News Column

Quinceaneras Still Mean Big Business in Florida

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When it comes to quinceaneras, the words "gran sacrificio" come to Miriam Rodriguez's mind. For four generations, her family has gone through great lengths to celebrate the transition from girl to womanhood.

Rodriguez's mother, Balbina Espino, 93, said she remembers spending two weeks making her own quinceanera dress. She used a few yards of a crisp yellow taffeta that cost her 5 Cuban pesos back in Havana. When Rodriguez was a quinceanera, her family had to barter with friends to avoid party restrictions implemented by Fidel Castro's government. And later in Miami, she worked two jobs, so that when her daughter, Maria Chouza, became a quinceanera, she would able to take her on a cruise.

To follow the family tradition, Chouza, 38, is spending about $15,000 on her daughter Samantha's coming-of-age party, which can generally cost anywhere from $5,500 to $55,000.

"Times have changed," Espino said in Spanish. Rodriguez agreed.

THE INVITATION

Most quinceaneras dream of being a princess for the night. Ana Calcedo's invitations read: "Once upon a time, a little girl had a dream, to have a beautiful party, where she turned 15." The card was about the size of a restaurant menu. It was padded to look like a thin ivory cushion covered in silk with a navy blue silk ribbon.

There was a choice of feathers, flowers or a sparkly broach for an accent, Calcedo, 16, said. She chose the "fake diamonds" broach, because she "wanted it to be something memorable, like storybook memorable."

Her family paid about $40 per invitation. It was a luxury. The cards usually range from $4.50 to $7.

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Ricardo Lowe, who co-owns Lilian Designs in Coral Gables, Fla., said this type of card is known as the "padded silk folio." It is usually used for weddings and it requires a box.

Luiz Goncalves, co-owner of The Fine Paper Store in Miami Lakes said the quinceanera usually also needs place cards, direction cards and stationary.

"We have a lot of choices. Different types of paper, different calligraphy," Goncalvez said. "The variety is important, because the invitation sets the tone for what is to come."

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LOCATION AND DECOR

Anthony "Tony" Elias said producing the fantasy is in his blood. He grew up watching his family put together special events at their Renaissance ballrooms in Miami, and said quince parties still make him cry.

"We develop connections with our clients," Elias said. "We offer them packages that cover the planning process all the way down to execution. We work on the dinner, decorations, and an elaborate quince stage _ the works _ it's very much like a theatric production."

Renaissance's capacity ranges from 60 to 550 people and can cost from $5,000 with a $1,000 deposit, and $40,000 with a $6,000 deposit.

Creativity is a must. Fantasy Designer's co-owner Maria Molina said she can turn any place into a party, and there are no limits to what money can buy.

"If a millionaire comes and tells me he wants his daughter to descend from the moon; we will make it happen," Molina said in Spanish. "We also work with our clients on how to stay on budget with tricks like using feathers instead of flowers in the center pieces."

Molina's services range from $800 to $10,000 depending on the size of the ballroom.

THE FOOD

The Cuban white sponge cake with vanilla custard and meringue is no longer the only option. Rodriguez remembers the "caja china" with the roasted pig, the rice and beans, the yucca and the fried plantains in her quinces.

Today's quinceanera has a rainbow of options: Astoria red velvet cake, key lime or strawberry torte, chocolate coconut fudge, pistachio marble, white chocolate, French silk butter cream, dulce de leche, guava and rum cake.

Yvette Rodriguez, co-owner of Vicky Bakery, which has a dozen locations in South Florida, said the trend right now is to do cakes with the Tiffany & Co. theme. The brand is known for its diamond jewelry and its iconic aqua blue boxes with white ribbons.

"The girls do a lot of themes and it depends on their personal style," Rodriguez said. "We also have a lot of Hollywood themes and like to use fondant because it creates an elegant surface."

The price of a cake serving ranges from $1.75 to $10 per slice. They can be elaborate sculptures with up to six tiers or mini cup cake towers ranging from $1 to $2.60 a piece. French macaroon towers with 150 pieces are about $400.

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At the Ritz Carlton, one of the most luxurious catering services in Miami, the cost for food and beverage ranges from $75 to $125 per plate for teens and $140 to $200 for adults. Monica Ciffoni, director of catering at the Coconut Grove location said the food for teenage parties is simple and desserts are usually the focus of attention.

"We always try to do chocolate dessert _ hazelnut chocolate crunch tart, mango souffle, tropical fruits, passion fruit cheese cake, and then also the cookies and the macaroons," Ciffoni said. "The macaroons are a huge trend right now."

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THE FASHION

Two seamstresses in a windowless workshop delicately handled fabric in the back of Jorka Atelier on Southwest Eighth Street near Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana. A hand-washed ruby red dress with flamenco dancer ruffles on the skirt and a silver sequin corset hung from the ceiling to air dry.

There was barely any room to walk. Dozens of romantic ball gowns in shimmering organza, matte satin, taffeta and metallic glittered tulle lined up on hangers. Some had faux pearls, small roses and lace. Others had embellished fluff, appliques and embroidery.

"We have been turning teenagers into princesses for about 40 years," Ortencia Jordan said in Spanish. "Girls used to dress primarily in white. It was in the 1980s when they started to use color and now there are no limits. I have had girls wear black and red, canary yellow, silver and even apple green."

At Jorka Atelier, a girl can rent a used dress for $60 to $80 or buy a custom-made dress for $350 to $600.

Prices at other South Florida boutiques are steeper.

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At Alegria's Brides in Coral Gables, the quince dresses could go for as high as $2,000. Ann Marie Griffin, who owns Ann Marie's in Homestead, said this is because for many the quinceanera dress is as important as the wedding dress.

"It's a personal expression of a young lady's taste and style," Griffin said. "For some of the quince cruises, the girls wear white, but we also do prints, pinks, blues, lavenders and yellow. There is a lot of variety and attention to detail."

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Swarovski crystals sometimes make it unto the dress and the crowns. And the choices are limitless when it comes to accessories. The tiara _ a princess crown _ has to be shiny. Also, every princess needs jewels. A MIKIMOTO pearl necklace at $3,500 and its matching $4,520 Akoya pearl bracelet are some of the examples.

"We have a pearl necklace that my great-grandmother inherited. My daughter is getting it next year," Amanda Garcia said. "When my mother gave it to me, it was a symbol of the trust that comes with age and maturity. It was about her being able to trust me with adult things. It was about responsibility."

THE DETAILS

To be able to afford the $15,000 expense, Chouza started planning about two years in advance. It is easy to run into trouble. The music can cost between $650 to $10,000; the transportation between $100 to $300 hourly; and the make-up and hair between $50 to $300. Then there are the manicures and pedicures, the photography and the video.

For the Calcedo family, dealing with the finances wasn't so easy. Jose Calcedo said that when his wife wanted to go into her 401-K, he put up a stop sign.

"Having a 'princesita' is expensive," Calcedo said. "Teaching them to be frugal is important, too. You can't go overboard. It doesn't send the right message. We don't need any more debt. We know the wedding is next."

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(c)2013 The Miami Herald

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