Dana Wolley Talks to Savoir Flair about Planning Her Wedding

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Dana Wolley
Dana Wolley and Samer Zayat on the night of their engagement | Photo: Courtesy of Dana Wolley

Dana Wolley has made a name for herself in the Middle East as a great appreciator of all things vintage and as one of its most stylish and tasteful influencers. Her breathtaking engagement to Samer Zayat last year was further proof of that, making her wedding this summer one of the most anticipated events of the year. In the run-up to her nuptials, Savoir Flair sat down with Wolley to find out how her preparations were going and to get some exclusive insight into what she was planning.

To start off, when are you getting married?
July 29th!

And when did you get engaged?
Very good question [Laughs]. Hmmm… April 4th.

So that’s a bit over a year to plan your whole wedding. Are you working with any wedding planners?
Yes, I am working with Paul Nassr. At first it was such a big struggle to find a wedding planner that I liked, because I really know what I want. I met a few wedding planners and Paul was the only person that I felt was on the same page as me. I want something big, something new, something that hasn’t been done before. I might be known as a person who is all about vintage, but I want my wedding to be the exact opposite of my engagement. My engagement was all flowers and chandeliers everywhere. That being said, my wedding will definitely have a vintage Victorian twist, but in a way that’s never been done before.

My wedding will definitely have a vintage Victorian twist, but in a way that’s never been done before.

Are you the type of girl who grew up knowing exactly what her wedding would be like and dreaming about her big day?
People think all girls are like that! Whatever ideas I had for my wedding changed completely the day I got engaged, and I think social media is to blame. All the weddings and all the details of weddings around the world are now on Instagram, but for me it’s about being different. If I wanted an amazing wedding, I could just go and copy what I find on Instagram and put beautiful flowers, chandeliers, and crystals – but then again it would be the same as every other wedding. I had to change all the dreams I had growing up into something that would still be in line with my personality, but at the same time that would be something completely different.

You’re literally looking for something that can’t be found online right now?
Exactly. Well, obviously not the whole thing. Some things will be traditional and typical, but when it comes to flowers and the construction that I am doing in the hall, when it comes to the few elements we are putting on the ceiling or on the floor, when it comes to the lighting – all that is going to be different.

Do you have a theme?
Not really. Like I said, it has my personal touch, so it’s a bit vintage and there is a bit of Victorian here and there, but it’s done in a modern way. Let’s say it’s modern Victorian.

I chose not to go to a big designer, because it was very important for me to be the designer of my dress and for it to follow my vision.

Which is perfectly on trend, by the way! So what has been your favorite part of planning your wedding so far?
My favorite part is going to Beirut and sitting with my wedding planner and all the suppliers. This has been fun to a certain degree, because I like traveling for work. But I’m also really enjoying talking to people and different media outlets about the wedding to build hype around it. I’m a marketing professional, so I love this.

What about your least favorite part?
The pressure, because time goes by so fast and you think you’re ready, but you’re not. It’s also been a challenge to plan the wedding in Lebanon. Here in Dubai, I know everyone, but in Beirut I had to get to know a whole new market from scratch.

But it’s good that you have a wedding planner that you can trust.
Exactly. I also have another wedding coordinator called Sima. She’s behind the Instagram account @LebaneseWeddings. We met online after my engagement, which she featured many times. So we met and I asked her to help me with a few things and she’s been my wedding coordinator ever since. She tells me how much a supplier should charge, so that I know and don’t get ripped off. You should have seen how the numbers were changing – they would quote me 100,000 and it would go down to 5,000 in 24 hours. I’m a businesswoman, so I naturally cut any number you give me in half, but this was just ridiculous. At the end of the day I honestly had to just sit down and be like, “Hey, this is good for you. This wedding is going to put you in the spotlight.” What’s nice is that I have a good team around me now and they want to be part of this wedding too. They are going to be using this wedding to showcase their work, to put themselves out there. That has really been a strong bargaining chip for me.

Dana Wolley and Samer Zayat on the night of their engagement | Photo: Courtesy of Dana Wolley

Tell me about your wedding dress. Is it almost ready?
Not at all! I thought my dress would be finished by now, but we haven’t even started!

You’re working with Esposa?
Yes, they’ve opened a very big atelier in Beirut that is focused only on haute couture. I chose not to go to a big designer, because it was very important for me to be the designer of my dress and for it to follow my vision. I know exactly how I want it to be, and all I wanted was someone who would know how to recreate that. When you go to a big designer, they will do something that matches their aesthetic, their idea, their latest collection. It can’t be something that is extremely different. I didn’t want to do that; I wanted this dress to be something very personal for me. That’s what I am doing now. I saw a few samples yesterday, so we’re just going to do a few changes and we’re going to go from there.

Your dress is the one thing people will remember about your wedding. Not the flowers. Not the lavishness. Just your dress.

Can you give us any clues as to what the dress is going to look like?
The dress is going to be quite different. I’m guessing nobody knows what my dress is going to look like. Nobody is going to know. It is something that people are not going to expect.

When you started thinking about or designing your dress, what was your starting point? Did you have a specific inspiration, maybe like a celebrity’s wedding dress or something from a movie?
Honestly, no. This was actually my initial problem. All the 200,000 and 300,000 dollar wedding dresses that you see on Instagram – the first time you see them you think, “Wow,” but everybody started doing the exact same thing. From the heavy florals and beading to how long they are, it was all the same! I want something that resembles a wedding dress, but the beading is different, the color is different, everything else is different.

So it’s not going to be white?
[Laughs] It is going to be a wedding dress, but I don’t know that it’s going to be white. I can’t say! What I can tell you is that it’s not going to be blue, it’s not going to be pink, and it’s not going to be colorful. It’s just not going to be as white as a typical wedding dress. If the idea that I have in mind actually works, it’s going to be a white wedding dress done in a different way. Like I said, there was no starting point for me, so I would change my mind every single day. It took me a good six months to figure out what I actually wanted. I would research vintage collections from designers and pieces by unknown bridal designers. I just wanted to feel inspired, but I didn’t get there. I am not 100 percent there even after six months. That’s the problem with going bespoke instead of just buying something that is ready, but I just didn’t fall in love with anything I saw. And your dress is the one thing people will remember about your wedding. Not the flowers. Not the lavishness. Just your dress. Does anyone care about Princess Diana’s carpet or her flowers? Everybody remembers the huge sleeves and the long trail. Nobody remembers anything else.

Planning a wedding can unfortunately be very stressful. How have you been dealing with that?
The gym helps. I am in the gym every single morning.

What kind of workouts have you been doing?
I’ve been working out with my trainer, Tony, almost every single day except Fridays. Mostly body-building and cardio. I was very overweight and I need a lot of toning now. We’re mostly focused on weight training, but cardio is very important to obviously burn everything I am eating.

Stress eating?
Yes. I honestly haven’t been dealing with it so well. At first, I was dieting and working out properly and I lost weight, but recent political developments mean a lot of my Emirati friends won’t be able to attend my wedding, which has left me feeling so demotivated. I started eating so much and I gained a bit of weight back even though I stayed at the gym. It was very difficult and it still is. It’s demotivating to be at a wedding and not have your best friends with you. I’m being completely honest in this interview. I’ve had a lot of stress lately – my grandfather was very sick and he passed away two weeks ago. I also lost my grandmother three months ago. Sometimes it feels like the odds are not in my favor, but I really hope everything is going to be okay.

I’ll definitely do the cake tasting with Samer, because he’s a cake monster. He is obsessed with sugar, cookies, chocolate – he’s the opposite of me!

On a more positive note, what are you most looking forward to on the night?
I just want to have fun. I got this band from New York to come and play at the wedding. They’re super cool; I’ve seen them play before. I can’t wait to just let go and dance. I also have a specific entrance in mind. Just thinking of the day, of the moment I show up in the wedding hall. The lights, the dress – it’s going to be very exciting. I know I’m definitely going to cry! I even told [makeup artist] Bassam Fattouh, “You have to stay on standby, because I know I’m going to cry and I’m going to need touchups!”

Every bride-to-be dreams of her cake tasting. Have you gotten to that stage in the planning yet?
I can’t wait for that! I haven’t yet. The catering team is confirmed, but the cake will be made by someone different, because I need something very technical. I’ll definitely do the cake tasting with Samer, because he’s a cake monster. He is obsessed with sugar, cookies, chocolate – he’s the opposite of me! He can’t wait for the tasting.

Is Samer very involved in planning the wedding?
No he’s not, but not because he doesn’t want to be. He’s very busy and he trusts me. Not even my Mom is involved in this wedding.

How come?
I learned a lot of things from my engagement. I learned that, if I ask for people’s opinions, I’m going to end up doing what they like and not what I like. Yes, the engagement was beautiful, but there were a lot of things that I didn’t like and still went ahead with because I decided to ask for people’s opinions. The only person who is involved in this, other than me, is my wedding planner. No one else knows what’s going on.

Dana Wolley on the night of her engagement | Photo: Courtesy of Dana Wolley

What’s the most surprising thing you learned during this process?
Other than the ridiculous price margins in Lebanon? [Laughs] Everything honestly. For example, I thought that you just get a DJ and you get a band and you get the singer and that’s it. Well no; it’s not. You need a choreographer and you need someone who knows how to match the choreography and the music with the lighting.

What advice do you wish had been shared with you before you started planning your wedding?
I wish somebody would have told me all the millions of things and parts and people you need to make your wedding happen. I thought I had a really big budget when I first started, but then after all those things you realize you don’t. I didn’t know I would have to create or construct a lot of my own stuff. I never thought about it as a construction project, but it turns out that it’s like building a house. I thought I would borrow or rent things from somewhere, but then again no; you have to create everything from scratch. I also wish I knew how much things cost in Lebanon so that I could have bargained better in the beginning. There are a lot of things I wish I knew. A lot.

I learned a lot of things from my engagement. I learned that, if I ask for people’s opinions, I’m going to end up doing what they like and not what I like.

What advice would you give to someone who is newly engaged and starting to plan her wedding?
Try to chill and try to relax. Try to be happy even though sometimes it feels like the odds are against you. Try to be positive. At the end of the day, it’s supposed to be the happiest day of your life. This is what I keep telling myself. Also try to finish things as early as possible so that you give yourself at least a month to chill and take care of yourself. It is not about planning and traveling and not sleeping at night. I’m trying very hard to finish everything and have everything done a month before the wedding. Another piece of advice would be to always bargain. Never settle for the first number a supplier gives you. You need to be smart. Meet different suppliers and don’t stick to one because it’s known as the “It” supplier. You will find someone who can give you exactly what you need at a fraction of the price. These little things that you have saved will add up to a lot of money.

Is there anything else you can reveal to us ahead of your wedding? What can we expect? Can you give us a little taste?
[Laughs] I feel like I’ve already revealed much more than I should have. Yes, it is going to be a big wedding. Yes, it is going to be over the top, because that is my personality. I’m not a simple girl and I like to go all out because I like to have a good party. It’s going to be a really big wedding and that’s all I can tell you.

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