The sensory imprint of our travels draw us to event spaces touched by nature. Structures softened with tendrils of green and perfumed by jasmine – signs of mother nature claiming back what is hers.
Perched atop a rugged promontory on the glinting waters of Lake Como, château Balbianello is being reclaimed. Inside, blooms slowly creep through open doors while out on the terrace, vines cover every surface, encasing timeworn stonework like an ancient greenhouse.
Sophia and Taylor’s wedding was held beneath a canopy of green. Vows were exchanged overlooking the lake, ancient arches segmented the views into postcard-perfect Italian vignettes. Guests mingled on sprawling lawns before dining amongst overflowing florals and vintage votives, and iron doors thrown open to take in the granduer of the venue’s natural surrounds…
Photography by Irina and Matej.
Names / Sophia and Taylor
Wedding Date / September 22, 2017
Guests / 68
How we met…
We first met in medical school in our hometown of New Orleans, but were both dating other people at the time. We both wanted to be dermatologists, and that was the extent of our familiarity with one another. It wasn’t until I moved back to New Orleans in 2013 to start dermatology training that we really connected. A few months into residency training, we were fatefully assigned to the same rotation which happened to be one hour away from home. Being the gentleman that he is, Taylor offered to make the long drive for us every day for those four weeks. Those countless hours in the car together enabled us to quickly become the best of friends and more.
Our Engagement story…
It was New Year’s Eve 2016. Taylor enlisted the help of my friends for the special moment. They told me that everyone would be attending a popular local hotel’s annual NYE party. The dresscode was black tie, with long gowns a must. After prepping and primping, Taylor (dressed in his tuxedo) headed to the parking garage of our highrise apartment building with me in my long red gown. Before arriving at the elevator, I noticed a series of enlarged pictures displayed on the mezzanine windows. Just as the full scale of what was happening started to click in my mind, Taylor grabbed my hands and walked me through every image. They were pictures that he had taken over our relationship, and he explained why each moment was so special. For the finale, Taylor walked me through the door onto the rooftop where a violinist was playing John Legend’s “You & I.” Surrounded by pillars of candles, rose petals, and the New Orleans skyline, Taylor got on one knee and asked me to marry him. After accepting, our close friends who had been hiding and watching from afar were ushered onto the rooftop where a cocktail party ensued.
Marriage to us means…
It’s a sense of security, to know that no matter what there is someone out there in this big world that always has your best interest in mind.
We love to travel but our work schedules don’t always make traveling easy, so we try to take advantage of any time we have off by jumping on a plane together. So it made sense for us to use our wedding as an excuse to take a vacation. Over the years, Lake Como has risen on the map as a magical playground for the fabulous and it was definitely on our radar. It’s strategic location gives way to lakeside villas, Swiss Alps backdrops, rich Italian food culture, and a timeless leisurely feel. On the plus side, neither one of us had been there so it was new and exciting. It was also easily accessible from an international airport, making the feat of getting our guests there manageable. Once we decided on Lake Como, we wanted to make sure the venue epitomized the simple grandeur of the area. Villa del Balbianello, perched high on a promontory in the middle of the lake, was famous for a reason. Its gardens were immaculate and grand, yet elegant and refined. We knew that it would be hard not to have a picture perfect wedding there. Every corner is a postcard.
Theme & Style
We chose the Italian location and the venue very carefully. I didn’t want to be in a stuffy ballroom or dress the venue up so much that it became unrecognizable. I wanted my guests to have the undeniable, unmistaken feeling that they were witnessing a union on one of the most picturesque and famous parts of the world. We wanted the views to speak for itself, with our wedding being an extension of the venue. Don’t get me wrong. I love a little decadence and drama here and there, but it was very important for me to keep the décor understated and as minimal as an opulent garden setting could allow. Neutrality and maintaining an organic feel were goals. Lots of greenery and garlands. Soft candles. Hints of striking, modern typography to add some contemporary freshness. I wanted it to feel grand, but effortless and not like I was trying too hard. I also wanted to be able to look back on the day decades later, and not be embarrassed by any overly trend-forward decisions.
The year before our wedding, we went on vacation in Croatia. It was a few months after Taylor proposed, so we decided to take the opportunity to take our engagement pictures while there. While cruising instagram hashtags of local Croation photographers we eventually came across the work of Irina and Matej. They looked young, hip and cool. We took a chance and hired them for an early morning session in Dubrovnik. Three outfit changes and some cocktails later, we found ourselves with new Croatian friends. Not to mention, the images made us feel like we should have been inside a Vogue edition. So when it came time to book photographers for our wedding, they were always in the back in our mind. We trusted them as people, as friends, and we knew that this would lend itself to beautiful images. They’re also just really nice people. We truly believe in their work and want to see them succeed across all channels of the wedding photography business. We hope that other brides and grooms see our images and find inspiration.
My dress is by Pallas Couture. The patient folks at Mark Ingram Atelier in NYC helped me find it and customize it. It has a timeless silhouette but contemporary details. I wanted a dress that would make any demographic happy – young or old…conservative or bold. It needed to reflect the refined chicness of Lake Como, Italy, while still satisfying my need to be fresh and modern. It also needed to travel well, since I would be carrying it all the way from New Orleans, Louisiana.
My shoes were by Yves Saint Laurent. It is the classic Tribute sandal in their seasonal eggshell hue. I wanted a recognizeable brand that had staying power, but it needed to be comfortable enough for walking up the steep gardens and dancing all night, while making me as tall as possible (yes, #shortgirlproblems). I’ve owned Tribute sandals in various other colors in the past, so I was confident they were comfortable enough for my needs. They ended up being gifted to me by a group of my closest girlfriends.
It was really important that the bands be low maintanence enough for daily wear and could stand the test of time in terms of style. We both opted for versatile 14k yellow gold bands from a local jeweler, Aucoin Hart. Mine is a dainty, round diamond, bezel-set eternity band. Taylor’s is a simple, comfort fit band with a masculine satin-finish. It’s not too bulky, but not too thin.
Jewelry & Accessories
We are both minimalists when it comes to accessories. I tend to shy away from ornate details, and Taylor has never had any interest in jewelry or watches. For the wedding day, I had on a pair of 4ct round diamond stud earrings that were a gift from my mom. Taylor had on generic black cufflinks that he found at the mall the weekend before. I had a long but simple cathedral veil that was ordered through Mark Ingram Atelier at my last dress fitting.
Although I love the formality that an up-do can lend to a wedding day, I decided early on that I was at my personal best with my hair down. We did elegant, side swept curls and prayed it would hold for as long as possible.
With both of us being dermatologists, we have a lot of tools at our discretion so with the months leading up to the wedding, I made sure to thoroughly prep my skin. The regimen included aggressive UV protection, topical creams, prescription medications, chemical peels, and even laser treatments. It made makeup application easier and my skin looked flawless despite not having very much on. Daniela finished my look with brown smokey eyes and nude pink lips.
Stationery & Invitations
One of our best friends has a small printing company. I used them exclusively for all of our stationary and invitations. They were incredibly patient with me. Our save the dates were mini magnets picturing our backsides while plunging into the sea beneath us (taken in Croatia on our engagement session) with the phrase “lake como, italy” boldly and minimally printed on them. We wanted to set the tone for our guests. Get them intrigued and excited to “take the plunge” with us and come to Como!
Our formal invitations were exquisite. We spent countless hours reviewing and changing fonts until they were perfect. They were printed on hand torn fabric paper – one being the invitation, one for the weekend schedule of events, and one being a map depicting all points of interest around Lake Como – all held together with a string. We knew that it would be hard for invited guests to decline such a sumptuous invitation. Place cards and menus were curated based on the same fonts and styling. They were effortlessly chic and went seamlessly with the decor.
Keeping with our organic, neutral theme, we asked for a simple masculine boutonneire for Taylor that consisted of herbs and greens.
Instead of a party favor, we made burlap welcome bags for our guests. These were gifted to our guests during the welcome pizza party the night before. The reusable bags had the words “ciao. hello. chao.” printed on them. This was our subtle acknowldgement of the Italian, American, and Vietnamese cultures at play. We made sure to keep the bags as neutral as possible and avoided printing our names or the date on the bags, so that guests could reuse the bags even after the wedding. They were stuffed with a curated collection of Italian snacks and travel-themed gadgets, including truffle chips, chocolate, limonata, aesop hand sanitizer, wine wipes, an international converter, an English-Italian phrasebook, and travel themed toys for the children.
Flowers & Bouquets
Keeping with our minimal but lush garden theme, I wanted a very organic look of herbs, greenery, and soft, sporadic neutral florals. I wanted it effortless, like we were merely bringing the garden inside. When you’re getting married in one of most beautifully landscaped garden villas in the world, there really isn’t a need to fuss over floral arrangements.
We hosted an alfresco welcome party at The Grand Hotel Tremezzo the evening before the wedding. Taylor and I parted ways after the party with him staying behind with his family. This is where he prepped the morning of the wedding. The night before the wedding I boarded a private boat with my guests and returned to Bellagio where I stayed the night in a chic, modern 2-bedroom rental called Pescallo Apartments. It was spacious, bright, and had the lovliest view of Lake Como. We didn’t have official groomsmen or bridesmaid, as to avoid singling anyone out. We wanted to ensure that everyone felt like a VIP during our wedding weekend. I did, however, have a few close friends come towards the end of my prep to help me execute my look and give me what I expect of good friends – their honest opinions.
Because Villa del Balbianello is only accessible by boat, we had a large boat pick guests up in the town of Bellagio for direct transport to the wedding venue. On the way there, the boat picked Taylor up at a separate dock where he prepped with his family, so he was able to arrive with all the guests during the “procession” to the venue. I arrived separately moments before walking down the aisle by a wooden boat. All guests left the wedding at the end of the night by boat. The transports by boat definitely added to the wow factor. It made for very impressive views when arriving to the venue.
Wedding Planner & Wedding Stylist
Planning a destination wedding isn’t as hard as you would think if you have a reliable, trustworthy planner you can count on. I read a lot of good reviews about the wedding planning company, The WeddingBox Lake Como. Svetlana was the lucky planner who got assigned to me and all my neuroses. She was so patient, even when I was having meltdowns or when I would change my mind 5 times about the same thing, or when I would email her in a panic at 3AM. She understood my aesthetic and executed it. If she was stressed, offended, or annoyed, I couldn’t tell. On the day of, she managed everythign so efficiently. She was present without being intrusive.
Bridesmaids & Wedding Guests
Find our handpicked edit of Ready-to-Wear brands for Bridesmaids and Weddings Guests on the Directory.
Taylor has the sweet tooth in the relationship. He chose a moist, coconut white chocolate cake. It was covered in white fondant with clean, modern lines and garlands of rosemary at the bases.
Food & Beverages
We wanted to lavish everyone with as much good food as possible. Immediately following the ceremony, we had a 2 hour traditional Italian apertif that incuded a buffet of freshly carved proscuitto, Italian cheeses, bread, canapes, hors d’œuvres, and prosecco. The big hit, however, was the cute gelato cart we hired. Everyone I talked to had a different favorite flavor, and most went back for seconds and thirds. Some guests reported that it was the best gelato they’ve had!
For dinner we had a seated 3-course reception. We followed Italian tradition here and started our guests with a squid risotto course, followed by a baked crepe stuffed with truffle and cheese, and finally a filet of beef with a custard of potatoes and mushrooms. Dinner ended with the cake and a buffet of miniature desserts including tiramisu, crème brulee, chocolate fondue, milfoil cake, raspberry coulis, etc. Every little bite was delightful.
There are some traditions that I believe are sacred. I wanted to feel like a bride, so I walked down the aisle to “Here Comes the Bride.” We had a violinist during the ceremony. We also made a special request for her to play John Legend’s “You & I” in the background while we recited the traditional part of our vows. This was the same song which played in the background while Taylor proposed a year and half before.
Our first dance song was “Ben” by Michael Jackson. We think anyone with a best friend can relate to these lyrics – human, rat, or dog (allegedly the intended subject of the song). Being one another’s best friend, we find so much sincerity in those lyrics. Our love isn’t defined by grand, or overtly romantic gestures. It’s just two people who need look no more, bc we both found what we were looking for.
We had a DJ. Taylor was in charge of curating a suggested playlist that included top 40, hip hop, pop, rap, and some old classics. This ensured that the music that was played was in line with how we normally like to party. The dancefloor stayed lit that night.
We each wrote our own vows, but we also incorporated the traditional vows as a way of sealing the deal. There is something so powerful and poignant about those words ”in sickness and in health…til death do we part.” I am probably biased but I thought our vows were perfect. They were funny, heartfelt, and romantic. I think any bystander who was listening could get a true sense of our bond.
After the wedding, we spent a couple of days in Venice, Italy, and from there we spent a few days in Havana, Cuba.
A memorable moment…
For us, it was the night before the wedding at our welcome party when we were standing on the dock of the Grand Hotel Tremezzo watching as 60+ of our favorite people were approaching via boat. It was the culmination of over a year of planning. So many things that could have gone wrong, but it didn’t. The sense of relief that we felt because we knew that everything was going to be fine because all 60+ guests made it safely and were actually here ready to celebrate with us. We let out a sigh of relief and couldn’t believe that we actually pulled it off. We couldn’t believe these people we love so much cared enough about us to make the journey.
If I could give Brides to be one piece of advice…
Don’t buy your wedding dress too early. Styles constantly change and new dresses are released each season. The more time you have to stew, the more time you have to have doubts about your dress. And once you buy a dress, unfollow all wedding and dress accounts, subscriptions, and posts. Stop looking at other designers or looking “just for fun.” The last thing you need is to see new dresses that tempt you to question your choice.
Photography / Irina and Matej
Bride’s Dress / Pallas Couture
Bride’s Shoes / Yves Saint Laurent
Groom / Fellow
Wedding Rings / Aucoin Hart Jewelers
Hair & Makeup / Daniele Guanziroli
Stationery / Print & Proper
Florist / Figli dei Fiori
Cake & Catering Class
Wedding Planner, Transport & Celebrant / Wedding Box Lake Como
Wedding Venue / Villa del Balbianello
Honeymoon Destination / Havana, Cuba
Entertainment / Blunotte Eventi
Videographer / Happy Wedding Films