Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Turkish Weddings

David & Mehibe Hill, photo by Toby Phillips
T-VINE Issue 6, 2014, cover story
By İpek Özerim

Large and lively affairs, Turkish weddings have evolved over the years influenced by new trends, yet many still retain the core traditions. T‑VINE asks the experts and two newly-wed couples about the ingredients that make a great modern Turkish wedding.

Mehibe and Damien Hill got married in September. The 30-year-old asset manager proposed to his Turkish Cypriot girlfriend in March 2013, giving them six months to organise their big day. While Damien shared in the decision-making, it was his fiancée who drove the research and management of the event, spending every weekend working on the details.

Being of mixed ethnicity, they wanted to create a fun programme that would work for both families, but ultimately wanted to ensure it remained their special day. They opted for a distinctly modern British event, with strong Turkish elements.

Having settled on 150 guests, Mehibe began looking for a suitable venue. Initially, she wanted a non-urban setting in Hertfordshire, but sensed big resistance from her family, who stressed the importance of keeping the location accessible to all – including her relatives in South London. She switched her focus to the capital, booking the elegant Edwardian Sunbeam Studios in Ladbroke Grove.

Photo by Toby Phillips
Once the venue and date were confirmed, their next priority was determining the theme: “We wanted it to be a colourful, upbeat wedding, but not OTT,” explains Mehibe. Their inspiration came from their first date at The Orange and Mehibe’s yellow diamond engagement ring. These two colours defined the wedding: from the stationery through to their wedding cake (pictured on left), floral bouquets and decorations, everything was imbued with warm orange and sunshine yellow. Other elements, such as the bridesmaids’ dresses, were kept neutral.

The two main challenges were the invitation list and the timing: “I had to really emphasise to my cousins not to be late because I just knew if I left it to them, they would operate on Turkish Time,” said Mehibe.

The couple started their big day by taking their vows at Chelsea Registry Office and used a poem written by a mutual friend for their blessing. The couple’s signature song was the Ben E. King classic Stand By Me, with everyone joining in karaoke-style.

Early evening guests were then treated to a modern European dinner, seated at long tables: “My parents thought round would be nicer, but I knew long tables would be better for interaction as guests could talk to people on either side and directly opposite them.”

She also booked Sugar Catering to feed late arrivals and those who needed another munch around 9pm. Turkish caterer Halil Seker delivered a finger buffet that included dolma (stuffed vine leaves), börek (pasty) and basdiş (almond cookie) tied in yellow ribbons.

Music was supplied by Bizim DJ Ceyhan. Mehibe was glowing with praise: “Cey was brilliant! He played a mixture of British and Turkish music that got people dancing all night long.”  The night included traditional Turkish dances so guests could throw money over the couple as they shimmied across the dance floor.

Paying meticulous attention to the user experience, Mehibe’s planning went to unusual lengths. She asked Mr Seker to bring takeout boxes for the excess food, which many guests used. She also bought 40 pairs of flip flops for females wearing killer heels: “Come 9pm, every single pair had been taken.” 


Regency Banqueting Suite: the home of Turkish weddings

Oya & Akin, one of many Turkish couples to wed at the Regency over the past 30 years
Regency Banqueting Suite is a North London institution. Celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, they have hosted thousands of Turkish, Kurdish and Cypriot weddings, with earlier generations who married there now returning for their children’s weddings.

Tezay Mustafa, the middle of three sons now running the family business after their father Naim retired, describes how Regency came about: “Dad is originally from Dali in Cyprus. He started off as a wedding photographer, forming Simsak [Studio] with his brother-in-law Hassan, taking photographs of community weddings in the 60s and 70s at the Bloomsbury, owned by the late Halil Perry, and Aksaray and Stoke Newington Town Hall. The limited options and growing demand prompted dad to buy an old cinema in Tottenham and convert it, opening the Regency in 1984.”

Initially the venue offered just a few services: the hire of the hall, photography, and food for the guests. Over time, their wedding package has grown to such an extent that the Regency directors are as much wedding planners as they are event managers. As Tezay explains: “With 50 years of experience, we know all there is to know about Turkish weddings, from the run of events to the legal and cultural formalities.”

He describes the usual order of events: “The couple enter the wedding hall accompanied by davul-zurna (bass drum and reed pipe) and do three laps around the dance floor, followed by their first dance. Once the couple are seated on the top table, the meal begins. Speeches are made during the meal – usually using plasma screens. Gifts are then presented to those who assisted with the wedding, the couple cut the cake, and then it’s on to traditional Turkish family dances, followed by an open floor for all guests. Some couples do the testi dance too, then it’s the tebrik, followed by more dancing to the end of the event. The entire day, with civil ceremony, normally runs from 4pm to midnight.”


Turkish wedding traditions
British-born Turks are definitely more picky about which Turkish traditions they observe, with kına (henna) nights less common. This event is for the bride’s family to say goodbye to her before she passes into her husband’s family. The women gather at the bride’s home on the eve of the wedding, placing henna on the groom’s finger and bride’s hand to reflect their earthly divine bonding, with each hand wrapped in red to ward off evil spirits. This is followed by dancing, singing and eating.

Practising Muslims will hold a nikah where they take their vows at the mosque and are blessed with readings from the holy Kuran, as well as formally entering into a marital contract before God.

The testi dance involves an earthenware pot, traditionally filled with water that either the bride or mother-in-law will smash before the bride enters her new family home to invoke blessings and fertility. In the UK, the pot is filled with money and sweets instead, which single ladies will use for solo dances before it is smashed.

Instead of pinning money, people now prefer to
give money in envelopes
The tebrik, where people queue to congratulate the happy couple, is also undergoing change. Turkish Cypriots tend not to pin money, instead providing a sealed box and envelopes for guests. However, families from Turkey still maintain this tradition, with the MC announcing who has pinned on how much! After the tebrik couples offer guests kurabiye or bastic (Turkish cookies).


Music all night long
Central to any good Turkish wedding is the music. Doğan Akın’s Grup Abone, Kelebekler, and Sönmez Muzik Group are among the most popular bands, playing sets that encompass both traditional songs and pop music covers that are guaranteed to get everyone dancing. Like the best venues, the bands can be booked up to a year in advance, so early enquiries are high advised.

If you want a traditional musical entrance with the davul and zurna, then one of the best in the business is Ahenkli. They were formed by Bulent Ali in 2008, having previously performed with his father for some twenty years. The band put a lot of emphasis on their unique live shows, prompting several TV appearances on Don't Tell the Bride and Four Weddings. At typical Turkish weddings where Ahenkli are performing the grand entrance with a davul-zurna, Bulent says the most requested traditional songs are the Kozan Marşı, Mehter Marşı, Çiftetelli, and Dillirga.


Many Turkish couples still opt for a 'davul & zurna' entrance
Music played a major part in the wedding of Weekly Zaman’s deputy editor Havva Murat, who married her sweetheart Umut Başkal in January in a winter wonderland themed reception in Edmonton. Both are devout Muslims so their wedding served halal food, but no alcohol for guests. Havva said even with all the guests sober, “My wedding comprised of endless dancing, including my father dancing on his knees.”

For Havva, the most important part of the day was, “having everyone I love together in one hall.” They had over 400 guests: “Small Turkish weddings are just not possible!” They entered accompanied by davul and zurna and did the testi dance, although their first dance was to a non-Turkish song – Maher Zain’s For the Rest of My Life – which held special meaning for the couple.


Dress to impress
Attire is a major wedding expense. Nominated several times as Britain’s Best Wedding Designer, Şadiye Balıkçıoğlu (pictured below) is one of the community’s most experienced dressmakers. Over the past 33 years, she has designed and produced wedding outfits for brides of all shapes and sizes, from a wafer-thin size 6 to a 16-plus figure. Her magical hands expertly create beautiful haute couture bridal wear that fits and looks picture-perfect.

Şadiye Balıkçıoğlu
Brides are influenced by what they see on celebrities and in magazines, and come in with set ideas on the style and choice of fabrics. For Şadiye, “It’s all about the fit. Trends come and go, and we have the experience to work with any material, but the style has to flatter the bride.”

On average a Şadiye dress can take three months to make from commission to delivery and usually costs upwards of £2,000. She cautions brides looking for a bargain online, having met many devastated ladies after they received their dress: “The results are mostly rubbish. Always put personal recommendations above an advert on Google”.

Havva Murat in her custom-made
bridalwear from Istanbul
One lady who ventured abroad and came back happy was Havva Murat. She had her dress and headwear custom-made in Istanbul: “It is incredible what tailors out there can do. I had my dress made from scratch and completed in just seven days! It weighed 7 kg and I had a little bit of trouble bringing it over, but it was all worth it.”


Well Groomed in Palmers Green have been selling men’s suits for 110 years and supply leading TV shows including Eastenders and Big Brother. Part of a national network of 100 shops across the country, they have outlets from Brighton to Bromley, and up to bonny Scotland, so the groom and his entourage can access any convenient location to try on or pick up their suits.

While Turkish men continue to opt for the classic tuxedo, Well Groomed say their 2014 best seller is the classic lounge suit – available in grey silk, black, grey wool and now a new modern slim fit navy colour. These come with matching waistcoats and accessories, with the complete package (jacket, trousers, shirt, waistcoat, neckwear and handkerchief) available to hire from £100 for one week or to buy from £500.
 
Turkish grooms prefer a Tuxedo

The Rings
A pair of classic 14-to-18 carat yellow gold wedding bands with engraved names can cost around £300. Designer brands such as Altınbaş offer a wide range of contemporary styles and colours, which can all be customised. Their UK stockist Özcan Jewellers offer an exclusive portrait service too, where instead of the initials, the couple’s faces are printed on the inside of the rings. They need three weeks to turn the order around.


Drive in style


Style extends to every part of the wedding including transport. One of the UK’s top car hire companies is Weddings by Driven, managed by Altay and Sevin Sivri, who boast one of the largest and most exclusive fleets of cars, including the 1934 vintage Mulliner and Hooper, several classic motors from the 1960s through to modern-day Rolls Royce Phantoms. Each booking includes champagne, chocolates, ribbons and their unique personalised Mr & Mrs number plate. The company also organises a luxury hotel stay after the main reception, so the newly-weds can enjoy their first night and morning together without being disturbed.


Wedding Cake
Master baker Özgür Aydın is the owner of Partycake in Tottenham. His legendary cake-making skills are sought out as far afield as Ireland. His bespoke cakes cater for all budgets and tastes, from the simplest to the grandest including one wedding cake that was 19-tiers tall. He needs just a week’s notice, but advises on a longer timeframe so he can better discuss ideas with the customer and get them to sample different cakes. They do a free delivery within London, as well as the cake set-up with all the trimmings.


Capturing the Big Day
Naturally creative, Kerim Mehmet added wedding photography to his portfolio some six years ago. His bold approach has broken boundaries in the way newly-weds are photographed, going beyond the classic poses to capture the essence of the couple.

Kerim Mehmet broken boundaries
with his wedding photography
“We want to know about their characters, feelings, how they met and what their passions are – this is photography at its personal best.  We document the entire day from the preparation, to the ceremony and portrait shoots, as well as the procession, capturing everyone enjoying themselves and parents shedding those tears of joy…The fun part is offering a post-shoot, where couples wear their beautiful wedding attire again and we really mix up the themes to capture the couple as a ‘we’.”  

He advises couples to go for quality over quantity: “The images will live on long after the day, making it vital these precious moments are captured professionally”. They should carefully check the photographer’s portfolio for style, and to see if there is a good personal connection: “Your photographer will be with you for over 12 hours on a happy but very nerve-wracking day, so you must feel comfortable and confident with your choice.”  


Final words of wisdom
Havva advises: “Give yourself plenty of time to plan your wedding. Select a group of trustworthy friends and family members and delegate tasks – you cannot do it on your own! Do your research well before committing to a photographer, caterer or venue, there is a lot of competition out there.”


Mehibe adds: “Think about what is most important to you and do consult your family. It’s important to manage expectations about the day, but ultimately it is your day and you need to look back and know you really enjoyed it.”


Typical costs for a Turkish wedding

VENUE

The Regency Suite (up to 420 guests): décor, staff, furniture, dance floor, food, drinks, event support: from £7,000 
BAND

Hiring a top British Turkish band such as Sönmez Muzik Grubu and their PA kit, to perform all evening for a weekend wedding will set you back: £1,400
PHOTOGRAPHY & VIDEO

Fairest of Them All photography & video package: same day Registry & Reception, 80-100 personally-picked photos in handmade StoryBook album: £2,490 (Simsak)
INVITES
  
100 Fairytale invites on luxury embossed shutter-fold card with satin ribbon, info & RSVP cards, envelopes, order of service, place cards, menus & table place. £1,135 (Ivy Ellen)
VENUE DÉCOR

Elegant venue decoration: flowers, chair covers, centre pieces, dance floors, backdrops, ceiling drapes & much more. Backdrop & ceiling canopy only: from £800 (Cupid Creative)
CAR

Chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce Cloud III, ribbons, personalised Mr & Mrs number plate, champagne & chocolates. Post-party travel, over-night stay at hotel, champagne, strawberries & breakfast: £1,100 (Weddings by Driven)
DRESS

Haute couture dresses & veil in classic or contemporary styles, using the best fabrics, hand-stitched for the perfect fit: from £2,000 (Shadiye Bridal)
SUIT

The traditional black tuxedo and tails made of Herringbone wool remains the firm favourite at weddings: from £50 hire or £100 to buy (Well Groomed for Men)
BRIDAL HAIR

Pre-wedding consultation and trial session, bridal hair styled as required (updo, hair-piece etc) and make-up: from £110. (Spotlite)
FLOWERS

Stunning floral designs for bridal and bridesmaids’ bouquets, buttonholes, and table decorations that go from simple to the elaborate: from £2,000 (Phillo Flowers)
RINGS

Altınbaş contemporary His & Her customised wedding bands. White gold & rose, with stone (crystal or diamond) detail on bride’s ring: from £1,200 for pair (Özcan Jewellers)
CAKE

Choose from a range of sponge types, flavours and finishes for your dream wedding cake. A 5‑tier cake to feed 400 guests: from £500  (Partycake)

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