Marital Counsel

LOS ANGELES — Forget white cakes, white dresses and white flowers. Ditto traditional vows and venues. Wedding planner Joanne Gartin, owner of Love, Luck and Angels, prefers to make her own rules. After all, her own wedding dress was dusty rose, while the Malibu reception was strewn with colored orchids and Balinese silk lanterns.

“Most clients don’t come to me for a traditional wedding,” she says. “It’s fun to twist tradition, and people in Los Angeles especially are more open to that.” And Gartin should know. Meeting her is like coming face-to-face with a matrimonial encyclopedia, Palm Pilot and Rolodex rolled into one.

Helping her old friend and new client, actress Elizabeth Banks, choose a cake for her nuptials, Gartin pulls out the stops, setting out Cake Divas’ cake and fresh mint iced tea in the backyard of her Spanishstyle home and headquarters.

Banks’ prospective cake is actually white, but Gartin has decorated it with green and fuchsia New Zealand orchids and set it in a base lined with tropical leaves to match the reception’s Zen theme. “I’ve always wanted a simple, square cake,” says Banks. “I heard you’re supposed to have white cake because it’s virginal.” “ In that case you’ll be getting a red velvet cake?” Gartin teases before returning to business mode. Banks’ fiancé insists on chocolate — and no nuts. “Most guys don’t
even get a choice,” says Gartin.

Over the last year and a half, Gartin’s celebrity clients have included Elizabeth Berkley and Greg Lauren, Molly Shannon, Taye Diggs as well as various industry types. Still, she’s always budget minded, even when dealing with movie stars. “Weddings are terrible,” she sighs. “Anything you order in white costs three times as much as it does in any other color. You have to know how to make deals.”

To find her party props, Gartin scours L.A.’s ethnic neighborhoods and downtown markets. In Venice Beach, for example, she found a street vendor to make palm-frond flowers and a Chinese artist to calligraphguests’ place cards as they watched. Many of Gartin’s ideas translate into small gifts to take home — framed black-and-white photographs of family members or embroidered table cards that she later had made into a quilt.

Though she can do it all, from designing and printing invitations to orchestrating the ceremony to planning the menu, flowers are the detail Gartin is most passionate about. She loves colorful orchids, but has been known to dye flowers. She also has painstakingly pasted those special blooms onto hundreds of invitations. To give candles the right look, she has pre-melted them for hours.

Gartin was born in New Zealand and grew up on Australia’s Gold Coast, where she studied psychology and physics. “I can add, subtract and deal with mental brides,” she says. “It’s perfect.” After a stint modeling in New York, where she met her husband, actor Christopher Gartin, she moved to L.A. and started her own mosaic tile frame company. Arranging flowers came next, and after planning her own wedding, friends asked her to do theirs.

Of course, Gartin’s experience in the fashion business also has come in handy. When one bride’s hair stylist failed to show, Gartin stepped in. Clients always turn to her for advice on choosing a wedding dress.

And in Hollywood, putting on a show is a particularly handy skill. “A wedding is for the bride and groom,” Gartin says, “but sometimes you’ve got 300 people watching, so you want to make it entertaining.”

— Marcy Medina