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 a couple of Aussies: Wendy Ma, a bank teller by day and fashion designer and ceramicist by night, and Patrick Byron, a social worker in the deaf community. The pair, who met over Instagram, married last July at a library in Brisbane’s cultural district, surrounded by ikebana-inspired flower explosions and sake cups thrown by the bride.
Pat: Wendy was very much in the driver’s seat for the design of the wedding. She has such an eye for these things. Before we even met, I’d come across her on Instagram when I was helping a friend look for models for a fashion event. I took it upon myself to follow her, and we would have the occasional comment on each other’s pic before we ultimately ended up at the same club one night; we both live in Brisbane, which is a small enough place that Wendy knew some friends of mine.
Wendy: I’m a fashion designer, and the night Pat eventually proposed at our house it was Adelaide Fashion Week — I was madly sewing clothes to send down there, and he kept coming in the room like, “Come and watch the sunset with me.” I was like, “I’ll come in two seconds!”
Pat: It was pretty low-key in the end: a sunset and a Slowdive record, then we went out to dinner with my parents. Wendy’s mom’s partner made the ring, two round-cut diamonds set side by side in a white gold band [European Jewellers].
Wendy: I really wanted to make ceramics for the wedding, so that became my focus, making things like ceramic vases. Other than the flowers, I wanted everything else to be really minimal. And we were lucky enough to find venues that were modern, and we didn’t have to do too much to them: For the ceremony, we decided on State Library — which is in the cultural precinct, and cost about $2,000 AUD to book — and we booked the reception at the nearby restaurant Pony, which was also pretty reasonably priced [$30,000 AUD]. I think the entire cost of the wedding added up to about $40,000 AUD, which included our $7,000 AUD splurge on the flowers from Mrs. Gibbons Flowers.
Pat: The night before, we just stayed at our house per usual, and Wendy’s friends and her bridal party and make-up artist all started coming through early in the morning. I took off to get ready at one of my friend’s houses across town. The first time I saw her was when she walked down the aisle. There’s a funny photo of my first look — I appear quite chuffed, basically. I’m gasping a rather large breath of air when I saw her because she just looked unreal.
Wendy: The dress was Stella McCartney ($4,600 AUD), which I found on sale on Net-a-Porter. I wanted something really not lacy. I hate lace. I needed it to be plain. I was looking for shoes for ages, and when I finally I saw the perfect pair — these Dries Van Noten shoes with a crystal resin heel [$970], I couldn’t get them shipped to Australia. I had given up on them, and then at one point during our ten-month-long engagement, we took a trip to Hong Kong, and there they were just sitting in a store window. I was like, it’s meant to be! And then we went in and a shop assistant dropped one of the shoes against a glass table and they scratched. My heart sank. But they were able to clean them up. I got the shoes of my dreams.
Pat: After a short ceremony — it was very secular; Rachel was a celebrant we found online; she even made a few loving jokes at our expense — we took photos amid the art precinct.
Wendy: When the sun was setting, we just walked along all this traffic on the bridge, and everyone was honking at us and we got some really nice photos with those arches. And we got photos in front of a piece that James Turrell had just installed, where it lights up the whole GOMA, the Gallery of Modern Art — it just so happened that not a single other person was there at that time.
Pat: We then had a Chinese tea ceremony following cocktail hour. I had never been to one and I practiced up on everything. It was amazing to be able to do that with Wendy’s family, who had come over from Hong Kong, her granny getting her passport printed for the first time.
Wendy: The ceremony is to pay respect to your elders. They took a seat and then Pat and I prepared the tea and poured a small cup of tea for each person. They drank the tea and gave us a little gift, usually a red packet with an envelope of money inside, or jewelry. My second look was the traditional kwa, the jacket and skirt that are hand-embroidered.
Pat: Wendy was worried about it being a bit restrictive when we wanted to dance, or even just sitting down for a long meal.
Wendy: When I was growing up, I thought I’d never wear a kwa, unless my grandma made me, because it was kinda tacky — all the young people in Hong Kong didn’t really do it. But it’s becoming a trend again, and it’s really nice to wear something as a sign of pride of your heritage. I got a silk Galvan jumpsuit to wear under the jacket [$1000, now $502 on the consignment site Modesens], with red Balenciaga knife boots to match [$995].
Pat: We wanted to serve an unforgettable meal. It started with oysters and kingfish crudo; bread baked in-house. And for mains, there was Australia wagyu steak and fish, both delicious.
Wendy: The cake, by Hansel and Gretel, was the best cake I’ve ever had in my life. The top layer was lemon and coconut, then the bottom was peanut butter and chocolate. We chose red and gold because I knew I’d be in the red outfit when I was cutting the cake. And the flowers all around were ikebana-inspired; I like hodge-podgey explosions — purpley grasses and dried palm fronds; roses and lilies, not a lot of greenery or shrubby type stuff. I sent the florist a few photos, and she did a really great job.
Pat: We were also lucky in how the music turned out. I used to play in a punk band; any of the DJs anyone would attempt to book for weddings in the larger Brisbane scene were already attending as guests. We set up a communal playlist over the months beforehand, and our friends took turns getting on the decks. There was Earth, Wind, and Fire early on, to Rihanna and Gucci Mane, to the Chemical Brothers. We didn’t seem to lose the older generation throughout the evening, so.
Wendy: We booked out the whole restaurant for the night because we wanted a dance floor.
Pat: There were a few speeches during dinner, which we asked people to keep short — my mother’s speech, she has a wicked sense of humor so it was very comedic. Then Wendy’s mom, who’s usually quite guarded, brought the tears out quick and strong.
Wendy: Usually she doesn’t show a lot of emotion or say anything like “I love you.” But in her speech she said loved me so much — and that I’d found someone to look after me. We toasted with sake, instead of Champagne, and I threw the sake pots, and cups for people to take home.