Style & Substance
Between planning events for the likes of Elton John and Barbara Walters and making dreams come true on his hit television show My Fair Wedding, David Tutera is a pretty busy guy. But when his hometown needed help, he dropped it all and hopped a flight
photograph by fran collin
The groom proposed via text message. The bride is contemplating a Monopoly-themed wedding on a friend’s scrubby back lawn, which she describes as an “outdoor swamp oasis.” She’s chosen a short, cream-puff-goes-clubbin’ dress and a mishmash of hues and accessories for her bridesmaids. The wedding is three weeks away. Enter event planner David Tutera.
The host of WE tv’s My Fair Wedding comes armed with style, conviction and a reality-TV, reality-defying budget. Tutera refines the board game idea and comes up with a luxury-themed black-tie event, with bridal jewelry worth hundreds of thousands of dollars (on loan), a dice cake and a black and white checkered dance floor at an upscale venue. Tutera also orchestrates a down-on-one-knee proposal do-over.
From the moment David Tutera walks through their front doors and into their welcoming arms, the brides on the show adore him. Once he overhauls their weddings, some claim to love him more than their grooms. One misled lady who Tutera persuades not to don a purple bridal gown calls him her “fairy godmother.”
Bringing His Talent Home
The nuns at the Corpus Christi–Holy Rosary School in Port Chester feel the same way about kindergarten alum David Tutera, though they’re more apt to call him an angel. When the Catholic school held a fundraiser gala in March, Tutera volunteered to fly in from California and style the event. He also covered the cost of transforming the gym into an opulent setting forma 360-person dinner. Ten thousand cream roses artfully arranged in Baroque gold candelabras atop gold silk linens eliminated any indication that basketballs ever bounced in the space.
“David is a creative genius, yet so down-to-earth and humble, with a strong sense of family and roots,” says Christina McAleer, director of advancement for the Salesian Sisters, who run the school. “He helped us raise more than $200,000. The futures of so many kids are a whole lot brighter, thanks to David.”
The entertaining expert, whose clients include Tommy Hilfiger, the Rolling Stones, Elton John and Barbara Walters, held a press conference before the gala. In a chocolate brown three-piece suit, Tutera sat on a gold silk-covered chair, hands clasped on one thigh, impeccable posture elongating a short but solid frame.
“I wanted it to be very ethereal,” Tutera explains, surveying the angelic setting before him. The gold details add an “Italian feel,” appropriate for an event honoring the memory of a priest who came to the school from Italy. “I got involved because I wanted to help the town and the church, but when I found out the dinner was in Father Rinaldi’s name, I was very touched by that,” says Tutera. “I was baptized and confirmed by him. He was just a great guy, one of the few people I never forgot.” His kindergarten teacher, “Mrs. Parrot,” makes that list too. “I didn’t last long,” Tutera says in a low, conspiratorial voice. “I think I might have gotten kicked out. No, just kidding.” Below his gelled black hair, Tutera’s magnetic blue eyes twinkle. “I moved to King Street for grammar school.” Looking nostalgic, he recalls, “I went to religious instruction every Thursday in this gym.”
The school’s Father Molinelli interrupts for a moment to introduce himself and give Tutera a warm handshake. “I know your folks. I’m there a lot,” he says, referring to the Tutera’s funeral home across the street.
“That’s good,” replies Tutera. “Well, that’s not good,” he adds, chuckling.
“This is more for my parents than for me,” Tutera says, addressing the reporters again. “In the end, don’t we all want to please our parents? I didn’t know how much this would.”
“David always did things his own way,” recalls Tutera’s mom, JoAnn. She was referring to original—not wayward—behavior. “In kindergarten, the class put on a little play. Each kid had to draw a picture of his family and talk about them. David stood up and held up a picture of a witch! I said to my girlfriend, ‘Oh no! What is he going to say about us?’ But it wasn’t about us. He just had a story to tell about a witch.” JoAnn says her son was always extremely creative. “We’d be out and come home to find the Christmas tree up and decorated, even though it wasn’t time for Christmas!”
High school was busy. “Choir, drama, drum major, debate team—I did anything and everything to feel popular because I felt like I wasn’t,” says Tutera, who returned to give the commencement speech at Port Chester High School a few years back. “I said, ‘This is your opportunity to clean your slate and start with whatever you want to do from this point forward.’ People get so caught up that this is what they’ve done, for good or for bad.”
Tutera, who graduated tenth out of 280 in Port Chester High School’s class of’84, had turned his focus to theater in New York by senior year. He had a manager and did commercials and summer stock but soon opted out of an acting career. “I knew I wasn’t going to make any money and wasn’t going to be in control of my life.”
With some advice and a $12,000 loan from his grandfather, Tutera launched an event planning business. “My grandfather came here from Italy at the age of eight, left school at thirteen, and started sweeping the floors of a little floral shop called Moraio Brothers in Rye,” explains Tutera. “Flash-forward forty-five years—he purchased it. He taught me everything about the business of design. For my first wedding, he came to my little place in Larchmont and sat and showed me how to do everything. I was nineteen and didn’t know what I was doing! Now, at forty-five, I don’t know if I would say yes to some of the things I said yes to then, but being so naïve, I learned never to say no. I’m glad.”
Tutera went on to become one of the most sought-after event planners in New York. He styled Star Jones’s wedding and, this year, Rashard Lewis (of the Washington Wizards) and Giovanna Fortes’s nuptials. He’s written enough party and wedding planning books that he’s lost count. The David Tutera Bridal Jewelry Collection is at Sears, Stem is Tutera’s floral and gift boutique at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, and David Tutera by Faviana offers wedding gowns “Inspired by the Red Carpet, Worn on the White Carpet.”
Going from small-town gig to TV host took more than talent. “It took a lot of hard work,” says Tutera. “I am my father’s son. He can do a hundred things at one time, which is what I do. I love it. I love the
challenge, but it was a very long journey.”
Tutera offered more details of his journey during a phone call from California. For example, he lived on Weaver Street in Greenwich for many years. “I did a lot of business in Greenwich—many charity events, for Greenwich Hospital, Eagle Hill, the Red Cross Ball, the Renaissance Festival, multiple weddings and bar mitzvahs. I still do a lot of business there,” says Tutera, who is discreet about his client list.
What he can reveal are the wedding trends he’s seeing and setting. “A lot of brides ask themselves, ‘How can I be different?’ But they get nervous and end up falling back into the safe zone,” says Tutera. “I try to break that mold every chance I get.” Regarding color, he suggests, “Pick three colors, a predominant one and two secondary colors. Bold, sexy colors are in and give an event a little more personality.” Tutera recently styled a Grammy Award-winning singer’s wedding, an event too top-secret to discuss at press time, but he did divulge that the mystery singer went with a red theme.
Sexy is not the way to go with wedding dresses, though. “Trends have gotten a little risqué, but there is a time and place for that. I think I’m helping make this trend go away by keeping things more appropriate with my brides,” said Tutera, who loved how Catherine Middleton “really embodied Princess Grace” at the royal wedding last spring. “Her second dress was nothing to write home about, though. The reception dress is a place to be a little more sexy and sassy.”
Tutera encourages brides to “truly enjoy the process of planning the wedding. It’s easy to lose that moment, which can be three, six months, a year—that’s a long time not to be happy.” For mothers of the bride, Tutera offers this advice: “Be a supporter. Be there to listen and guide. It’s not 1960, ’70, or ’80. Mothers are not reflecting their personalities into the wedding anymore.”
“As for event design,” continues Tutera, “I like to mix things up! Within one space, I like to use at least two different table shapes and sizes, centerpiece designs and even linen combos and place settings to create texture and interest within the room. In terms of at-home entertaining, I love the idea of placing ‘order cards’ on guest tables, which allows them to select the garnishes and cooking method of their meal. These are then handed in to the chef and prepared to perfection.” Tutera and his partner Ryan Jurica have a country home in East Haddam, Connecticut, where this idea was incorporated into their annual summer barbecue. “Guests customized every element of their burgers—from the meat to the bun to the condiments to the cheese.”
For All the Right Reasons
With his TV show now going into its fourth season, Tutera recently sold his New York apartment and moved to Brentwood. He’s not the stereotypical Hollywood type though. “I don’t do what I do to be a celebrity. I do it because I really want people to be happy,” explains Tutera. His mom, who worked as his personal assistant for fourteen years, agrees that his motivation “isn’t to be somebody. He loves people, and he loves the show. He feels he is doing something magical for these girls, who would never have the opportunity for such a beautiful wedding.” Tutera has invited his parents on the set. “Sometimes during episodes he has to go out and cry,” comments JoAnn. “He really keeps up with the lives of the people on the show. He e-mails them. He’s involved with their families.”
Tutera’s not the only one who needs tissues during episodes of My Fair Wedding. “My mom cries the whole time!” claims the host. “My father calls me every Sunday and asks how the wedding turns out. Every Sunday, I say, ‘Dad, you have to wait until the end to find out!’”
“I didn’t think the show would be a way for multigenerations to watch TV together,” continues Tutera. “Grandmothers, mothers, daughters are watching it together. We just shot a show in Topeka, Kansas, where a teenage boy, Ryan, who is suffering from cancer, watches the show with his mom. He asked the Make-A-Wish Foundation for a My Fair Wedding for his mom. It was a pretty emotional week for me. That a seventeen-year-old boy forwarded his wish to his mom—it’s just amazing. It really struck me how humble and caring people are in the middle of the country. The whole town helped us. It was pretty remarkable.”
Tutera says, “There are a lot of moving stories in season four (which starts in November). One bride lost her mom. One is battling anorexia. There’s a bride and groom who collectively have lost 200 pounds.”
Tutera says his roots in Port Chester allow him “to embrace the people on my show. I understand where they come from. I’m blessed to have come from a fairly lower-middle income town. It’s surrounded by such wealth and so close to New York, yet it has remained such a close-knit, town.”
Tutera describes his parents as “crazy amazing” and enjoys visiting them and his siblings’ families in his hometown. “I still have my office in New York,” says Tutera, “and I’ll be there for events. I have my house in Connecticut.” Tutera and his partner recently named the house Il bel far niente (“the beauty of doing nothing”)—a quote from one of Tutera’s favorite books, Eat, Pray, Love. “Fun for me is a week there, never leaving the property,” he says.
Tutera has no intentions of implementing a do-nothing philosophy on the work front. He has plans to grow his brand, which already includes books, jewelry, bridal fashion, crafts and a new watch line. He hinted: “All I can say is that they are all things women will love, from the top of their heads to the bottom of their feet.”
Philanthropy will always be a part of Tutera’s agenda. “In my own little way, I want to help,” he says (and by “little” he could mean 10,000 roses, or demanding that his network send a crew to Topeka to fulfill a dying boy’s wish). Tutera has worked with the Prevent Cancer Foundation for a decade (his mother is a cancer survivor). He added,“Empowering women is important to me on so many levels, whether they’re struggling with their careers, health or finances.”
“The girls on my show are so deserving and so grateful,” says Tutera, of his favorite brides. “The message I’ve learned from them is to always dream bigger.
People say, ‘You’re done. You’ve made it!’ I think I’m maybe 40 percent there. I’m not done.”