When wedding planner and author Michelle Rago was growing up in Princeton, she had no idea a career could be had in planning weddings, or that such would be in her future. The experience of planning her own wedding might have given her a clue, however. "I drove everyone crazy and took a year and a half designing and planning a Great Gatsby-themed wedding at the American Boychoir School in Princeton, complete with croquet on the lawn and a huge white tent," recalled Ms. Rago, author of the newly published guide, Signature Weddings: Creating a Day Uniquely Your Own.
There were earlier signs, too. "My father loved to garden and when I was a child he would always take my sister and me to plant nurseries to shop for flowers so that we could help him design his gardens; I would run to the Princeton Flower shop to buy my favorite flower with my allowance.
"Princeton holds a special place in my heart. My mom, grandmother, and sister and her family live here." Ms. Rago's mother, Sharon Naeole, graduated from Princeton in 1973 and is currently a partner in Princeton Products LLP. Her sister Pamela Hughes is a senior development officer at the Institute for Advanced Study and is married to Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes. Her late father Albert Rago, who died in March, was a teacher who worked in the New Jersey Department of Higher Education.
Ms. Rago attended Community Park School, Riverside School, and John Witherspoon Middle School, and graduated from Princeton High School in 1981.
In Princeton she worked at Thomas Sweets "for Teddy & Tommy and then at the Cloister Inn in off-premise catering."
Her first "serious job" was working for Mario Mangone as a catering manager at Chamber's Walk Café. She spent 3 years in off-premise catering and learned so much about food, sales, and production that she began to think of a future as a restaurant owner or in the hospitality industry.
Having studied at the New York Restaurant School and graduated as a chef, she worked in a New York hotel where she re-discovered her childhood love of flowers (as a child she had her own zinnia garden).
Her business, Michelle Rago Ltd., was born in 2003, focusing on the biggest trend for today's weddings: personalization. Since then she has been described as a "rising star in the world of weddings." Her work has been included in Martha Stewart Weddings, InStyle Weddings, Town and Country, as well as Modern Bride Magazine.
One of Modern Bride's top twenty-five trendsetters she is a contributing editor and member of the magazine's advisory panel Ms. Rago focus on those elements that make a wedding truly reflective of the bride and groom.
With her interest in language, creative writing, and marketing, a book seemed a natural next step. "I knew it was the best way to raise national awareness for the business as well as explore my passion for sharing design. Besides, I love the aspect of sharing ideas and helping people realize their dreams."
Signature Weddings features ten real-life weddings in a variety of locations and styles, including country nuptials in Vermont, a tropical ceremony in the Caribbean, at the St. Regis Hotel in New York, and at a country club in St. Louis.
The book shows brides and professional wedding planners how to take their own ideas or "signature elements" and create an event that is very personal and suited to any budget or taste.
It focuses on the three essential elements of setting, season, and situation, as well as on core design elements ranging from a family heirloom to local foliage. Color palettes inform every design detail, from bouquets and centerpieces to table settings, decor, invitations, food, dress, and cakes.
Sidebars and boxed texts feature specific concerns such as destination weddings, and wedding programs, as well as advice on dealing with the weather, rehearsal dinners, lighting, music, and invitations.
Now a resident of New York City, Ms. Rago said that a successful wedding results from a happy couple and a harmonious process. "Planning and designing a wedding does not have to be an emotional roller-coaster," she said. "As with all things in life with a good team, realistic goals, and proper planning, a couple should look back on the experience with fondness."
If she had to list just three tricks to planning a successful wedding, they would be: to identify the goals and expectations of those involved, to set goals and manage expectations, and to have fun.
Her tips for those on a tight budget are: don't over invite the number of guests; choose a DJ over a band since everybody loves a great DJ; and choose a location that does not need to be made over.
Ms. Rago will conduct a workshop for Princeton area brides on Thursday, June 28, at 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, Princeton Marketfair, 3535 US. Route 1. The workshop will address questions about destination weddings, budgets, issues related to the modern family. Attendees will receive a comprehensive overview of the planning process, setting goals, and finding a design direction.
Ms. Rago will sign copies of Signature Weddings, and refreshments will be served. The workshop is free but brides should call (609) 716-1570 to register as seating is limited.
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