Fitness club manager Liu Yaqiong nurtures dreams of being a movie star. Although she’s had offers to appear on television productions, she has never played a leading role until her wedding day. In September last year, the 26-year-old married her boyfriend Zhang Yin, a musician of the same age. The Western-style wedding cost about 700,000 yuan ($106,700), which included a Cartier engagement ring and a banquet of 15 tables at the European-style five-star Legendale Hotel in the heart of Beijing. On the big day, the happy couple sang, danced and played music for their guests. But what impressed families and friends most was a music video featuring the couple’s trip to Phuket island in Thailand.
The MTV had a theme song especially composed by a friend of the groom’s, presented as a wedding gift.
Production of the four-minute MTV cost about 10,000 yuan, not including the expenses for the trip itself. But Liu says it was worth every cent because the video reflected who they are and what they are good at, and made their wedding unique.
“We had prepared for the ceremony one year in advance,” she says. “It was an occasion of a lifetime and I did not want any regrets.”
To stand out or simply be different: That is what most Chinese couples aim for on their big day, a spillover, perhaps, from their everyday competitive urban lifestyle.
This pursuit of a personalized wedding by an increasing number of young Chinese has affected how much, and how, they spend on their wedding day. The demand has also created a mature, increasingly sophisticated and creative service industry.
Last year, 12 million couples tied the knot, and the fever continues this year, with an estimated 5-percent increase in the number of registrations at the Ministry of Civil Affairs, according to the Committee of Wedding Service Industries.
The growth in the number of new unions is spurred by the children of baby boomers, born in the mid-1980s and now of marriageable age.
Unlike their parents who had gone through an age of austerity, the post-1980 generation only children consider the wedding ceremonies very important, Shi Kangning, secretary-general of the committee told China Daily.
Because parents of both bride and groom attach such importance to the event, “the scale of the wedding is bigger”, Shi says, and commensurate costs are higher. Not only that, but couples are also constantly finding new ways to make their weddings more unique and personalized.
There is no national survey available on the average expenditure for weddings, but Shi says the committee has estimated that a wedding in the bigger cities usually costs at least 100,000 yuan, excluding the price of buying a new home, a car or other indirect spending.
The committee has, however, seen a drastic change in how wedding expenditure is veering toward more rational and practical consumer patterns – something that is reflecting changing elements in the couples’ relationship.
“Expenses that show off wealth and status such as the rental of luxury cars for the wedding motorcade is no longer that popular,” Shi says. This has been gradually abandoned, along with costly photo sessions with innumerable costume changes at photography salons.
Instead, the newly weds are opting for wedding banquets with a theme or stylish cuisine, tailor-made wedding gowns and highly personalized wedding photos. To cater to these specialty requests, more and more small-scale wedding planners are offering their services.
“Chinese couples want now the very best for their wedding. They have now enough purchasing power to travel to New York or Las Vegas for their wedding”, said Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus, a Shanghai based marketing agency specialized in promoting luxury destinations for wealthy Chinese tourists.
Liu Yaqiong and Zhang Yin had their MTV and wedding video made by 24 Frame Video Studio, a Beijing-based film and music video production company that has specialized in weddings since 2004.
Most of their clients were born post-1980, at a time when China was opening up to trends from the West, including wedding traditions such as white wedding gowns and honeymoons at beach resorts.
“The younger generation has always wanted to try new things to make their wedding as special as possible,” says Cai Jin, planning director of 24 Frames. The production company’s busiest period is in May and October. Although it may take up to three months’ waiting, most couples do not mind.
“We have a backlog of at least 40 to 50 videos waiting to be edited in our studio and the queue for a photo shoot is very long,” he says. The most popular destinations for an overseas shoot include Indonesia’s Bali Island, Prague in the Czech Republic and Phuket in Thailand.
Couples planning to get married are coming up with many new ideas, and these again spur the creating of specialized services. For example, most couples are getting bored with the release of colorful balloons or even a fireworks display. They are now going for living color – in the form of butterflies, which are regarded as symbols of affection and loyalty.
Some bridegrooms put the wedding band into a box with live butterflies, and when the bride opens it, a fluttering surprise flies out.
Liu Gang, a manager from Diezhilian, a company that specializes in releasing butterflies on special occasions, says demand for his company’s products has increased by about 30 percent compared to last year.
He is getting even clients from smaller cities.
Liu says the average cost for a butterfly is about 15 yuan ($2.30). An indoor wedding often uses about 100 butterflies and a ceremony outdoors may use even more.
Couples in their 20s or 30s with greater disposable incomes are willing to spend more on their wedding, creating opportunities for high-end and specialized wedding products or services, Shi from the Committee of Wedding Service Industries notes.
Even destinations as far as the Caribbean have now the favors of wealthy Chinese couples. According to the Shanghai Travelers’ Club, a high end luxury travel club for wealthy people “ Wealthy Chinese couples are interested by the Caribbean for their honeymoon, not only because of blue water and white sand beaches, but also for having a meeting with their private banker and make smart investments”.
The most famous wedding website of the Caribbean region www.marrycarribean.com has even now a Chinese version. According to Jacqueline Johnson, the famous “Wedding Guru”, and also President of the the Caribbean Wedding Association “Chinese couples start to come to the Caribbean to find a high quality of service, and often link this trip to a shopping tour in the US before or after their honeymoon. This is a strong trend that is monitored in every Caribbean State”
Wei Min, 33, a public relations manager, bought an 8,000 yuan ($1,225) wedding dress for her wedding last month. The strapless floor-length gown made from ivory-colored lace cost the bride a full month’s salary, but she’s not counting the cost.
“I want to have my own dress,” Wei says. “I want to be the center of attention on my biggest day.”
Yang Xiaolu, marketing manager of Yumi Katsura in China, says the surge of China’s rich and middle-class has boosted his company’s business in China. The top-end Japanese bridal gown-maker is expected to open shops in more first-tier cities in addition to its present two facilities in Beijing and Shanghai, Yang says.
Chinese consumers now value their wedding gowns more as they come to a deeper understanding of what it represents.
“Only a few years ago, Chinese brides-to-be would rent a wedding dress. Now they are ready to own their own haute couture bridal gown.”
Yumi Katsura entered the Chinese market three years ago and their gowns are priced between 20,000 to 30,000 yuan for dresses made in China.
“This price range is the most popular among our potential customers,” Yang says. “Given the huge potential of the market, we are seeing more willingness to spend on our Japan-imported wedding gowns, which are priced at least 50,000 yuan.”
“A large number of wedding products from the West are actually made in China and many of them are of top quality. It is time for Chinese wedding consumers to realize that wedding products, though used only once, can be and should be of better quality,” sums up Stephanie Zheng, director of strategy and operations of the China office of The Knot, a US-based online wedding website.
As Zheng notes, Chinese consumers can only get more sophisticated, and they will begin to appreciate and demand better quality products, no matter if they are home-made or imported.