When celebrities, royal families, CEOs and athletes plan their wedding, they call on one man: Preston Bailey.
Probably the most sought-after event designer in the US, Preston Bailey has the vision to transform ordinary locations into fairy-tale settings, and surprise even his most seen-it-all, high-end clientele by creating the most unforgettable evening of their lives. In this business of dreams, it’s only right that Preston’s life story should possess the same sparkle as is seen in his signature Swarovski crystal-festooned tree installations, which have graced many occasions.
How did you become an event designer and why did you turn to weddings?
It was 1980, and I was a man without a high-school diploma in desperate need of a job, so I started working as a florist at the suggestion of a dear friend. Some clients asked me to plan their daughters’ weddings and before I knew it, that was my market. Many years and mistakes later, I organically progressed to working as an event designer.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Something I learned from my client, Oprah: once in a while, she said, we're presented with a life-changing opportunity. When that happens we must pull out all the stops and make it work. Some years ago, I heard that Joan Rivers was looking for a designer for her daughter Melissa’s wedding. I took Oprah’s advice and worked on her design for months. I got the job, and it put me on the map.
How long in advance do you plan a wedding?
I planned Donald Trump’s wedding in a month, but the perfect lead-time is 6–12 months.
What inspires you?
Art, theatre, fashion, but mostly Mother Nature—you’ll notice that many of my designs bring the beautiful abundance of the outside indoors.
What is for you the most exciting part of a wedding?
Finding the perfect location. It could be a hotel, church, or beach but it’s even more exciting when one creates a location never seen before. That’s my job. I recently did the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Sean Parker (the tech billionaire), and we found a national park in Big Sur, California. Sometimes we build the entire location, like the bubble tent the size of a football field for a royal wedding in the Middle East, or the pavilion with a retractable roof for another event.
Are there any noticeable wedding trends in recent years?
My brides love crystal—that’s one trend that doesn’t go away. Crystals, like candlelight, create a perfect environment for a celebration and a feeling of being surrounded by sparkling stars.
Can you give us some ideas on how to make a wedding a success?
Unexpected surprises: weddings should be theatrical experiences. I change the atmosphere every 20–30 minutes. It might be a change of lighting, scent, or serving drinks in a dramatic way. Give your guests as many ‘OMG’ moments as possible.
What advice do you give brides-to-be?
I tell them they should hire the right vendors, give them directions, make sure they’re clear about what they’re getting, and then let them do their jobs. I’ve seen too many brides spend their special day worrying about details instead of enjoying their partner and loved ones.
Who are you favorite bridal dress designers?
I have one favorite: Reem Acra.
To find out why Preston Bailey is crazy about Reem Acra’s bridal gowns, read our interview with her here.