For over 15 years Sasha Souza has been planning and coordinating wedding events for celebrities and non-celebrities alike. While visiting Richmond for Artful Wedding she dished about her famous clients, current trends in the wedding world, and talked about one non-profit organization that is the first (and only) of its kind.
There was the wedding of Fernando Vargas. The two-time boxing champion and U.S. Olympian wore a charro suit, one very similar to Mariachi regalia, with a six-shooter holstered on his right hip. There was also Nicole Dahm, one of the famed Playboy triplets, whose wedding included a performance by a band that featured members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns N’ Roses, and Jane’s Adddiction.
These weddings, varied in both theme and participants, have all been masterminded by Sasha Souza, a San Francisco Bay Area native who founded Sasha Souza Events in 1995. We chatted in the Cheek Theatre, which was quite fitting, as Souza’s background is replete with theatre production experience. Her love of the theatre, however, did not present many ways for her to sustain a living for herself and her two children. So, in the early 1990’s, she read a book that listed the 101 best home-based business. One particular business, event planning, caught her attention. In time, she took courses, graduated with honors, and became a member of the Association of Bridal Consultants. Her years in theatre production lent itself to her eventual success as a wedding planner. A wedding, after all, is a “production,” she says. And the bride and bridesmaids, as well as groom and groomsmen are all characters that must be “prepared for their performance.”
Some may scoff at what they consider to be a rather, well, theatrical analogy. But not to Souza, author of Signature Sasha: Magnificent Weddings by Design, who for over 15 years has been one of the most successful event planners in the country. Perhaps even the world. “It’s a great industry to be in,” she says.
This industry, but I think world is a better word, in which she lives is one that she knows exceedingly well. So well, in fact, that others have asked for her to speak all over the world. She’s spoken throughout the U.S., in Canada, Mexico, Tokyo, and even Trinidad. She’s was in Richmond on June 12 to be the keynote speaker of Richmond Bride’s 7th annual Artful Wedding event meant to showcase vendors and skilled knowledge of wedding event planning, a more than $60 billion a year industry.
“There’s been an interesting flip,” Souza tells me of wedding planning. Up until 3 to 4 years ago, weddings drew upon existing stylistic trends. Weddings now set trends in fashion and home decor. Case-in-point, Souza says, is “flea market chic.” A couple years ago, Souza noticed that many of her clients wanted to include voguish retro styles into their weddings. The motif grew in popularity. As a result, the national boutique Anthropologie has launched their BHLDN (beholden) line, which consists of fashionably retro styles that have found new life in modernity. The wedding industry, Souza affirms, “is more of an influence” than a follower.
In her keynote address to Artful Wedding attendees, Souza discussed how betrothed couples should consider their own style when envisioning their ceremony. Her favorite question to ask new clients: name 5 adjectives that you would use to describe your wedding. These adjectives are often the foundation for successful events.
But what makes Souza smile widen the most while she and I chat is when I bring up Wish Upon a Wedding. It is a non-profit organization that “provides weddings and vow renewals to couples facing terminal illness or other serious life-altering circumstances, regardless of sexual orientation.” Souza says that the wedding industry is “maligned in the press for being greedy.” There may be some truth to that, but not a complete truth. Wish Upon a Wedding provides a way for “industry people to give back.” And they do. The organization manages each couples’ wedding from start to finish, with the couple paying no expenses on their own. (Sadly, Erwin, featured in the below promotional video, one of the first to receive Wish Upon a Wedding support for a wedding held in Washington, D.C., died last Tuesday).
Launched in January 2010, the organization received roughly 150 requests in its first year. “I think the wedding industry has been hungry for this for a while,” Souza says.