It’s five A.M. at a wedding in the middle of a forest on the outskirts of Oaxaca, and it’s starting to get hot. The bride and groom are wearing matching headdresses, and guests are reaching into bags of MDMA on the dance floor. The sun is rising, but the party will go on for a few more hours, until the young guests stumble back to their hotel rooms and their parents get up for Continental breakfast. In the afternoon, there’ll be another party, which requires another outfit change, another makeup artist, another set designer, and another D.J.

The ceremony was short, the celebration was long, and the utmost care was devoted to the idea that the wedding shouldn’t feel too much like, well, a wedding.

While some extravagant weddings host thousands of guests, others are smaller affairs. Booking prized venues, such as the Hôtel du Cap, in Antibes, or Villa d’Este, on Lake Como, is preferred but not mandatory. There’s always a ferry to the Greek Isles, a tent in front of the pyramids of Giza, or a mountain town in the Alps where the bride can wear a Moncler puffer instead of a wedding dress.

It doesn’t really matter if you have a connection to the destination—what matters is that it’s cool. Rather than to host the biggest party at the most beautiful venue, the goal of weddings these days is increasingly about organizing something that sets you apart from the rest.

The ceremony was short, the celebration was long, and the utmost care was devoted to the idea that the wedding shouldn’t feel too much like, well, a wedding.

A recent F.T. HTSI story promised “ways to mark the big day (without being boring).” Being boring seems to be the ultimate fear. “Just a simple wedding isn’t cool anymore,” Angelo Danielini, a 31-year-old banker, tells me. “You have to have a conspicuous event.”

Naturally, this trend has led to rivalry among brides to outdo one another.

Competitive, large-scale ceremonies are hardly new. In the U.K., a TV show called Four Weddings, where brides compete for a prize, peaked at 525,000 viewers in 2010. The U.S. version, Bridezillas, ran for 13 seasons, up until 2020. Though misogynistic and outdated, films such as Bride Wars illustrate the innate rivalry at play when it comes to most brides’ big days.

But what Steve Kemble, a Dallas-based event planner, calls “sequel weddings,” which span multiple locations and days, seem to be a post-pandemic phenomenon.

“Raucous welcome events that include all guests—whether it’s an afternoon beach party or evening cocktails,” said Vogue wedding writer Alexandra Macon, “are no longer staples of a destination wedding weekend, but marquee events all on their own.”

In Italy, according to a manager for the Rocco Forte Hotels group who requested to remain anonymous, the trend really started with Giovanna Battaglia’s wedding, in 2016, which, along with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s, in 2014, was among the first to be documented extensively on Instagram.

Battaglia, who is the creative director of Swarovski, and her husband, Oscar Engelbert, took over Capri’s Piazzetta on a balmy Friday night. Opera singers sang from the rooftops while Battaglia swanned around in custom Alaïa. For Saturday’s ceremony, she wore custom Alexander McQueen, before switching into Thom Browne for dinner and Giambattista Valli for the after-party. After dinner, Battaglia threw a party on an oil barge, which she called a “Celebration of Exaggeration.” More than 1,000 people circled around the island until daylight.

“Her wedding set the tone on social media,” the Rocco Forte manager says. “In Italy, at least, after witnessing that, people wanted to do bolder things.”

“Now it’s all about changing the format,” Kristin O’Neill, a Manhattan-based chef who got married at Villa Treville, in Positano, tells me. “You want to switch up the day of the ceremony, organize an activity people haven’t done before.”

“Just a simple wedding isn’t cool anymore. You have to have a conspicuous event.”

To avoid appearing conventional, more well-to-do couples are opting to employ professionals who aren’t focused on weddings. There’s a higher demand for boutique travel agencies, for instance—“I try to do two weddings a year,” Emily FitzRoy, of Bellini Travel, tells me, “which makes me much more in demand than someone who does this full-time.” Set designers from top production company Villa Eugénie, who usually cater to fashion shows, are increasingly finding themselves designing photo booths for weddings.

The same goes for fashion photographers, who are quickly becoming the gold standard at weddings. German Larkin, a fashion writer and photographer for Vogue, shot his first wedding in 2017, at the Palace of Versailles. “I was specifically looking for someone different, who had never shot a wedding but had a connection with fashion,” Leslie Cohen Amon, the swimwear designer who first hired Larkin for her wedding, told The New York Times.

Amid all the festivities, the ceremony itself has been largely left by the wayside. Attendees grumble if a church service goes over 45 minutes. Traditional European Catholics are hiring gospel priests—I recently attended a wedding in Switzerland whose ceremony closed with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”—while in Israel people are replacing rabbis with actors. (One couple hired a stage-and-television actor to officiate their ceremony at the Kibbutz Hulda, opening it with a rhyming rap song.)

“At such big affairs,” Sasha Tanghe, a 27-year-old marketing manager, tells me, “guests often miss the ceremony altogether,” or, she adds, “talk over the speeches at dinner.”

In 2021, at the wedding of entrepreneurs Giorgia Gabriele and Andrea Grilli, at Villa Balbiano, on Lake Como, the ceremony lasted only 35 minutes. It was followed by a lunch at Villa d’Este and a live concert by Andrea Bocelli. “We started from the idea of having a ‘wedding not wedding,’” Gabriele, who wore a custom Off-White couture dress for the event, told Vogue. “Ultimately, our goal was to create a wedding that felt like a party most of the time.”

“Now it’s all about changing the format. You want to switch up the day of the ceremony, organize an activity people haven’t done before.”

Naturally, the D.J. selection is of the essence for any good party. “Raves are fashionable now,” Blu Signorini, an event organizer based in Milan, tells me. “The D.J.’s name has become very important.”

“It’s a potentially status-building thing, too,” creative strategist Jade Alexandre says, “because an underground D.J. won’t just come to anyone’s wedding.”

At many weddings, a portion of the budget is now dedicated to drugs, such as ecstasy pills, which are often purchased in bulk by the dearly beloved and distributed to the guests who stay late.

“It’s a potentially status-building thing, too, because an underground D.J. won’t just come to anyone’s wedding.”

“The emphasis used to be on the bride and groom. Now it’s about making sure guests have a good time,” Bellini Travel’s Emily FitzRoy says.

Despite all the good intentions of these “non-wedding weddings,” it’s hard not to wonder whether the original point—celebrating love—might be getting lost. Speaking to many of the affectless people involved, I wonder if what weddings really need right now is a bit of what they once were—small, sentimental, family-oriented affairs.

“What they don’t realize is that in their attempt to reduce the narcissistic part,” one friend tells me, “they’re actually doing the opposite.”

Elena Clavarino is the Senior Editor at AIR MAIL