Over the weekend, I received an email from Emma Woodhouse, aka, The Wedding Reporter. Through The Wedding Reporter, Emma offers a unique service to Brides and Grooms on their wedding day; she attends the wedding, documents everything in writing then produces a luscious and tear-provoking report for the couple to treasure for ever. She can even produce her reports in book format. Isn't that just a beautiful idea?
Emma popped a posh pen into her clutch before she headed out to attend the Love My Dress Summer Soiree on 3rd August 2011, and this is what she wrote.
By the way, that first image down there is Emma busily recording her memories of the evening She wore a gorgeous and extremely cute bespoke dress to the soiree that was designed by Mr Christian.
I'd love your comment on this report, Emma has just handed in her notice to focus on taking her beloved business, The Wedding Reporter, on to the next level. It would be great to show this talented writer some support for having the courage to follow her dreams.
This feature includes photographs that have not been blogged before now…
Amidst the classical Corinthian columns of Georgian fronted buildings the conversely ancient nestle beside the decidedly modern. 11th century castle keeps; 16th century wattle and daub buildings; Georgian facades; and art deco factories all tell the story of this city’s long lineage. The architecture of Newcastle unabashedly rubs shoulders regardless of style, era or function.
The multitude of bridges crisscrossing the Tyne illustrate the way the industrial revolution powered through this corner of the country before being brought fully up to date with the winking Millennium Bridge. Now more famous for its nightlife and football clubs, Newcastle is frequently overlooked for flashier, more convenient cities and yet it remains a little trinket in the treasure chest of English life.
It was a balmy sunny day when both sides of this bridge played host to the great and the good of the British wedding industry. On one side, in the river terrace of a contemporary art museum housed inside an old flour mill, florists, stylists and planners worked tirelessly to create a visual feast for the evening’s guests.
Without a whiff of drama they transformed an entirely blank canvas into a vintage wonderland akin to a film set…
On the other side of the river, a host of hotels housed the guests as they excitedly arrived, unpacked and prepared for the festivities ahead. Like two tribes going to war in the most glorious of outfits, Newcastle was being prepped for an evening of unadulterated glamour, unrelenting networking and unabashed fun.
As the afternoon slid towards early evening with increasing speed, the guests witnessed the metamorphosis from their hotel rooms as bouquets of flowers appeared on the terrace, parasols pitched up and one or two glints of light across the river hinted at the sparkle to come.
Dark clouds rolled up the estuary to the infamous port, threatening deluges despite the mugginess lingering in the air. Guests who had been enjoying late lunches and languorous picnics scuttled inside to begin their own transformations as the sun temporarily vanished.
In boudoirs along the quayside, the tangy taste of hairspray seeped beneath hotel doors as windows were flung open to acquiesce the humidity. Girls rolled on their stockings and painted their faces as boys adjusted their bowties and slicked back their hair. Painted toenails slipped daintily into precariously lavish heels. Half of the earth’s mantle was mined in order to affix diamonds to ears, wrists, décolletages and headpieces. Hats, fascinators, haircombs and bespoke accessories were perched precisely into waves of glossy hair.
With the closing chimes of the evening news, the bravest and keenest of revellers stepped out into the glorious evening as the sun made a timely reappearance and took tentative steps along the curving bridge towards the bright lights beckoning from the Baltic centre.
Along the winding ramp and up the wooden decked stair they waited, patiently, a frenetic excitement pulsating from the glamazons and gentlemen, as they stood arm-in-arm trying to catch a glimpse of what was to come. In red, black and silver beaded flapper dresses, three perfectly presented host girls perched on gravity-defying heels with usherette trays packed full of flutes of bubbles.
With a friendly smile and a knowing wink they passed glasses of champagne down the line of waiting lovelies before ushering them towards an old leather suitcase. Inside the suitcase were bundles upon bundles of the most suave lanyards ever to be created. With golden brocade decoration and art deco typography, the baby blue nametags cried out to be worn with their ribbon and string necklaces. Not wanting to spoil their outfits, many ladies used their identification as a further accessory, wrapping it around a bare wrist or incorporating it into their chic clutch bags.
For the lucky few who arrived first, a sea of brown paper bags awaited collection, filled with opulent mini treats to reward their enthusiasm. Some chose not to peek and savour their swag later in the evening, whilst others gleefully whipped out branded magnets, compact mirrors, handmade haberdashery bookmarks, mini macaroons and more.
The tables and chairs on the outside terrace quickly began to fill with groups of friends and new acquaintances chatting feverishly, bouncing in their extraordinary outfits and bobbing between different sets of people. Giant stone urns burst with pale hydrangea and white roses beneath lime green parasols.
Wide-eyed newcomers filtered inside the venue and were instantly transported into another world. For the girls it was like stepping into a dream boudoir, with all the pretty essentials of a vintage dressing room combined with the decadence of plush velvet chaise lounges in rich colours. For the guys it was like an opulent playboy’s fantasy with a bar stocked full of mind- exploding customised cocktails to be enjoyed from the vast comfort of leather chesterfield sofas whilst feasting on the view of well dressed and scantily clad women.
A tiny table tucked away next to the primary entrance could be easily overlooked at first glance. But on closer inspection, the freshly pressed white tablecloth was overlaid with a lottery of names. On small rectangles of opulent card, the names of each individual guest had been turned into miniature art through the power of beautiful swirling, flowing calligraphy. Hoards of people would later rifle through the samples in an awed hush as they looked for their own name as a badge of honour that they could later use as proof that they had been there.
Around the perimeter of the room, tiny stage sets had been created that invited guests to enter their world and have a little play. A vintage inspired dessert stand amalgamated heart-shaped lollipops, meringue kisses, and popcakes into a starlet’s dressing room.
A patterned dressing screen hung with silk negligees and feather boas provided the backdrop to an antique desk bedecked with a vintage 3-sided mirror and a whole host of sweet treats. Pale pink and white confectionery was packed into a plethora of bell jars of different shapes and sizes. Silver candelabras provided a cosy glow to the set and were draped in gorgeous blossom; whilst a tray of wedding dress shaped biscuits sat on top of two cute white suitcases.
A stripy upholstered stool proffered cupcake delights, all of which proudly had the LMD logo emblazoned on little sails. Cross-stitched signs hinting at the conjurors behind the magic were proudly displayed above drawers bursting with yet more bouquets of flowers. A black velvet mannequin dressed in a sumptuous beaded Jenny Packham wedding dress, a perfectly preserved pair of shoes and a lace shawl strewn haphazardly across the floor completed the vision.
Crowds gathered around the large couches in the middle of the room, not quite ready to sit down and miss anything. Tall tables and cocktail stools quickly filled with brightly coloured drinks sitting atop the tables next to globes filled with fairylights.
Mirrored plinths and oversized domes of roses punctuated the space between sofas. Each individual bloom matched perfectly to the soft pastel colour scheme of the evening. The plinths doubled the numbers of guests with their reflections and injected a bit of 1970s excess that continued with the giant mirrored disco ball.
A wall of pretty vintage floral wallpaper had been inserted in front of the extant black and white modern patterned paper. The faux wall sported octagonal mirrors, geometric picture frames and empty gilded frames displaying only the softness of the wallpaper below.
A series of period velvet wingback armchairs nestled around a whitewashed coffee table. Five vintage Polaroid cameras huddled between props of old books, radios and bowler hats. A stack of trunks, suitcases and tuck boxes piled against the wall, revealing rusty old oil lamps and glazed hurricane lamps with enormous pillar candles inside. A tiny wooden side table invited gossip around the original western electric candlestick phone. Cake pops sat idly next to bundles of poetry books, tied teasingly together with striped ribbon.
Beneath birdcages suspended in mid air, a rich red chaise lounge and upholstered wooden dining chair sandwiched a whitewashed table presenting a delectably shiny black Royal typewriter. With plush black curtains draping along the back wall, the warm orange spot lights overhead gave the whole corner an atmosphere of a living room crammed full of old treasures.
A parade of hairstyles toured each individual element of the room. Beehives, pin curls and victory rolls did the rounds whilst loose waves, tight bobs and chignons mingled and moved between scenes…
In one corner, a series of gramophones rotated with the sweetest sounds from the early 20th century. Accompanying the big band, swing, jive and rock and roll beats, a gentleman in a splendiferous fedora hat and boating jacket led his florally attired lady in a gentle rocking jive in a small square of space in front of the record players.
An easel next to the window gradually became filled with the colourful inspiration of a russet haired muse. Sporting little more than some decadent lingerie and a feather boa, the rockabilly fringe, tattoo sleeve and gloriously long legs were soon translated into a live painting before the very eyes of onlookers.
The photobooth located between two sets of sliding glass doors was in prime position to catch revellers in transition, whether they chose to indulge in the frippery of masquerade masks and props or simply pout for joy. Either way, the outcome was always hoots of laughter as strips of black and white or colour photos were pawed over and passed around.
The most diverse display of fashions populated the room. No style had been left unexplored, from floor length chiffon gowns with diamante embellishments to full-skirted dresses requiring their own turning circle. 50s prom dresses, 60s shifts, jazz age pencil skirts and bohemian maxi dresses all lined up next to one another like a synopsis of 20th century fashions. Little black dresses, bright red bows, satins in every colour of the rainbow and chiffons to shimmy in all night long sashayed through the venue.
At one end of the room three dapper men took to the stage in front of a large screen showing black and white movies. With precision timing to coincide with the perfect amount of cocktail consumption, they struck up some exquisite jazz on sax, double bass and keys. The strategically placed uplighters that bathed the entire room in a cornucopia of colours demurred to fade into an appropriately jazz lounge hue.
The keen-eyed carouser may have spotted the cloud of baby blue tulle wafting through the crowds as the hostess appeared on the scene. Heads swivelled and craned to get a better view. The subtle ones alerted friends to her presence through a sly comment from the corner of their mouths; the more uninhibited ones elbowed each other, pointed and swooned in open admiration.
Annabel whisked through the crowd to greet her beautiful carbon copy daughters, her surprise guest parents and her handsome, stalwart husband. For all the hard work of everyone involved in the evening, these were the people who had provided her with her life force when flagging, her inspiration when jaded and her cavalry when she was left empty-handed.
Two hundred and fifty people who had travelled from around the country to court her attention visibly sighed with delight to watch her with her family. Crouching down in her bespoke prom dress to have a photo taken with her eldest daughter made the hearts of mothers who had left their own children at home for the evening swell. Seeing Annabel absentmindedly but lovingly stroking her husband’s back whilst chatting added unabated romance to the evening. She had wooed her crowd already, simply by being her.
And then she was off, circulating around the venue like a satellite zinging between orbits. With crystals on her shoes and pearls in her hair she looked every inch the queen of her own court. The customised headpiece matched the fabric of her dress whilst dripping in opulence. She hugged with heartfelt emotion, kissed with genuine appreciation and laughed with doting joie de vivre.
As soon as she had moved on to welcome the next wave of guests, each group would excitedly dissect their own encounter with her. Had you seen her daughters? Wasn’t her husband a sweet guy? Wasn’t that headband breath taking? And what about the dress? Oh the dress!
Trays of canapés began circulating, offering peckish partygoers a feast of duck pancake cones or vegetable kebabs, followed by mini meringues and strawberry chocolate lollies. Even the most elegant of ladies failed to resist the opportunity to cram as many sweet and savoury treats into their rouged mouths.
A rush of excitement rippled along the balcony as folks turned their heads to see the bridge slowly raising its path. Marvelling sighs and inquisitive stares floated into the early evening air. And then the finest display of Geordie hospitality came floating down the river as a cruiser full of men turned their bare bottoms to the gawping guests and proceeded through the uplifted bridge to many a gasp and a cheer.
Just as everyone had calmed down from the frenetic anticipation of her arrival and relaxed into the Raspberry Romances and Baltic Bombshell cocktails, an excited hubbub pushed the whole crowd inside the room just in time to see the band exiting stage left for Annabel’s entrance.
Taking the microphone in her lace gloved hand, she looked out beneath the spotlights at a sea of eager faces. Applause and cheers dissolved into an eager hush. “Thank you,” she said. “From the very bottom of my heart…”
With one hand placed on her chest to steady herself and pull the words out from her heart, she explained the reasons for dragging everyone to an overlooked mining town in the north east of England and outlined the virtues of the industry and the professionals who had made the evening possible. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m not going to cry. I’ve just got a frog in my throat…”
She said that she wouldn’t name check every single individual who had contributed to the evening because it would take too long, but it was obvious that she could have rattled off the 118 elements of the periodic table and the crowd would have remained enraptured. One man, however, did not go unnoticed. She looked at him with the expression of someone looking at their saviour. The words between them could have remained unspoken in that one sole glance, but instead she asked everyone to show their appreciation for Phil, her long-suffering and generally amazing husband. The room exploded into very noisy recognition at her request and the knowledge that behind every great woman is an incredibly understanding man prodding her in the direction of her dreams.
The love of another woman’s husband soon morphed into the love of an industry, as editor Catherine Westwood, Editor of Wedding Magazine turned the spotlight on the hundreds of passionate suppliers, vendors and artisans before her. This opportunity to get dolled up was a more than apt reward for the passion and devotion that they showed to all things wedding. She opened the channels of communication by initiating a conversation with everybody regardless of profession, experience or background and then handed over for a very special guest.
Draped in a dramatic cloak and a train made of peacock feathers, the flame haired Vicky Butterfly took to the stage in suitably sultry style. Jaws dropped at the sight of her tiny waist cinched into a 17-inch satin corset before she seduced the entire audience with a burlesque dance using a pair of sensational peacock fans.
Pulsations of excitement throbbed throughout the room as the audience began to disperse when the applause had died away. An efficient fairy swept away the debris of the dance, collecting feathers and lingerie that had been strewn across the stage.
Like moths to a flame, the magazine editor soon found herself surrounded by the good and the great of the industry, keen to indulge in her invitation to get acquainted. The heat of excitement instigated a mass exodus under the warm night sky.
With more space to manoeuvre and less impetus to say hello to everyone else immediately, the soiree guests seized the opportunity to explore the sets around the perimeter of the room. A pair of photographers lay top to toe on a chaise lounge, taking pictures of each other on their camera phones from the most unflattering of angles. Great gaggles of gorgeous girls and guys squeezed into the photobooth; others went wild with the vintage polaroids, seizing upon props in any manner of absurd poses. Wherever they went and whatever they did, a perfectly coiffed photographer was always on hand to capture the frivolity.
Hours floated on down the river as new acquaintances were made, old friendships rekindled and new partnerships forged. Vicky Butterfly took to the stage once more, looking for all the world like Louise Brooks. Flaunting a magnificent headpiece and a 1920s wedding dress, she used the power of dance and the diversion of the tease to transform into a swan bride. With each abandoned piece of apparel the cheers grew louder from the assembled audience until swarovski-encrusted lingerie littered the stage and the swan swam gracefully away.
As the elegant portion of the evening subsided, a DJ cranked up the volume, lowered the lights and set the disco ball in a spin. Showing little regard for modesty, the most intrepid hipsters hopped on to the stage to make it their very own dance floor, irrespective of the attention it may garner them.
Fur stoles, goody bags, pashminas and clutch bags began to pile up on the floor as their owners bopped around them. No prop was left unutilised, as abandoned heels and fluorescent signs were all seized in part of the ritual of dance.
Whilst large groups wedged themselves into the leather sofas for rowdy conversations, couples of girls sat secretly on velvet cushions, glancing furtively around the room and indulging in the age-old pleasure of casual gossip.
Out on the balcony, the conversation became increasingly loud and decreasingly coherent thanks to the concoction of fresh air and cocktails. With the advent of farewells sweeping through the evening, new friends draped boozy arms around their comrades and vowed to be better acquainted. Assertions were forcefully made and equally reciprocated as drained glasses punctuated the air like tools of gesticulation.
Inside, the stage spilled over with enthusiastic jivers and satellite dance parties popped up all over the room. Heads nodded, feet tapped and booties bobbed in syncopated glee. In the midst of it all, the hostess twirled round in a cloud of tulle, her shoes discarded with gay abandon as she pulled the most fierce shapes in response to the throbbing bass and pulsating beats.
Gradually, the 250 accumulated souls began to peel off from the crowd. Annabel would hug them goodbye, cupping their faces in her hands and resting her head on their shoulders as they bid her farewell. Staggering back across the river, heels in hand and tipsy on life, the revellers expostulated to the stars on the gorgeousness of the evening. It had been all too magical. Weary heads and washed faces hit pillows along the quay with that certain sense of triumph at having been part of something incredibly special.
The whole evening was a physical manifestation of the love letter that Annabel has been writing for some time; a letter of thanks to her supportive family and the tower of strength that is her husband; a letter of devotion to her readers and the wedding industry for embracing her and her business; and a letter of gratitude to the universe for allowing her to pursue her vintage inspired, glamorous dreams.
As she demurely stumbled back along Millennium Bridge surrounded by doting friends and fans in the small hours of the morning, it was clear that the love letter was sealed with the most affectionate of kisses.
♥ ♥ ♥
Emma, thank you with all my heart for capturing the evening that was the Summer Soiree so beautifully in words.