On Oct. 11, 1975, Bill Clinton married Hillary Rodham
before just 15 relatives and friends in the living room of the house he'd bought for the two of them in Fayetteville, Ark.
The bride, who'd met her beloved five years earlier at Yale Law School, waited until almost the last minute to buy a dress -- a Victorian-style Jessica McClintock frock -- off the rack at Dillard's department store. After the ceremony, they greeted another 100 guests at a reception given by friends, then left the country for an Acapulco honeymoon.
Fast-forward nearly 35 years to July 31, 2010, when the Clintons are expected to co-host an exponentially more extravagant fete for their only child, Chelsea Victoria, now 30, and Marc Mezvinsky, 32. This couple met as teenagers, when she lived with her parents in the White House, and they remained fast friends. Serious dating began a few years back, when both were living in New York City, where he's an investment banker and she's a Columbia University grad student in public health policy.
Smart money has the ClintVinskys tying the knot on the grounds of Astor Courts
, a private, Versailles-inspired Beaux-Arts mansion on 50 acres overlooking the Hudson in Rhinebeck. The rehearsal dinner is said to be at a stone barn at nearby Grasmere
, a 525-acre Revolutionary-era estate. Only those personally close to the bride or groom made it onto a tightly-held list that reportedly contains 400 to 500 names, more about which later.
This wedding has been arranged with secrecy worthy of a military invasion and security befitting a former president and the current secretary of state. On Wednesday, two Norwegian journalists were arrested
for trespassing while taking pictures of the Astor Courts gates, the Associated Press reported. This follows weeks of reconnaissance by countless other writers, bloggers, photographers and film crews descending on the affluent town of 8,300, whose money is very old, very new or somewhere in between.
So how much will all this matrimonial merriment cost? No one close to the nuptial couple is talking, but others are offering educated guess-timates.
High-end New York wedding planner and retailer Claudia Hanlin, who is not involved with what she's dubbed "the wedding of the decade," says the whole shebang could easily top $2 million.
Start with $100,000 to $200,000 to rent Astor Courts, where workers have been buzzing about for weeks, and more if landscaping and other improvements are required, she said. The property -- designed in 1902 by famed architect Stanford White for fur and real estate mogul John Jacob Astor IV, who went down on the Titanic -- was on the market for $12 million, but the listing has gone inactive. Does that up the rental fee? Owners Kathleen Hammer and Arthur Seelbinder, refuse to discuss the house or the alleged wedding.
With a reported three caterers working separately on two dinners and cocktail hours, food and drink could run $500,000 to $750,000, said Hanlin. She calculated that tents would add another $200,000 or more, with a "pretty conservative" $250,000 for flowers. Society bandleader Jimmy Vali, plus up to 25 musicians and singers to cover everything from salsa to Sinatra, could run as high as $40,000. Don't be surprised by a Bill Clinton saxophone solo, Hanlin says. A good wedding photographer costs from $25,000 to $40,000, with another $25,000 for a videographer. Ka-ching. Ka-ching.
By contrast, some wedding planners have estimated that the 2008 down-home Texas marriage of then-First Daughter Jenna Bush
to Henry Hager at the family ranch in Crawford clocked in at around $100,000, including the bride's beaded lace gown created by Oscar de la Renta.
"Malarkey," snorts Hanlin. "That's a joke. It's incredibly low."
All told, a $2 million wedding, if indeed that is what Chelsea is getting, works out to a whopping $4,000 to $5,000 per head, depending on how many people actually attend. Those sums sound astronomical to most of us, but apparently fall well within the matrimonial ballpark, confirms Millie Martini Bratten, the longtime editor of Brides magazine. Even in recession-wracked 2010, the average American wedding runs a not-insignificant $28,082 for 166 guests, she told me. And that does not count the honeymoon, which in this case remains top secret.
Bratten -- who knows about $10 million weddings featuring specially-built gazebos, pavilions and ponds -- tallies everything from photography, limos, invitations, hairdressers and goody bags to the all-important wedding gown. (Will Chelsea wear Oscar? Vera Wang? Will Hillary, rarely seen out of trousers, wear a fancy pantsuit or a glamorous skirted ensemble? Bratten and Hanlin both are betting on a gorgeous long dress.)
In addition to the cost of buying, preparing and serving food, wine and liquor, Bratten factors in the higher cost of transporting it all to Astor Courts. At 90 miles north of Manhattan and set far back from bucolic River Road, the property is considered "a remote location."
Unlike restaurants or wedding halls with their professional staffs and kitchens, the limited space in what is essentially a grand private home "requires that you bring in and set up catering facilities, hire chefs and waiters and busboys. You need to erect and decorate tents, which may include separate areas for the ceremony, cocktails, dinner and dancing. In this heat, you'll probably need generators to power portable air-conditioners," Bratten said. "You'll need people to set everything up, clean up when it's over and take everything away."
And because security and politics are such factors, workers must pass background checks, have paid their taxes and be in this country legally, Hanlin said. All of that adds to the cost.
Let us not overlook that other staple of large outdoor events: port-a-potties. Upscale weddings often include deluxe restroom trailers boasting hardwood stalls concealing porcelain toilets that actually flush; sinks with running water set in granite or marble; carpeted or tiled floors; electric lighting; air-conditioning, even piped-in music, fresh flowers and lovely hand towels.
None of these expenses, however, threaten to break the bank of the multi-millionaire Clintons, whose wealth comes from his six-figure speaking fees and their best-selling books. Between 2000 and 2007, the couple earned $109 million and paid $33.8 million in federal taxes, according to Bloomberg News
"These are people with money doing exactly what people with money should do: spend it in a recession," said one Washington Democrat who has not been invited. "There are probably hundreds of people up in Rhinebeck, from grass cutters to shop owners, who are getting a nice little paycheck out of this. Good for Bill and Hill."
The unabashedly ecstatic Clintons are hardly alone in contributing heavily to the nation's $40 billion nuptial-industrial complex.
In June, thrice-divorced Rush Limbaugh spent lavishly to make Kathryn Rogers the fourth Mrs. L
at the posh Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. The festivities included a night-before luau and the rather incongruous post-ceremony performance by gay rights activist Sir Elton John for the gay-bashing groom, his new bride and 400 of their nearest and dearest. On the other hand, Mr. Tiny Dancer charged Rushbo a cool $1 million for showing up, reported the Palm Beach Post.
Meanwhile, the publicity-shy Chelsea Clinton may want to take a cue
from publicity-mad Donald Trump, who had all photo devices confiscated from guests as his 2005 wedding to Melania Knauss, wife number three, at his private Mar-A-Lago resort in Palm Beach. The billionaire mogul also hired extra security to keep paparazzi at bay so as not to jeopardize a lucrative deal he'd made to provide exclusive pictures to Getty images.
No word yet on any ClintVinsky camera policy, but since Bill and Hillary Clinton attended The Donald's wedding, they may consider this a pretty good idea.
Those who get a coveted wedding invitation will likely be happy to comply with whatever photo protocol is imposed. Those left off the list have far more basic complaints than iPhone or Nikon separation anxiety.
"I'm good enough to borrow a plane from, but not good enough to be invited to the wedding?" one presumed friend of the father of the bride groused to the New York Times
, which expressed the anonymous whiner's profound angst. "What about all those the times he handed over his jet and his pilot to take Bill Clinton around the country?"
What about all those times, indeed? With the bride and groom insisting on personally knowing each guest, their parents -- Mezvinsky is the son of two former Democratic House members -- have the perfect excuse to keep the wedding more like a joyous family celebration and less like a political rally, said Bratten.
"Like all couples, Chelsea and Marc want to be surrounded by the people they really care about."