You surely know the San Benedetto market (for those of you who aren’t from Cagliari, it’s the largest city market, especially famous for its fish market). What does the market have to do with this story? You’ll soon understand.
The year is 1997.
Now, imagine a young woman who has just moved to Cagliari from a big city on the Italian peninsula and is getting used to living in Sardinia, feeling both fascinated by it and disoriented.
The scent of the air, the bright blue sky, the incessantly blowing wind, travelling distances that have come so much shorter, people recognising you on the street and greeting you. How could she not be impressed?
“It’s a pity your surname doesn’t end with a ‘u’!”. This is the answer the young woman received at one of her many job interviews. She never really understood the reason for saying this (many Sardinian surnames end with a ‘u’), but the fact remains that she was very confused by the joke.
What was the point of sitting 25 exams at university, an honours degree, and more than five years’ professional experience in an international company? She had a painful and stinging feeling that it had all been for nothing!
Feeling very downhearted, she would go to the San Benedetto market every day to do the shopping. Why did she choose the market? Because it was teeming with life, scents, colours and noises. Perceptions that were so different from the darkness of her mood. There was no anger or frustration, just great incredulity accompanied by a persisting idea: how to find her way out of a daily life routine she had never really chosen: being a housewife! The leading character of our story has endless admiration for women who choose to be all-round mothers. They’re the real managers who need to juggle thousands of tasks and jobs, often without any recognition. But the protagonist of our story felt that this wasn’t her only true vocation.
One day, when she was shopping, chatting and greeting people while waiting for her turn, she overheard the conversation of a woman whose daughter was going to get married that Saturday in a church close to where she lived. She didn’t know the woman, but the way the woman was speaking and what she was saying made her think that it would be something really nice.
Our friend wanted to see “something really nice” and admire the elegant occasion (her wardrobe was full of office outfits, certainly not suitable for going to the market!). She decided to go and have a look without making herself noticed. And so that’s what she did.
Too bad her expectations were let down.
The bride was beautiful (every bride shines brightly with joy and happiness), the bride’s mother was very elegant (living up to expectations) but everything else – the setting, the environment, the flower arrangements – was practically non-existent.
The real situation was quite unlike what our friend had imagined for a wedding: the church was bare, no particular embellishment, just two baskets of flowers at the entrance.
Certainly out of tune with the rest of the wedding.
The scenery, the set-up, the details, everything was so basic, to use a modern expression. Yet this was a wedding, a unique event, and the guests were all quite elegant! She just couldn’t understand why.
Intrigued, she decided to delve deeper.
She very discretely (always sitting in the last pew) started to go to the wedding ceremonies she learned about through church banns. First the church close to her home, then another church and yet another one. After a couple of months of observation, she decided to draw her own conclusions.
If that was what the market was offering, she felt she could propose something different, something more elaborate, even if she’d only held a few bouquets of flowers that had be given to her as a gift.
The question, however, was how to get started. Yes, how to start? It wasn’t just a question of resources but also of knowing the right people. Let’s be honest, making friends when moving somewhere new isn’t exactly easy, but having seen a new business opportunity, the last thing she wanted to do was feel disheartened!
The first thing she did was draw up a business plan with all the information she had. Then she decided to contact a trade association to find out what steps to take, how to embark on a business opportunity, what the charges and costs would be, which were the obligations, and so on.
It was here that she met a person who would prove to be crucial.
An employee of the association, a true workaholic, listened to her, asked her to tell her story and instantly decided, impressed by her enthusiasm (she would tell her this years later, when the two became friends), to help her. She introduced her to the owner of a venue that was very fashionable at the time (actually, it still is). Our friend decided not to miss this opportunity and offered to prepare the decoration for the table of the bride and groom of the many wedding receptions that were held there.
In return, she asked for feedback on whether the bride and groom were satisfied with her work. This would allow her to gain insight into the tastes of the market, which she wasn’t familiar with. This test was important to her: she was aware that at the first mistake the cooperation would have ended.
The owner of the venue, who was already putting great trust in her, asked her for a photo album to show to the bride and groom. She accepted without hesitation, although she didn’t really know where to start from or what to do. So she started buying flowers and practising, following nothing but her instinct alone. She tried out a thousand different combinations. Initially quite unappealing, they gradually became prettier, more original and unconventional.
She called a professional photographer and prepared a small album, which she still has, just so that she never forgets where she started from! The feedback from the bride and groom turned out to be very satisfying!
So she decided to go ahead. With the consent of the venue, she showed the bride and groom some very pretty wedding favours that she made herself with flair and creativity. Work started to arrive, she was over the moon, but what a struggle! Lots of sleepless nights to be able to finish the job!
Everything had a “home-made” feeling.
Our friend could work at home and look after the children! Her visits to the San Benedetto market meanwhile were less frequent. She had no more time and this didn’t displease her at all!
That feeling of disorientation had now given way to a very strong urge to go on! There was still a feeling of uncertainty (alas, that would never go away!), but now determination prevailed.
After a year, our friend opened a small shop near her home. Her work continued, as did her passion. That same year, the first wedding fair (“Fiori d’Arancio”) was launched in Cagliari. She read the advert in the newspaper, made an appointment (accompanied by her friend, the one from the Association), and decided to take part: all in one day. An enormous step, she thought!
She did her best to set up her area, using white tulle and ivy branches to decorate the outside of the stand. What would seem rather horrible 20 years later, at the time looked pretty. It was so pretty that a visitor asked our friend if she would be willing to decorate the church for her wedding. It was the Church of the Blessed Virgin of Lourdes in Poggio dei Pini (close to Cagliari), which she wasn’t familiar with. “Of course!” she answered, suddenly, without thinking, without hesitation.
On the whole, the fair was a success. Great compliments and such joy. The Church too! But so many flowers ruined, so much waste! Inexperience had a price to pay if you wanted to create something beautiful.
Freesias, lemons and daisies: this was the combination proposed and accepted by the bride with enthusiasm. The photos of that ceremony led to five more weddings that year, without the need for any publicity.
The following year, the Fair again.
In the meantime, our friend had bought some beautiful fabric to cover the pews of churches (Cagliari was unfamiliar with “dressing” churches like this).
She decided to present this novelty at the Fair by simulating a real ceremony with flower arrangements for the pews, a flower arch at the entrance and a bridal bouquet. In short, everything needed to create an enthralling setting for a celebration. All that was missing were the bride and groom (and the priest).
This young woman was proud to present her idea (it had been two years since she’d seen the first basic wedding) but something went wrong, at least apparently. Two ladies, thinking that no-one was listening to them, commented on the set-up saying: “Definitely good taste, but there’s a lack of technique”.
A strong, deafening, deep blow at the heart.
Truth arriving so suddenly and unexpectedly. What could she say, what could she think? Nothing. All she could do was acknowledge that they were right!
She did have good taste (everyone said so!) but she had to admit she was self-taught and had no solid basis other than her resourcefulness and tenacity.
That comment was in actual fact the real turning point of her career.
Yes, because you can’t invent a profession. It needs to be built with perseverance and can be acquired in one way only: through training!
Our friend began attending courses in flower arrangement and later also in lighting techniques at a highly accredited Italian school.
She attended dozens and dozens of courses for several years, and her work took off.
Her arrangements and set-ups didn’t conform to usual patterns and standards, and she was constantly searching for new ideas.
She acquired and improved her methodological approach and her work began to be more appreciated.
Her profession made progress and she started to specialise in another sector: event management.
The rapid growth of the Internet and the stunning development of social networks turned weddings from a family celebration into an event that requires organisation and management.
The leap in quality was inevitable.
Her university education helped her enormously in the organisation and coordination of weddings/events.
Application of the business management principles she had studied at university, together with the experience she had gained over time, proved to be extremely important in her work as a Wedding Planner.
As a Wedding Designer, she took part in dozens of specialisation courses, which continually confirmed her approach and gave her huge satisfaction. She organised dozens and dozens of weddings over the years both in Sardinia and elsewhere. How many weddings? It’s hard to say exactly, a few hundred for sure.
These were years of “mad and desperate” (the Italian poet Leopardi will excuse me if I quote him directly) work made of nights toiling away and of the turnover of staff who learnt to spread their wings and fly away – at times going back to her to ask for advice. These were extremely satisfying and gratifying years.
One aspect of this story deserves special attention. My friend, who in time became a Wedding Planner & Designer, made her living solely from her work.
To put it simply, she was a businesswoman. This may seem obvious, but it isn’t given her profession (often considered a hobby or little more).
She was a self-made woman who had worked hard and continued to do so. A person driven by passion can’t stop, but has to go on.
The protagonist of this story belongs to that category of people who are proud and practical, who prove their worth with facts not words, who aren’t interested in appearing because it is their work that speaks for them, and who have experienced first-hand that they need to work for a living (talking is useless and fades quickly!).
Four years ago, I started a new professional adventure: I founded the Wedding Master Academy.
After achieving all the qualifications I could get, perfecting my working techniques and gaining a huge amount of experience, I decided that the right thing to do was do something for the new generations.
This in my new “creation” weddingmastercademy.it