Italian wedding industry adapts to changing tastes as marriage rate falls

Fewer Italians are getting married, in part because of the financial crisis, and experts say weddings are becoming less stuffy affairs

A bride and groom at the Colosseum in Rome
A bride and groom at the Colosseum in Rome. Photograph: Alamy

Traffic is known to back up for miles around Rome’s biggest exhibition centre when it hosts its semi-annual comic book fair. But on the opening night of a recent four-day wedding fair, where dozens of vendors offer engaged couples anything they could possibly desire for their dream wedding – from classy black and white photographs snapped in front of the Colosseum, to firework displays and wedding planners who specialise in the new fad for “rustic chic” venues – there was barely a soul in sight.

Flavia, 25, had accompanied her friend – the only one in her circle who was planning to tie the knot, and did not look particularly enthusiastic about the reams of gleaming white dresses, floral arrangements or even the stand hawking a hair removal kit that looked and felt like sandpaper and was apparently a must-have for every bride and groom.

“I have one other friend who wants to get married but she doesn’t have the money for the wedding,” said Flavia. “Maybe these days we get married especially for the party but not really for the value of a marriage. I think this is all too much, especially getting a wedding planner.”

Italian wedding
A bride getting out of a Fiat 500 at an Italian wedding. Photograph: Alamy

The institution of marriage has become an increasingly hard sell in this traditional Catholic country. Last year 145,571 first-time marriages between Italians were registered in Italy, the lowest on record and down 20% from 2008.

Antonella Guarneri, a researcher with Italy’s National Institute of Statistics (Istat), said the decline could mostly be attributed to changing demographics and Italy’s ageing population: there are simply fewer young people of the age at which couples usually get married.

But there are other factors too, including a rise in the number of couples opting to have children without getting married (one in four babies were born to unwed parents last year, compared with fewer than one in 10 in 1995), the weakening influence of the Catholic church, and the economic crisis that has held Italy in its grip for years and is only just beginning to improve.

When young Italians talk about the financial crisis affecting their desire to get married, it is often not just because they want to enter marriage on a strong financial footing, but because the wedding itself is so expensive.

“Over the last few years in Italy, every two minutes it was ‘la crisi’ [the crisis] this, and ‘la crisi’ that,” said Brenda Babcock, a wedding planner in Rome who mostly caters to foreign clients. “I don’t think Italians have bounced back as quickly [as others] and the cost of living is very high for them. All of these things have weighed on their desire to get married.”

Despite the slowdown in the marriage rate, Federica Guglielmo, a makeup artist with a stand at the fair, said weddings were keeping her small business busy because every bride wants to look good, crisis or not.

“In 10 years, when you look at the photos and you’re not so beautiful, your memory is not going to be so good,” she said. “Brides want a very natural look, very natural colours and, of course, less attention on the lips.”

Italian wedding couple in Tuscany
A couple at their wedding, complete with Vespa, in a park in Firenze, Tuscany. Photograph: Alamy

Massimo Ranalli, who was trying to attract the scant number of visitors at the fair to check out Villa Augusta, a wedding venue near Castelli, said he hoped people would regain interest in getting married following a slight recovery in the economy.

“The institution of marriage is not like it was some years ago. My parents got married at 25. Now more of my friends are not married than married. It’s simple to change partners … you see a beautiful girl and fall in love because she has a good photo on her profile,” he said.

Guglielmo and other wedding experts agree that the style of wedding celebrations has changed in little and big ways. Traditionally they were a formal affair, involving long multi-course meals, but now couples are seeking out less stuffy options, including events that Guglielmo calls “shabby chic” and “country”.

A wedding celebration on the volcanic island of Stromboli, off Sicily
A wedding celebration on the volcanic island of Stromboli, off Sicily. Photograph: Alamy

Babcock said: “The weddings are becoming more international in terms of their style. Now you see American cakes and cupcakes, different things from Martha Stewart that are taking over the world. The villas would say: ‘Why are people asking whether they can get married at a vineyard?’ The whole concept of standing outside, of having dinner, is new.”

Manuela Crescuolo, a 33-year-old bride-to-be, was leaving the fair with a stack of magazines under her arm. Getting married, she said with a smile, had been a dream since childhood.

“I like the traditional wedding,” she said. But then, after some teasing by her friend, Crescuolo admitted hers would have a big American-style wedding cake – a fake, just for the pictures. Guests will be served the traditional Italian cake. “I will eat millefoglie,” she said with a laugh.

[Source:- The Gurdian]