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In the beginning

By Sean P. Johnson

The first chapter of any story is critical to setting the mood and hooking the audience to stay with it until the final chapter.

Why should the story of a wedding be any different? For many couples, the wedding invitation represents the first chance to set the perfect scene for the rest of their storybook day. There seems to be no story too elaborate for an invitation to tell.

“The invitation is one of the first things they send out as a couple, says Samantha Dennis, owner and event stylist for Styled Accordingly, the event planning company she founded in 2012 specializing in weddings as well as corporate and non profit events. “There is so much history in why a couple is together and want to spend their lives together. This is the first chance to start telling the story.”

Invitations telling those stories are becoming more elaborate all the time.

The Manns are a perfect case study, says Jennifer Harkness, a graphic designer with Affinity Health Care who designed the couple’s wedding invitations.

As the story is told, the couple dated for eight years before Forrest Mann proposed to Bridget Tetzner. When the couple—who now live in the Superior area—approached Harkness about designing the invitation, they wanted to incorporate the story of their long courtship into the invite.

The result: an invitation that opens with the title “How to Marry a Mann in Eight Years.”

For Harkness, who probably spent close to 80 hours creating all the elements for the invitation, the payoff was helping the couple establish an identity and theme for their celebration.

“I enjoy being able to help them bring that to life,” Harkness says. “This is what everyone will see first. The invitation really set the tone for the rest of the wedding.”

A quick look at Harkness’ portfolio or a brief search on Pinterest or Etsy for wedding invitations reveal its more than the stories that have become elaborate. It’s not uncommon to see integrated components, elaborate cutouts, specialty papers and bold color schemes.

If you are planning a destination wedding, you can create an invitation that includes multiple maps and bag tags that match the invitation. A fan of the Great Gatsby? Your invitation can include intricate laser cut artwork to show off your passion for the look.

There is also a growing trend among couples to incorporate items that are custom made or unique to their special day, rather than items that are generic or mass produced.

Search long enough and you will start to notice that many of these creations are made by KatBlu Art & Design Studio, an Appleton-based business that designs and creates custom invitations and other stationery using laser cutting, letterpress printing and foil stamping.

They don’t stop at just invitations, but can also create elements favor boxes and 3D structures that integrate with the invitations.

“When you receive an invitation like these, I think a lot of people decide they have to go to see what it’s all about,” says Jen Henke, KatBlu’s creative director.

Through it’s website and Etsy store, KatBlu has been selling ornate invitations and stationery to a host of international clients, including sales as far away as Australia. Henke says the

Internet, particularly Etsy and Pinterest, have increased demand by making it easier for brides and grooms to seek out what others are doing.

Henke also works with more than dozen wedding planners around the country, which has helped to spread demand for KatBlu’s invitations, though that has not as yet translated into local demand. Some of that, she says, is no doubt related to costs.

A simple invitation can start around $3.50, and as the complexity and number of matching pieces increases, so does the price. Passport wedding sets or sets with complex laser cuts and multiple pieces can easily raise the price to more than $17 per set.

“We are seeing more demand in the larger metro areas,” Henke says. “Plus we have a lot of do it yourselfers here who will take the time and create their own.”

That the trend has not fully taken off in Appleton or the greater Midwest does not surprise Dennis, who notes that on the coasts, the number of guests tends to be much smaller, making it easier to consider the higher prices for the more complex invitations.

“Here in the Midwest an elaborate invitation is still seen as a luxury by many because of the large numbers we invite to weddings,” Dennis says.

While cost is always a factor, Lindy Adams says many couples would be surprised at the artistic touches that can be added if they can show some flexibility.

“I like to think that I can work with any budget,” says Adams, who specializes in customizing invitations by sewing fabric elements into them. “Usually there is something we can work out.”

A lover of paper and fabrics, Adams began working with invitations in 2009 on a part time basis. She now shows her work at the One of a Kind show in Chicago and is considering it as a full time business. She likes to help couples make a statement about their upcoming wedding, she says.

“It’s the first glimpse of the wedding,” Adams says. “This is a chance to show the style and look they are going for.”

For Harkness, the style and look of her next invitation project is well underway. This one is particularly important to her—its the invite to her wedding at the end of May. She’s already settled on the initial design and has made choices for color and paper.

This will certainly be a big one, though it won’t be her last.

—FC

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