“I love my black female fans. I really do.” These are the sentiments of David Tutera, bridal designer and wedding planner to the stars. The host of hit the weTV series, My Fair Wedding, Tutera is adored for bringing delight to couples seeking perfect ceremonies despite their personal obstacles.
Tutera, who famously orchestrated the recent nuptials of New Orleans Hornets star Chris Paul, is also known for his affinity with African-American brides. As a pioneering force in the wedding industry, he has worked to ensure that black brides and models are included in his magazine shoots and his show. Black women have returned the love in kind, as loyal members of his fan base and a dedicated portion of his television following.
In honor of New York City Fashion Week and Valentine’s Day, theGrio sat down with Tutera to dish about star style, the best (and worst) of recent celebrity weddings, and what else is in store for him as he launches his line of wedding dresses and jewelry.
theGrio: How did it feel to plan Star Jones’ wedding?
David Tutera: It was an honor, it was exciting, and it was a little bit of a circus, because of all the media and press and all the drama that went on. But the reality is that — and I’ve said this multiple times — I respect Star. A lot went down that didn’t need to go down, and that’s unfortunate. But this is a girl who jumped over her wedding like everyone else, and she had a really remarkable wedding. And for the record, by the way — she paid for everything.
How do you feel when couples you have worked for get divorced?
I am saddened for them. One of the top five difficult things in life is divorce. I only wish that they find new happiness and new love someplace down the road with a new partner — but it’s hard. It’s interesting — the only times you really know about the people that have been separated and divorced are the ones that are in the press. I don’t know the statistics of my other clients. I don’t know where they are in their lives right now, so I only hope that they are all in happy relationships.
You know black women just love you — and you’ve worked hard to get more black brides and bridal models exposure within the bridal industry. Our readers would love to know why you feel so sensitive about the issue of black brides getting exposure.
This I can explain by a sit down that I had with a reporter, about two years ago, or a little bit less. She asked me the same question, and I wasn’t sure that I could answer. And then she asked me a couple of questions in return and [I realized] the reality is, it’s just sort of my upbringing.
I come from a middle income family, and I come from a small town that was basically a labor town for those that were wealthy around us. At the time I went to school in the early ‘80s it was probably a 50/50 split; it was black and white in the school. And on Thursdays, if you were in the “in crowd,” you knew if it was the day to show up tomorrow — if it was a black or a white day. It never fazed me. I just went to school on Fridays. It didn’t make a difference to me if it was [a] “black” or “white” [day]. And I think because I grew up in that environment, I never saw there to be a difference in people’s lives, or in their skin, or anything about them. For some reason, I just don’t judge people. I just take them for who they are no matter what color, what size, what genre — anything. And I think that’s just because of how I was raised.
My mom is that way, my grandmother was that way, and we just lived life that way. So when I’m thrown out in the world, and in the press for really embracing black women, I don’t do it because they’re black. I do it because I see them as equal to me and anybody else. So there’s just nothing in the way.
A part of me also feels, because as a gay male, who grew up in school [with] no one to go to, and felt challenged as a minority myself, I felt that there’s a connection to these women also. I think there’s just a natural connection.
Do you think there is a difference between black and white brides? Do they have a different sense of style?
No, I don’t think there’s a [big] difference. I think that a black bride has the innate ability to express her personality more. I think they are less guarded. I think there is a lesson to be learned in the reverse way. A black bride wants to be the woman that she wants to be, and she has no qualms about just expressing herself. And I wish more people would do that in general. It’s funny, because when I walk the streets, or travel, my fans [who] are black women just come up to me and give me a hug. That shows that lack of guardedness between us. It’s really important. I want all brides to do that.
Speaking of couples, you know that gay marriage passed in New York, and everyone thought there would be this flood of gay weddings, and there haven’t been. How do you feel about that?
I don’t know why there hasn’t been a flood in terms of the business increasing. One of the questions I get asked a lot, which somewhat goes to this question is, why are we not seeing more of it? What is the difference between a gay wedding and a straight wedding? I think it’s just that there is no difference at all — it’s just a wedding. I think because it was passed, they expected this explosion of people running down the aisle to get married. I’d like to say as a gay male, I wish there were more couples running down the aisle. I don’t know the answer for that, and I wish I did.
Speaking of people running down the aisle, LeBron James just proposed to his long term girlfriend Savannah Brinson. Do you have any wedding tips for them?
I don’t want to say too much, because I’ve kind of already spoken to her. So, I don’t know. I have to sort of wait and see what happens.
Oh! That’s exciting!
Uh-huh! LeBron is a big fan of My Fair Wedding, and he’s going to kill me for saying it, because Savannah watches it all the time. And I know for a fact, because I did Chris Paul’s wedding. And he came up to me, and he was complaining that, because of my show My Fair Wedding, it’s taking up too much of the room on the DVR [competing with] the games for him to watch.
Have you noticed any trends — I don’t want to say for black weddings, because you’ve established that there aren’t differences — but are there things black brides tend to do more of?
Actually, there is something I want them to do more of. I want them to jump the broom more. I think they’ve given a back seat to that. It’s funny, this is the opposite now. I think because the jumping of the broom is so classified as being a tradition — obviously it is an African-American tradition — they tend not to do it. And I want them to do it, because I think it’s a cool tradition. And I think it just adds to who they are as a couple.
What do you think is the most tasteful, romantic, or beautiful wedding in recent months?
The most tasteful wedding of 2011? I think for fashion it was Kate Middleton’s — the royal couple. I think fashion-wise it was beautiful and tasteful. I can’t say that there’s been a celebrity I can brag about. Unfortunately, the one that hits me over the head is [Kim] Kardashian’s, because it was so distasteful in how it was handled.
Who are some of your favorite black style icons?
The first person that came to my mind was Diana Ross. Immediately. She’s a style ICON. Michelle Obama, for sure. She’s current, obviously. I can’t say anybody in the music business, because music people tend not to be style icons. Um… I can’t think of anybody. We just lost Etta James… Hmm… You stumped me on that question. And now I need to figure out the answer to it.
Are there just not enough people today that you think have that kind of iconic style?
I will tell you — black or white, or whatever your race is on this earth — there are not enough style icons in general. When you think of people like Nicki Minaj, when you think of people who try to be outlandish, and try to make a statement, at the end of the day the statement is kind of trashy. And I wish that people would make a statement — by being a style icon. Today, a statement is made by being outlandish. And being outlandish is not having style. I can’t think of somebody that’s actually got a great style right now.
Halle Berry. She never looks bad. Ever. And Jada never looks bad. Ever. Those are two women who are very mild. You think about how they dress, it’s very classic. Very Valentino, very Armani. Very, very styled, and they look stunning.
Marriage rates tend to be low for black women. But you’re such a romantic person, and such an icon for black women today, do you have some words of encouragement for black women — to help them still believe in love?
You know, I hope my show does that for them, and that I continue to do that with all the future projects that I have. What I’m finding out from my fans is that if you put the energy out there, and I’ve been a firm believer in this since I was a kid, at some point it will come. If you wallow in self-pity and complain, and you worry, and you think that it’s never going to happen — it isn’t. And I think that the success of my show, and the platform I’ve built in the media shows: Continue to dream and be romantic, and wish for something that’s positive, and it’s gonna happen. It really will happen.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb