Nathalie Cadet-James started Luxe Fete, an event planning and design studio, in 2009. Like many others in the industry, the pandemic forced her to shift her focus from over-the-top luxury weddings to producing shippable celebration boxes for intimate gatherings.
“When the pandemic hit, weddings stopped,” said Ms. Cadet-James, 44, who lives in Miami with her husband, Brian James, 47, a lawyer, and their two daughters, Johanna, 13, and Lucca, 11. “Under lockdown I wasn’t able to plan a 300-person wedding.”
Enter Luxe Fete Social, which launched this March, though actually conceived two years before Covid. “Covid created an opportunity to make it more relevant,” she said.
The new business offers six different reusable table settings, inspired by Ms. Cadet-James’s travels while planning destination weddings. “These tablescape dinner parties in a box are an extension of my brand,” she said. “I wanted to show couples they can host small, accessible and effortless weddings by giving them the power to do so with magazine-styled-like arrangements.”
These days Ms. Cadet-James’s typical routine is spent working from home rather than in the office she once shared with her five staffers. Her days include sharing inspiration boards with her vendors and co-workers, she said, “so my staff are all on the same page, looking at my orders for dinners in a box, talking to my warehouse, and making sure orders are filled.
“Then one child has soccer and another has dance class, which I take them to. When I come home I see what needs to happen to move the next day forward.”
How did you get started in the event-planning business?
When I got married, I ended up doing my own wedding. I’m so particular in how I want something to feel, not look. That’s very different. The planners I met with didn’t understand the difference. One is putting a production together, but lacks soul; the other is feeling an experience. I realized I enjoyed the details and watching my vision unfold. Back then I was an attorney. When I got pregnant I realized I’d have to go back to work, which wasn’t going to fit into the life I was designing for myself. I put up a website using photos I took of the two weddings I had planned for friends, and the one I had done for myself. Two months afterward I had my first client.
What is your main goal for wedding guests?
To make people connect and celebrate the moment. We are all part of the couple’s story. You’re uniting two tribes as everyone becomes one family. I’m creating events to bring everyone together. The trick is to do that by creating amazing experiences. It’s important to build ties before and after. In Port Antonio, Jamaica, we arranged for 120 guests to travel two at a time on a bamboo raft down a river. It was a very mystical place, and the guests are experiencing something just as magical and that creates connection. In Italy, we rented a castle and hired a nonna, an Italian grandmother, who taught guests how to make pasta and sauce. People were brought together over food and wine while creating an incredible environment.
What are some of your wedding day rituals?
I want my clients present and relaxed. I purposely try not to move too fast in front of them and to make sure they feel calm. I always bring a treat for the bride, something she doesn’t recall sharing with me, like that she likes rose petal macarons or a specific kind of doughnut. It’s to remind her this is a celebration. I also make them a playlist based off their personalities, so that’s playing low in the background, to bring them calm and excitement at the same time for what’s about to happen.
What was your first wedding planning ‘aha’ moment?
Eight months before our wedding I starting writing one handwritten, personalized note each day. Every guest got an individualized letter. You could hear the gasps and that people felt celebrated and special. That’s the moment you want to capture. It makes a lasting impression. I make sure there’s one of those moments in every event I do.
How did you decide what to include in your dinner in a box?
It was created from my years of experience doing beautiful table settings. I wanted to include personals details like name cards; practicality, like silverware and beautiful plates; centerpieces, because that’s the statement of the table; napkin rings to make host-worthy accents; candles to get a warm glow and mood; and 12 playlists because music sets the tone. And conversation-starting question cards.
What made you add conversation cards?
Not many people know how to have a meaningful conversation that’s not about their work or children. We’ve lost that ability. Some questions include: Looking back, what would you have told your 18-year-old self? If you could invite three people, living or dead, to a dinner party who would they be? What makes you lose track of time? These answers tell you a lot about someone. You’re also building trust, gaining a different perspective and drawing out commonalities. All of these pieces connect us. That’s my mission when I gather people together.
Has being a person of color prevented doors from opening?
As a Black woman I have always had to work harder. But there has been a deliberate shift in the industry, which started after George Floyd’s death. Conversations got hotter. Peers reached out asking what should they be doing better, and that’s how you build community. Vendors and clients have become more inclusive. People are more aware of their actions. Others are specifically choosing to work with more Black-owned businesses. That has empowered me to bring in vendors I may not have brought in otherwise.
What’s your favorite wedding moment?
When the couple walk into the space and see their vision has come to life. It’s a very magical moment.