A Q&A With Event Designer Extraordinaire Sasha Souza
Sasha Souza, of Sasha Souza Events, is one of the busiest and most influential event designers in the country. With offices in San Francisco, Napa, Sonoma, and Los Angeles, her clients range from A-list wedding couples to Johnson & Johnson, the Syfy network, TV host Leeza Gibbons, and world-champion boxer Fernando Vargas. A star in her own right, Sasha often gives wedding tips on shows like the Early Show on CBS, ABC’s Primetime, and Inside Edition and keynote speeches at industry events worldwide.
She published her first book, Signature Sasha: Magnificent Weddings by Design, in January 2010 and her second, Signature Sasha: Weddings and Celebrations to Inspire, in January 2015.
Just back from Japan—where she led seminars and transformed a commercial wedding venue for a Japanese company—Sasha agreed to share a few tricks of her trade with us. We asked about destination weddings, one of her specialties.
What do you look for in a hotel or resort that makes it particularly good for a wedding?
The right venue depends mainly on where it is, on what the client is looking for—beach, vineyard, whatever. Beyond that, we look for a venue that has flexibility to bring in the decor and that gives us the time to create a really striking event. Setup day before or overnight is not atypical, so it’s important that the property isn’t booked too tightly. It’s nice if the couple and guests can all stay on-site. But that’s not a key factor. As long as guests can stay within close proximity, they’ll be happy.
Any red flags that tell you a property might be wrong for a wedding?
Inflexibility or over promising, as that can lead to under delivering. When talking to the site managers in the beginning, if they always say, “This is how we do it,” then I know we’re most likely going to have a problem later on down the road. Further, if it’s in an area where the weather might require a plan B, the property needs to give us an idea of what that would be and reserve the spaces so we’re not scrambling at the last minute.
Do you take decorations with you, buy them there, or use the venue’s?
That all depends. We have traditionally done a little of all three—it’s good to have some local flair. But if we’re in a place where we can’t rely on the quality of the flowers, we ship them in. Same thing with decor and rental items.
If a client can splurge on only one thing, what gives the most bang for the buck?
You get the biggest bang for your buck from the things people touch, taste, and smell. Topnotch food is a huge one. For some reason, people still think that wedding food can’t be good, so it’s fairly easy to surprise and delight them. Then you have tabletop and flowers—those create ambience. You want people sitting at the table to touch the beautiful linens and smell the gorgeous flowers.
What’s the biggest challenge in organizing a destination wedding?
There are two things. The first is guest management—making sure everybody is where they need to be in an unfamiliar country or area, which means getting them to and from the wedding safely. The second is making sure we’re all clear with everything we’re bringing into the country so we can avoid issues with customs, fees, taxes, and/or confiscation.
What’s the most rewarding part?
I love the guest experience and hearing the guests tell the couple that it was the best wedding they had ever been to.
Any stories you can share to illustrate a point—or just for fun?
It’s hard to choose just one. But I often think back to one of my first destination weddings in Mexico. We came up with the idea of creating a 64-foot table with fire down the center. It was spectacular, and the guests thought it was the coolest thing ever. But what we didn’t anticipate was the guests drinking tequila—and blowing it into the fire to create big bursts of flames. We figured it was time to turn it off when the groom jumped up in his linen suit and ran down the table, as if he were fire walking, all while pounding his chest and then jumping off the end of the table.
Do you have any current or upcoming projects we should watch for?
Yes! Our latest book was released this January. You can find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and some independent bookstores. Plus, I just signed a two-book deal with my publisher to produce two more wedding/event-related books over the next two years. We’ll have the next one in January 2016. It’s a totally new concept—nothing like it exists right now—so that’s super exciting for us.
Photos credits: Opening image: (c) Sasha Souza Events and Damion Hamilton Photography; From top: (c) Sasha Souza Events and Luca Trovato; (c) Sasha Souza Events and Kurt Ackerman Photography