The Donald's "Discount" Wedding

A lavish affair it will certainly be, but Trump enjoys some major perks that will keep the tab down. Could he even make money?

By Erin Chambers

How much do the ultrarich spend on their weddings? A million is about the minimum outlay for a top-notch event these days. But when it comes to Donald Trump, who'll wed longtime girlfriend Melania Knauss on Jan. 22, the tab will likely come in far below that, thanks to some leveraging by the man who wrote The Art of the Deal.

Trump is estimated to have a net worth in the billions, thanks to his success with Manhattan real estate, reality TV shows, and even Visa commercials (O.K., his Atlantic City casinos aren't faring well right now). But he's enjoying considerable perks on his nuptials.

These days, an everyday luxury wedding -- including everything from the frock to the flowers to the champagne -- costs between $250 and $300 per person, according to Rosie Amodio, executive editor of wedding Web site, The Knot.


  But celebrity weddings far eclipse that, she says. Trump invited 2,000 guests to New York's swanky Plaza Hotel for his 1993 wedding to Marla Maples, for a tally that no doubt ran into the seven figures. Madonna and Guy Ritchie spent an estimated $2.1 million in their December, 2000, wedding -- $293,000 on champagne, $58,000 on flights to the exclusive Skibo Castle in Scotland, and an additional $219,000 to rent the castle's 47 rooms for guests, Amodio says.

Trump, a master marketer, famed for working all the angles (see BW Online, 12/14/04, "Trump: Bigger than Coke or Pepsi?"), is likely to spend much less this time. He was unavailable to comment on the actual cost, but BusinessWeek Online's informal look at the economics of the widely anticipated affair -- from the dress, to the ring, to the gala reception -- shows that the ultimate dealmaker could potentially take in more than he's shelling out for his third walk down the aisle. (He was also married to Ivana Zelnicek from 1977-92).

For starters, this time around Trump is holding the reception at his own resort, avoiding costly fees paid by other celebs and saving as much as $1.5 million, estimates Amodio. The couple invited nearly 500 guests to Trump's newly renovated resort Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. The $35 million ballroom, lined with $7 million in gold molding and 17 crystal chandeliers, which he debuted this year with a gala on New Year's Eve, will host the reception following a ceremony at the 100-year old Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. Trump's buddies in the restaurant, food, and beverage industries are said to be clamoring to provide free goodies for the dinner.


  Then there's the ring: Jeweler Tony Graff sold Trump the $1.5 million, 13-carat diamond sparkler he plans to present to Melania at a significant discount "because he's a good client of ours," says Denise Deluca, public relations director for the jeweler.

Melania's dress, another potential big-ticket item, is reportedly being designed by John Galliano for Christian Dior. But it, too, will likely be presented at a significant discount for the former model, as many designers consider the publicity generated when celebrities agree to wear their gowns as payment enough. "It's a win-win situation," says Judith Chavarria, founder of wedding planner Abella in New York. "The bride gets a complimentary dress, and the designer gets publicity in his targeted market." The Knot's Amodio says the Galliano dress could run as much as $100,000.

How about another big wedding expense the ultrarich typically face -- the prenuptial agreement? According to Edward Stein, associate professor of law and co-director of the program in family law policy at Benjamin N. Cardoza School of Law in New York, a Manhattan lawyer's prenup fee would typically run from $3,000 to $5,000, plus lawyers could charge $300 to $500 per hour for negotiations if it's a complex or contentious situation. But someone like Trump would likely have a staff lawyer who would take care of it for him, Stein believes.


  Not only does Trump enjoy unique opportunities to save on wedding costs, he also stands to reap great rewards from the event as well. Most obviously, with a guest list including Prince Charles, Oprah Winfrey, Elton John, Muhammad Ali, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the couple will rake in hundreds of valuable wedding gifts. They're registered at Tiffany and Bergdorf Goodman for items like a Flora Danica porcelain fruit basket for $8,500, a $4,000 sterling silver coffee server, and multiple sets of Frette linens at more than $1,000 each.

Even more lucrative potentially, are the deals to be struck with media outlets. Already the mogul has signed an exclusive contract with Getty Images, for an undisclosed amount to sell photos of the event.

Last December, Trump quipped to the media that major networks were throwing out seven-figured numbers for the rights to air the nuptials live on TV. Trump said he just might do it for the right price, but later backtracked on the statement.


  Networks wouldn't comment on their interest in the Trump nuptials and many media watchers, such as critic Jack Myers, doubt a network would be interested. "Maybe it'll get 30 seconds on the nightly newscast," says Myers, "but Trump won't get paid for that." He warns Trump that "turning his wedding into a three-ring circus" with a network special could backfire and tarnish his brand's reputation for quality.

Still, airing the event wouldn't be without precedent. ABC paid $1 million to The Bachelor's Trista and Ryan last year to televise their big day. And other media deals are possibilities, even if the networks don't bite. For example, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones spent $1.5 million for their 2002 nuptials at the Plaza -- but paid themselves back with a $1.4 million deal with Britain's OK! magazine, according to The Knot's Amodio.

Trump could easily negotiate such an agreement. After all, "It sure seems to be the wedding of the year," says Antonia Van Der Meer, Editor-in-chief of Modern Bride.


  Of course, Trump will have to shell out some dough. He has already hired a separate media staff of three just to handle his wedding inquiries. Van Der Meer says having the reception at his own resort gives him more "control over his costs," but that hosting the hundreds of elite friends and business associates won't be cheap. And thanks to the Getty Images contract, he'll have to hire a Trump-size security staff to confiscate all cameras from guests and keep paparazzi at bay, she adds.

Overall, the expenses seem small compared to the millions he could potentially pocket should he agree to an exclusive TV or magazine deal. Add in the discounts, and all the wedding gifts, and Trump's latest I-do could prove a bargain. When it comes to weddings, for this billionaire and master showman, it looks like the third time around will definitely be the charm.

Chambers is a reporter for BusinessWeek Online in New York

Edited by Amey Stone

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