He has organised the weddings of thousands of brides and grooms all over the world, fronted television shows giving us a sneak peek into the inner workings of Irish weddings and even showed us how to get married on a shoestring, but wedding dresses have proved to be the emotional undoing of Peter Kelly AKA Franc. “You’ll see tears. MY TEARS,” he tells me from Weddings By Franc HQ, a week after wrapping the first series of Don’t Tell The Bride.
Capitalising on the worldwide success of Don’t Tell The Bride, originally set in Kleinfields bridal boutique in New York, this month sees Vows wedding store in Blarney take up the mantle. “It’s exactly the same format as the American version of the show – Vows is a real store and we are dealing with real brides,” says the wedding planner.
“It was different for me, because in my normal life, shopping with brides I’m the one on the couch, asking people for something different, but this time I’m on the other side.” Peter is no stranger to Kleinfields, and is friends with the owners of the iconic store. “I was introduced to Mara and Ronnie from Kleinfields by Sylvia Weinstock, who is the cake queen of America, many years ago. It was before they started filming Say Yes To The Dress – I actually filmed Brides of Franc in the store in one of the early series.” The global wedding market has come full circle, says Franc, and now America is looking to Ireland for tips on planning the dream wedding. “For years I’ve been going to America and telling them about how we do events and what’s really nice is that they are starting to adopt some of the ways we do events here in Ireland. One of the things was that they always danced before the food – now they have dinner first and then dance.” With the Irish version of Say Yes To The Dress, we’ll have an opportunity to showcase Ireland as one of the top global destinations; something Franc has been promoting for decades now.
The global wedding market has come full circle, says Franc, and now America is looking to Ireland for tips on planning the dream wedding. “For years I’ve been going to America and telling them about how we do events and what’s really nice is that they are starting to adopt some of the ways we do events here in Ireland. One of the things was that they always danced before the food – now they have dinner first and then dance.” With the Irish version of Say Yes To The Dress, we’ll have an opportunity to showcase Ireland as one of the top global destinations; something Franc has been promoting for decades now.
“We are on the edge of Europe and the edge of America and we have all the facilities to have the most amazing weddings ever. Our light is ideal for stunning photographs. We have fantastic food and venues – we tick a lot of boxes. I do see it as being a huge, huge business.” Shot in August and September of this year, Peter says that the first day of filming was baptism of fire.
“I had to get used to the stock in the store, and I was meeting thirty brides and their families for the first time. It was like speed dating!” In the normal run of things, Franc spends upwards of three hours with a couple before creating a concept for their dream wedding, and says that body language was the key to unlocking his wedding-dress seeking brides.
“I always say that I listen with my eyes as well as their ears. Body language is very important and I found my experience in reading people really helped mein the show. Sometimes we had brides who had been looking for dresses for over a year in different countries, over ten and twelve shops already and it was trying to figure out what the real problem was in terms of finding the dress.”
With brides and their families heading to Cork from all around the country and from as far away as Massachusetts, Franc and the team at Vows had a lot of personalities on their hands. Working with three consultants across the series, Peter says that having someone else to bounce off made the process seamless.
“The consultants at Vows are great fun. One of the women I worked with has been in the business for over thirty years, just like me, and she’s worked with thousands of brides coming into the store whereas I’ve been thirty years travelling with brides all over the globe, so we bring a lot to the table.” When it comes to his brides, nobody is going to get in the way of her vision, at least if Franc has anything to do with it. “I am always on the side of my brides. This is her day, and her vision, and nobody is going to get in the way of achieving that for her. I am there to support her and help her to find her dream dress – that’s my job.” Locating the dress, reckons the wedding planner, requires a no nonsense approach.
“I am extremely honest, and to me it’s as much emotionally finding a dress as it is physically. I think a lot of times on these shows you see the physical part where we’re looking at shape, the style, cut and fabric whereas for me, I’m looking for a dress that is screaming my bride’s personality.” So what are the ingredients for a perfect wedding dress? Franc points to Grace Kelly’s wedding dress as an example of a gown that stays relevant, no matter the decade.
“We’ve had quite a few brides who have come in looking for a dress in what they think is the style of the year but have ended up going for more of a timeless gown,” he explains. “Often a timeless design is stunning because you see more of the person on the day. What you find is that they wear the dress rather than the dress wearing them, and the results are incredible.”
Speed dating his way through thirty brides has been a unique experience for the man who has planned some of the most extravagant weddings Ireland has ever seen. To him, connecting with each bride on a personal level was extremely touching.
“It’s an emotional rollercoaster. I definitely get emotional and it’s very hard to explain why,” he admits. “In the programme I try to show that for me, the emotional side of the dress is the most important part. For example, the person who finds a dress that is reasonable in cost and ticks all their boxes – that actually is a big part of their personality. Just like a person who blows the budget – that’s about their personality too.”
With tears, tantrums and all kinds of bridal high jinx a given in the series that airs on Monday on RTÉ 2, Peter Kelly says that the Say Yes To The Dress experience allowed him to get to the heart of the matter, when it comes to weddings. “I feel very lucky that I did the programme. There are quite a number of brides that I will never forget, because of being present with them when they found their dress. I feel like that with my own weddings; when I see a bride and groom taking their first dance and knowing that everything is as it should be - it’s really special.” There is no doubt that Franc has become emotionally invested in his brides, so as we say our goodbyes, I wonder if he found it hard to let go once they had said Yes To The Dress and went off to navigate the murky waters of wedding planning solo?
“I told quite a few of them to give me a call. watch this space.”