A Night at the 26th NSW ABIA Wedding Awards
Ever wondered what it’s like to score an invite to Australia’s largest wedding industry awards? Attending the ABIA Wedding Awards for the first time, Tanya Bywater soon discovers why the country’s best wedding vendors consider this exclusive event their night of nights.
Images Bella Weddings
An invitation to the prestigious ABIA Wedding Awards is, I’ve learned, the hottest ticket in the Australian wedding industry, and the moment I step through the polished elevator doors of Crown Sydney — venue for this year’s 26th Annual NSW ABIA Wedding Awards — I understand instantly.
The uplifting strains of the Cadena Strings string quartet, fill me with awe from the outset and, as a champagne glass effortlessly makes its way into my hand, I find myself in a whimsical wedding world of impeccably-dressed guests — naturally, this is a black-tie event — and Instagram-able backdrops.
I ponder a pose in front of a line-up of giant light-up Spotlight Letters, an oversized seating chart and larger-than-life magazine cover, created by Signed by Rose, an extraordinary Cakes by Gianluca display, the ABIA media wall or a vintage-style settee festooned with Silkflora premium faux flowers, but I’m distracted by canapés — possibly the prettiest I’ve ever seen — in the form of delicate filled cones, bite-size burgers and tiny tarts topped with edible blooms.
As I help myself to a tartlet, or two, I marvel at the roving antics of Andy Nunn, magician and mentalist, entertaining those nearby, and the revolving light of the 360 Booth Co photobooth mesmerises me. It’s people-watching at its finest and the results are fabulous — glamourous groups piled onto a podium, dancing and flashing brilliant smiles as the 360-degree camara rotates around them, capturing a perfect snapshot of the evening’s energy, and beaming it out to ‘followers’.
As if one photobooth isn’t enough, I spy In The Booth’s retro-style curtained box in a corner, and the giggling groups pouring out of it inspire me to join the queue. I’ve only just stepped in line though, when the doors to the dining room open and I see sparks flash from the corner of my eye.
Indoor fireworks, by Wedding Fireworks, and an outstanding audio-visual setup, by Encore, are just the beginning of the delights inside, where the sultry vocal tones of Sarah Davies blend with copious swathes of Silkflora arrangements, bursting from the stage and table centres — some raised on elegant clear stands, from Belle Events, to optimise the stage view — transforming the vast space of Crown Sydney’s Pearl Ballroom into a sensory utopia.
It’s been almost a year since I began working with ABIA, I’ve been writing about weddings for decades, and I’ve heard numerous stories of these Awards, now held individually in four states of Australia, but as I take my seat — marked by a printed menu personalised with my name — I realise I’ve underestimated the magnificence of this occasion.
Glancing around, I’m not alone, the looks of amazement on the faces of some in attendance a clear indicator that this is also their first ABIA Awards experience. Others though, like Rhonda Hemmingway, the eminent wedding dress designer seated to my right, appear right at home listening to General Manager Josh Grice’s rousing introduction.
Only category finalists are issued an invite to this exclusive event and legends of the wedding sphere are everywhere. A select few — Elkhair Florist Event Stylist and Crowne Plaza Hawkesbury — are celebrated early for achieving the milestone of 1000 ABIA Reviews and, having won the State Award for Best Wedding Stylist five times, Elana K Weddings is inducted into the ABIA Hall of Fame.
The fanfare continues, with ABIA’s Managing Director, Natasha O’Meara, counting down to the winners in 35 different categories. Dressed in Bariano, her enthusiasm is obvious, as she presents glossy black plaques to the distinguished line-up of winning wedding vendors, covering every facet of wedding planning, from wedding venues, photographers, celebrants, florists and videographers to hair stylists, make-up artists, cake designers, transport providers, caterers, equipment hirers, stationers and bonboniere suppliers.
The winners are a mix of new talent — so surprised that they haven’t prepared speeches — and wedding industry icons who take to the stage with practised aplomb, each stopping to pose before Bella Weddings, Visual Poet Films and The Social Newlyweds who are officially recording and sharing the evening’s highlights. Some victors squeal at the mention of their name, others dance to the stage and, I’m pleased to realise, each and every one has the support of the room.
The results of the ABIA Wedding Awards are solely determined by reviews left by recently-married couples — more than 8700 of them in this instance — and everyone in attendance has achieved a combined rating of more than 95 percent, spread over four service categories, so there’s a shared sense of success and camaraderie that emanates. The Australian wedding industry is big, $4.5 billion big, and these vendors clearly take pride in the excellence they contribute to it.
It’s an atmosphere of celebration, interspersed with live music from Cadena Strings’ phenomenal electric violin and cello duet and, what is quite possibly, the best ‘alternate service’ menu I’ve ever dined on. I’m presented with a masterpiece of tuna, fermented chilli, wasabi and seaweed crisps for entrée, a butter-soft beef cheek with couscous, broccolini and pumpkin puree for main and a choux puff with a sublime mango, passionfruit and coconut filling to round out the evening, and my neighbours’ meals look equally appealing.
As the plates are whisked away though, and the indefatigable Natasha descends from the stage, I get the sense that the night is just beginning. Hidden, until now, deejay Joined By Jeff turns up the music from a booth at the back of the room and as the volume rises so does the crowd. Brandishing light-up foam batons, they head straight for the gold ABIA logo emblazoned on Sydney Dance Floors' glossy black surface and the evening explodes — clearly these party planners and organisers know how to enjoy one too!