Getting married in Paris offers couples a variety of inspirations to choose from, including multiple day-of events and a whole city of romantic backdrops. Wedding planner Kimberley Petyt is an American wedding planner in Paris who caters to English-speaking couples, and is an expert on French weddings. In her first book, The Paris Wedding, she shares both practical planning tips and beautiful wedding inspiration for brides and grooms saying “I do” in the City of Light, or just looking to Parisian fashion for their special day.
We asked Kimberley to share some of her expertise on where to pose for the best engagement and wedding-day photos in Paris, tell us about some French traditions that couples may want to include in their reception, and give style tips for brides and grooms planning a Paris-inspired wedding. Here’s what she had to say.
What should couples keep in mind when planning a wedding in Paris?
Respect the culture. This may seem obvious, but it’s something that I’ve seen time and time again. I know it’s frustrating to not have your emails returned for days on end (if at all), to have someone insist that your centrepieces be white (when you really want yellow), or to tell you that you can’t bring your own wine to their restaurant (even if you’re willing to pay a corkage fee). These are all aspects that may seem quirky from the outside looking in, but often there’s a cultural explanation. For example, yellow is the colour of cuckold in France, so it’s considered bad luck or poor taste for a wedding. A French vendor may feel uncomfortable saying this to you, and instead may choose to simply guide you away from the offending colour.
Where are the best spots to take your wedding photos?
Some of my favourite Paris wedding photo locations have more to do with the sights and sounds of Paris than with historical monuments. I adore photos taken in any of the covered passages (like Passage Dauphine in the Sixth Arrondissement), or at a corner crêpe or ice cream stand. I love images of brides and grooms on the street or on the Metro. One of my favourite photographers, Milos Horvat, was even able to get photos of one of my couples sitting on couches in the window of a Parisian furniture store—priceless! The city’s ambience should enhance the couple in their wedding photos, not the other way around.
If you have time to schedule an engagement portrait session, what are some quintessential Paris shots you should take?
I would have your photographer shoot you on the Merry-Go-Round at the base of the Eiffel Tower, on the steps of Montmartre near Sacré Cœur, window shopping at Place Vendôme (too cute!), kissing at Place des Vosges, sailing toy boats at Jardin du Luxembourg. If it’s winter, skating at Hôtel de Ville. In spring, photos on the rides at Foire du Trône.
Photo sessions are a lot harder than people think they’re going to be, and I find that having some sort of distraction really loosens couples up. Paris is small enough that if you do choose to take shots in a lively area, you’re almost always no more than a five-minute walk from a quiet square or park for more serene photos.
Can you explain all the day-of events a couple needs to plan for?
There are several parts to a French wedding: There’s the civil ceremony, which is obligatory for the marriage to be legally recognised in France; the religious ceremony; a vin d’honneur (a mini cocktail reception held right after the ceremony); a traditional cocktail/apéro, a four-, five- or more-course dinner, dancing, and—sometimes—La Soupe, French onion soup served at 4:00 am to the wedding couple and their inner circle.
Guests in France can be invited to all or only part of a wedding’s festivities, even just dessert around midnight. In a typical French wedding, pretty much everyone is invited to the civil ceremony, the church ceremony if there is one, and the vin d’honneur. The events you are invited to depend on how close you are to the family on either side, and no one will get offended if you choose not to go to any of those, although if you’re a work colleague or a relative, it’s generally expected that you’ll come to the vin d’honneur if invited. Close friends and family will be invited to all of the above events, plus to cocktails/dinner/dancing (dîner dansante) at the reception.
What’s unique about a wedding in Paris?
I think what sets French weddings apart is their refined elegance. French weddings are more subtle, with the emphasis on the guests around the table, rather than the drama on the table. Keep in mind that a French wedding dinner can last upwards of five hours, so rather than draw the attention away from the guests with an over-the-top, elaborate tablescape, a French bride will choose centrepieces that can be talked over, made of carefully selected floral compositions in a classic vase, for example.
As expected, more emphasis will be put on the meal itself, with attention to pairing not just the wines with the meal but also the cheese and even the bread. Personalisation isn’t just about custom name tags on water bottles; it’s about choosing a venue that has a history with the couple or their families. Many wedding vendors in France are also chosen this way. For years, a family will have used the same stationer for all of their formal stationery needs—from birth announcements to calling cards. So when it’s time for a wedding, a bride will turn to a stationer that knows her and her family, and maybe choose an invitation design that was used for her parents’ or grandparents’ wedding. This attention to elegant details is what makes a French-inspired wedding so special and these touches can be brought to French-inspired weddings anywhere.
Are there any French wedding traditions you would suggest brides everywhere consider for their wedding?
One old tradition that is still practiced in small villages in France (but not in larger cities like Paris) is the processional to the ceremony. The groom, his family and his entourage walk to (or arrive at) the bride’s house, and, together, the couple lead the family and friends on foot through the streets to the church or City Hall. Everyone on the street stops, and children and old ladies yell out “Vive les mariés” as the entourage passes. It really is charming.
I also love the idea of serving croquembouche, the traditional French wedding cake made of stacked, cream-filled puff pastry. If not for the wedding cake itself, then maybe it’s served as an additional wedding dessert or during the rehearsal dinner. A croquembouche, too, has Old World charm. It’s so dramatic when it’s presented to the couple, lit up with tons of sparklers. It also tastes incredible. Depending on the size, the puffs can be filled with a selection of different flavoured cream, so there really is something for every taste. And these days, croquembouche can be found in specialty bakeries all over the world.
For more Paris inspiration, pick up a copy of The Paris Wedding and check out Kimberley’s award-winning blog, Parisian Party: Tales of an American Wedding Planner in Paris.