Whether you’re looking to negotiate the obstacle course that is wedding planning in Dubai yourself, or have been invited to become part of a wedding party, The Bride Show Dubai (Wednesday April 4 to Saturday April 7) is a great place to pick up ideas and contacts. We’ve also spoken to Dubai-based wedding planner Clare Ebbs about the city’s best venues, tailors and jewellers. And for those who are already married or simply curious about the cultures and customs of weddings, we take a peek inside the traditions of three very different ceremonies, and get the lowdown on the most outrageous demands local wedding planners hear on a regular basis (clue: they’re not always the bride’s).
The Emirati Muslim wedding
According to 33-year-old British wedding planner Clare Ebbs, who has been planning couples’ big days in Dubai for seven years, wedding budgets can range from Dhs10,000 (if you’re keeping it very, very small) to more than Dhs1 million, with the biggest spend at Emirati weddings typically devoted to the decorations and the stage set-up. ‘They just keep getting bigger and more unique,’ she explains.
Men and women begin the wedding celebrations separately. Ebbs explains that the women’s celebration is much like a gala dinner, which will include anywhere between 500 and 1,000 friends and relatives. The groom’s celebration will be smaller, with around 200 in attendance. ‘At the female event, the bride will walk down a catwalk to the main stage, where she will sit for three or four hours. During the dinner and entertainment, many of the women will take off their abayas and reveal these amazing, sparkly dresses. When it’s announced the groom is coming in, they will cover back up. He will normally come in with the bride’s father, or brother, or some of his entourage.’
Uniquely, the event doesn’t begin until the evening, and the bride will make her entrance later on, while the groom will arrive as late as 1am. During the women’s celebration, when there are likely to be women walking around with their hair uncovered, all staff in attendance – including waitstaff, photographers and the entertainment (unless the band is behind a screen) – must be female. One tradition that seems to transcend cultures is the involvement of mothers. Both the bride and groom’s will be involved with the organisation. Unlike tourist weddings, which will almost certainly take place on the beach, most local weddings of this type take place in a hotel ballroom. One of the most popular locations is the Madinat Jumeirah complex, particularly the Johara ballroom, a large, elegantly appointed room with a distinctly Arabic feel to the existing decoration, which is added to by each wedding party.
The Russian Christian wedding
Perhaps to the dismay of some atheists, European (or indeed any Western) expats or visitors who intend to have their ceremony in Dubai must first get married in a church here before they can have a blessing in their venue of choice. For those unwilling to do this, Ebbs (who works on both tourist and resident weddings) explains the alternative is to get married in a registry office outside of the UAE, before having the blessing in Dubai. For Russians, however, it is essential to be legally married in Russia beforehand or the marriage in Dubai won’t be recognised in their home country.
‘Quite often couples I’m working with will book into the church, go in their jeans and casual clothes, have a little service, and the wedding event is separate – either a couple of hours later or the day after,’ she says. ‘Western weddings usually take place outside, because people want to be on the beach with the backdrop of the Burj Al Arab or the sea and the sunset,’ she adds.
But even with Dubai’s pleasantly predictable weather, there are still challenges: ‘[I often have] to convince people that it’s far too hot to get married outside in the summer, as well as take into account things like Ramadan, and unexpected public holidays and dry nights,’ she explains. When a public holiday recently fell on the day of one of her weddings, they were exceptionally fortunate that the venue agreed to move the party to the following day.
Ebbs also has to deal with some extravagant requests – one groom wanted to come in on a white horse, a couple wanted to arrive at their beach wedding on a camel, and there was even a request to fly in an international pop star to perform at another.
The Indian Hindu wedding
Held over anything between three and five days, Ebbs says the average Hindu wedding in Dubai will have a minimum of 300, right up to 800 guests. She describes the events as ‘very colourful’ with plenty of entertainment throughout the celebration, and notes that they usually take place inside a lavishly appointed ballroom. ‘One&Only Royal Mirage is a popular venue for many Indian weddings, as is the Millennium Airport Hotel,’ says Ebbs.
There are usually nine basic stages in most Hindu weddings, with significant moments including the exchange of symbolic gifts, such as an auspicious necklace (known as the mangala sootra) given to the bride by the groom’s mother; climbing over a stone by the bride (shilarohan); and the marking of the bride’s hair parting with red kumkum powder for the first time. The latter is called sindoor and a well-known mark of a married Hindu woman. The main and legally binding part of the ceremony is called the sapta-padi, which involves the couple walking seven steps and reciting a prayer with each one.
To enlist Claire Ebbs’ services, call 050 826 8006 or see www.theperfectmoment.com.
Three top tailors
For brides to be, the dress is bigger than the day itself. Look no further than these three reliable Dubai tailors (the last has some options for the groom, too).
Elizabeth Di Naya Bridals: Established over 25 years ago, this bridal salon’s collection is designed and manufactured in New York, and includes a large number of lavish and custom-made gowns, as well as evening outfits, veils, headpieces
and bridesmaid dresses.
Al Mina Road, Bur Dubai (056 605 2693).
Susanna Rachel: Using fabrics sourced from all over the world, British designer Susanna Rachel’s dresses aim to create flattering silhouette shapes, draping elegantly over the figure and accentuated with understated detail. Whether you know exactly what you want made, or you haven’t got a clue where to start, Susanna will guide you through the couture process.
www.susannarachel.com (055 294 8760).
The Bridal Room: This bridal boutique brings 15 years experience to the fitting room, with a collection of designer gowns from names including Maggie Sottero and Benjamin Roberts. They also have a small selection of menswear for hire, as well as expert in-house seamstresses.
Jumeirah Plaza, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 344 6076).
Bring the bling
Looking for that extra sparkle for your engagement ring or wedding band?
Try these three jewellers
Phioro: Clare Pardoe sells a variety of gorgeous silver pieces in contemporary designs. If you don’t find something that suits your taste or want something more personal, Phioro creates
one-off pieces to customer’s requests.
email@example.com (050 351 1210).
Bond Street Jeweller: This UK-headquartered jeweller has stores in London, Delhi, Antwerp, Dubai and Mumbai, and sells European designs in platinum, white and yellow gold, which are crafted in the latter location’s in-house factory. Whether you’re looking for rings, or just cufflinks for the big day, Bond Street knows its diamonds, and can offer detailed guidance.
Royal Diamond Building, Gold Souk, Deira (04 226 2247).
Hot wedding trends
Find out what everyone’s doing this year.
Customising: ‘People are customising their weddings a lot more now. As well as personalising the whole wedding, they are customising an element, such as putting their initials on a teacup that guests can take home. In Dubai, souvenirs are quite popular, such as sand in a bottle from Souk Madinat, names written in Arabic calligraphy, flip flops, keyrings with initials on them, or people’s names on fans. If non-residents are getting married here, they usually want to [give guests] something that’s quite Dubai,’ says Ebbs.
The UK Royal Wedding: It seems the Wills and Kate effect is still having an impact on wedding plans a year on from the royal couple’s own big day. ‘The whole English tea-party theme is still quite a strong trend, particularly in pastel colours,’ Ebbs adds.
Plants: ‘People are opting for plants rather than big floral displays these days. I think people are really coming away from flowers and moving towards quirkier decorations, such as candles, vases and plants,’ says Ebbs.