The Chuppah Designer
“The chuppah symbolizes the home you’re building together, but it’s also a very visual element of your décor.”
Traci Kaye of Four Branches
How did you get started in the chuppah business?
It all came about from doing my own wedding, in 2006. I was working in fashion at the time, and I wanted to incorporate something meaningful into my chuppah (a canopy, supported by four poles, that you stand under during the ceremony). I came across a Shabbat tablecloth my fiancé’s mother and grandmother had cross-stitched, so I worked that in. A few months later, a friend was getting married, and she wanted to wear the wedding dress of an aunt who had passed away. I would have had to remake the whole thing, so I suggested she use it for the chuppah instead. Then I did another friend’s wedding and incorporated her mom’s veil.
Do you ever get requests from people who aren’t Jewish?
Yes: I just did an altar-piece for one wedding where we used the lace from the bride’s mother’s wedding dress, and I had the couple’s monogram embroidered into the cloth. They had a set designer build the basic structure, and at first he wanted to make it huge! I was like, “I live in a railroad, dude; there is no 10-by-10 happening here.” We kept it 8-by-8.
Are people nervous about entrusting you with their family heirlooms?
Whenever you’re dealing with anything someone holds dear, you take extra caution. I always send the finished product and any leftover material in an heirloom box, which has tissue and prevents decay and staining.
How much should the venue impact the style of your chuppah?
It’s important to enhance the space you’re in, but you also have to exist in the space. For example, when you see a bride in a ball gown on the beach, it doesn’t make sense. You can’t turn a conference room into a beach, but I’ve seen a chuppah really warm up some clinical spaces. At our wedding, the branches of the chuppah made it feel like we were inside a cathedral.
Looking back, I wish I had made my chuppah bigger. It was perfect, but the branches we used weren’t that long and our rabbi was very tall—everyone kept asking who the Vince Vaughn look-alike was. Our four brothers had to hold up the chuppah so the rabbi could fit underneath. I felt really bad for the guys—they were holding up these tree trunks, just dripping with sweat. Luckily, you couldn’t see the sweat in any of the photos.
Do you do only custom work?
I mostly create custom pieces, which start at $500, but I’m working on a few ready-to-purchase styles that brides can insert their own fabric into. It’s important to include little touches from your family.
Ever had any bizarre requests?
Not yet, but there’s nothing I couldn’t make work. If your fiancé had a favorite hockey jersey, I’d figure out a way to do it.
From the Winter 2010 New York Wedding Guide