A team of wedding industry boss ladies turn dreams into reality with an artistic collaboration at the historic Detroit Packard Plant
By Elizabeth Swanson
IT ALL STARTED WHEN Kymberly Andren, owner of Motor City Vintage Rentals, bought her first 1949 Packard in 2011. She dreamed of bringing it back to the Packard Plant on East Grand Boulevard where it was built. The historic Albert Kahn-designed building was abandoned and in a state of disrepair. It was in foreclosure, and there was talk of tearing it down. But in 2013, new owners took over and began renovations in 2017. Shortly after, Andren pitched them a crazy idea: she wanted to do a bridal photoshoot there with her second, newly purchased 1940 Packard.
“It’s the perfect place for an event space,” Andren says. “So many couples are getting married in Detroit now, and they’re renting out abandoned churches — there’s so much demand for something like this.”
She wanted to use the backdrop of the Packard Plant to showcase a Detroit couple honoring not just their love for each other, but also their love of Detroit. Her vision was a juxtaposition of sorts: a glamorous wedding in an industrial, rough-around-the-edges venue; a celebration of Detroit’s rich past, present, and bright future.
“The plant has already undergone so many renovations since our photoshoot,” Andren says. “These photos are now a glimpse in time. It’s kind of bittersweet. The owners still have more to do before they open it to the public, but I think our shoot really opened their eyes to what it could become.”
How the photoshoot came together was equally important to Andren’s vision. She wanted to collaborate with talented, Detroit-based female entrepreneurs — a wedding planner, florist, photographer, and calligrapher — to bring her idea to life. Here are the creative minds behind the photographs.
MOTOR CITY VINTAGE RENTALS
“I had two key goals for 2018,” Andren says. “To support women, and to work on an epic bridal photoshoot. I thought, ‘why not marry the two?’ I love collaborating with women business owners. I went to an all-female school for eight years, so I know it’s special when another female supports your dreams. Women supporting women will never go out of style.”
Andren has been a business owner since 2011, when she started her company, Motor City Vintage Rentals. She bought a Packard for her own wedding and, shortly after, decided to rent it out to others. Since the transportation industry is male dominated, Andren didn’t want people to know she was a woman. She thought she wouldn’t be taken seriously. But her husband encouraged her to put herself at the forefront of her brand.
“I’ve actually been embraced because there isn’t really another female boss in transportation,” Andren says. “Now I feel free to be who I am instead of pretending to be something I’m not.”
That genuine, “be yourself” strategy has worked for Andren: the couples she works with become more than just clients. After all, she’s there throughout the whole wedding-planning process.
“I don’t unfollow my couples on Instagram after the wedding is over,” she says. “They become family.”
SAMANTHA LEIGH STUDIOS
Photographer Samantha Leigh also had a goal for 2018: to do more creative projects, instead of just commission-based work. She posted her intention on Instagram, and Andren responded immediately.
“It was a fun challenge to show this once-beautiful venue in a new light,” Leigh says. “It put a twinkle in my eye. You’d never think rubble and a half-torn-down, graffiti-filled building could be such a gorgeous backdrop, but we were able to highlight the uniqueness of the Packard Plant.”
That’s what Leigh loves about photography — finding ways to reveal the originality of her subjects. She’s been shooting weddings since college. She loves getting to know couples and bringing out their personalities through her photographs.
“I always try to make every couple unique,” Leigh says. “If they’re quiet, I want to highlight soft, intimate moments. If they’re loud and goofy, I want to document that, so when their grandkids look at those photos, they can say, ‘Yes, that was us.’ Capturing genuine moments as beautifully as possible is always an interesting challenge.”
Another, albeit quite different, challenge of her job is being a business owner. It was empowering for her to work with other talented women on the Packard Plant shoot because of the support they gave each other.
“You have to wear so many hats — accountant, photographer, public relations rep — and sometimes you second guess yourself, wondering if you’re doing enough,” Leigh says. “Working with these women was inspiring and reinvigorating, because you realize everyone is in the same boat as you.”
OH ELEVEN CALLIGRAPHY
The invitation suites are the first indication of what a wedding might be like, says calligrapher Patricia Heffner, so she always foreshadows the look and feel of an event with her custom designs. Working on the Packard Plant project was not unlike doing research for her real couples — the only difference was that in this case, her research was about the history of the plant.
“The idea is to encourage conversation about the unique space where an event is being held,” she says. “I love tying in the history of the space — it’s always such a fascinating story that’s fun to uncover.”
All of the signage for the shoot was inspired by the Packard Plant. The bar they created was called the Kahn Bar, named for Julius Kahn (architect Albert Kahn’s brother). He created a concrete steel bar, called the Kahn Trussed Bar, to reinforce the building. It revolutionized industrial construction by creating open, light-filled workspaces. The tenth building in the plant was the first to use the Kahn Trussed Bar, and so Heffner named one of the drinks at the shoot Packard, No.10. (Eventually all auto factories were designed using the Kahn Trussed Bar.) Heffner used acrylic sheets with a hand-painted black background to symbolize an oil slick or tire track, and paired it with gold lettering and edges that, Heffner says, “were delicate, soft, crumbling, and imperfect, but still stunning in its presence and beauty, just like the plant.”
Heffner’s enthusiasm for each project shows in her work — she never repeats the same signage or invitation twice, even though this is a side business.
“I’m a software engineer by day, so I do this whenever I have the time to be creative — before and after work, and on the weekends,” she says. “I started doing it for my own wedding, and then just for friends, but my business has really grown since then. I definitely see it becoming a fulltime job. It really brings me joy.”
MITTEN WEDDINGS AND EVENTS
When wedding planner Meagan McPhail is helping couples source ideas, she creates a Pinterest board for them made entirely with non-wedding images.
“It stimulates your creativity to find inspiration from everyday objects, like a glass of rosé, or a cozy fall sweater,” she says.
She’s always on the lookout for new concepts — she’s been wedding planning since she was in high school — so McPhail loved that she was able to incorporate edgier elements into the Packard Plant shoot that perhaps real brides aren’t ready for, like the dusty blue dress the model is wearing in lieu of a traditional white gown.
“It was a fun way to bring our own vision to life,” McPhail says. “All of these women entrepreneurs and I are so passionate about our businesses, and about Detroit, so it really came together so well. We’d been planning it for six months.”
Wedding planning is in McPhail’s blood. It’s what she’s wanted to do since she was 12 years old — there was no other occupation in consideration. It started as an after-school hobby, organizing weddings in local churches. She made it her professional career after working in the luxury hotel business for a few years.
“I texted my husband one day that I wanted to start a wedding-planning business,” she says. “I created the LLC that week. I wondered what people would think of me. One of the hardest hurdles to overcome is taking a leap of faith and doing what you love.”
But the risk has been more than worth it — being able to work with wonderful brides and incredible entrepreneurs is a great pay off. She’s now in her fourth season of wedding planning, does about 20 weddings per year, and has no intention of slowing down.
“I just love meeting new couples, getting to know their families so well, and then seeing the finished product,” she says. “It’s really rewarding.”
“You can dream all day long by yourself, but it’s when you work with other people who are also creative that you can bring those dreams to life,” says florist Natalia Januszewski of her experience on the Packard Plant shoot. She loved being able to meet other wedding vendors who share a love for a similar aesthetic.
At the former factory, Januszewski wanted the flowers to be classic and organic — nothing too overpowering — because the background was the statement. She also chose flowers based upon their shape, using roses and calla lilies to mimic the modern, architectural feel of the urban surroundings.
For all of her talent, Januszewski is a self-taught florist. She first dabbled in wedding planning, but soon realized she wanted to create things with her hands.
“I’ve always been a DIYer,” she says. “It was when I was planning my own wedding that I decided to be a florist. I literally went in with zero experience — I registered my business and had to figure it out from there.”
She attended workshops and watched hundreds of YouTube videos to learn about floral arranging. Fast forward five years, and you’d think she had been doing this her entire life. She’s learned through a lot of trial and error, and if she has one tip for new business owners, it’s “just ask.”
“People in the industry are more open to answering your questions or teaching you things if you ask,” she says. “It sounds simple, but it’s true.”
It Takes a Village
To bring their vision to life, the ladies behind the shoot turned to a dream team of vendors, including: Andrea Nichols (makeup), The Wedding Shoppe (bride’s attire), Valente’s Men’s Formalwear (groom’s attire), Jennifer Schropp (hair stylist), Firefly Premier (table and chairs), Event Theory (table settings), Sweet Heather Anne (cake and desserts), Fabulous Events (linens), DuMouchelles (jewelry), Two James Spirits (beverages) and The Ten Detroit (nails).