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A Shift in China Policy
More Brides Are Saying 'I Don't' to a Formal Set

By Lindsey Rowe
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, February 19, 2009

Kristine DeNinno loves fine china and tabletop decor. They're practically in her job description as a project manager for interior design firm Lisa Vandenburgh Ltd. in the District. But when the 29-year-old gets married in Calvert County on May 30, she will not receive any gifts of dinnerware. DeNinno, who lives in Silver Spring and is engaged to Jeremiah Tittle, 30, didn't register for china. She found an inexpensive, small set in Paris a few years ago and doesn't want any more.

"I don't think I'll use 12 settings of a set of china," she says. "I think it's really formal, and I like to mix and match and have fun."

DeNinno is part of the "echo boomers" generation, the children of baby boomers who are very different from their mothers and grandmothers when it comes to registering for wedding gifts. Until about 10 years ago, 85 to 90 percent of couples registered for formal china, crystal and flatware, according to Sherri Crisenbery, vice president of the Lenox Group. Today, china companies report that about 45 to 50 percent of couples are choosing fine china.

Some people, like DeNinno, say they think it's too fragile, fussy and formal. Other couples who never saw fine china when growing up except on holidays may choose to register for only an everyday set of dinnerware. Still other couples have china passed down in their families and see no need for another set.

Colleen Rutledge, 26, and Dylan Brown, 27, who are getting married Sept. 29, have a set of white porcelain with a platinum band from Rutledge's grandmother. "We don't need [new china] because we already have it, and it's more personal than anything we could ever buy," Brown says. The pair, both lawyers who live in Logan Circle, use the porcelain for dinner parties and holidays four to five times a year, but no more than that. "It's something nice to have to put out for company," Rutledge says.

Crisenbery attributes the change to what she calls the "casualization of America," the same reason people prefer stainless-steel jewelry to 14-karat gold, she says, and solid-white china with platinum trim to ivory china with gold detailing.

"Casualization for [brides] means, 'I need to be able to use it every day; it needs to be microwave- and dishwasher-safe,' " says Jorge Perez, marketing director of bridal and special events for Waterford Crystal. "It's got to be very utilitarian, multifunctional."

Whether couples choose to register for china depends on where they came from, Perez says: "It's based on how your mother raised you and how china was used or presented in your upbringing."

Shawn Sullivan is registering for fine china for her wedding on her mother's advice. "I've heard from my mom and my friends that you should because it's the only time you can," says Sullivan, a 24-year-old graduate student at George Washington University who is marrying Mike Brain, 24, on Aug. 22. Her mother, Diane, 56, registered for fine china when she got married and is glad she did. "You may not think you want good china, but you eventually will," she says. Her daughter, who lives on Capitol Hill, is debating between a modern pattern by Vera Wang and a traditional Waterford pattern.

Meagan Harms's parents also encouraged her and her fiance to register. Harms, 27, and James Flajsen, 26, are registering for both fine bone china and an everyday set at Crate and Barrel for their Oct. 10 wedding, but they will use the fine bone only on special occasions. "I think it's one of those things that you are very grateful you have when you are older," Harms says. "I don't think we'll use it in the next few years."

More couples are choosing informal, inexpensive dishes and mugs, which has led companies such as Lenox and Crate and Barrel to offer four-piece place settings with mugs in place of teacups and saucers, and plates that are bigger than they used to be.

Josh Kurjan, 30, is grateful for the bigger plates, as that was his main concern when choosing china with his fiancee, Ashley Gelman, 30. The D.C. residents selected a Marc Jacobs pattern called Jean made by Waterford because it was not the expected white-and-platinum-banded style and because it was different from her family china. "It was delicate enough but not overly feminine," says Gelman, who is marrying Kurjan in Harrisburg, Pa., this fall. "I wanted something that was a little out of the ordinary, and nothing else seemed special to me."

When couples go to look at options, they often confront what Perez calls "the great wall of china," choices so numerous that they can overwhelm couples who haven't thought about china before. Adams Morgan residents Sarah Mine, 25, and Eric Adams, 27, who will be wed on May 29, 2010, have decided to choose their china based on looks. "Whatever we like the colors of," Adams says.

To respond to the changing times, Lenox in October 2007 launched the Simply Fine line of china, which comes with a chip-resistant lifetime guarantee. Waterford sends Perez around the country to educate couples about china. He says the most common misconception is that fine bone china is breakable; it is actually the strongest form of china. When he speaks at stores such as Macy's and Bloomingdale's, he asks one of the men in the room to stand on a teacup, and the audience is always surprised when it doesn't break.

"Traditional banded patterns are still popular," says Susan Bertelsen, the senior vice president for bridal and gift registry at Macy's. "But our couples are looking for a more modern take on these patterns, or for unique statement designs to match their personalities and lifestyles."

Officials at Lenox say engaged couples who may not be interested in formal china are interested in brightly colored, bold patterns. Those who know they want formal china usually choose a versatile white or simple-banded style. The top-selling formal china pattern at Lenox is Opal Innocence, a platinum-edged shimmery set with matte white scrolls and beading. "It reminds me of a wedding," Crisenbery says.

A neutral pattern also is a top seller at Waterford: Kilbarry Platinum, a white design with thin platinum bands. Even Crate and Barrel finds that white fine bone china and porcelain outsell other patterns. "At the end of the day, people end up buying white because it is basic and timeless," Crisenbery says.

Waterford's Perez encourages couples who are attracted to color to register for neutrals and then accent with bold salad plates, linens and accessories. "Your table is your label," he tells brides. "It's who you are. It's telling your story. It should be treated like a little black dress; dress it up for New Year's Eve or down for Friday night."

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