Luxury wedding and event planner Zainab Alsalih has curated her 15 years of experience building the most elegant and dreamy affairs into a book that invites readers to personally discover the mystique and romance of a Dubai wedding. A Carousel of Weddings – From Dubai With Love, is being presented today at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, and explores everything from the opulence of a Middle Eastern wedding to the rise of Dubai as a premier wedding destination.
The 248 page tome gives an insight into the industry through the veteran eyes of Alsalih, who is the founder and creative director of Carousel Weddings, the region’s first first luxury wedding planning and event agencies. The beautifully illustrated journey takes the reader through the making of a Middle Eastern wedding, and provides inspiration on everything from bridal beauty and stunning couture dresses to wedding traditions, cakes and a whole lot more.
A special conversation between Vogue Arabia and Zainab Alsalih allows for an even deeper understanding of her illustrious career, her experience with weddings and romance, and of course, what her latest labor of love, her beautiful book, offers.
What was the inspiration for the pioneering 248-page luxury coffee table book, which is the first of its kind focusing on bespoke regional weddings?
I wanted to give a global audience a better idea of what it means to plan a Middle Eastern wedding. Also, I wanted to inspire brides, grooms, planners, designers and other wedding professionals through the work I have done over the past 15 years, of which I am very proud.
The book is illustrated with hundreds of professionally shot beautiful colour photographs of real weddings. How soon after launching Carousel did you realize that there was a need for such a genre of book? When did you actively start documenting your weddings?
From day one, I realized that every wedding was going to be unique and truly one-of-a-kind, so it was important that each of them was well captured in photographs and thoroughly documented. I also gave each of my weddings a distinct name and theme.
Why did you choose to only feature photographs of genuine weddings that you organized?
Today, anyone can go online and view an endless array of wedding photos. I wanted my book to be unique, real and authentic. The photos had to be mine, and ones that are not found anywhere else. It is also testament to the hard work myself and my team and partners have put in over the past 15 years to make these events, and these moments, come to life.
How long did it take you to write this book, which is filled with inspirational ideas for weddings as well as valuable insights into the traditions of a Middle Eastern/Dubai wedding?
As we say, there is often a silver lining to events or things that take place that we don’t like. For me, the silver-lining of Covid was that I finally had the time to write this book, which I have been thinking about for a while, but never had the time to do. The material in the book took 15 years to put together. The writing of the book itself probably took around 12 months.
With elaborate settings, poetic descriptions and romantic quotes featured throughout the book, there is no doubt that you are passionate about your work and are a true romantic. Where does your inspiration come from?
It comes from the love of my couples for each other and for their families. That has always been my greatest source of inspiration, and it’s the reason I do what I do.
The book enjoys the support of Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism and includes a foreword from Issam Kazim, CEO Dubai Corporation of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. How did this come about?
As a wedding and event planner, I have always had a great relationship with Dubai Tourism, and we have collaborated in the past on important events, including the global luxury wedding conference Engage Summits, and Engage!20 was hosted in Dubai, with the support of Dubai Tourism. I also provide expertise to them specifically related to weddings, so when the book was ready, I shared an early draft with them, and they loved it, and gave me their full support, which I am so proud and grateful for.
As the doyenne of the UAE wedding industry, what five tips or pieces of advice would you offer to a couple planning their wedding?
Plan early. Find a good planner. Pick your date. Pick your venue. Pick a theme or look. And leave the rest to us.
Do all your weddings have a different theme? What is the most popular theme?
All the weddings we do are bespoke and have a unique theme, often one that is related to the bride and groom and that they either select, or that resonates with them. Botanical themes are always popular (gardens, florals, meadows, etc…).
What are the attributes and characteristics of a successful wedding planner like yourself?
Love what you do, love why you do it, and love who you do it for; and then, do it very, very well!
What is the most memorable wedding that you have organized?
All of them, truly. This is like trying to answer the question, “Which of my sons do I love the most?”!
How many months of planning goes into creating the ultimate wedding?
Anywhere from 3 to 12 months.
What is it that you enjoy most about organizing weddings?
Engaging with my brides and their families, and building lasting bonds.
Initially you had pursued a career in banking; how and what made you make such a major career change into the world of weddings and weddings?
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
I did not start with a clear plan to get to where I am today, so it was not so much about having a plan, as much as it was about the way I did things, and following a path that laid itself out before me. The key was my attitude towards what I do, how I do it, and whom I do it for. It was never about me, and always about my brides. Looking back, I can now “connect the dots,” as Steve Jobs once said, and see how I got to where I got; but I honestly cannot say I had a clear plan laid out in advance. It is only in looking back that I am able to connect the dots, and can clearly identify a successful formula that worked for me. I have always loved making people happy. There’s something deeply gratifying about bringing people joy and sharing it with them, so I always knew that whatever I did, it needed to give me the opportunity to make people happy, and the opportunity to have a positive impact on people’s lives.
With time, I also began to better understand and appreciate my natural strengths: an artistic flair, a gift for communicating, and an obsessive attention to detail. I was also lucky to have people around me who recognized these talents in me, and encouraged me to develop them and apply them. I find it interesting how we can look at ourselves from within and not recognize some of our gifts, and it often takes someone on the outside looking in to help us recognize and appreciate our own strengths. My husband, my friends and my mother all played a key role in encouraging me to do what I am doing today.
At Carousel you also organize lavish corporate events for luxury brands like Cartier and Buccellati, as well as 5-star hotel chains. What are the main challenges and characteristics of a successful event, be it the launch of a new boutique or a wedding?
Meticulous planning and a good relationship, clear communications, and close engagement with the client.
During the lockdown period due to Covid, when events were severely restricted, Carousel launched a new service/division offering interior styling, where you were able to demonstrate yet another talent. Tell us more about this and the importance of being flexible in business.
It’s what we would call “pivoting” – when events stopped, I had a team of immensely talented creatives who know how to design amazing spaces, so it was a matter of simply re-directing that talent towards interiors, and the results were amazing, and now our interiors business is a major activity for us and is fast-growing.
The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is a global platform that brings together members of the creative and publishing industries, from content creators to reading fans. It was first launched as the Islamic Book Fair in 1981 to fulfil the vision of the founding father of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. ADIBF 2023 will run on till May 28, 2023.