By Sarah Laing
The date had been carefully chosen by an astrologer for optimal good fortune. The bride wore red. The groom arrived on a horse. There were 700 guests, wined, dined and entertained over four days of ceremonies, parties and meals of table-groaning proportions. The final bill would top six figures, footed by the bride’s father.
For Preeti Nanvaan, this is a “pretty typical wedding”. But in an age where a CNN Money poll reports the average American wedding has 100 guests and costs $25,000, Nanvaan is clearly no ordinary wedding planner.
That’s because Nanvaan is referring to a typical Indian wedding, an adjective that makes all the difference when it comes to nuptial size and scale.
“Indian weddings are all about the formality, the color and the pageantry. Back in India, it would have been an open invitation to the whole village, so in America they’re actually pretty scaled back,” said Nanvaan.
Preeti Nanvaan, 33, has been working with New York’s South Asian brides for the past seven years. Born in America, she grew up in a traditional Indian home. She says this was the best training she could have had before founding her company, Preeti Exclusive Creations.
“Indian brides today are trying to find that happy medium – keeping traditions they value but also having the modern wedding of their dreams,” said Nanvaan.
Achieving that old world / new world balance is Nanvaan’s specialty, what she calls “East meets West fusion”. To achieve this, Nanvaan focuses on the bride and groom’s personalities, and works with them to find innovative twists on cherished customs.
Namrata Shah was one such bride. Working with Nanvaan, Shah and her now-husband had a very traditional temple ceremony, followed by a reception at Cipriani on Wall St, which included cigar rollers and a desert bar. Shah always knew she wanted a wedding inspired by the over-the-top sparkle and spectacle of a Bollywood musical, and strove to combine contemporary glamour with a strong grounding in Indian culture. She found Nanvaan invaluable in making this “modern-day fairytale” a reality.
“I really loved when Preeti made us walk over and made sure we got some cotton candy. If she had not done that, I’m not sure I would have gotten to enjoy my own candy bar!” said Shah.
For Nanvaan, these kind of moments that define her job. She makes sure vendors arrive on time, and deliver what they promised. She stuffs envelopes with invitations, books hotel rooms and herds guests from event to event. She even soothes the raging Bridezilla, often playing amateur therapist.
“I had one bride who was really upset her parents weren’t attending because she was marrying outside of her culture. We had long conversations at 11 o’clock at night – I was her counselor,” said Nanvaan.
Nanvaan charges according to the level of involvement required of her and her staff. A late-stage entry into the process, where the couple merely requires logistical help on the day costs roughly $3,000. The number rises according to guest count and the intricacy of the events planned. Nanvaan has delivered several final invoices over $50,000.
Wedding planning is a seasonal business, lasting from March to October, during which Nanvaan can have a wedding every weekend. An average year of work nets earns her about $70,000.
The recession has affected Nanvaan’s business, although the importance of weddings in Indian culture has helped cushion her bottom line.
“Weddings are certainly getting smaller, and there are more laid off brides who have the time to plan,” said Nanvaan. “People consider the DJ and the caterer to be essentials. A wedding planner is a luxury.”
For some brides, like Debbie Barreto, a wedding planner’s services remain essential.
Barreto can remember the feeling of panic she felt when she attended a wedding expo, overwhelmed by all the options. Barreto had the special challenge: she was Punjabi, her fiancé was Puerto Rican.
Enter Nanvaan, and her specialization in optimizing compromise. Her key to nuptial bliss is negotiating cultural common ground.
For Barreto’s wedding, this meant lots of alcohol, and great food – think arroz con pollo served alongside biryani. And of course, red accents galore, a color considered lucky in both cultures.
“The dance floor at this wedding was a real party – it went from salsa to bangarah, merengue to Bollywood,” recalls Nanvaan.
The wedding industry in New York’s South Asian community is seemingly as convivial. Nanvaan regularly lunches with her major competitors, and refers clients their way often. Priyanka Prakash, of Fifth Avenue Events, a relative newbie, speaks highly of planners like Nanvaan “at the top of their game”.
Maybe Preeti Nanvaan’s success lies once again in the details. When she plans a wedding, the service doesn’t end with the honeymoon send off.
“I always wish all my couples a happy anniversary, every year, whether it’s a card or a text,” said Nanvaan.