When we ask newlyweds to think back on what they wanted most for their big day — and we’ve interviewed hundreds of them over the years — the most common response is: “For it not to feel like a wedding!” But in a monsoon of flower crowns and macaron towers, how do you see beyond the usual tropes and actually pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answer, we’ve decided to interrogate the cool couples whose weddings we would actually want to steal — right down to the tiger-shaped cake toppers.
Here, we talked to Democratic Congressman Max Rose of New York and fashion stylist Leigh Byrne, who were married March 31, 2018 at a brewery near their home on Staten Island. Their wedding was a low-key affair despite, or perhaps due to, its occurrence in the middle of Rose’s first congressional campaign — which he went on to win (and they celebrated with a no-cell-reception honeymoon in Uruguay).
Max: You know how they say awkward proposals lead to good marriages? We’re testing that one out.
Leigh: He proposed in June 2017, the night before he was deployed with the National Guard on a training mission to Australia for six weeks. He was acting really strange. I kept asking, “Are you okay?!”
Max: My plan was, when you do a deployment you get a detailed packing list. I was going to read off the list, and have her check in the bag, and then at the end I was going to say, “and one ring.” Then she’d look up and I’d be on my knee. Great thing! When I suggested this, like any rational human being, she said, I’ll read the list, you pack.
Leigh: I’m a stylist by trade. I’m a great packer. I pack bags, I unpack bags. We finish packing, and he’s sweaty and looks a little pale.
Max: Leigh doesn’t fuck around. She doesn’t fuck around.
Leigh: I don’t know if I’ve told anyone this before, but we dance in the middle of our living room, or in our kitchen. We did our dancing thing, and then he said, look down. I looked down, and he had a ring box open. I said, “Are you fucking kidding me?”
Max: I blacked out and then I was on one knee. Thank God she said yes.
Leigh: I was actually the one who pushed us to get married [before the election]. I’m a bit traditional in that sense. We want to start a family. So in the fall of 2017, we settled on March. The campaign was a little chaotic, to say the least, but we found Flagship Brewery, which we loved, right down the street from where we live in Staten Island.
Max: It’s one of our favorite places to hang out. But it’s also a canvas that we could work with — lots of catering options, and different areas where people could stand or sit, dance or socialize.
Leigh: It fell into place. I wanted it to be as simple as possible, logistics-wise. Max was on a tight schedule.
Max: The fact that we were planning at the height of a Congressional campaign — the last thing we wanted to do was put our families or us through any more stress. We just wanted a celebration, without stages to it. We asked my best friend to marry us.
Leigh: We didn’t walk down an aisle, didn’t have an aisle. It was all inside this — basically this warehouse space of the brewery. But I did wear an ivory dress, with beading along the bodice; I wore an Italian designer, Francesco Scognamiglio, and heels by Gianvito Rossi, another Italian designer. Max wore Michael Andrews Bespoke. He always wears bespoke.
Max: She’s making me sound cooler than I am. It’s true that I did have this one made. I was so nervous. I never want to mess anything up with Leigh.
Leigh: We stood in front of the room so that everyone could gather around. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house. I remember standing there doing our vows — and he was! A little nervous! Max hardly ever gets nervous.
Max: I’m not sure it was my best delivery, because I was much more nervous than being up on stage giving a speech. But the whole group of our 200 guests just gathered around us — the word that keeps coming to mind is “organic.” It fit us super well.
Leigh: For the cocktail hour, we had a huge wheel of Pecorino, you could just get in there, kinda old-school Italian, and chop up your cheese and put it on bread, with soppressata and sausage.
Max had gone ahead to the brewery earlier that day and made sure everything was coming together nicely, that the catering [Chez Vous Catering] was set up the way we wanted it.
Max: There were passed hors d’oeuvres, grilled baby lamb chops and crab cakes and mini grilled cheeses with tomato-soup shooters. Then buffet tables where we were serving beef and fish with roasted veggies and a garden salad. It was all pretty rustic. There was a big American flag on the wall, by a group of local Staten Island fire fighter-artists.
Leigh: We had wildflowers, three vases per table. I put them together myself with my father and step-mother, Carol, with flowers purchased from the floral district in the city. We didn’t do much else with the decor — we wanted to keep the warehouse vibe. The space has a bar in the back — we had a corner with a table of Scotches; it was yummy — and a huge open dance floor. We had a DJ and a bongo player through Victory Entertainment, which was brilliant. People pulled us up for a first dance, we didn’t have one scheduled. Maybe Max will remember the song? Oh my gosh. I don’t remember the song we danced to!
Max: [pause] …no. I guess it wasn’t about the formalities for us. People eventually forgot they were at a wedding. They were just enjoying each other, dancing to Janet Jackson, Backstreet Boys; there was some motown, too. It went into the wee hours of the morning.
Leigh: After the buffet, we had a late-night hot dog cart, which was a big hit. There were dessert tables and a Napoleon for the wedding cake. Of course, I didn’t eat a thing, because I was running around. We partied until 1 A.M., 1:30 A.M.? It was a lot of dancing right up until the end. Then Max and I walked home, married. He was basically back to campaigning the next morning.