Our French Elopement, Part One

On Monday September 10th, 2018 I awoke very early in the morning in Nice, France, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea to marry my handsome Jeremy.

Just four days after we surprised six friends with where in the world we're flying to, and that it wasn't for a bachelor trip but an elopement. Followed by a delightful few days of touring the South of France, one of my favorite regions in the world, together. Our secret wedding day was here!

After just a few hours of sleep, I rolled out of bed when the hair/makeup artist walked in, barely awake. Soon the sunshine and sound of the ocean through our window, and the calming presence as she made my tired eyes shine like a bride, woke me up while reviewing my vows. Along with a quick break for coffee and croissant (the only food I would eat for many hours), with my three dear girlfriends.

The decor of Villa Collin where we stayed is why I chose the house with it's feel of a French villa. To balance out the charming sweetness of the floral wallpaper, I chose clean chic white robes for myself and all the girls from Bhldn. I adore mine, wearing it at home and packing it for travels since, worn over a silk slip for sleeping.

Sitting close with dear girlfriends laughing, talking and sipping something  is one of those magical places in life you could spend hours in. But we didn't have much time to relax this morning!

Meanwhile my dapper copper-haired groom was getting into the blue suit we had picked out for him, bringing out his hair and my eyes. His suit was what we started with, revolving the bridesmaids, groomsmen and florals around that signature piece. We chose a brown tie from Bhldn for him over a navy one for a bit more contrast, and his dream Nomos watch I'd given him the night before as a gift was the finishing touch.

He took some time to write and rehearse his own vows, then finished getting ready downstairs with the gents while the girls and I stayed hidden away upstairs.

Our dear friend and florist Kelsea nailed every element of this day, starting with the boutineers. I was a bit on the fence about them, feeling they can make men look a bit silly, but the key was she kept the blooms small and mixed them with natural elements, each feeling a bit imperfect.

My grandmother's ring that became my engagement ring is so stunning I wanted a small wedding band that would compliment but not compete. I wasn't sure what I was envisioning and had just said so to Jeremy when we walked past a shop window in Paris and I saw something perfect.

When meeting his family for the first time I had found this clutch in a vintage store for $24 and thought I would save it for my wedding purse. It looks beautiful here paired with a vintage French book called me and you, Chanel perfume, plus my earrings, hair pin and vow book from Bhldn.

With my accessories in place it was finally time to slip into my dress! I had the most exhaustive dress search trying to find my dress for our family wedding next year. Meanwhile, this dress was the third one I tried on at the first shop, Kleinfeld's. My darling consultant Brandi pulled it as a wildcard and it loved it at first glance. I wanted something embellished, with texture, and this one felt like an Oscar gown.

(I'll tell you a secret: I actually liked the sample I tried on a smidge more than my real wedding dress! Because the sample was worn, it looked more vintage and wasn't as white. It would never have occurred to me to prefer to buy the sample, but I passed the advice on to another friend who did the same, preferring the antique look of the sample or one from a resale site and worried a new one would look too white. A great note for future brides who want to save money. Nonetheless...)

I felt like a celebrity on the red carpet in this gown, yet a bride when paired with the veil; like a glamorous version of myself in an updo, yet natural and effortless in fresh makeup and a light lip. And I wanted to do nothing but swish and swirl in the light skirt.

Then it was time to scoop up my perfect dream bouquet! I couldn’t find a photo of what I had in mind. Something more elevated than a fully colorful bouquet, and less moody than one of muted tones. Joyful, yet complex. Kelsea managed to read my mind!

The magical finishing touch was the branch of lavender bougainvillea she saw growing down a wall walking around Nice. She returned under the cloak of night with scissors, and it’s the one stem I plucked out to save on the way to our honeymoon, now resting atop a stack of books in our home. The bouquet for our family wedding next year was already slated to have bougainvillea, I had never seen it in lavender which is the scent of the South of France where it’s grown, and it’s my favorite flower. Kelsea knew none of this. Providence.

This wide photo of us walking down the stairs is one of my favorites of the whole day. The color palette is so amazing it’s physically hard for me to breathe. The movement, location, intimacy of women. Oh my heart.

I also adore this photo that looks like we’re in a painting! But there wasn’t space to linger, as I would say we had to get me to the church on time, but apparently we were going to arrive two hours late!

I’ll digress here to share the number one piece of wedding day advice I came home and urgently passed onto every girlfriend getting married: “Make someone who loves you and will fight fiercely for you, your time keeper, and never put your trust solely in the wedding planner”.

Our day of coordinators were a duo. It had never occurred to me where they’d be that morning. I’d seen their tight typed breakdown of the day and then trusted they were on it, and for just one day I tried to be the bride instead of the CEO. Yet neither of them ever came to the house. They were both up at the ceremony site with Jeremy. Meanwhile I was sitting all morning without a watch or my phone, being present. Everyone showed up on time so it never occurred to me we were behind. But in hindsight they hadn’t deputized anyone to keep the schedule. Not the photographer, videographer or hair/makeup artist all of whom they knew, nor any of the three bridesmaids. No one had a print out of the day, no one ever mentioned the time that I heard.

It wasn’t until we were in the car they texted me, “You’re two hours late and the musicians want to leave”. What was I supposed to do about it? And isn’t the job to at all costs not worry the couple? Jeremy later described them as “Not problem solvers, but problem identifiers”. And my girlfriends were kicking themselves they hadn’t thought to ask more questions so they could take charge, as they too believed surely someone we paid must be.

I share this and any other tidbits of what I would have done differently not to put the slightest damper on this glorious day and gorgeous post. I’m simply a teacher at heart! Yes I want to share beauty and inspiration, but also any little insight that might help someone do it better — in style, business, life or weddings. So despite this unfortunate hiccup, the good news is we were indeed on our way to the church!

Having had this elopement daydream for many years, I always envisioned it in a tiny chapel like the one in that famous photo of JFK JR and Carolyn Bessette exiting. With the original daydream taking place in England, there would have been an abundance to choose from, but when I began to look in France I was reminded it’s at heart a Catholic country. Therefore even the tiniest churches were grandly ornate and dwarfed an intimate party of eight.

Not one to be easily dissuaded, I zoomed in tight on Google Maps searching “church” and clicked on every tiny red dot I could find. When I stumbled upon Chapelle St Joseph, an abandoned stone church dating back to the 12th century, the vision changed in an instant. Instead of inside a church, we could marry in front of one, under the cross and surrounded by the colors of sky, mountains and sea, which then inspired the color palette of blues, purples and greens.

The chapel is in the shadow of the ruins of Castle Nuovo, dating back to the 6th century, in the tiny village of Chateauneuf-Villevielle a half hour north of Nice.

Arriving so much earlier, the gents had plenty of time to relax and take in the view. They prayed, adorably figured out how to attach one another’s boutineers, and chatted with hikers who were shocked to run into four Americans in full suits in the midst of their trek.

The location was always remote, but the complexity increased a month before when we found out the road was closed. The planner at first told me we might not be able to do it there, but we all know I’m rather feisty when it comes to my creative vision. So I asked just how long a hike it was from where we would have to park to the church. The answer was 30 minutes. As a New Yorker I thought that seemed perfectly doable.

So the four guys in their suits, three musicians with a violin and cello, two florists with the makings for an arch, and two coordinators all made their way up. The guys wore casual shoes and brought backpacks carrying their dress shoes. We girls did the same, with me in boat shoes and Stephanie in running shoes here, just reaching the top of our climb.

Then we rounded the corner of the hill into visibility, making a faux aisle walkway towards the church. I called out momentarily for everyone to pause as my tulle skirt was stuck in a brambly bush! This would happened all throughout, which was hilarious and part of the adventure!

Having never been to the site for a rehearsal, just seeing photos from the planners, the girls flowed with it effortlessly. I paused at the base of the path to let Jade who was carrying my train, go ahead, then walked down aisle.

The first moment I saw Jeremy I could tell he was crying, and I was thrilled! I had been teasing him for months, because he doesn’t cry easily, showing him photos of other grooms openly weeping, “See honey, this is what it looks like when you love someone.” (wink) So I didn’t expect him to shed more than a tear, and cried as soon as I saw him crying.

We cried, and laughed at ourselves for how much we were crying. We prayed and sang worship songs with the French singer, violinist, and cellist. It was the most beautiful location of a church service I’ve been to.

All six guests participated in the ceremony, which was so special. We had the script written out in an album that they passed to one another for their part. Doug and Steph, a couple whose joyful marriage we desire to emulate, officiated. We had given them a working outline and various questions or quotes to riff off of so they weren’t staring at a blank page on the plane, and they made it beautifully their own.

Roshan read a quote we love, Alicia in her gorgeous Australian accent lead a prayer. Jade in her beautiful British accent read some of our favorite Bible verses, then Ramiyro recited them in French. Every moment of it took my breath away with it's beauty and warmth.

Our unexpected favorite part was the unique chemistry that exists when everyone at the wedding, is apart of it. The energy was so chill. We paused when there was a bump, laughed our way through, or in my case laughed while crying. In one photo below you can see the hairstylist redoing my veil halfway through.

Everything was so leisurely because there was no performance, no audience, just an intimate conversation. Therefore, it didn't fly by and I soaked in so much of it. (Bonus tip: A longer ceremony also helps your photo/video team as they have time to capture everything!)

I was absolutely blown away by Jeremy’s heartfelt vows, as we both laughed and cried and one another’s. At one point he was crying so hard with his hands holding the vow book and my waist, I reached up and wiped his snot away with the back of my hand. Which I only remember because we have it on video!

We exchanged rings, were announced husband and wife, and kissed!

We headed down the aisle to the singer belting out “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, as silly dancing with Jeremy is one of my favorite quirks of our relationship. And all celebrated at the bottom of the aisle.

We wandered through the hillside to the castle ruins to take photos. I couldn’t imagine a more magical setting to be in a light gorgeous beaded gown, alone for as far as the eye could see, with a view of France below us on every side.

The bridal party’s attire and florals as I said were inspired by the color palette of sky, mountains and sea. I found Stephanie’s floral dress first and loved the idea of having a mix of solids and patterns, as well as different lengths and style of sleeves. (Choosing fabrics that pair well together is the key to keeping it cohesive.) With Jeremy in blue, the girls in green and purple was divine.

To make the combination more elevated, I paired jewel tones with pastels. I had each guy bring a suit in a different shade so no one matched, and gave them ties in hues of blue and gray. The flowers were the finishing touch to take the palette from moody or muted to more joyful and bright. As a stylist, color combinations make my heart flutter, and I could stare at this perfect one for days!

I also chose for each girl to have a different bouquet, thinking about the functionality of two of them. Jade needed to be able to carry my train, then both Steph and Jade needing free hands to hold the ceremony book as it was passed around. So we made one as a circle that could slip over a wrist, another an arch that could drape over an arm, and Alicia had a traditional bouquet that she held together with mine during the ceremony.

Our time on the mountain was coming to an end and I was soaking in the moment,  the breathtaking view, and this sweet time with my favorite guy.

Then we were off! Down the mountain in desperate need of food, with a vintage car, boat, private beach, magical garden, and gorgeous second dress awaiting us. Without a large guest list, the day was instead filled with so many magic moments, I had to split it up into two posts. Part two of our wedding day coming next…

Till then, I’m so honored to be sharing this precious day with you. Your excitement and friendship in Instagram comments has meant the world to me and makes all the hours curating blog posts for you so worth it! And I for one am thrilled to no longer be calling my gent Beau, but by his real name, Jeremy. My handsome husband.

Our incredible team, whether vendors or brands, all of whom I cannot recommend highly enough!

Wedding Dress: Kleinfeld's, Rivini's Dahlia dress // Bridesmaids Dresses + Men's Ties: Bhldn // Robes, Earrings, Hair Pin, Vow Books: Bhldn // Florist: Kelsea of East Olivia // Photographer: Erich McVey // Cinematographer: The Brothers Martens // Graphic Design: Steph B // Grooms Watch: Nomos // Hair MakeUp: Camille Bonardi // Planner + Stylist: Bride

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