have home interiors and interior decorators because a lot of brides become homemakers for the very first time and they’re shopping for their new homes while simultaneously planning the wedding.”
“The Glass Window installation is themed around bridal trends for the year 2020 and I just asked the designers to contribute one outfit each that I promised I would display in a very attractive way. The idea is for a bride-to-be to see the clothes, perhaps get inspired by some of them and make appointments with the designers that she likes.”
Did the event work?
As a first-time effort – and despite the sparse crowds - I feel that it did. The stalls were beautiful, the variety was extensive, the effort was quite visible and it gave customers the chance to see the market’s very best in one space, compare and contrast them and make a selection.
But it will take time for the event to capture the interest of its target market. A bit of aggressive advertising is key so that, next time on, more people know that they need to pre-register. And bringing down those ticket prices will certainly help things along.