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Lillian Phan plans your big day

By Michelle Konstantinovsky

If your understanding of love is largely influenced by The Bachelor, you might have some interesting ideas about romantic milestones. Like, you might believe that cartoonishly dramatic proposals are always a great idea. Or that if the big day comes (a big “if” according to the show’s track record), the bigger the better.

Luckily, experts like Lillian Phan exist to correct such potentially disastrous delusions. As the director of weddings and social events at Merchants Exchange Productions, Phan guides couples through the often-intimidating process of getting hitched. “I got into my job by basically doing my hobby,” the former real estate sales director says. Now a seasoned pro, Phan’s compiled some foolproof tips you won’t get from primetime TV.

Family matters

“You should really know your partner and how important family is to them,” Phan says. “Some people hate a public proposal and others would love to have their family present. I have a girlfriend who just got engaged and was so excited, but felt sad she didn’t have her family there to celebrate with her. For me, I’d rather bask in the love alone for a little bit. It comes down to truly knowing your partner and what they prefer.”

Reflect on the ring

“Some people say they don’t care, but they do,” Phan says. “It sucks to wear something that’s a reminder of your love but doesn’t reflect your style.” Thanks to social media, it’s no longer taboo to tap into your partner’s jewelry preferences, whether that means peeking at their Pinterest board or relying on friends and family for guidance. “One of my best friends is about to propose,” she adds. “I invited his girlfriend to go look at rings just to play … then I sent him pictures of what she liked. There are ways to get the information without ruining the surprise.”

Get an expert

“Everyone should have a coordinator,” Phan says. “That final month of planning is so stressful, you don’t want to be frazzled finalizing all the little details—you want someone to liaise with the different vendors and take it through to the finish line.” At the very least, Phan recommends a coordinator for the final month (“there’s no such thing as a ‘day of’ coordinator—no one can show up that day and deal with all the moving parts”), but says having an expert from proposal to nuptials is best, even if they’re only involved in certain parts of the process.

Don’t DIY

Step away from the Mason jars. “People see all these little aspects they like on Instagram and Pinterest and then they forget to edit,” she says. “That’s one of the key reasons to have a producer or planner—someone to step outside the box and tie everything together.” And if you’re afraid a lack of crafts will result in a cookie-cutter celebration, don’t fret: subtle details can still say a lot about you. “You can still personalize it—you just do it in a nice manner so it doesn’t end up looking like an art project,” Phan says.

Breathe

“People forget to enjoy the process,” Phan says. “They get so caught up in the details—this is supposed to be fun!” If it’s the time crunch stressing you out, take heart knowing your dream wedding can come together in less time than you think. “You can plan a wedding in two months—I’ve done that a few times,” she says. “The longer you have and the more options you have, the more difficult it becomes.”

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