Event planner extraordinaire André Wells chats about how to plan a picture-perfect D.C. wedding.
André Wells wasn’t always the reigning king of D.C.'s special events industry. There was a time when the entrepreneur was working as a buyer of women’s sportswear and volunteering for different catering and lighting companies just to learn the industry. Gradually, Wells started helping bigger names maximize their corporate and social marketing, while also integrating his love for fashion into an all-inclusive luxury brand. In 2003, Events by André Wells was conceived.
Since then, Wells’ company has coordinated over 4,000 of D.C.’s most difficult productions for high-society politicians and celebrities. Broadcast outlets like ABC and PBS, legendary singer Aretha Franklin, and even President Barack Obama have all sought his vision and mastery of event planning and hospitality. With summer wedding season in full swing, we chatted with Wells to learn about D.C.’s hottest venues and what really goes into planning a perfect event.
How does your team go about setting trends in the special events industry? ANDRÉ WELLS: When I first started business here in Washington, people would only do cocktail receptions. I was like, “Let’s do a post-cocktail reception where you start something between 8-10 p.m.” It’s a non-traditional hour, versus the 5-7 p.m. kind of thing. You take very interesting events that would normally be black tie and make the dress code summer chic or navy, and suddenly you’ve flipped the way people dress. I would say taking a stand on a lot of traditional things and changing them up.
What were some of the initial hurdles you faced when you first came to D.C.? AW: D.C. is a very conservative market. A lot of times we want to do very interesting things that may be seen as too aggressive. I think the city started changing a few years ago when Obama came to office. We started getting cool shops, and then 14th Street started getting these avant-garde boutique fashion and clothing stores. All of that helped. D.C. has all these different ethnic backgrounds and is also this mecca of power—of course we should be setting trends. We just needed to loosen it up a little bit and make it less stuffy.
What are some new venues you think are really starting to take off? AW: I love unique, empty spaces like warehouses and galleries, spaces which are in the middle of being built, or spaces which are abandoned. Take Union Market: it’s an empty canvas, and what I like to do with it is curate all these artisans and have an event there. There’s this really cool, old, abandoned Church in Southwest.
Summer is obviously huge for weddings, especially in D.C. and Easton. How can a couple really make their wedding stand out? AW: Approach it as an experience. If 80 percent of the guests are from out of town, make sure transportation is taken care of if you can afford it. You hear so much right now about experiential marketing and weddings. It has to be about the couple. If the groom likes baseball, maybe you have an opening reception at the National. One of the things I like about D.C. is how old the architecture is and how a lot of venues really lend themselves to interesting conversation for guests. So you could go from a baseball stadium to a place like the Mellon Auditorium. You go from casual to black tie to Sunday brunch. When your guests don’t have to think, they have the best time.
How do you handle a bride who, let's say, is not having the best time on her wedding day? AW: Well, thank God I haven’t had too many. I always try to keep them calm and let them know what the big picture is. We work with these brides and grooms so closely for months. I always try to pair them with someone from my team who’s only responsibility for the day is making sure that the bride stays calm and has everything she needs. If she wants a glass of champagne or shot of tequila, it’s there. Just someone really calming to calm her down. And we listen. There are lots of different things around that effect and you have to be very cognizant of that. People are sweet and may have a moment and go off, but you can’t take it personally. It’s like a football game—it’s that guy’s job to tackle you. I just make sure to listen and if she says, “That flower’s in the wrong place,” then I go and move it.