Lelian Chew’s knack for making the impossible possible has made her the go-to wedding planner for Asia’s elite. From her cinematic vision to her ‘never say no’ approach, The Atelier & Co founder reveals how she turns major milestones into events of a lifetime

The weddings planned by Lelian Chew stop traffic—literally. “Once, we worked with the [wedding destination] country’s aviation ministry to stop all air traffic,” Chew shares. “No planes were allowed to fly in the skies in that country during the wedding party, just so we could release fireworks. Talk about a show-stopping finale.” When asked where this wedding was, all she would say was “an island in the Indian Ocean”. Given the calibre of Chew’s clients, which includes some of the wealthiest and most influential families in Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Indonesia, non-disclosure agreements are almost always a prerequisite, and trust is the foundation on which she has built her empire.

“There’s a lot of trust involved when you’re curating the big moments in people’s lives. You get to know the families, the nuances between families, very intimately—and very quickly,” says Chew. “That trust isn’t something I take for granted.”

Chew is the founder of The Atelier & Co, under which she runs her two businesses: The Wedding Atelier and The Floral Atelier, a boutique floral design studio and retailer. Based in Singapore, The Atelier & Co’s headquarters is a gorgeous 7,000-square-feet space on Alexandra Road that includes an impressive all-glass temperature-controlled cold room filled with fresh exotic flowers. 

Tatler Asia
Above Lelian Chew graces the cover of the December 2022 issue of Tatler Singapore
Tatler Asia
Above Chew wears a Bulgari Fiorever convertible earrings and ring in white gold set with diamonds, and Fendi bustier, shirt, skirt, and heels.
Tatler Asia
Above Chew wears a Bulgari Fiorever convertible earrings, ring and bangle in white gold set with diamonds, and Fendi bustier and shirt.

The entrepreneur certainly has a way with flowers. In 2020, Chew and her team spent seven days transforming a section of a national park in Myanmar into a redwood forest fairy tale for a young couple. The scene was nothing short of cinematic—thousands of green and white flowers covered the forest floor, with 500 seats placed under a soaring canopy of trees and a subtle, clever use of mirror plates to create the illusion of blending in with the natural scenery.

“Sometimes, blending in can be trickier than standing out,” Chew says, adding that the definition of luxury has changed in recent years. “It’s no longer about a flashy show of your status or money. Our clients come to us because we champion that something luxurious can also be tasteful.”

In case you missed it: 7 Secret Singapore Status Symbols That Only the Truly Rich Will Recognise

Another reason Asia’s most elite seek out The Atelier & Co to organise one of the most important milestones of their lives is its knack for making the impossible possible. At one wedding on a far-flung private island, the groom came to Chew in the middle of the party with a special request: “His uncle only likes to sleep in his own bed, so he asked if there was any way we could have it sent over by that evening,” Chew shares. Without flinching, she and her team worked out the logistics and had the bed flown to the island within hours.

“I’ve seen it all,” she says. “I don’t think anything is impossible. As long as there’s enough time, and enough resources, we can make anything happen. Is it going to be difficult? Yes. But impossible? No.”

Tatler Asia
Above Chew wears a Bulgari Serpenti necklace in white gold set with a blue sapphire, emeralds and diamonds, Fiorever bangle in white gold set with diamonds, and Gucci dress.

THE EXTRA MILE

For Chew, wedding planning is far more than just guest lists and table centrepieces. It could be shipping 90 containers worth of equipment to a deserted island, halting air traffic, or even going as far as opening a brand-new hotel—well, kind of. The Atelier & Co has done many of what Chew calls “a pre-opening”—where a couple would buy out a hotel for their wedding before it officially opens, giving guests an exclusive world-first preview.

“Our clients are always looking for venues that are new and have never been used before,” she says, adding that she has done pre-openings in Vietnam, Indonesia, the Maldives and China. “Over the years, we’ve developed very good relationships with certain hotel groups. So let’s say Aman is opening in Mexico in 2024 ... that’s something I’ll keep in mind for future clients.”

Pre-openings are a “completely different ball game” for Chew, who says that in order to ensure properties are in shipshape condition for the big event, they work with the hotels to do everything from arranging the furniture to training service staff, sourcing cups and cutlery, and designing collaterals. “I always say, the glamour is reserved for the clients,” shares Chew. “Behind the scenes, we’re the ones on our knees making flower arrangements, and doing manual and overnight work.”

With clients and guest lists that include celebrities and socialites, another unique offering from The Atelier & Co, which goes beyond the scope of traditional wedding planning, is managing the paparazzi and press. “Certain clients don’t want anything to do with the press, so we make sure we have tight security,” Chew explains. “Meanwhile, others want the right publicity, so they might have a favourite publication they want to pitch their wedding to, and we can facilitate that.”

Besides weddings, The Atelier & Co has planned everything from corporate anniversaries to birthdays, christenings and other major milestones—though often, these come as a result of a referral or through relationships Chew built from a wedding she planned.

“Up until four years ago, I didn’t even have an Instagram [account] because it was such a closed business,” she says. “The people who came to us were all from referrals ... and the best publicity for us is if we do a wedding for 300 guests, they have all seen and experienced what we can do. So when they get married, or their children get married, or they’re planning a major event, we’re on their radar.”

In July, Chew and her team spent 10 days transforming The Barracks Hotel Sentosa into the Kandy Karnival for billionaire heiress and entrepreneur Kim Lim, where friends and family celebrated her and her son Kyden’s birthdays. This came just months after Chew planned Lim’s headline-making wedding in February—on the auspicious date of February 22, 2022, no less—which included a traditional Chinese betrothal ceremony, known as guo da li, where gifts to the tune of $2 million were exchanged, including 15 gold bars, Rolex watches, rare wines and other extravagant items.

Read more: What Kim Lim Wore At Her Kandy Karnival Birthday

Tatler Asia
Above Chew wears a Bulgari Serpenti Viper two‑coil ring in white gold set with diamonds, High Jewellery Serpenti bracelet in white gold set with emeralds and diamonds, and a Loro Piana coat, and turtleneck.

A RETURN TO ROOTS

According to Chew, traditional ceremonies are making a comeback. “I’d say it’s very ‘in’ now to celebrate your Asian roots—and we love that,” she says. “Upholding these traditions has so much meaning and connects the families; the elders appreciate it, and the younger ones get to see and understand how weddings in Asia can be different. We’ve always been strong advocates for this and the new generation of clients is very interested.”

The Atelier & Co team are all proficient in traditional Chinese wedding customs, including guo da li, tea ceremonies, hair combing, chuangmen or “door games”, and more. “We try to honour these customs in the most tasteful way, and in a way that’s customised to each family’s traditions,” says Chew, who also encourages clients to think about forming new traditions as a symbol of their union. “What better time to start new traditions than when you’re starting your own family? Creating that emotional depth could be something as simple as a family emblem or crest,” she says. “It could also be buying heirlooms such as jewellery, or an embroidered traditional Chinese outfit sewn with gold thread. I don’t think a lot of people know how to do this now, so that’s something we’re happy to help younger couples with.”

Before becoming the go-to wedding planner for Asia’s elite, Chew was a private banker with Goldman Sachs, servicing a high-net-worth clientele. It is an experience she credits for her deeper understanding of the needs and family dynamics within this niche demographic.

“Similar to when I was in banking, I helped a lot with legacy planning for these families,” she shares. “You learn that as [they] get to a certain level, it’s about more than just money; it’s about creating something [their] children and grandchildren can hold on to.”

As Chew says in the beginning of the interview, it all comes down to trust. She sees her role less as a planner and more as an adviser on how to turn life’s milestones and moments into memories that will last for a lifetime. “We have a lot of insight [into] and longevity with the families we work with. We continue these traditions and we know what’s important to them,” she explains. “The things we do aren’t transient, where we plan a wedding, carry it out and that’s it. They seek us out because they’re looking to do something very special, something meaningful.”

Tatler Asia
© 2023 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.