Not so long ago, it was lavish store openings (anyone remember Shanghai Tang?) and heavyweight charity balls that New York partygoers were desperate to attend. Such events still exist, of course, but—thanks to a troubled economy and Al Qaeda—they are no longer as exuberant as they used to be. Which leaves weddings, with their (ostensible) warm and fuzzy focus on love and family, as some of the few social occasions left where P. Diddy–caliber excess is still in full effect—and deemed socially acceptable. And invitation-wrangling is an increasingly high-stakes sport.
Fashion publicist Liz Cohen (no stranger to the pleasures and perils of a guest list) has been practically besieged while organizing her November nuptials at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, as friends, or friends of friends, throw Emily Post to the wind. “I’ve actually had someone say, ‘I’ve never asked to be invited to a wedding, but I have to say that there’s one I want to go to—yours!’ ” she reports.
“Weddings are the way we’re still able to entertain on a grand scale—especially when it’s in a far-flung location and everyone gets to feel jet-set,” says Kristina Stewart, society editor of Vanity Fair, nodding to Lucy Sykes’s wedding in London and Emilia Fanjul’s blowout in the Dominican Republic. Upcoming hot-ticket ceremonies include Patricia Herrera’s (daughter of Carolina—just imagine the dress!), glamazon Marisa Noel’s, Shoshana’s, and Marjorie Gubelmann’s. (Whether it might not, in the end, be more fun to just read about these events in W rather than actually attend them is a question that rarely gets asked.)
Meanwhile, regular bridezillas also find themselves fending off the masses. “It’s like people have their wedding radar on,” moans one bride. “Someone said, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to give you a toast at your rehearsal dinner!’ We were really taken aback because she wasn’t invited.” Beth Blake, co-owner of Thread, who designed the ivory dresses for Cohen’s twelve (!) bridesmaids, adds, “Weddings are the ultimate velvet rope.”
Naturally, invite etiquette is a heated topic at Claudia Hanlin’s Wedding Library, a wedding-planning HQ on the Upper East Side. “A non-guest came up to one of my brides and said, ‘I haven’t gotten my invitation yet!’ ” says Hanlin. “And she wasn’t going to get one.” Her solution: Talk to friends before they mount an aggressive campaign. “Guests can be $400 a person. I think people can appreciate that.”
But the problem is, brides aren’t the only ones with wedding-day fantasies: Would-be guests have them, too, especially when the city’s wedding pros are busier than ever catering to their every desire. “It’s pure fun for 48 hours,” says Blake. “It’s been planned entirely for your pleasure.” Kimara Ahnert, the makeup artist who gave Catherine Zeta-Jones her bridal glow, remembers a party at which all 300 guests left with a $320 Jay Strongwater frame; at another, “it wasn’t just sushi—it was Nobu.”
Even Cohen sympathizes with the uninvited: “I would want to go to my wedding if I wasn’t having it,” she jokes. “My dream would be to get Tony Bennett to sing. I just have to find someone who knows him first.”