A little more than a decade ago, Denise Georgiou left her job in human resources to pursue her real passion, event planning, as a career. Her first professional outing was the wedding of Shizuku Takaoka and Dale Cheong, a couple in their late twenties who got married at a church and held their karaoke-infused reception at a nice Chinese restaurant in Toronto. Recently, Georgiou received a call from her maiden clients –10 years in and they are planning to renew their vows.
The desire to re-do the "I dos" has become increasingly common. "Nobody was asking me about vow-renewal ceremonies when I started," says Georgiou. Today she gets requests on a regular basis and even offers a "vow renewals package" on her website. The festivities range from intimate gatherings to blockbuster celebrations: Destination renewals are popular, and so too are wedding-like blowouts.
For example, Georgiou organized a wedding vow renewal event at the Toronto Cricket Club. There were fancy gowns and tuxes, floral arrangements, a DJ, a dance floor, lobster, steak and two wedding cakes. "These clients were older and financially secure," she says. "They were very into food and they didn't want the rubber-chicken dinner again." The cost of that event was roughly $55,000 and Georgiou concedes that someone off the street would have no way of knowing that it wasn't a standard wedding.
At Vera Wang, arguably the equivalent of Graceland for wedding-dress seekers, women who once dropped $15,000 on a wedding dress are coming back to purchase renewal gowns. Rhonda Diamond, a bridal consultant at Vera Wang's Toronto location, says there's been a steady increase of this type of customer over the past few years. "In the case of the vow-renewal dress, they tend to want something more sleek, where as maybe the wedding gown was more about being a princess," she says. Diamond finds that most women stick to the top-selling ivory even for the second go, though a more daring bride-to-re-be might choose blush or dove.
It's not just dressmakers that get a chance to double dip – jewellers, caterers, florists, fireworks operators, photo-booth suppliers, dove releasers and everyone else involved in the fatted modern wedding industry benefits from this latest plot point on the relationship trajectory. John de Jong of internationally renowned JdJ Jewellery in Toronto has had a number of clients looking to replace or "super size" existing wedding bling on the occasion of a vow renewal. "It's really a case of buying power – that and couples are excited to mark the next chapter," says de Jong.
Not everybody is so sold on (re)throwing the confetti. "The wedding industry is always eager to identify a new trend," says Anne Kingston, author of The Meaning of Wife: A Provocative Look at Women and Marriage in the Twenty-first Century. Kingston notes that while a more sober version of vow renewals has been going on for decades, the inclination to throw a capital "E" event is a different beast. "It's a celebrity-driven imperative," she says, pointing to the warped reality responsible for many a modern ritual (crazy baby names and spending $300 on a pair of jeans).
The Real Housewives franchise alone could keep at least one or two dedicated vow- renewal planners in business, while recent tabloid headlines claim Posh and Becks, Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, and Matt Damon and his wife Luciana are among the rich and famous with plans to renew in the near future. According to The New York Post, Damon has dropped $1-million on a 10-day marriage-affirming celebration at a five-star resort in St. Lucia – a chance for his thrice-over baby mama to get the wedding day she has always dreamed of. In this respect, it seems that Luciana Damon (who married her action-hero husband in a civil ceremony at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau in 2005) really is just like us.
"For a lot of couples, the vow-renewal ceremony has become a chance to get what they didn't get on the first go-around," says Alison McGill, editor in chief at Wedding Bells magazine. "People used to say, 'If I did it all again, I would do this or that.' Now they're sticking those ideas in the back of their minds for next time." They are also sticking them on Pinterest, Instagram and other look-at-how-great-I-am digital sharing tools. (After an hour on Pinterest, even George Clooney would likely emerge with plans for his dream wedding day and an do-over three years later.)
Just as a spectacular wedding and a happy marriage don't have much to do with each other, a vow-renewal celebration doesn't equal a stronger marriage. Just look at Heidi Klum and Seal, the impossibly loved-up spouses who renewed their vows every year right up until they split. "It becomes a mockery of what a wedding is actually supposed to be – vows are said once and they are meant," says Kingston. "It's not as if [couples who renew vows after five years] have withstood the test of time."
Denise Georgiou's return clients, Shizuku Takaoka and Dale Cheong, don't see it that way. "We definitely feel like we have achieved something after 10 years," says Takaoka. "We have had our ups and downs – the first few years of marriage was a huge adjustment. Now we want to celebrate with the friends and family who supported us along the way." Takaoka says their original wedding was about accommodating family from all over the world, which inevitably resulted in compromises. "This time we can do what we want."