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 macaroon 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 Nusrat Ganberg, an immigration attorney from Detroit, and Jason Ganberg, a musician from the UK, who met in Los Angeles and fell in love. They were married last October in a “tropical oasis in the desert” in Joshua Tree.
Jason: We wanted the wedding to be a really natural hang. We’re both from different places, and I’m from a different country, the UK, so it’s such a unique thing to have everyone together, all these people I could never imagine would ever be all together in the same place. We didn’t want it to be too much about us. It wasn’t about us.
Nusrat: I don’t know, I wasn’t totally sure about the whole wedding thing. Should we spend all this money? Should we just elope and have a nice vacation? We ended up having the wedding on a tight budget and it was really fun. I’m glad we did it. I’m glad we did it like we did it.
Jason: Joshua Tree feels like another planet. We live in L.A. and had been going to Joshua tree for years after we started dating (Tinder success story!). It seemed like it would be such a surreal experience to have everyone hanging out at this place in the middle of the desert for our wedding.
Nusrat: Jason and I had previously stayed at the Joshua Tree Inn and always had a great time there, liked the general vibe. When I talked to them, they were so cool about everything, so laid back. It was a $2,500 facility fee for an 80-person wedding.
Jason: It’s a famous old motel where Gram Parsons used to stay a lot, and people say his ghost haunts his room. I’m a musician, so it was cool that it had some old music history. There was a disco ball hanging in the main stage area. It was interesting picking decor that didn’t take away from the backdrop, just accentuated it.
Nusrat: We spent just under $200 on florals from the L.A. Flower Market, plus some palm fronds and bougainvillea that we foraged from our neighbor — a tropical, modern, ’80s aesthetic. On Friday, the day before the wedding, we drove out to the desert to set up. The Inn had an 80-guest max, and we were at about 80. I was super, super stressed until the moment we got to the spot for the first look.
Jason: That was the most stressful part of the whole day, before the first look. We decided to do our first look in Joshua Tree National Park, but there was no service in the park. My brother drove me and we weren’t sure we were in the right place and we were just sitting there, waiting for them to turn up, and I knew we had to get back. We didn’t have that much time before the guests started to arrive. Our photographer Amanda VanVels came up, took me to the location, and I just stood there waiting, until I turned around and there was Nusrat. She looked stunning.
Nusrat: I didn’t think I would get a traditional wedding dress. I thought this was a great opportunity to get a really fancy couture dress, but from a designer outlet. There are these outlets near Palm Springs, where Alexander McQueen and all these cool designers have outlet stores. But those dresses were still so expensive! I was really naïve. I went alone to a bridal shop in Echo Park, and they picked my dress for me based on things that I described that I wanted: something not white, that wasn’t too bridal, more of an interesting and grown-up dress. It was the Tara Lauren dress from Love & Lace Bridal ($2,200) — and I loved it. I also wore these pearl strings attached to my earrings, which I got from one of my cousins in Pakistan who has a jewelry business called Al-Noor.
Jason: Our ceremony wasn’t really religious. The person who was ordained was a really close friend of mine — actually my dad’s best friend, who’s like an uncle to me, Mike. He and one of Nusrat’s best friends, Elizabeth, whom we’re both really close to, performed the ceremony together.
Nusrat: That was important for us, to have a male-female kind of thing, and to have two different parts of our lives represented.
Jason: Nusrat and I didn’t speak during the ceremony beyond “I do.” It was a personal decision for both of us. I don’t know, we’re not quiet people but we don’t wear our emotions on our sleeves in that way. We watched a lot of different ceremonies online, and I think we both felt really uncomfortable speaking that openly about our relationship in front of everyone.
Nusrat: At the end of the ceremony, each of my sisters gave us their blessing and put a jasmine and flower garland on each of us — I found a company in northeast L.A. that does Indian garlands, as a nod to my Pakistani-American culture [$30, Jasmine Flowers 2go].
Jason: We had a cocktail hour around the pool. A good friend of mine called Aaron DJed, and there were two specialty cocktails that we came up with. I can’t remember what they’re called.
Nusrat: We DIYed the drinks. That was a lot of work! One was called a California Bubble Bath, which we got from Imbibe magazine, with lavender syrup, bourbon, and lemon juice. I measured out large batches based on how many handles of bourbon we had, and put them in these big plastic tubs. The prickly-pear margaritas were harder; I made the prickly-pear puree and froze it. We hired a day-of coordinator, Good Times Event Planning [$1,200], and she did double duty as bartender for part of the night because the “professional bartender” we hired from Craigslist was a no-show!
Jason: Dinner was buffet style. We did Pakistani food for dinner and British desserts. Indian and Pakistani cuisines are my favorite. We went to a bunch of restaurants and tried different dishes and ended up finding Mirchi Catering in San Bernardino [$1,600]. People were absolutely blown away by the food.
Nusrat: We had roasted leg of lamb and korma, this eggplant dish, lentils, rice, naan. A lot of food. The caterer was super cool and even made a special dish for a guest who was allergic to ginger. Then dessert was from a Palm Springs place called Over the Rainbow Desserts: Banoffee pie, little mini trifles. The wedding cake was really good: One layer was sea-salt caramel, the other was chocolate. I’m really into food. We had a Battenberg cake, this traditional British checkerboard cake, and our flavors were pistachio and rosewater.
Jason: Then we went outside. I’m a musician and my mum and my dad are musicians too. I come from a musical family. My mother got up and sang Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares for Me.” Then my dad and I and a couple of guys I’m in a band with at the moment, we did the song “Something” by the Beatles. I sang. We didn’t even get to rehearse it. I normally only do backing vocals, but I’d had a lot of drinks by that point so I could do the lead. Three performances and then my friend Aaron started DJ-ing again and we danced for hours [Acid Camp].
Nusrat: Yeah, I don’t know how his parents exist. They’re like a TV family. For our first dance, the song we picked was really fun, Demis Roussos’s “Forever and Ever.” Kinda cheesy but also really good.
Jason: We only had a couple of speeches. It kills the vibe, and you just want to eat your food but every clink on the plate you feel like you’re disturbing the speech. My dad did a speech which was really funny and really weird.
Nusrat: We had our run of the place, so we were there all night. As long as the music isn’t too loud after 10ish, that’s all they asked for. Late night, we spent $200 on pizza from Pie for the People.
Jason: Everyone just kept dancing and going crazy; my friend Kenny ended up getting really reckless and throwing drinks on people. I can’t remember what time the party ended but we stayed up super late, drinking a lot with family and friends, hanging out.