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More and more couples are breaking free of the constrictions of classic wedding and creating announcements that reflect their own style and their Big Day. By Natasha Lesser

Handmade books filled with photos. Plantable paper that grows in the garden. Web sites dancing with cutting-edge technology. These are not your parents’ wedding invitations.

There’s nothing wrong with old school invites – heavy ivory paper and elegant black script – the invitation equivalent of Perry Como. But for couples interested in making their weddings an expression of themselves, this approach can seem a little conservative – and perhaps a bit impersonal.

Mike Lors, 36, and his wife Michelle, 29, wanted an invitation that reflected the spirit of the series of wedding events, dubbed “Caravan of Love”, which began in Las Vegas, moved on to California for the honeymoon and ended in Baltimore for a big bash. So Lors, a Baltimore graphic designer, created the invitation himself.

A little blue book that folds out like an accordion, the invitation was filled with images that captured the essence of the couple’s union – a 50’s wedding cake topper, a Las Vegas sign, Elvis at the Little White Chapel, a car with a “Just Married” sign on the bumper and a National Bohemian beer can label. “It took a couple of weeks to do it,” says Lors, “but it was definitely worth it.”

In the quest for an individualized invitation, it helps to be a graphic designer – or to know one. Lors’ sister Traci loved his invitation so much that she requested one for her wedding in Nantucket. He made her a fold-out booklet with images of the island and nautical and Celtic knots (i.e. “tying the knot).

Lors’ friends, Federal Hill residents Bert and Michelle Miller, opted for an even more radical approach: They went straight to digital. They sent out a very simple save-the-date card directing guests to an elegant, colorful Web site designed by Lors. The site, which was bathed in tropical colors suited to the Millers’ Bahamas wedding, included information about the wedding, where to stay and what to do on the island. “All three weddings weren’t really traditional,” says Lors, “and the invitations fit their personalities.”

Diane Forden, Editor-in-Chief of Bridal Guide Magazine, has seen a “dramatic change in invitations that reflect the trend of couples trying to personalize weddings and make the style of the wedding unique.” Couples are no longer happy with boilerplate invites, she says. They want their invitations to show who they are and what kind of wedding they’re having.

“The invitation is one of the first clues that you get about the event,” says Lynette Richardson-Hall, a Baltimore wedding planner who appears on Style Network’s show Whose Wedding Is It Anyway? Couples want their invitations to be something that guests get excited about, something they cherish, almost a souvenir of the wedding.

Silver Spring residents Sarah Bromeland, 31, and fiancé Chad Rector, 30, are taking that idea further then most; they’re printing their invitations on biodegradable paper embedded with wild flower seeds with the idea that guests will plant it in their gardens. “We liked the idea of being able to re-use something from our wedding and have something lasting from it,” says Bromeland.

Bromeland sought out Kat Feurstein at Gilah Press in Hampden for help in designing the plantable invitation. Feurstein is creating a small booklet bound with ribbon and printed in red ink. “We wanted something that expressed who we are,” says Bromeland, who felt so strongly the invitations that she spent more money on them then her dress.

Many couples aren’t ready to go quit this far. So Feurstein, who got into the printing business after designing her own invitation – a graceful little folder filled with information about the wedding and a colorful map of Baltimore – also does traditional invitations, with a twist.  One couple wanted the classic black print on ivory paper, but they had it printed on a paper called “whipped cream,” which has a soft, suede-like texture that’s hard to stop stroking. Kilometer, another Baltimore wedding invitation design company, also does contemporary takes on the classics, using oversized poppies and zinnias, fun color combinations and playful fonts.

For her wedding last October, Sun reporter Stephanie Hanes wanted “something that captured the mood, that was fun and casual but still classic.” At Pleasure Of Your Company in Lutherville, Hanes picked an invitation style from one of Crane’s stationer’s new non-traditional books. She liked a design that used pink and brown, but knew her fiancé wouldn’t be wild about pink. So she substituted blue (compromise, the key to every good marriage!), and added blue folder-like envelopes to make the package a bit more offbeat.

The bottom line, says Lors, is coming up with something that feels right for you. “The invitation,” he says, “definitely reflects the people that we are.”

Natasha Lesser is a freelance writer in Baltimore. Her sister made her wedding invitation.

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