BEIRUT: Lebanon is probably the ideal place to birth a designer of royal weddings, one whose special touches include a ceramic forest, carpets of flowers, and thousands upon thousands of crystals.
The dedication to weddings in Lebanon is near legendary. Couples routinely spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on elaborate events. Banks even offer loans for couples without the capital to afford to have the kind of day they deem lavish enough to celebrate their love.
In this context Ziad Raphael Nassar’s weddings, documented in his new book “Once,” probably represent some kind of Platonic ideal of a wedding. Nassar’s weddings aren’t just a day, but a whole new world.
“Weddings are usually a dream, it’s one day in your life. So you have to make it a dream as much as you can,” he says.
Nassar, once a creative director at an ad agency, is in the business of making a certain type of dream come true, so long as it involves ultimate luxury.
“He did not hesitate to move dozens of horses on water for the wedding of one princess whose main passion was horseback riding,” the blurb on his website boasts.
The 80 or so nuptials showcased in the 144-page, handmade book which spans Nassar’s career since 2004 suggest such standards are not unusual for his weddings. Given all this, you might expect Nassar to be a larger-than-life character, but in person he is affable and unimposing, with an obvious passion for what he does.
“I like all the weddings, seriously. I’m not saying that to be diplomatic, but each wedding has its own character,” he says when asked which was his favorite to design.
“Let’s say, if I were to design a wedding without any brief ... there would be a great deal of detail,” he says. “People have to feel all five senses in the wedding. It’s very important to give people vision, sound, everything.”
It’s a task he takes seriously, putting a focus on the character of the bride and groom which he says he tries to reflect in his work.
“You have to feel the psychological side,” he says. “I’m more into creating the ambiance.”
“Usually I don’t like to talk about numbers, but there are very costly weddings,” he says.
The book is ultimately a voyeuristic look at extreme luxury of the kind most of us will never experience. In fact, even being able to glance at this luxury is out of the reach of most people, given the book’s $695 price tag.
The wedding designer is unapologetic about the amount of money that goes into his weddings.
“They are not spending just to show off, they are helping a lot of people as well,” he says of clients who may spend millions on their wedding. “A lot of families are working [on these weddings], a lot of people, a lot of laborers. It’s not always a showoff thing. Maybe sometimes for them, it’s a business.”
But when it comes to the local wedding industry, Nassar, who now divides his time between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, isn’t so convinced that flashing the cash is the answer.
“I like to impress people, but let’s be more low profile,” he says of trends for extravagant weddings. “If you do something really showy, it will turn out as a show. It’s not anymore a wedding. It’s only about money.”
Nassar’s own weddings are hardly lacking in theatrics, however, and Nassar himself has an obvious penchant for the stage. Asked where he sees himself going, he says, “what I’d like to do, if I have time, is to be an actor, to direct a movie and be part of it. One day, inshallah.”
If that ever happens, you can expect some impressive set designs.