The Art of the Wedding Party

Tara Guérard sets the standard for Charleston's most fabulous weddings.
Melissa Bigner

It's been a banner year for Charleston's Tara Guérard. In the last 12 months, she has bought a 9,000-square-foot warehouse to hold her props and flower workshop; launched The Lettered Olive, an online stationery business; published a successful book; and--oh, yeah--had her first child.

What might push mere mortals to exhaustion motivates Tara to quest for more. It's always been like that for the Holy City's premier event gal, known nationally for jaw-droppingly elegant, Southern-tinged weddings and fetes she creates with her event-planning business, Soirée by Tara Guérard.

From Prom to Perfection
Growing up in Camden, Tara always had a flair for, well, flair. She redecorated her room constantly on a schoolkid's budget. And as junior class president, she coordinated her first event, the junior prom, with a photo booth and an overabundance of streamers. "The whole thing went over great," she recalls with a laugh.

Tara made her way through the College of Charleston, where she studied psychology, by working in restaurants. "I thought I'd end up as a premarital counselor, and I guess I did in the end," she says. But what she gleaned as a food and beverage devotee proved more interesting. Innovative wine lists and menus, perfect ambience, impeccable service--she soaked it all up. Later, as head of a food industry staffing service, she earned the equivalent of a graduate degree--and a sterling reputation--in coordinating catered events.

All the while, Tara says, she never had a mind to get into weddings. "I was thinking galas and events, because I didn't think I could deal with brides," she recalls.

Attention to Detail
How the tables turned. These days, Tara can't get enough of brides to be. She now tackles about 10 weddings a year, plus a few galas, and one charity event.

Not even this dynamo can do all of that alone. Her crew--dubbed The Soirettes--consists of two right-hand women, interns, and an indispensable flower maven. A team of off-duty firemen, aka "The Boys," buildz the elaborate sets that Tara dreams up. Wedding budgets start at $100,000 for two trucks and a basic crew but can hit even larger dollar amounts for a fleet of trucks and a crew of up to 100.

For all that, a bride gets Tara's special touch and attention to the every detail. "It's the sum of an event's elements that makes it fabulous," she explains. "Anybody can make a pretty wedding, but it has to come off smoothly too. People can't wait for drinks, hors d'oeuvres must be passed with napkins, the temperature and lighting have to be just right, and bathrooms must look nice. That's what sets us apart: creating dream-come-true events that go off seamlessly."

Ever mindful of picture perfection, Tara prepares two boutonnieres for a groom because "he does so much hugging throughout the night."

Big productions aside, it's still about the ceremony. "Of course I'm excited about everything we bring in and set up--furniture, fabric, rugs, candles, flowers, food, and more--the 'wow' side of things," says Tara. "In the end, though, it's about two people getting married.

"How cool is it that two people want to spend the rest of their lives together?" Tara marvels. "To be there on a wedding day, to take away the stress of the event so a couple can enjoy the moment, that's what I love."

Soirée by Tara Guérard: 54 Chapel Street, Charleston, SC 29403; www.soireecharleston.com or [843] 577-5006. The Lettered Olive: www.theletteredolive.com or [843]577-9100.

Tara Tells All
"We're Southern, and our weddings can't help but be Southern too," says Tara Guérard. Her first book, Southern Weddings: New Looks from the Old South (Wyrick & Co., $29.95), goes behind the scenes at 10 gorgeous Soirée events. "Our backdrops are Southern, our hospitality is Southern, and our traditions our Southern," says Tara. "We just put a modern spin on it all."

"The Art of the Party" is from the February 2008 issue of South Carolina: People & Places, a special section in Southern Living for our subscribers who live in South Carolina.