A conversation with Zainab Alsalih

by Leonore Dicker

At this very moment, Zainab Alsalih and her team are shaping –to the very last detail– some of the most exclusive and unique weddings in the region. Anything a woman desires, from sailing under the stars to dancing in a candlelit industrial building, they make it happen.

Alsalih, who is the managing director at Carousel Weddings, has always had an urge to bring joy into people’s lives – as well as an obsessive attention to detail.

Leonore Dicker met up with this wonder-planner to understand both the tricks of the job, and what makes the job tricky.

Have you always known you wanted to be a wedding/events planner?
I have always loved making people happy.  There’s something deeply gratifying about bringing people joy and sharing it with them.  So, have I always known I wanted to be a wedding planner?  No, not at all, but I always knew that whatever I did, it needed to give me the opportunity to make people happy.  As I got older I also began to better understand and appreciate certain gifts I had: an artistic flair, a gift for communicating, and an almost obsessive attention to detail. I was also lucky to have people around me who also saw these talents, and encouraged me to develop them and apply them.  My husband, my friends, my mother – all of them encouraged to do what I am doing today, in one way or another.
What’s the most extravagant request you’ve ever had?
It was a wedding for 1000 guests that took place in a glass tent built on the beach next to Burj Al Arab. Besides the massive work scope that went into building a complete venue in less than a week, we faced the problem of the greenhouse effect, which meant working under extreme temperatures. We were unable to set up the flowers ahead of time because we could not risk the high temperatures destroying the flowers and we had nearly 33,000 Orchids, which we had to set up in under 3 hours to be ready in time. It was literally a race against time, but we did it – of course.

Can you describe one of your most memorable events?
My first ever wedding remains very close to my heart. It was a beautiful beach wedding and a multicultural affair. The bride was a former European model and the groom a wealthy Middle Eastern businessman. We had the pleasure to plan all the parties leading up to the wedding as well as the traditional marriage ceremony at the client’s home
As an events planner, you must deal with various wedding traditions. What's a significant difference between weddings in the Gulf and, for example, those in Lebanon or abroad? 
In the Arab world, weddings are much more of a family affair, where everyone is involved in some way. It’s also governed by traditions and customs that a lot of young couples want to break out of. Weddings in this part of the world tend to be more elaborate and significantly larger than weddings in the West.  They also tend to be, at least from a planner’s point of view, much more challenging to keep up with.
What would be your tips to soon-to-be brides? How long before the big day should they start planning?
The truth is, just between us girls, a bride starts to “plan” her wedding before she’s past third grade!  In terms of the specifics related to the real deal, the earlier the planning starts, the better.  Picking a date, picking a venue, starting your “mood board”, designing your dress, all of this can take place months before the actual wedding.
The most important bit of advice I would give to any bride is: Have fun and don’t let your wedding be a source of stress.  The best way to do this is to hire the best planner you can, and then sit back and enjoy the journey.
Planning should start at least 6 months before the set wedding date. Most venues get booked out a year in advance in Dubai and so do photographers, entertainers and even florists. Therefore, giving yourself ample time in advance gives you a lot more choices when choosing your vendors and venue.

Do you prefer winter or summer weddings? What do you think is the best time of year to throw a wedding? 
Being a wedding planner in this part of the world means it’s summer weddings all year long! However, given that most weddings take place indoors it really does not make a difference. The only important factor here is if it’s a destination wedding, you have to take into consideration holidays and what is the best time of the year for your guests to travel. If you are opting for an outdoor wedding, then it has to be a winter wedding in the Gulf, a spring or autumn wedding further north, and a summer wedding in the Levant and North Africa.

Do you have any favorite wedding venues?
We have several venues depending on the size, theme and format of the wedding. However, nothing beats a venue with the beach as a backdrop!

What’s an important detail that is often overlooked in weddings?
Lighting! Sadly it is one of the most overlooked and underestimated elements when planning a wedding. Bad lighting can ruin everything from the colors of your flowers, to your guests’ skin tone. Good lighting makes everything come alive, and allows us to change the mood of the night from romantic and whimsical to party time! We also always tell our brides that there is no such thing as too many candles. Nothing flatters the skin like the soft glow of candlelight, so use them everywhere you can!

We've all heard of the typical bridezilla. How do you cope with a nervous bride-to-be?
Bridezillas are usually brides that have been frustrated and disappointed in some way or another. With good planning and communication you prevent any bridezilla moments from surfacing. Our brides have all been relaxed and enjoyed the process from start to finish! I can honestly say that I have not had a bridezilla as a client to date.


In your experience, what are usually the bride’s biggest concerns? What about the groom? 
Most brides pay a lot of attention to the aesthetics and the romance of the wedding.  Things such as flowers, table linens, chairs and general décor are really important.  The grooms tend to be more pragmatic, and focus on more tangible things such as entertainment, food, and beverage.

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