Expert Advice from a Style Setter

Martha Stewart Weddings, Fall 2009

Claudia Schwartz, Style Setter
San Francisco, California
Known For: A discerning eye for ephemera and unique objects to personalize weddings
Where to Find Her: Bell'occhio Specialty Shop, 10 Brady Street, San Francisco, CA
94103; bellocchio.com

You're not a wedding planner, per se. How would you describe your work? 
We have a staff calligrapher and can coordinate everything from the flowers to the music. But often we are involved in just one small aspect of an event, like the favors or the invitations. It depends on the situation. Over the years, a lot of wedding business has come to us simply because customers like the sensibility of the shop.

How would you describe that sensibility? 
It is a very unusual place -- a total experience. The walls are hand-painted to look like wood, the ceiling like a blue sky with clouds. People remark on the scent, the music. They like the overall presentation and get lost in the details.

How does your style fit in? 
I am drawn to what the French call the metier: occupations that produce things like thatching, boxes, pins, powder puffs -- handmade items we feature in the shop. My style is informed by the history of design, especially the 18th century, and I am constantly inspired by other cultures. I like distilling and translating it all so it has a contemporary feel, and finding things that are rich in detail but light in spirit, not overly sentimental.

What sort of bride gravitates to your store? 
Someone who has a developed sense of herself, who knows she wants something distinctive, personal, and refined. Many brides know what they like and come to us to help develop ideas -- they don't have a preconceived vision.

So how do you come up with a vision? 
I zero in on what's right for a bride by asking what appeals to her, looking at photos with her, and isolating the elements she really likes.

What is a common mistake brides make? 
Often they look at magazines, overwhelmed by all the possibilities, and want to use every good idea they see. The danger is that the wedding becomes a mishmash of disjointed ideas.

What's a good rule of thumb if you're working with a tight budget? 
Focus on the tables rather than the entire room. It's expensive to envelop a banquet hall in fabric or garlands, but you can bring the eye down to the tables with colorful linens, altered lighting, and charming pieces. We did this at an Indian wedding, and the effect was still sumptuous.

What sorts of decorative items could brides buy from your store and reuse later? 
If you have a smaller wedding, you can invest in handwoven linens for the tables, nice dishes, and baskets. The extra cost is offset by the distinctive look on your wedding day, and later they will have a place in your home.

What would you say to a bride who can't afford to personalize her wedding? 
You can always find a way. Try using a white grease pencil to inscribe 4-to-8-inch-wide florist's ribbon with your names or the words of a favorite sonnet. A brilliant tangle of ribbon intertwined down the center of a table in lieu of centerpieces would be lovely.

What makes a good favor? 
It should be thoughtful and represent the interests of the couple. When people give generic almonds wrapped in a piece of tulle, it's not meaningful to guests. One couple loved their cats, so their favors were chocolate cats with dangling sterling silver bells around their necks. It's cute because after the chocolate is gone, guests have a tiny bell to put on a necklace or, perhaps, on their own pet's collar.

Top Tip 
"Careful editing focused on a cohesive design is a part of every successful event. Create a wedding that has some relation to your life, your interests, your sensibility by choosing one thing you feel passionate about, even if it's little. It makes planning the wedding easier. A few elements presented exquisitely are more memorable than a gratuitous jumble. What is left out is as important as what is put in."

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