'Italians still work in a very old-fashioned way'

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Photos: Kelly Hayes (L) and Lelia Scarfiotti (R)
09:40 CEST+02:00
Whether it's sourcing a flock of white pigeons or arranging a ceremony on a rowing boat, wedding planner Kelly Hayes, who set up The Italian Wedding Planner, is turning the dream of marrying in Italy into a reality. She tells The Local about the legalities and the best locations.

So what brought you to Italy and how did you get into wedding planning here?

I first moved to Italy when I was 18 and completely fell in love with this country. It’s always been a special place for me and it really got under my skin during those years. I did a stint back in London for a few years, where I worked for a large events planning company, and while working there I was asked to plan a wedding in Italy. I realized not only did I want to live back here but that there was a gap in the market for a bespoke, honest and transparent wedding planning service.

I took the leap and moved back in 2005. I was able to bring the skills I learnt in the UK, a creative flair, and, after living here now on and off for 19 years, a thorough knowledge of Italy and Italians! I remember my first wedding and the joy of watching this couple and their guests’ smiles…it made me think: I want to do this every day! 

What are the most challenging aspects of the business in Italy?

Italians still work in a very old-fashioned way - doing business face-to-face is still very prominent and so the relationship you have with your suppliers is extremely important. You do have some suppliers who try to over-hike the prices, but when you have worked in this industry for as long as I have you know they are trying it on so you have to bring them back down to reality...if they don’t lower the price, we’ll go elsewhere.  

In that respect, how does the cost of a wedding in Italy compare, to say, the UK?
When you go to a wedding venue in the UK they offer you ''the package'', here in Italy we create a made-to-measure experience! With our extensive list of suppliers we can cater for everyones budgets. But it is more than that. It is the Italian experience, the people and their traditions,  the mouth watering cuisine, the venues and splendid vistas. Italy really is a magical timeless location for a couple looking for something truly spectacular for their wedding day! While in the UK the average spend is around €21,000, the same budget in Italy can get much more. The good thing is it’s totally different to how things are prices in the UK, where they charge you for everything, including the use of a knife and fork! Whereas in Italy, you’ll just pay for the food, not the plate it’s served on.

What has been the strangest request you've had for a wedding?

A couple from Ireland wanted pigeons at their wedding. But not just any old pigeons, they wanted white ones from Italy, as apparently they’re a lot nicer than the ones in Ireland! Another couple wanted white horses to carry them into the local town. The only problem is the bride had never rode a horse, so the image of me trying to saddle her up in her dress was very amusing! But it actually worked very well in the end. In both instances, I was so sure I was on candid camera! We did have an occasion too where the best man forgot his shoes so he had to borrow a pair from the waiter. The wonderful thing about having a wedding planner is we can fire fight and take care of every eventuality.

What are the most popular locations? How do you find those venues?

The most requested settings are private villas set in rolling hills, such as in Tuscany, or pretty cliff-top towns in places like Cinque Terre or the Amalfi coast. City-wise, the most popular requests are Rome, Florence and Venice. The least requested places are those that are a little bit more obscure but still beautiful, such as Puglia, Umbria, Sicily and Sardinia. I tend to discover a lot of the venues when I’m just driving past, but most are found whilst doing individual venue searches for couples looking for something a bit different.

What has been your most obscure wedding, in terms of location?

Every wedding we create is as unique as the couple themselves. Our brides and grooms come from all over the world to celebrate their marriage in the country widely considered to be the most romantic in the world. We suggest locations that fulfil their dreams. We have organized weddings in castles, trulli (houses in Puglia) and even on a rowing boat on the island of Pantelleria in the Strait of Sicily! 

What are the most popular settings for photos?

It all comes down to the bride and groom. Most people are less up for the iconic shots, i.e in front of the Colosseum. The majority are less inclined to have that style of wedding photography. They either tend to opt for something that reflects the local character or scenery or to capture some Italian characteristics – such as the old man asking to kiss the bride or locals bidding their best wishes, shouting out ‘auguri!’ to the couple.

What are the legal requirements for getting married in Italy?

There are different requirements for couples in Europe than, say, the US or Australia. A UK couple, for example, would first need to apply at their local registry office in the UK, for a notice of no-impediment, this then gets sent to us and we translate it into Italian and get it certified before it goes to the town hall. 

Non-EU citizens have to have their documentation translated into Italian and obtain an atto notorio (an affidavit), ideally before they arrive in Italy, when they would have to apply for a nulla osta (a kind of wedding visa) at the consulate. It’s slightly more complicated but we guide all of our couples through this process, making it as stress free as possible. 

For Catholic weddings, we have great relationships with English-speaking priests and should a couple decide to get married in a church where the local priest does not speak English, we ask one of the priests known to us if they can come and perform the service.  

While a lot of couples get married in a town hall first, Catholic priests do have the authority to legally marry couples in the church, however this all depends on the diocese agreeing to do so. We also arrange Jewish weddings as well as Greek orthodox, Protestant or symbolic weddings.

So the England footballer Wayne Rooney’s wedding snaps from Porto Fino made headlines a few years ago. Do you get many requests to replicate a celebrity wedding?

They might get the idea of the setting from them or find inspiration, but they don’t usually look for a copy! You get the celebrities who have the big, lavish weddings but you also get those such as Rod Stewart, who had a more intimate celebration. Our job is to help couples craft ideas themselves so that their wedding day really represents them and reflects their personal style.

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What is the current trend for weddings in Italy, especially in a recession? Are people looking for small affairs or do you still get lots of demand for lavish events?

Over the last few years it’s been more about small, intimate weddings of just 30 people or less, but I have noticed larger, more elaborate weddings are being booked for 2014.  Black-tie events are still pretty popular as is vintage. People are also mixing the city-style welcome of ‘cocktails on rooftops looking out over the city’ against the small-town setting where their wedding will be celebrated. The wonderful thing about getting married in Italy is that the celebrations tend to span three days, creating a wonderful experience from a vintage Fiat 500 rally through the Chianti hills to wine tasting in Puglia. Our clients love Italian glamour, breathtaking settings, and a timeless ambiance.

What do people need to bear in mind when marrying here?

Firstly, things are a bit more laid-back in Italy so it can take time for suppliers to get back to you with the details, for example, menus and costs. Even though this can be frustrating, we work with trusted suppliers who we know are going to produce a beautiful wedding almost effortlessly, in the end. You just need to be patient. Secondly, remember to factor in time to get your documents sorted in Italy and if you’re having a civil ceremony to account for the verbal declaration the day before your wedding. Thirdly, when it comes to guests, you need to do a lot of hand-holding with finding accommodation and giving information about the local area.

And lastly, enjoy every moment of their day! 

Do you have a wedding to plan?  Check out Kelly's website:

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