Weddings are magical events. Guests arrive to a beautiful setting, impeccably decorated with stunning floral arrangements. Music plays in the background. The bride sweeps down the aisle in a dazzling gown and joins hands with the groom. Vows are exchanged; love is promised; and a new family is formed. Then the party starts.
Each detail is flawless. The whole evening is perfect. And behind it all? A wedding planner like Holly Patton Olsen ’08, founder and creative director of Perfectly Posh Events, and one of Seattle’s premier wedding planners.
Olsen grew up in the world of events. Her dad owns Espresso Elegance, a mobile coffee caterer supplying coffee carts and baristas for corporate events, weddings, baby showers, and other parties including several SPU-hosted campus events.
As a child, Olsen often accompanied her dad to the set-up for an event. When she was older, she worked the coffee carts as a barista. From behind the espresso machines, Olsen witnessed the magic of an event taking shape.
“I fell in love with seeing how an event transformed a space,” she said. “I watched all the different vendors come in and fill their roles. I was fascinated by how a space could be transformed from a blank room to a hectic scene, with everyone running back and forth, and suddenly — almost with the snap of a finger — everything came together like magic.”
From then on, Olsen dreamed of a career in event planning. She earned her bachelor’s in business management and marketing at Seattle Pacific University, and then spent more than six years working for various companies in the event planning industry. Initially, she thought she would specialize in planning corporate and fundraising events for nonprofits. But after working with some wedding planners, she knew she had found her niche.
In 2010, Olsen launched Perfectly Posh Events, based in Seattle and coordinating weddings for couples throughout the Pacific Northwest as well as in Palm Springs, California. Today, her team includes three wedding planners in addition to herself.
“The lessons I learned in my SPU business classes have been so important,” she said. “I use what I learned there on a daily basis, as much of my time these days is dedicated to the backend of running a business.”
Olsen takes care of her employees. In an industry where wedding planners work long hours and often book multiple weddings per weekend, Olsen’s planners each manage only one wedding per weekend. Plus, every planner is required to take one weekend off per month, ensuring they have ample time to spend with their families.
“Holly is an advocate for her team members, clients, and vendors,” said Danae Johnson, senior wedding planner at Perfectly Posh Events, who has worked with Holly since 2015. “She is honest and makes sure things are done correctly but is also quick to defend those who need it. She is a person you want on your side.”
When the COVID pandemic and subsequent restrictions on gatherings hit Washington state, the event industry entered a state of crisis as event workers and vendors struggled to stay afloat. Olsen and four other event industry leaders formed a coalition that met with the governor’s office every week to push for legislation and help formulate health and safety guidelines that would allow events such as weddings to continue to take place safely. “The 2020 Seattle event season can be credited to that team,” Johnson said.
Over the past decade, Olsen’s planning and design work has been featured in many local and national publications. Perfectly Posh Events has risen to notoriety, receiving awards from leading wedding industry publications, including Seattle Bride Magazine, Style Me Pretty, Brides, and The New York Times.
When a couple arrives at Olsen’s studio, their planner sits down with them and listens to their visions, hopes, and dreams for their wedding. Some couples know exactly what they want from the specific décor colors and flower varieties to the invitation design and table settings. Whatever requests couples bring to Olsen, she does her best to make them come to life with her connections to master artists, florists, performers, and caterers.
Farm-to-table four-course meal at a Washington winery? Check. Elegant reception at a marina along the shore with custom couches for guests to relax? Check. Dreamy ceremony in the middle of a forest followed by dancing to a live salsa band? Check, check, check. One bride loved pigs, so Holly sourced two friendly potbelly pigs for guests to mingle with during the reception — adorned with floral collars to match the bridal bouquets, of course.
Last summer, a couple came to Olsen with one request: make their wedding different and surprising — unlike any wedding anyone had ever been to before. Oh, and the bride envisioned being married under a big willow tree.
It seemed like an impossible request since they had already booked a hotel rooftop in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood as their venue. Did Olsen have any ideas?
She did. And the couple said yes to nearly all of them. “They only drew the line when I suggested a contortionist performing stunts from the ceiling during the reception,” Olsen laughed.
When the wedding day arrived, guests were greeted at the hotel by a host of ballerinas, decked out in Swan-Lake-style ballet attire, serving champagne on white platters. Next, the ballerinas twirled the guests outside, where trolley cars waited to take them to the ceremony at a nearby garden park — complete with a willow tree.
After the ceremony, the trolleys returned the guests to the hotel where the rooftop had been transformed into an elegant indoor forest with trees seemingly growing from the ceiling and walls and a 14-piece band playing in the corner. It was a wedding no one would soon forget.
“Holly pushes the limits of what is possible,” Johnson said. “She is a gatherer of people who can make a great vision come to life. She strives to make events memorable and unique, and she keeps it classy and sophisticated all along the way.”
With so many details to coordinate, the morning of a Perfectly Posh wedding is a chaotic scene: musicians warming up; caterers setting up tables; florists arriving with bouquets; decorations still in boxes; and a baker with a massive cake looking for directions.
To the untrained eye, it’s hard to believe a wedding will take place there in just a couple of hours. But Olsen calmly directs the vendors, knowing it will all come together in just an hour or two.
“I like to make sure the couple gets ready somewhere else,” she said. “I’ve had brides cry, yell, or panic because they don’t see how it will look like they envisioned it in time.” During that setup process, Olsen views herself as the stage manager of a production, making sure everyone is doing their job correctly and is aware of where they need to be. “It’s essential to have an excellent team of vendors whom I trust,” she said. And after 13 years of running Perfectly Posh Events, she knows who to call.
Even so, the occasional problem inevitably will arise that requires quick thinking and the commitment that the show will go on no matter what. During setup at one wedding, someone knocked the giant, elaborately decorated wedding cake to the ground. With just an hour until the event started, Olsen arranged to have the baker decorate a Styrofoam cake model to look as much like the original cake as possible. She then picked up a ready-made cake from Safeway and hid a slice behind the model cake so the couple would have a real piece to serve each other during the cake-cutting. No one knew the difference.
Another time, the caterer showed up without the necessary grill to prepare the food. Olsen’s colleague quickly sourced a grill from a neighbor down the street.
“We rarely have to tell a couple that something went wrong,” Olsen said. “Our goal is to solve the problem without the couple ever knowing so they can enjoy the day with as little stress as possible.”
With so many vendors and details involved, the average Perfectly Posh wedding comes at a premium cost. “Of course, you don’t have to spend any money to have a meaningful wedding,” Olsen said. “But many of my clients are willing to invest so much because this is the only time in their life when both sides of their families and friends — everyone most important to them — come together. You’re starting off this new chapter of your life, and it’s a chance to include them in that celebration.
“Especially after the pandemic, we saw a big shift toward couples cherishing being able to gather with their loved ones and wanting the whole wedding experience to be more personal. One couple handwrote notes to every guest. Another printed a photo of every person who attended to attach to the seating chart. A lot of my clients are focusing more on creating memories with their guests, and less on the couple being on display.”
When business owners expand their business to the scope that Olsen has, they often take a step back from attending weddings on the day of, leaving the more hands-on work to their employees. But Olsen loves to be a part of the celebration.
“By the time the ceremony begins, most of the wedding planner’s work is done, but it is so gratifying to me to see people’s joy and excitement when they walk into a space we’ve made beautiful or stylish or intriguing,” she said. “After all the hard work of creating the opportunities for special moments to happen, I love being a fly on the wall to watch those happy moments and lifelong memories unfold.”