I was invited to visit the Kingdom of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf this March, and it was great to leave snowy London and land in 77 degrees. I was there to talk to 18 shop owners from Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia – all with a keen interest in the flower industry. They were eager to know more about European trends, ways to teach their staff and, most important, how to make more money from their businesses.
Organizing the occasion was the dynamic Nahla Al Mahmood, who owns LalaBella, a prestigious floral and event-planning company in Muharraq, Qalali, Bahrain. Nahla’s aim with LalaBella is to create memorable experiences for her clients, incorporating new and exciting ideas, while running a one-stop shop to supply everything necessary to make events a success: flowers, chocolates, gifts and more. I asked Nahla to tell me about weddings in the Gulf and something of her experience of the floral industry.
Q. What do brides in the Middle East want in flowers?
A. Brides tend to go with lavish sets, focusing on table centerpieces, floral backdrops and big signature statements. Brides in the Middle East, as everywhere, want their weddings to be unique.
Q. What is the average cost of wedding flowers, and what percentage would this be of the total wedding budget?
A. The cost of a wedding ranges from $86,000 to $140,000. Flowers would cost about half of the budget, so from $43,000 to $70,000.
Q. Do the male and female guests mix together, or do they have separate functions?
A. Middle Eastern weddings are traditionally celebrations for women only. The groom enters to escort the bride to the main stage, where the men of both families join the bride and groom for photographs. The men then leave the wedding, allowing the ladies to enjoy the rest of the evening on their own. Recently young couples have begun to hold mixed weddings so they can enjoy their nights with their friends and all members of their families. However, some families are still strongly against mixed weddings.
Q. What is a traditional wedding gown?
A. Most brides tend to have a beaded or fully embroidered dress in white, ivory or cream. For a large wedding (500 or more people), the wedding dress is often princess style – full and extravagant (rather like the dress that Princess Diana wore). The train is usually three to six feet in length, with a long veil; the longer the veil, the greater the prestige of the wedding. For smaller weddings, brides tend to choose mermaid- style dresses, tightly fitted with a flare or fishtail at the bottom. Alternatively, they will opt for a simple A-line, which is easy to wear when dancing the night away.
Q. Would the bride have a wedding bouquet? If so, what would this look like?
A. Virtually all brides have bouquets of white flowers.
Q. You also sell chocolates. Is this a valuable part of your business?
A. Yes, chocolates are an important part of our business, and they are also profitable. The raw ingredients come from Belgium, and we make them here in Bahrain.
Q. Where do your flowers come from, and do you have trouble keeping them fresh, even with coolers and air-conditioning?
A. Our flowers are imported from various parts of the world – Holland, Colombia, Ecuador, Taiwan, Egypt and Kenya. Very few are grown locally. Most of them arrive fresh to the wholesaler and are kept in chillers.
Q. How do you keep up with new floral design trends – or do you set them?
A. We try to be unique and do something special with our designs, to be trendsetters and pioneers in our market. We research new designs and follow the latest trends, but then we use our own ideas to come up with new styles. These are inspired by top designers, but we add the Bahraini touch. The present trend is geometric lines and shapes rather than classic or vintage style.
Q. What colors are most popular at the moment?
A. Pink is a perennial favorite, but color preferences do change with the seasons.
Q. What flowers are most popular at the moment?
A. Roses and spray roses are all-time favorites.
Q. Have you had any interesting experiences with events?
A. We were working in a recently opened hotel, which was hosting its very first wedding in its grand ballroom, located on the 50th floor. A stunning view but not very practical! It was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had to face and one of the most challenging. The wedding started at 7 p.m., and our team was there from 8 a.m. for the setup. The drama started when we discovered that the only service elevator going directly to the 50th floor was out of service for three hours. It was impossible for the staff to walk up that high to transport all the wedding items, so we had to wait impatiently for the engineers to come and fix the elevator. To make things worse, the elevator was also very small, and the backdrops would not fit in. We had to cut them in half to load them, and that took four hours. We were running out of time, and I had to decide fast which area to complete first before the guests arrived and what could be done once guests had arrived. The stage where the ceremony was taking place had to be installed first, with the dining area completed last, where guests were due at 9 p.m. I could only be thankful that the building was well insulated and no one heard our frantic efforts as the service was taking place. We were done just as the guests moved to the dining room. I made a mental note never to work in a new hotel again.
Q. I believe Bahrain hosts a special gardening and landscape show each year. Tell us about this.
A. Under the patronage of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, since its establishment in 2004, the Bahrain International Garden Show has become a platform for experts and enthusiasts to develop their expertise and learn more about the latest best practices in the industry. It is also an occasion for potential investors to seek profitable agricultural opportunities. And, of course, it’s a great opportunity for keen home gardeners to learn what’s available in the market, as well as having a chance to see some of the best blooms on the island in the annual flower show.
Concluding note: I had not used Gulf Air, the official Bahraini airline, before, but can report that their service was second to none, with superb food and fine wines. Best of all, the flights were cheaper than those of other airlines – and I can assure you I received no discount to write this!
By Judith Blacklock