PARIS: From “Kate”-inspired lace dresses to towering wedding cakes - and even British celebrants - French brides-to-be are looking across the Channel, and the Atlantic, to make their day that bit more special.
“These past two years, we've been seeing girls pick and mix ingredients from English or American weddings,” said Sophie Chastrusse-Peyronnet, who heads up a giant Paris bridal fair, the Grand Salon du Mariage, each October.
Start with the lingo: French couples no longer cut the “gateau” but a “wedding cake”, they order “escort cards” to guide guests to their seats, and talk of “DIY”, when it comes to Martha Stewart-style decorations.
“Our DIY workshop is one of the fair's most popular,” Chastrusse-Peyronnet told AFP. “Young girls go crazy for it.” Lifted from the movies, blogs, or last year's royal nuptials, Anglo-American styles and customs are shaking up traditional French weddings.
“Sweet tables” stacked high with pristine-looking candy are a strong trend, but the really big business is in cakes.
Two years ago, Canadian chef Taylor McLoughlin and American business partner Krista Juracek opened the Sugarplum cake shop in Paris, offering North American-style stacked cakes, 80 per cent of them for weddings.
“It's going through the roof,” the 33-year-old Juracek told AFP. “During wedding season we book months in advance.” “Most French people don't want the same thing their mothers or grandmothers had at their weddings.” US and British lovebirds traditionally invest quite a bit more in weddings than in France.
An average French budget runs to 13,000 euros, says the Salon, compared to $27,000 in the United States, based on a 2011 study, and 21,000 pounds ($33,700) in Britain according to consumer group Which?.
But this is changing, with budgets on the rise, and US-style wedding planners stepping up to orchestrate the event.
“We no longer have to explain what we do,” said one of the growing ranks of French planners, Caroline Le Moigne-Hirel. “Quite clearly the trend comes from the United States.” “You can see the Anglo-American influence everywhere,” she added, even as far as the ceremony itself, with English “celebrants” called on to officiate.
“People of mixed, or no religion who want to add a spiritual dimension to their wedding are turning to English celebrants” to write them a personalised ceremony with just the right dose of gravitas.
'Princess gowns, but not meringues'
Then of course, the dress.
“This year's trend is for Kate-style lace gowns, with a deep scoop at the back” - directly inspired by the much-copied Sarah Burton dress worn last year by the now Duchess of Cambridge, said Chastrusse-Peyronnet.
Jean Postaire, owner of an upmarket wedding dress store in Paris, Metal Flaque, saw brisk sales for a David Fielden model inspired by Kate Middleton's dress in the wake of the royal nuptials. Likewise a Jenny Packham model, this time based on an evening dress she made for the princess.
Postaire, who introduced both British designers to France three years ago along with US stars like Vera Wang, says brides come to him for styles they cannot find in the French market.
“Americans know how to create princess gowns that aren't meringues - big but not ridiculous,” he said. “The British are good at linear silhouettes, it's English chic, a more demure look.” Hoping to tap into this new appetite, a group of upmarket British wedding designers crossed the Channel this month, hosting a showroom in a Paris mansion.
Nicki Macfarlane experienced the “Kate effect” first hand, having designed the bridesmaid gowns for the royal wedding.
“Lots of doors have opened, it's been very exciting,” Macfarlane told AFP.
“People are looking to the UK much more.” One of her most popular designs, a little organza dress hemmed with English Cluny lace, was directly inspired by the royal dresses.
Macfarlane currently ships direct to France. Her goal in Paris? To identify “two or three perfect boutiques. We're not out to flood the market.” Stephanie Allin's handmade dresses also mine a vintage English seam, like one recent design, “Rose Alba”, a mid-calf silk satin gown under chantilly lace, intended to suggest “a chic English village fete”.
“With it you have tea and crumpets - and lots of champagne,” she joked.