Story by Sky Barnhart | Photography by Stewart Pinsky
Crystal candlesticks and Frank Sinatra at a Maui wedding? Absolutely, says Maui wedding expert Carolee Higashino, owner of A White Orchid Wedding. “Formality is back!”
Higashino would know. Recognized as one of the top wedding coordinators in the State of Hawai‘i, she was a founding member of the Maui Wedding Association. A White Orchid Wedding has been named among the top 25 women-owned businesses by Pacific Business News, winning a “Women Who Mean Business” Award every year since 2002.
Watching the Maui wedding industry grow from a handful of planners to more than 200 over the last 20 years, Higashino has seen a lot of wedding trends come and go. But the casual, beachy feel of Maui’s seaside weddings seemed to be an unshakeable theme.
“It’s exciting to feel the return of formality to weddings right here on Maui,” Higashino says. “Our couples are requesting more information and making design selections that previously were not seen. Coupled with our island backdrop, these selections are creating new and exciting formal events with a precise attention to custom detail.”
The return to formality is taking shape in five fabulous trends: extravagant décor, abundant florals, celebrity chefs, elegant attire, and those thoughtful little touches that make each wedding memorable.
If there is a surface, embellish it! No more bare tabletops or tent poles.
“Tabletops are really becoming extravagant,” Higashino says. Rather than floating a few tea candles in a glass bowl, you might drape your tables in layers of custom-sewn linens. Sparkling crystals and sequins create interest; an overlay of sheer organza adds romance.
And it doesn’t end with the tablecloths. Brides are requesting fine china and stemware, ornate chargers, and specialty napkins with floral ties and fancy folds.
Chairbacks provide blank canvases that invite creative ideas on how to dress them. “Chair decor is the rage,” Higashino says. Options include Chiviari bamboo chairs or folding chairs, chair sashes or floral tiebacks, chair caps, slipcovers, and colorful chair pads. If you choose bamboo chairs, you might continue the theme with individual bamboo cabanas for each dining table, draped with billowy fabric.
The classic white reception tent to shield guests from tropical sun and rain provides another opportunity for extravagant décor. “We are seeing tents draped with fabric to hide the tent poles, with long curtains draped along the sides,” Higashino says.
Enhance the exotic, luxurious feel with glowing silk lanterns, multitudes of candles, and of course, gorgeous floral arrangements.
Maui brides have plenty of tropical blooms to choose from—everything from creamy white orchids to deep scarlet anthuriums.
In keeping with the return to formality, bridal bouquets are back to a “full” look, according to Higashino. No longer downplayed to a few stems of calla lilies, today’s bouquets feature lush combinations of exotic tropicals and orchids, sometimes spilling over in an elegant cascade.
Elements such as pearls, cameos and small framed photos can be tied to your bouquet as meaningful symbols or mementos passed down through the generations.
Even the ribbon is carefully chosen. “We’re seeing a lot more attention to detail in terms of ribbons and color options,” Higashino says. Brides may opt for the classic wide satin wrapped around the stems, or tendrils of silk and satin mingled with the blossoms.
At the ceremony site itself, flowers spring out of chairbacks (tucked into white slipcovers), wind around the ceremonial arch, and carpet the grass with petals awaiting the bride’s footsteps. At the reception, you may consider floral topiaries, canopies and vine- and flower-bedecked chandeliers.
Far beyond the typical lu‘au spread or buffet, brides are now requesting five-star Pacific Rim cuisine—prepared by celebrity chefs.
Higashino says A White Orchid Wedding regularly sees demand for local celebrity chefs like Bev Gannon of Hali‘imaile General Store, Carol Longhi of Longhi’s, and Dana Pastula of Café O’Lei. “People are definitely into the culinary experience,” she says.
It’s a level of fine dining that goes perfectly with plated courses, assigned seating, butler service, and a “dining-under-the-stars” experience, made all the more romantic by the accompaniment of classical guitar—a preferred choice for many brides.
Along with the stellar cuisine, Higashino recommends wine pairings with dinner, and a selection of martinis, tropicals and cordials for your guests. (But after-dinner cigars are out—“Thank God!” she says.)
Other formal details that are hot right now: refreshing martini-glass sorbets, elaborate ice sculptures, and butler-passed pupu.
Wedding attire has taken a step up not only for the bride and groom, but for the minister and crew as well.
“Yes, brides are asking!” Higashino says. “Robes and collars are the first request for the officiate, and butler-style black-and-whites for the staff.”
Wedding guests are leaving behind the aloha shirts and sundresses, and arriving at the ceremony in linen suits and sleek ties for men (“Tuxes still haven’t been a big hit in the heat of Maui,” Higashino says), and the latest elegant fashions for women.
For the bride—although ornate may be the rage when it comes to décor—simple remains the stylish standby. “Brides are opting for the sleek gown, but adding back the veil,” Higashino says.
“Updos are still going strong, but with a softer look and fresh florals. Heels are popular . . . crystal rubbah slippahs are out!” Also out—at least for that special day—are nose-ring holes and tattoos (artfully airbrushed away).
Polished elegance is the ideal look. To achieve that bridal glow, you can take advantage of one of Maui’s many world-class spas. “Top of the list for the gals is the pampering experience,” Higashino says. “We’ve seen a return to the ‘girls’ day’ brunch and bridal shower, followed by the spa.”
From the first brunch to the final sunset sail, thoughtful details can enhance your wedding’s design.
Distinctive touches can include stationery items, welcome baskets and specially designed favors for the guests. “Couples are following a formal path of invites, right down to the place cards,” Higashino says. “We’re seeing requests for custom stationery designed by local artists, reflecting the island wedding.”
A local artist can design programs, menu cards, table signs and seating cards—even a printed itinerary to deliver to guests in a pretty welcome basket, packed with Maui goodies like locally grown coffee and fresh fruit.
Thoughtful formal touches are not just for the guests. Surprise your groom with a groom’s cake (which is making a comeback, according to Higashino). Toast your family with engraved crystal toasting flutes. Reserve a classic white Rolls-Royce for your grand exit.
Bring on the china patterns and the silver cake cutters, and ask the DJ to play your mother’s favorite ballad by Frank Sinatra. Old Blue Eyes finally has a place at a Maui wedding.