Three Wedding Planners Dish On Opening Their Own Businesses


As a child, it’s easy to write “firefighter,” “astronaut,” or “wedding planner” in the blank space under, “What I want to be when I grow up.” However, once you start talking college majors, would-be firefighters turn to careers in finance, NASA-dreamers stick to Earth-based professions, and wedding planners exit dreamland and enter reality. The three women we interviewed for this story, however, have not only made careers out of planning weddings, but actually own their own companies. We talked about how they found themselves in the event planning field, and what kinds of challenges and joys they experience on the regular.

Amy Shey Jacobs, Chandelier Events

Eleven years ago, after serving as director of public relations and events for The Knot (now XO Group, Inc.), Amy Shey Jacobs launched Chandelier Events. The NYC-based boutique company specializes in luxury weddings and events, including charity events, milestone events, bar and bat mitzvahs, launches, and brand experiences. The amount charged per event or wedding depends on what’s requested from the client, and the company plans roughly 50 events a year.

How did you find yourself in this field?

While I was at The Knot, I planned and produced weddings and wedding trend segments of all shapes and sizes. That included live events and many notable nuptials, including NBCs TODAY Ties The Knot wedding series, ABC’s The View Fantasy Wedding Series (where we married off each of the hosts including Barbara Walters to Mayor Bloomberg), and yes, the holy grail, Oprah. When I had my first baby, who was born weighing three pounds, I was fortunate enough to work out a special consultancy with XO Group, Inc. to create my own schedule. When my media contacts found out I was free agent, the projects started to roll in. They knew I knew everyone in weddings, how to produce a live event, how to balance a budget, and how to work with celebrities. One wedding led to another wedding led to another. One day, I got the call to plan a celebrity wedding, which entailed a feature in People Magazine, and decided to call my business “Chandelier.”

What does your team look like?

Day to day, Chandelier Events varies in its scope and size. I am the CEO/Creative Director/CMO/Lead Planner and Designer. My husband, Andrew, joined us full-time two years ago as COO/Chief of Getting Shit Done. I say that jokingly, but his legal and business background has become an incredible asset to our firm. We also have assistant planners and production freelancers who work with us depending on our events’ demands. Typically, our team rolls with four to 10 people for a wedding or private event. I consider every wedding a ‘Pop up’ company, and the professionals we tap to produce the elements of the event become extensions of our company during that time. For instance, at a wedding we planned last year at The New York Public Library where we had 184 guests in attendance, my staff list inclusive of everyone working at that wedding was 122 people long!

What is it about wedding and event planning you find so rewarding?

‘Creating something from nothing’ is what fuels me. Planning, designing, and producing weddings gives me a creative outlet for my artistic passions, and the idea that anything is possible with the right talented pros to make it happen. I look at the Super Bowl halftime show and say, ‘I can do that!’ So personally, the work is very rewarding. I also love working with people. With weddings, you are meeting a couple in the most joyous time of their life, and coming into a couple and a family’s life during the window of optimism and joy is truly special.

What are some challenges you experience that outsiders may not fully appreciate?

Events have a life of their own. You can plan, plan, plan, and check off every box, and inevitably there is always something that we either didn’t expect, didn’t show up, came in wrong, or life just happens. Yes, Grandmas do pass out at cocktail hour, tents do leak water, and snow falls. So if you go in with that knowledge and you prepare as much as possible, you get through it. You also need to deal with difficult conversations and decisions with clients (often where budgets or logistics or family drama are concerned) and as a professional, it’s important to learn where and when you are emotionally involved because it can take a toll on a person. Additionally, this is definitely not a nine to five job. It’s often a seven-days-a-week, wake-up-’til-you go-to-bed kind of job, so you need the stamina and energy to maintain your attention to detail even when you’re exhausted.

Amy Shea, CEO Chandelier Events

What does your ideal future look like, career-wise?

I look at the second decade of Chandelier, and third decade of my career life, as the legacy stage. We’ve learned, we’ve built, and now what are we doing with this thing we’ve created? I’d really love to grow Chandelier as a brand and as an expert and as a designer. I love the idea of becoming a household name that lives outside of weddings. Is it a book? Yes! I’ve got one I want to write. Is it a product line? Yes! I keep thinking that we’d make a great champagne for all of life’s celebrations. Is it more TV? Yes! TV is my first love. And where we’re going to produce events, too? Chandelier has produced events all over, but we are ready to expand. In 10 years, I’d love to be producing events all over the world!

Brett Galley, Hollywood Pop Gallery

Hollywood Pop Gallery was founded 20 years ago by Brett Galley’s mother, who happens to be acclaimed artist Joyce Galley. It’s since expanded to a six-person team the serves New York City, Greenwich, Conn., and London. Their clientele roster is expansive and impressive, and includes the likes of Diana Ross, Bette Midler, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert DeNiro, the New York Yankees, and MoMA. They charge on a percentage basis based on an event’s overall scope and budget, which ranges from 12% to 20%.

How did you find yourself in this field?

My Mother, who is an artist, decided to open an art gallery that featured 3D art. People thought it was clever and unique, and I helped her on the side while I was in art school studying to become an art dealer. People were begging to rent this unique space for their parties, so we eventually allowed them to do that. The clientele used to bring in their own decor, designers, and entertainment, and I said, "We can do that!" It snow-balled from there. After putting the most talented people in place, including an art director who started out as the lead window designer at Bergdorf Goodman and a British wedding planner who had moved to the states after she married an American.

What is it about wedding and event planning you find so rewarding?

Well it certainly carries a lot of stress and responsibility, but for a client to put their trust in you and your team – and trust that you will help to facilitate and enhance one of the most important days of their lives – makes it all worthwhile. Personally, I love new beginnings, and to me a wedding is all about moving forward in a positive, exciting way.

What are some challenges you experience that outsiders may not fully appreciate?

I could write a book filled with chapter after chapter of challenges. The bride and groom and their families are understandably nervous, but it is the client that communicates their style and expectations and then lets go, that typically enjoys the experience more.

Kim Sayatovic, Belladeux Event Design

New Orleans-based Kim Sayatovic began planning weddings and events on a professional level five years ago when she founded Belladeux Event Design. Belladeux is a three-person team that consists of herself, a full-time event director, and a secondary designer that’s contracted for special projects. Sayatovic plans between four and six weddings so that each client gets her undivided attention, and prices vary depending on scope and size.

How did you find yourself in this field?

Before I was a professional planner, I was always the go-to friend to throw parties and events, and I volunteered with large events often and really loved the planning process. After spending a decade working as an industrial property manager, I went back to college in my 30’s to study public relations. While there, I discovered that the part of PR I liked the most was the actual events. I eventually went into business with a partner and fell absolutely in love with weddings, so when we split and I re-launched on my own, I chose to focus more on weddings.

What is it about wedding and event planning you find so rewarding?

I am an artist at heart. I love creating things from nothing, and I absolutely live to see crazy dreams turn into realty. I have a minor in photography and another in geology, and being able to utilize my love of the natural world in visual form makes me extremely happy.

What are some challenges you experience that outsiders may not fully appreciate?

Kim Sayatovic, Belladeux

Exhaustion. Many times, a client doesn’t realize how many hours we put in to the planning even before the actual event day. Also, on the day of, we are on site for up to 15 hours doing set-up, managing the actual event, and doing break down. Recently, in fact, I was on site with an event for 18 hours. The client was so happy at the end of the night that she just wanted to keep chatting while I stood there smiling and trying not to fall over. It’s worth it in the end, but it can get physically and mentally tiring.

What does your ideal future look like, career-wise?

My long-term plan is to open an event venue, which will allow me to focus on just a few weddings a year while still being involved with celebrations. I also love the design aspect of my job the most, and I would like to be able to focus on bigger projects.

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Now more than ever we are living in a world where there is so much sadness and darkness.

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