A Chinese Celebration on a Californian Estate
Photography by Aaron Delesie for Lu & Aaron
Set on a sprawling estate in the Californian desert, Lu and Aaron exchanged vows in an artistic symbiosis of cinematic styling and Asian influence.
Enveloped by towering palms and a landscape of rugged mountains, the poetic balance of natural and manufactured details brought warmth, character and depth to the celebration. From mismatched wooden seating to the pigmented palette of deep red (a hue of significance within Chinese culture), to the wrought iron facades and digital screen set-up, there was consideration and meaning imbued in every aspect of this affair.
Dinner took place on a unique U-shaped dining table under simple strands of pontoon lighting, while guests were serenaded by the soundtrack of Japanese composer, Ryuichi Sakamoto.
It was a beautiful, inimitable blend of tradition and artistry, captured effortlessly on film by exclusive husband and wife duo, Aaron Delesie.
Names / Lu & Aaron
Wedding Date / 20th October, 2018
Guest Numbers / 85
Budget / $150,000 USD
How We Met
Aaron and I met in a very classic way via a mutual friend. It almost feels antiquated at this point. We had our first blind meeting at Bar Stella in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles. My initial impression was that he was a gentleman, very proper, in a refreshing and romantic sort of way. And the bar is very close to where we ended up purchasing our first home together.
Our Engagement Story
We did not have a traditional engagement. It started earlier that year on my father’s birthday when he asked us when we would like to get married. At some point, someone said October. I can’t remember now. And my father agreed that October seemed right (to him). It caught us both off guard, but in the end, I’m grateful for this little bit of pressure. Both Aaron and I are neither the type to push each other in that sort of way.
Marriage To Us Means…
We opted for a civil ceremony in Aaron’s hometown of Freeport, a small seaside town in Maine. A traditional white gown does not connect with me in any meaningful way. I didn’t grow up with that sort of imagery. Marriage to me is significant in the way that it joins our two families, so I wanted both the ceremony and reception to feel authentic and culturally appropriate to us.
We chose The Wheelhouse, the estate of the late Huell Howser in Twentynine Palms near Joshua Tree National Forest as the site of our reception. The estate is massive. Huell purchased the adjacent 80 acres across from the residence so that he would have unobstructed sunset views for the rest of his life.
We chose not to do any pre-celebrations. A significant part of a Chinese wedding is the tea ceremony. Due to timing, my parents and I agreed it would be best to just incorporate the ceremony into the dinner. Everyone was served Jasmine and Chrysanthemum Pu Erh Tea.
Overall Aesthetic / Style
Aaron and I are both designers by trade and my father is a notable Chinese painter and calligrapher. We are thankful for a life surrounded by art and I think the style of the reception reflects that. The overall mood felt intimate and cinematic.
That could be felt most by the audio. I expressed to our planning team, Lynden Lane, that I wanted a U-shape dining experience. The U-shape engages those who sit on the end and adds depth to conversational sounds. The atmospheric audio of a dinner party carefully layered over a still night. As guests would dine to a soundtrack of Ryuichi Sakamoto thanks to our friends at AOP Entertainment for the setup.
Flowers were arranged by Tinge Floral in a deep palette of pigmented and natural reds. Ashley and her team, who traveled from Utah, wrapped deep red hand-dyed ferns around organic shaped sculptures located on-site. The balance of natural and unnatural can have a surreal, otherworldly quality to it.
Heidi Davison sourced and calligraphed place cards that mimicked Chinese xuan paper. Xuan paper is traditionally made from a mixture of hemp, mulberry, and other natural plant fibers. It is the ground most commonly used for classical Chinese calligraphy and ink painting.
Our planners, Lynden Lane, suggested we cover the pool in order to configure the space for our U-shape dining. They enlisted Special Event Contractors who constructed the steel-framed, wood laminated pool cover the day before. It was so much fun to watch.
The Lynden Lane team went above and beyond to source the mix of wood chairs I wanted in order to achieve an “unplanned” look. They also chose simple lighting in order to highlight the beautiful night sky, and hand-strung hundreds of tassels to red envelopes in constructing the entrance display.
Aaron Delesie and his wife Jen photographed our wedding. We were honored to be one of the eight couples they photograph a year. The event was shot almost entirely on film.
We did not formally hire a videographer. But we were fortunate to have an Emmy-winning director as one of our guests, Joel Knoernschild. Joel flew his drone over the reception to capture the comings and goings.
A year prior we were in Shanghai to spend time with family when I decided to visit Hanyi 瀚艺 on Changle Lu, a 95-year-old tailor who owns a custom qipao shop along the Savile Row of Shanghai. I chose a matte chartreuse silk crepe because it feels modern to escape traditional color schemes. I had my cousin Jia assist in picking up the dress several months later and delivering it cross-continent. In total, I had three dresses for the reception. I would greet guests in a deconstructed, loose-fit qipao by Chinese designer Uma Wang, and dine in a vintage black velvet kaftan by Haider Ackermann that I found on 1st Dibs.
Shoes were by Gianvito Rossi.
My ring was a baguette diamond band. We chose Art Deco style wedding rings from Cartier. When I met Aaron he was living above a woodshop where he restored and designed custom Deco, Empire, and Biedermeier furniture. We chose wedding bands with the date inscribed on the inside of our bands. Due to the short time frame, my ring was running behind schedule so Karen at Cartier hired a courier to deliver it from Los Angeles to the desert the night before.
Jewellery / Accessories
My earrings were made by Sophie Buhai. I also wore two jadeite bangles and a ring gifted to me by my mother-in-law. Aaron’s family is descended from two U.S. Presidents, and this ring was worn by his grandmother on the Adams side.
Ashley, Tinge Floral, provided Blushing Bride proteas to stick in my hair. She surprised me with her selection which is always the best part when working with other artists. I liked my hair best at the end of the night when it became a bit undone and messed.
I did my own makeup because I thought it was the most convenient. I was inspired by the Chinese girls in Leslie Zhang’s photography.
Stationery / Invitations
Given that planning began in July, we decided to forgo formal paper invitations and send digital invites instead. This worked out well for my mother on WeChat and our international guests. It felt unfussy. I worked with my longtime collaborator on special projects, Timothy Petersen in San Francisco to design a program suite that consisted of a digital invite, a schedule of events, a menu, and a note to our guests. Tim had the idea to incorporate my father’s calligraphy into our logo which appears on the sleeve that binds it all together.
Favors / Bonbonniere
Guests took home hand-painted fans from Japan. Silk wool shawls were also gifted in case guests got cold.
Flowers & Bouquets
I didn’t carry flowers but our friend’s mother provided an impromptu moment when she handed me a large bouquet of lilies.
Aaron and I feel most comfortable around the presence of artists. It is within this little enclave that we have built our life in Los Angeles together, despite the often superficial, celebrity-driven characteristics of this city projected through a screen.
We met Nathan Shahani from Eat Piece through mutual friends and immediately wanted him to design our cake. Nathan is a sweet soul with a beautiful body of work. He designed three different cakes for us presented in three deconstructed layers.
Food & Beverages
Fireworks are prohibited in the high desert so we requested Fluid Bartenders serve a drink consisting of green tea, scotch, ginger, lychee, and gunpowder proof rum called Skyladder.
Guests were served Imperial Beijing cuisine in five courses, including pastry and tea from Michelin Star restaurant Bistro Na’s. We wanted our guests to enjoy an elevated and modern farm to table meal they would remember.
Aaron is from Maine so it was important to him that we have lobster. Chef Tian Yong created a special menu just for us.
After our civil ceremony, we spent a week in Portland, Maine where we toured Aaron’s upbringing, ate more lobster, and went to the beach.
In lieu of a registry, we chose to distribute Chinese red envelopes to guests as they arrived. My mother is superstitious. As a cheeky nod to her, I had the planners hand paint auspicious numbers onto large tanggu drums imported from China. A lucky number is determined by its pronunciation. No. 8 has long been regarded as the luckiest number, culturally. With the pronunciation of ‘Ba’ in Chinese, no. 8 sounds similar to the word ‘Fa’, which means to make a fortune. Guests would notice the installation as a foreshadowing of events to come.
We chose an all-female string quartet, Orchid Quartet, from Los Angeles to play a custom arrangement of Shigeru Umebayashi, Michael Galasso, Sigur Ros, and Chopin.
The second portion of the evening commenced with the introduction of tanggu drummers by Scarlett Entertainment. Music would play a key role in the sensory and visual harmony (along with the painted sky) that would bring me to tears for the first time that night.
During intermission, the planners had the brilliant idea to move the drummers into the center of the dining platform to perform The Bull and the Tiger in three movements.
A page taken from our Program Suite entitled “Why Here?”:
“The high desert holds a special place in our hearts. Beyond the many humble nights Aaron and I spent camping together, there is nothing like the beauty of an unspoiled night sky. Inspired by the paintings of Vija Celmins, we wanted to bring an intimate group of friends and family together to experience a light pollution-free, visual and sensory offering no one has seen before. It has been said the Joshua tree symbolizes the strength and beauty that can arise from dysfunction. It grows in the direction of the wind rather than standing up straight. The tree’s struggle is what gives the tree its beauty.
As the sun starts to set, please take a moment to appreciate the unique shadows of the Joshua trees and the light that reflects off the fence designed by award-winning Belzberg Architects.
Aaron and I are thankful for this moment in time we get to share with our loved ones and with each other. To look up at the stars is to let go of all the struggles down below. It is truly sublime.”
Any Other Special Details
Our concluding thoughts for the night were displayed on a wall of screens courtesy of our friend, cinematographer Randy Wedick. Randy installed four large 4K televisions on the location that played manipulated elements of a traditional wedding ceremony including rice, rose petals, etc floated in isolation and projected in slow motion. When Aaron and I wed at town hall some months back, the whole thing took about five minutes. I thought in case anyone had missed a ceremony they could experience it on the way out. After all, what is a wedding besides a series of symbols and gestures that one decides to ascribe meaning to?
Sources of Inspiration
I imagined our reception to feel like the opening of the Guggenheim.
A Memorable Moment…
We requested that my father paint a flag in honor of the occasion. I handed him a yard of white linen to which he promptly throws in the garbage and asks, “Are you giving up?” Our new red flag can be seen from beyond the walls and serves as a guidepost for guests.
One Thing I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Wedding Plans…
Just how fortunate we were to have had our night at all.
Photography / Aaron Delesie
Bride’s Dress / Uma Wang, Haider Ackerman via 1st Dibs
Bride’s Shoes / Gianvito Rossi
Hair / Molly Shriver
Grooms Attire / Tom Ford
Florist / Tinge Floral
Wedding Styling & Planning / Lynden Lane Co.
Venue / Wheelhouse
Furniture / Found Rentals
Tabletop Rentals / The Ark, Theoni Collection
Lighting / Bright Event Rentals
Linens / La Tavola
String Quartet / Orchid Quartet
Tanggu Drummers / Scarlett Entertainment
Calligraphy / Heidi Davidson Design
Graphics / Delight Graphics
Cake / Eat Piece
Catering / Bistro Na’s
Bar / Fluid Bartenders
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