Miércoles 23 de Abril de 2008, Ip nº 227

And they all lived happily ever after...
Once upon a time in twenty-first century Essex, the grounds of Leez Priory became a Shakespearean wood. Thumb-sized fairies clung to chairs carved from tree trunks, and statues of fantasy creatures stood among meandering nymphs wearing Venetian-style masks and soft, floating gowns. But this Midsummer Night's Dream scene was no theatrical performance. It was the enchanted forest-themed wedding day of Zoe Young, 26, and Jason Nicholls, 40.

"The bride was crazy about fairies," says Bernadette Chapman, the managing director of Dream Occasions, "and I've never seen a groom so complacent. He just went with it." The aisle was framed by birch trees and the grassy grounds festooned with candelabras, bird cages, ornamental butterflies and creamy white doves. Even the invitations were fantastical, illustrated with fairies by a commissioned artist. The towering cake was studded with iced acorns and ladybirds, toadstools and chocolate nymphs. "The bride didn't want to cut it," laughs Chapman.

The big day was the product of a year-long planning operation, with accessories scouted all across the UK, from Suffolk to London's Spitalfields market via Longleat safari park. "The £50,000 price tag was worth every penny," says Young, "and the day went marvellously. The only downside was that it ended too quickly" - much like Cinderella's night.

Young is one of an increasing number of women who project storybook fantasies on to their wedding days. With two-thirds of Britons feeling that there is little social difference between living together and being married, according the relationship counselling charity Relate, and couples often cohabiting and consummating long before proposals, it's unsurprising that the wedding day itself has become the marker of marriage. "If a bride buys into the wedding industry, she is promised the happily ever after that she, in her big white dress and tiara, is longing for," writes Rebecca Mead in One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding.

Recent years have been witness to British brides who announce their marriages by royal proclamation; brides who parade down the aisle in crippling glass slippers; brides who exchange vows on acrylic rent-a-thrones, a steal at £500 a pop.

The British bridal business was worth £5 billion in 2005, and the figures are still rising. Georgina MacDonagh owns the golden crown-topped Cinderella carriage that Katie Price rode in when she wed Peter Andre. More than twenty bookings have already been made for this year and next, with brides undeterred by the £1,400 price tag for a six-hour slot. MacDonagh says that most opt for a pink interior - perhaps in homage to Jordan. When the Sex and the City movie hits cinemas next month, starring a wedding dress that resembles Princess Diana's 25ft-long taffeta gown, dress diameters are set to puff wider and the princess bride will strengthen her reign over the market.

"We mere mortals emulate celebrities' wedding pictures in Hello!-type magazines and hope to catch a bit of their imagined happiness in the process," says Susanna Abse, a couple psychotherapist and director of the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships. Popular princess pin-ups include Katie Price in her crystal-encrusted pumpkin; Katie Holmes in her fifteenth-century fairytale Italian castle; and even Victoria Beckham on her red velvet throne.

However, now Disney is milking the wedding market, and role models are becoming more plastic. A new collection of 18 fairytale gowns that allow brides to become their favourite animated princess has already been launched in the US, and will arrive in the UK later this year. "It's our tribute to fairytale wishes and finding true love," says Disney. The tribute is likely to be highly profitable: in 2006, the bridal segment of the Disney corporation brought in 6.4% of its $34.3bn total revenue.

Already, six of the Disney wedding gowns have been pre-ordered by British brides through a Burton-on-Trent boutique. Luisa Nizzardi, 25, is excited to be the first bride to wear a Disney princess gown at her May wedding. "I always wanted to wear a big, white dress and imagined I'd look like a fairytale character on my day," says Nizzardi, a cabin crew worker, who will wear a Sleeping Beauty ivory satin gown. She admits she would have travelled to America to collect her dress had it not been flown to the UK.

Her fiance, Sean Salvage, 27, proposed in Disneyland. "We were lying on the grass during the Christmas parade beneath the fireworks and you could see the castle. Usually it flashes green and white and blue but it was Christmas so it was lit with snowflakes and stars too." However, the couple won't be marrying at the Disneyland resort, which hosts over 2000 unions a year. They have opted for a ceremony at a Naples cathedral. The bridesmaids will be dressed in "Prince Charming-blue", and the invitations were illustrated with the couple dressed as Minnie and Mickey Mouse.

Why, then, do intelligent young women have fairytale fantasies about their wedding days, and go to such lengths to make them a reality? "Because they intend to structure the whole of their future emotional selves with reference to this day," posits Vikki Bell, professor of sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. This may explain why actress Jennifer Ellison is one of countless women planning (and booking) their wedding ceremony venues - hers at Luttrellstown Castle - before even meeting their groom. "Weddings become an opportunity to express parts of the self and long hoped-for dreams and longings", explains Abse.

Valerie Roe-Hartley, the founder of Fantaysia Weddings, caters to these dreams and longings. She organises approximately ten medieval-themed weddings annually and has co-ordinated gothic weddings, Star Trek ceremonies, and even a Dick Turpin wedding, complete with paid pickpocket. "Last year we organised a Lord of the Rings wedding. The bride arrived on horseback, her dress all shimmering green - very Liv Tyler - and her groom dressed like Aragon. Even the guests joined in - they all had to wear little pointed ears!" Women are predominantly driving the fantasy marriage movement. Roe-Hartley says that 95% of the arrangements are made by the bride-to-be. "They want to mark their imagination and personality on the event."

The common thread linking the bridal fantasies is the beautiful, endangered heroine, rescued by her groom. "These [fairy] stories teach girls from a very young age that the prime purpose in life is to attract a mate, not find a career or a way of life that brings them any interests beyond consumerism", writes Mary Hoffman, author of Princess Grace. In a society still working towards equal relationships, rights and pay, are dress-up brides a step backwards?

Karen O'Brien, professor of English literature at the University of Warwick, argues that "none of this means we have a new generation of fluffy brains in this country." Impersonations of sword-wielding saviours and limp-limbed blondes may seem rooted in patriarchy, but simply "playing the princess for a day may even redress the altered power balance. [It] reflects recognition that they [women] are going to have to be self-reliant wage-earners." Indeed, Katie Price, the not-so-passive princess, was worth an estimated £30 million in 2006, while Victoria 'head of brand' Beckham is worth a massive £112 million.

Bell argues that what is disturbing about slipping into these gendered roles is the "constraint on the scope of fantasies available ... Its elements are not only predictable and kitsch but saleable. Commercial businesses cash in on storylines." The price for predictability is rocketing. The average couple last year clocked up an £18,000 wedding bill. That's 30 times higher than the average cost in 1950, which in today's terms was £600.

But fairytale weddings are a safe and comforting fantasy, says Elise MacAdam, a columnist for the Indiebride website and the author of Wedding Etiquette for Rule Breakers, Traditionalists, and Everyone In Between. "Getting married is a frightening proposition", and what to some is a bland satin pudding is a comforting uniform to others. "Fairytale-type weddings are ... easy to imagine, conformist and unsurprising, so it makes sense that women would find the happy, familiar images they thought of as children appealing." She adds that the real question is: "Should [a wedding] be a natural extension of the way one lives or an exaggeration, a fantasy?"

Hoffman is sympathetic. "For those who are not in a position to marry a European prince, the main chance to act and look like a fairytale princess is on their wedding day." Wryly she adds, "Ignoring the fact that the royal nuptials described by every national newspaper in 1981 as a fairytale wedding ended in adultery, recrimination, bulimia and divorce."

Danger, then, looms not in fantasy days but in the promise that fairytale weddings are a marker of how married life will play out. "We might choose a fantasy wedding in part as a talisman against a fear that our marriage will be dead and destructive," says Abse. She warns that weddings days that are "wrapped up in the individual's fantasy life might not herald a state of mind that was prepared for the challenges ahead."

Perhaps the resurgence of a core band of old-fashioned romantics in blancmange dresses is unsurprising - even if the magic lasts for one day only. After all, this is an age where the lowest ever proportion of Britons are getting married, because of an unfavourable tax system - an age where day-to-day romance is as cold as a glass slipper.


  16/04/2008. The Guardian.


Comentarios

No hay comentarios sobre este artículo.

Tenés que estar registrado para enviar comentarios. Registrate aquí.

Si ya te registraste, ingresá tu Usuario y Contraseña aquí:
E-mail:
Contraseña: