Boulder wedding planner puts couples under the Tuscan sun
by Lisa Marshall, Camera Staff Writer
February 24, 2005
“To see the sun sink down, drowned in its pink and purple and golden floods, and overwhelm Florence with tides of color that make all the sharp lines dim and faint and turn the solid city to a city of dreams, is a sight to stir the coldest nature and make a sympathetic one drunk with ecstasy.” — Mark Twain
It was a gray, bitter cold day in Boulder and the icy roads were crawling with time-crunched commuters on their way to work. But within the fresco orange walls of Chandi Wyant’s home office, you could almost feel the Tuscan sun shining down.
Around her desk hung framed pictures of newlyweds embracing in Florentine castles or sipping wine among rows of olive trees in the countryside — images so romantic they’d leave even the coldest cynic longing for Italy.
It was Wyant who — from her perch at her computer 6,000 miles away — helped create those images. For the past five years, since she left the furious pace of the high-tech world behind, she has made a comfortable living helping brides and grooms-to-be plan the Italian wedding of their dreams.
At first, it seemed too narrow a niche for a business, but Wyant has since learned it’s not so narrow: Inspired by the publication of Frances Mayes’s 1996 bestseller, “Under the Tuscan Sun,” and the subsequent 2003 hit movie starring Diane Lane, it appears Americans are longing for all things Italian.
“Americans are yearning for a place where beauty and art matter, where time is not the enemy, where the day feels like a Pablo Neruda poem, where you have time to savor family and good friends and good wine,” Wyant says. “Italy epitomizes all of that.”
Wyant’s own love affair with Italy began 20 years ago when, at the urging of her grandmother, she set out to travel the world.
“When I went to Rome and Florence I was just absolutely stunned with the history that was alive and around me. I had never been anywhere as aesthetically pleasing as Italy,” she says. “I was in love from day one.”
She spent a year there learning the language, but then her travels took her elsewhere, including India, Siberia and Poland, where she worked as a peace activist, helped coordinate study abroad programs and did other odd jobs. Years later she returned to the states and, “out of desperation,” joined the corporate world, working for four years in Silicon Valley as an event planner.
But Italy kept calling her back.
She planned her own small wedding there in September 1998, saying vows at a picturesque stone church in the countryside and dining at an “elbows on the table” Italian eatery where the wine flowed freely. When she sent a first-person account of it to the San Jose Mercury News, they printed it. And by day’s end, she was shocked to find her inbox full of inquiries.
“The e-mails just kept coming in,” she says. “People were saying, ‘That is the wedding I want. You’ve got to help me.’”
So she did.
Today, Wyant plans about 12 weddings per year, handling everything from overseas paperwork hassles (and there are many) to flowers, photography and lodging plans, depending on the clients. Because some of the vendors she works with in Tuscany have yet to embrace the Internet, she has Italian assistants there who can print out her e-mails — with pictures of things like flowers and bridesmaids’ dresses attached — and deliver them via moped, if necessary.
Wyant has handled weddings ranging from $4,000 to tens of thousands, from quaint casual gatherings to painstakingly planned productions complete with opera singers and the couple’s own private label wine.
One couple arrived at a castle by boat, greeted by a crowd of friends and family members. Another said their vows in a Catholic church, then gathered at a candle-lit castle, where an Italian tenor provided the background music.
But most clients, Wyant says, want simplicity.
“In a way they are trying to escape this overwhelming thing that happens in the United States where they have to invite 200 people because they don’t want to leave anyone out.”
After Susan Taylor, of Alberta, Canada, got engaged, she began scouring the Internet looking for a wedding planner, and was struck by Wyant’s personal touch. With Wyant looking on this summer, Taylor and her husband wed in a circa AD 903 church in the Florentine Hills.
The highlight of the day, recalls Taylor, was when the newlyweds walked out of the church to find a crowd of local villagers looking on. Outside the church door, they’d fashioned a giant heart out of rose petals.
“I hate to think of people who start off their marriage and all they have to remember is ‘my mother-in-law was doing this,’ or ‘the weather was doing that,’” Taylor says. “For us, everything was perfect, and everything was perfect because of Chandi.”
Wyant lived in Florence for an 18-month stint, but came back to Boulder in September. She now does the majority of her work via the Internet, with occasional visits to Italy to attend client weddings. Make no mistake, her job is not all roses. Like anything else, it comes with drudgery, she says. But the payoff is tremendous.
“When I hear the tenor singing ‘Ave Maria’ in this timeless, beautiful church in the Tuscan countryside and I see the smile on the bride’s face, the last year of stress is over,” she says. “It’s all worth it.”