Altar Ego

Azita went looking for a wedding sponsor. All she got was a reprimand.

Azita Bayat and David Sims spent one Saturday afternoon in September staring at diamonds. They scoured the Galleria looking in the windows of Tiffany & Co. and Cartier.

Did you see anything you liked? David asked her over dinner that night.

No, she said.

Good, he told her. Because I was hoping you'd wear this one for the rest of your life.

He slipped a platinum, two-carat princess-cut diamond (flanked by .55-carat baguettes and trillions) onto her finger and asked her to marry him. She said yes and started planning the wedding of her dreams. The only problem was paying for it: They're graduate students with loans and no income. "We're both financially strapped," she says. She's 30, her father's dead and she feels like she's too old to ask her mom to spend that kind of money.

"We're both grown up enough to not say, "Mommy, can I have $30,000 for a wedding?' " she says. "Going to the parents is the last hope."

Surfing how-to-plan-your-perfect-wedding Web sites, Azita read about a woman who recruited sponsors to pay for her wedding. Azita's a marketing grad student at Rice University -- she liked the idea of offering free advertising space on the back of the wedding program. The sound of "this wedding brought to you by [fill in major company here]" had a nice ring to it.

Her fiancé thought she was joking when she mentioned it to him. She said that maybe the companies that sponsor weekly "party-o's" (campus parties on the patio), buying beer and pizza, would pay for their wedding. He didn't think she was serious.

Azita, a student at Rice's Jones School, drafted an e-mail to the human resources departments of five major companies that recruit at Rice. She thought paying for her wedding would show that the company really cared about Rice students and would be a great anecdote when they interviewed potential candidates.

"It could go into company lore," she says. "It humanizes the company."

David proofread the letter for her; he thought it was a good letter, but he didn't think any company would be willing to do it. He was right.

One company was outraged. Its executives said it was unprofessional for her to hit them up for her wedding. Azita was officially reprimanded by Rice officials who told her it was unprofessional. She still thinks it was a good idea.

"You hear the story about the guy who wrote to Lee Iacocca and said, "Send me a Mustang,' and he did," she says.

Azita, a second-year MBA student who moved to Houston from her native Iran when she was eight, is an officer in the Marketing Club, an admissions counselor and a member of the student government. She writes for The Hooter (an unofficial Onion-like student newspaper) and is involved in other on-campus committees.

"She's a promoter," David says. "She's not afraid to ask for whatever it is she wants. Somebody's going to be the beneficiary of good fortune, and it may as well be her. Or us."

After the reprimand, Azita sent e-mail apologies to the corporations. One company wrote her back congratulating her on her wedding, wishing her luck, but saying that if they paid for her wedding, they'd have to pay for everybody's wedding. Another simply said her wedding wasn't in its budget.

"Now I'm back to square one," she says.

David suggested they take her mom and brother and his parents to a Caribbean island, get married, send the family home and honeymoon. She vetoed that plan. She wants the wedding of her dreams, something where everything sparkles. "I just want to feel like a princess for a day," she says. But she doesn't know how she's going to pay for it.

Azita bought a Morelei A-line dress with silver sparkles and flowers and a small train. "It's the cheapest dress I could find," she says. It was $700 (not including alteration fees she's sure will come); she charged it.

"I'm just so overwhelmed," she says. "Everything costs."

She has booked the private banquet room of the Houston Engineering Scientific Society club for her February 17 wedding (which just happens to be during Rice's Career Week). She wants to be married on the marble floors in a traditional Persian wedding, complete with white dress and signing the Koran. "I'm still figuring out the whole Persian culture," David says, "but I guess it's real important that a ton of her mom's friends are there."

For the reception they'll need food, flowers and a photographer. Other brides have gone to the individual florists and photographers and offered them ad space. She's trying that, but she's not having much luck. "Nobody is jive with the idea," Azita says. "The credit card bills are going to be racking up real soon."

Maybe the Persian caterers would supply the food for free to preserve tradition?

"I would never ask them," Azita says.

Why not?

"Because they're Persian, too," she says.

But she was fine with hitting up American companies.

"Yes," she says. Would the Houston Presswant to co-sponsor her wedding? she asked.

Nice try.

 
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