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 Paulina Ortega, a graphic designer and illustrator, and Clark Kent Koga, a product strategy consultant at Google. They met in the Philippines, live in Australia, and married at the Coqui Coqui Perfumeria in Valladolid, Mexico this past February. It was a golden-toned celebration including a parade through town with tequila shots and a highly photographed chicken mole dish.
Paulina: Our family and friends are spread out everywhere around the world, and it was a bit of a challenge to pick where we would have the wedding. If we did it in the Philippines–where we met at university, and started dating, ten years ago–weddings there are huge. Like a 600-person wedding would be normal. We didn’t want to meet a great-aunt at our wedding.
Clark: We’d seen the Coqui Coqui perfume shop in Sydney, where we eventually moved together, and we were like, wow, that’s super pretty. We’d been following the brand for a while, and saw they had a perfumery on the Yucatan side of Mexico, with these boutique hotels around the peninsula. Mexico is very similar to the Philippines in that we were colonized by the Spanish, for the same amount of years. A lot of the culture was translated. It seemed like this was an area that would be interesting and worth seeing for everyone else that we would invite.
Paulina: The establishments where we had the ceremony, La Perfumeria, and the reception, Meson de Malleville, were on the same historic street called Calzada de los Frailles in Valladolid. They were both built in existing structures, the old colonial houses that existed on those streets for ages. We definitely wanted to get married there partly because they had never done a wedding before. We really wanted to avoid places that came with pre-packaged ideas of what a wedding should be like. Everybody else could book rooms around the small town, which is 45 minutes from Tulum. We ended up with about 65 guests. Clark and I flew back again ten days before the event because we still had a lot to iron out logistically.
Clark: We had made just the one trip before that—everything else we managed online, although with a great deal of difficulty. We’re talking 7am calls, Google Translate, and endless voice notes and emails. When we arrived, we met with our coordinator [$2000], we spoke to the chef, we tried the food. We hadn’t tried the food within ten days of the wedding! Could have been shit, but it luckily turned out to be really good.
Paulina: On the day of the actual wedding, I woke up really early to write my vows.
Clark: I already had a draft of the vows, but I made sure to clean it up.
Paulina: To the wire! The wedding coordinator ordered champagne so we started drinking. We were taking photos and then somebody just said, “Oh you have to walk down the aisle now.”
Clark: I got ready and it was the wedding itself and I was like, what? I thought I had time to do other things!
Paulina: My five bridesmaids picked their dresses. I think there was Reformation, Dries Van Noten, Jason Wu. Graphic designer that I am, I gave all my guests a color palette, a wide selection to choose from. I prepared a PDF of swatches and sample imagery and put it on the wedding website. The town of Valladolid is full of all of these old Mexican houses that are painted in pastels and warm tones, terra cotta and yellows. I just thought that was a really good way to honor the place and add to the festive atmosphere.
Clark: For the ceremony itself, we asked that no one have their phones out, so they wouldn’t be distracted and also so the photos weren’t ugly with smart phones everywhere.
Paulina: There were friends there who knew us when we first got together at university – friends who were at the party where we first sat down and talked to each other, when he was 19 and I was 17. It was around our ten-year anniversary that Clark proposed, which he ended up doing in our backyard, in our pajamas. It was lovely.
Clark: Our friend’s husband Tomas officiated the ceremony. We chose him because he knew both of us really well already, plus he could speak Spanish. I cried during my vows. I don’t think I’ve cried more in my life than that day.
Paulina: The ceremony was extremely intimate, and emotional for those friends who knew us from the beginning. And then everyone filed out onto the street and we had the mariachi band waiting there. We surprised people with freshly made empanadas.
Clark: There were tequila shots being doled out. Everyone should have a wedding parade. It’s so fun!
Paulina: I didn’t expect to see a stallion when we stepped out of the ceremony. The wedding coordinator told me I had to get on the stallion, so I said okay. The townspeople all came out as well, and they watched and celebrated with us. We headed to cocktail hour at sunset around the carousel, where we served Palomas.
Clark: We had a first dance to “The Moon Song” by Karen O from Her. Paulina’s family is a family of musicians and a few of them sang it for us.
Paulina: Dinner was family style. We wanted it to feel like you’re at this beautiful dinner party, like we were hosting people in our own home, but you know, leveled the eff up. The decor, I kind of gave the florist a headache because I gave her fine art paintings for reference. I sent her the work of Sharon Core, an American artist who does still-life photography of florals. I just love how her work made the arrangements look wild but controlled, and I really pushed for her to use only local flowers from the Yucatan region to honor the place.
Clark: We worked with a Filipino brand called Halo Halo. They make woven items with recycled plastic, and we had them make our table runners just so we had something Filippino. That blended in really well with Coqui Coqui.
Paulina: My dad kicked off the speeches. Then we picked a friend from every country we’ve lived in–we also lived in Singapore together for three years–to speak.
Clark: The chicken mole was the only thing I remember eating. It was delicious. The funny thing is, we gave everyone disposable cameras for the night, and there were quite a number of photos of the chicken mole. So I think other people loved it.
Paulina: We made sure to have cochinita pibil, the Yucatan version of lechón, which is a Filippino staple. It was so meaningful for us to find these Mexican/Filipino ties and incorporate that into whatever we could. The tequila never stopped flowing. I had a change of outfit — I wore this really odd but very festive Jacquemus dress [$625] and I had a little headpiece [$630] just to switch gears into party mode.
Clark: Our DJ, Jose Lorenzo Osmeña, is from Manila but is based in New York City. We said, you’re not that far away, why don’t you come down for a wedding? We preferred someone we grew up with; aside from Coqui Coqui, a lot of our suppliers were actually our friends, like our photographer, too.
Paulina: My husband and I love to eat cake, so the cake was a big deal for us. Our favorite cake is the Momofuku Milk Bar birthday cake, which we tried to get from New York but they couldn’t deliver it because of customs reasons. We had friends bring in a lot of the birthday cake truffles from New York into Mexico and the recipe is available publicly in the cookbook, so we had a local baker recreate the birthday cake for us: three tiers with the truffles all over it. [$400 for cake, $230 for truffles]
Clark: I would have that cake every day. I ate a lot of that cake that night.
Paulina: We had the staff prepare a midnight snack because we figured everyone would be tired from dancing. Cheese enchiladas came out. But by that time I had to tap out for the night–I think the mezcal got to me. Clark was there until everyone left.
Clark: It was such a beautiful day and I was so energized by all the love that I didn’t want it to end. Paulina didn’t mind that I stayed back to boogie.
Paulina: We stayed a couple of days after that. It was the kind of destination wedding where all our guests bumped into each other on the streets; friends who traveled alone told us, “We bumped into your mom and her friends having cocktails and I just joined them.” That kinda thing. I hate the word “buddymoon” but that’s what happened. It’s rare to have all our friends in the same country, and no one wanted to part ways–so we ended up going to Mexico City for a week with a bunch of people.