CHICAGO – They're household names — actors, authors and CEOs from some of Chicago's wealthiest families.
But when they throw a party, the city's power couples don't necessarily want everyone to know about it.
That's why many of them put their trust in Reva Nathan, 62, a wedding planner who has stood behind the scenes at high-end downtown events for 35 years. A background in psychology (she turned down the chance to get a doctorate at the University of Chicago to start her business in 1980) proved useful in the emotionally charged wedding business, she says.
But although the average U.S. wedding now costs an eye-popping $31,000, according to theknot.com, that isn't nearly enough to get you a meeting with Nathan. Her "average" weddings run from $100,000 to $500,000.
While TV and movies have made wedding planning an appealing career, the reality is less glamorous, Nathan said. "I ask them why they want to be a wedding planner, and if they say 'I'm creative,' I advise them to reconsider, because that is only 10 percent of the job," she said.
We talked to her recently about celebrities, wacky wedding ideas and party stressors. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What did studying psychology teach you about weddings?
A: You have two families who all of a sudden are put into this situation that they're planning something together. It can bring out the best and the worst in people.
Psychology has helped me to just listen to what everyone is saying, figure out what the true feelings are behind what they're saying and try to come up with a peaceful solution. I try to remind everybody that it is a happy and joyful occasion.
One of my favorite moments is when I'm about to send the bride or the groom down the aisle. I love that emotion, that one moment, and I try to calm them down. I've had a few who were so nervous they said, "Reva, will you walk in with me?"
Q: What do celebrities look for that other clients don't?
A: Definitely discretion. They want to ensure that they and their celebrity guests are treated anonymously, that no vendor is interrupting them or asking them for pictures, that there isn't publicity of their events after the fact. Other than that, they want what everybody else wants: a fun, well-organized, creative party.
Q: Have you ever had anyone leave a bride at the altar?
A: I've had people cancel as close as two weeks before the wedding. It's sad and it's very expensive. I try to help them retrieve as many of their deposits as possible. But I've had clients who've lost close to $100,000.
Q: What do people fight about the most?
A: Guest lists can be stressful. Brides and grooms want to include as many of their friends as possible but may not want to include their parents' friends. Or the groom's family has more friends to invite than the bride's family, and the bride's family is paying.
Q: How do you dissuade people from their wacky dream wedding ideas?
A: I say, "Oh, well that's a possibility! Have you considered X, Y and Z?"
Q: What's the worst idea you've ever heard?
A: To not serve dinner at a nighttime wedding. I explained that although it's a novel idea, the majority of their guests would go home from that wedding remembering that dinner was not served and that they were hungry, as opposed to that it was a great and novel idea.