Say "France," and people think romance, non? And what could be more romantic than getting married high atop Le Tour Eiffel? Fortunately, you don't have to board an Air France jet to have a French-infused fete. Plan the wedding on your home turf and let your creativity soar. Here are some suggestions for a fabulous French-style soiree:
Location & Decor
Have the party at a French restaurant, in a French-inspired reception hall, or at a borrowed chateau. No chateau in the neighborhood? No problem. Go with an ordinary home or hall and create a cafe environment. Use small, ice-cream-parlor-style tables topped with bottles of wine, Dijon mustard, and Perrier. Hang Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet, and Cezanne framed posters on the walls. Place huge baskets of baguettes on the sideboards. Erect a postcard stand filled with pictures of Paris for people to take home and set up a continuous slide show of images of Paris. You can even have your waiters wear berets to make the scene complete.
If you're marrying in November, make it a Beaujolais Nouveau night -- the light French red wine (and relatively inexpensive to boot) introduced each November with great fanfare.
For the bride, why not go Marie Antoinette -- huge skirt, tight top (or bustier), lots of lace. You might want to check out costume shops for something authentic-looking! If you want to go couture, check out the Paris-based wedding-dress designer Kastine; for a more modern affair, consider the sleek, Givenchy, Breakfast at Tiffany's look. Then set your hair to match your gown. (You wouldn't want a Louis XIV hairstyle with a '20s-style dress.) But a classic chignon would fit right into a French-themed wedding. And for the groom? Either go the Louis XVI costume route to your bride's Marie Antoinette, or pick a handsome handmade suit by a French designers Pierre Cardin or Yves St. Laurent.
The Fabulous French Food
To truly emulate the French, you must think about food and wine before all else. Start your onslaught of all things francais during the cocktail hour. Have five or six different French wines available, with a wine expert (or wine-buff friend) on hand to pour and explain the different vintages to your guests. It's an old French custom for the couple to drink their reception toasts from an engraved, two-handled cup called the "coupe de mariage." They then save the cup to pass on to their children. Follow this tradition with your own two-handled toast. You can buy two-handled cups from a fine furnishings store, or see if a local glass-maker sells or can create one for you.
For hors d'oeuvres, pass canapes, miniature croissants and quiches, and escargot, and serve various spreads, such as gourmet cheeses and fine pates, on French bread. Also fill a table with a variety of pates and tureens, cornishon pickles, Brie, apples, grapes and, of course, baguettes. For dinner, serve French dishes such as onion soup, beef burgundy, and coq au vin. For dessert, serve mousse au chocolat, creme brulee, and a Poire Belle Helene -- poached pear served with vanilla ice cream and drenched with melted chocolate. Complement dessert with hot chocolate and, of course, cafe au lait.
For a very formal affair, consider a truly French meal served mise en place (everything in its place). Each course is served, in proper order: appetizer, soup, main course, palate-cleansing sorbet, salad, cheese, dessert and coffee, and a cordial. This will require true culinary skill and may work best if you're holding the affair at a French restaurant, or you're using a caterer whose specialty is French food.
Later, at the post-wedding brunch -- or for an afternoon wedding -- serve mimosas, a blend of champagne and orange juice. And how about a make-your-own crepe bar? For a summer picnic, you could install several crepe stations on the lawn, drape large red (or blue-and-white check) picnic blankets all around, and let guests order their own fillings and then carry the steaming crepes with them to their blanket.
Music & Entertainment
Recreate the scene at the Seine by hiring portrait artists to set up easels and paint portraits for your guests during the reception. All the while, have a few strolling musicians playing romantic tunes. For your first dance, why not chose Edith Piaf's bittersweet classic, "La Vie en Rose?" Or how about Gershwin's "An American in Paris?" If you're having a DJ, have him play Piaf, Jacques Brel, and all the great American jazz greats who made their name in France.
During the reign of Louis XVI, brides handed over their old fans to bridesmaids as favors. The fans were decorated with mythological paintings. You probably don't have a stock of fans in your closet, but you can adapt this tradition by giving new fans as gifts, or some more modern, mythologically decorated vanity items, like hand-held mirrors or ornate miniature boxes. Check out your local crystal shop or another new-age venue for myth-inspired options. Or, there are a number of French fashion houses that should make the gift-giving easy. Give tres chic Izod shirts, Hermes scarves, or Chanel makeup compacts, to the attendants only, of course (tres expensive!). Favors for all guests? We love the idea of giving away pocket-sized French cookbooks, mini bottles of French wine tagged with a personalized wedding label, or small vials of French perfume or cologne placed on each guests' plate.
Ou est-ce que vous irez? (Where will you go?) Paris, but of course ...