By Meghan Ely, OFD Consulting, Richmond, Va.

This year’s Association of Bridal Consultants annual conference, Business of Brides, set for Nov. 10-12 at the West Palm Beach Convention Center in Florida, promises to be both insightful and entertaining as Matthew Robbins, a highly-acclaimed event and flower designer, shares industry insight as one of the featured speakers.

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Robbins combines his fine arts training with his passion for events in his company Matthew Robbins Design, based in New York City. A contributing editor for Martha Stewart Weddings, he is regularly seen in InStyle Weddings, New York Weddings, Elegant Bride, Modern Bride, and on TheKnot.com.  Robbins is also a frequent guest on the Martha Stewart Show as well as Martha Stewart Living Radio. Wedding Planner Magazine had the opportunity to visit with him for a one-on-one interview, where he talked about the latest wedding trends, dealing with unhappy clients, and what inspires him.

WPM: What steps do you take with a bride to help her determine her own wedding vision?
Robbins: I ask many important questions in the early stages, and I start listening. You have to listen to your clients. I like to know how they met, where they travel, what they do on the weekends, favorite restaurants, color palettes they enjoy, how they decorate at home. All of these details lead to building a complete picture of your client and their vision. You might see a totally different design plan for someone’s wedding, but you have to put your own agenda aside and pay careful attention to what the client wants. As a designer, my job is to extract the key points of inspiration from my client’s feedback and run with that to build the entire vision. I always remind my clients that I need to know more about what they are dreaming of, what they love, dislike, etc.

WPM: How do you balance your vision for the event with the bride’s expectations?
Robbins: I remind the client and myself that this is not my wedding. My job is to build a vision that truly embodies who they are as a couple. You must feel secure as a designer to stay true to your work. Remember to know your boundaries, and don’t compromise the integrity of your work just to accommodate a client’s vision if their ideas are contrary to your process and your brand. I have learned, over the years, that the interviewing process is a two-way street. You are also interviewing the client as they get to know you and your work. If it isn’t a good fit, you must speak up! You will regret taking on a client with a vision completely contrary to your own rules and your approach.

WPM: What are the “must-have” design elements for a wedding?
Robbins: Elegant and unfussy flowers, good lighting, and beautiful food presentation. You can have a really simple menu, but if presented properly, it will look like the most exquisite and unique meal. Flowers don’t need to be elaborate, but they do need to be put together carefully and thoughtfully. If you treat flowers as an afterthought, it will show in the final product. Good lighting is the key ingredient to any beautiful event. You can spend a million dollars on design, but if it isn’t lit properly it will be a total loss!

WPM: What details do you find are most likely to be missed during the planning process?
Robbins: That’s difficult as I love all of the details, but I think going crazy with too many paper goods sometimes happens. Remember, a wedding is not a corporate event, so don’t get lost in branding. A monogram is lost when used in too many places. Elaborate escort cards are often missed, as guests aren’t interested in an interactive experience. They just want to find their table and pick up a lovely, easy-to-read card. Don’t spend a fortune on programs as these are discarded quickly. I also find it really strange and unnecessary to install a full pharmacy, with elaborate amenity baskets, in the restrooms. Your guests will have Advil if they need it. You don’t need to supply these things.

WPM: What advice would you have for a planner who encounters a client who is unhappy with the final vision for the wedding day?
Robbins: I would direct the client to all of the documented conversations, plans, and details you agreed to during your many meetings. Gracefully take your client through the key points of inspiration and always, always focus on the fabulous details rather than the negative if they are unhappy with something. The unhappiness is normally related to their own stress and insecurities on the wedding day. Remember to stay calm and focused. You don’t need to encourage the downward spiral by adding emotion to the situation. Always show your clients samples of fabrics, the flowers, and all of the major details so they can sign off on the vision before the big day arrives.

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