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 a pair of native New Yorkers who just wanted a wedding in the woods. Vicki Ho, the communications director at a creative agency, is also the cofounder of Banana magazine, a publication dedicated to contemporary Asian culture. Her wedding this past July to Todd Pangilinan, who’s in retail management at Suit Supply, was a celebration of Asian heritage and their love, which began a decade ago when they met at job orientation at J. Crew.
Todd: I proposed at a karaoke lounge.
Vicki: I had no idea — I was performing for the crowd; we were singing “Knock You Down” by Kanye West and Keri Hilson. It’s our song because of Kanye’s one line, “Baby, we were never meant to be, we just happened.” Ten years ago, we became friends when we both took a summer job during college at the J.Crew on Fifth Avenue. Our friend Mic, who was our officiant for the wedding, also used to work at J. Crew, and so he’s seen our entire relationship come to life. He’s also a standup comedian, and does a podcast here in New York called Asian, Not Asian.
Todd: He comes from a Catholic background. It was important that that was represented, because my parents were expecting us to have this traditional wedding at a church with a priest, so I wanted to make sure everyone was satisfied.
Vicki: It was really important to me that the wedding celebrate both my Chinese and Todd’s Filipino heritage, and make it something all our guests could enjoy and learn from. Ever since I founded Banana magazine, in 2014, my connection with my Asian heritage has become so important to my everyday life. And the other important thing was to have the wedding somewhere a bunch of people could come together and celebrate all weekend long.
Todd: We definitely wanted to do it in the summertime and outdoors. Growing up in New York, as we both did, there is a longing for open space and nature.
Vicki: We stopped at M&D Farm on the way home from a camping trip and completely fell in love with it. It didn’t feel purposefully renovated for a wedding, didn’t feel staged. There were 100 guests, and it was $14,000 for the day, along with a weekend stay on the property.
Todd: What we ended up doing, like halfway through the reception, is we changed into our traditional garbs. I wore a barong, which is a silk-linen, long-sleeved, mandarin-collar shirt with a tonal embroidery on the front. And then Vicki ended up wearing her mom’s wedding dress, a cheongsam, from decades ago. It looked beautiful.
Vicki: I fit into my mom’s dress perfectly, which is crazy. And before that, for the dress I wore for the first half of the reception, I knew I wanted to support an Asian designer, and that I like poofier things, a “wow” moment. While I was doing my research, I fell upon Simone Rocha and found out she’s half Chinese. I was thinking of a two-piece — that it would be a smart choice from a price-point perspective, because I could wear each piece again — like for a holiday party, I’d wear a silky black turtleneck and pants with the Simone Rocha top over it. The skirt is pretty dramatic on its own, but I’d love to add in another texture with the top — a Pleats Please piece is what I’m picturing. The skirt had a poofy front, then a pencil-skirt bottom, and the top matched, in this silk cotton wrinkly fabric that almost crinkled like a lantern, or paper. [$1,700 for both pieces]
Todd: Before I changed into the traditional garb, I wore a suit from Suit Supply. (They generally don’t give employee discounts for made-to-measure suits, but since it was for my wedding, they were extremely generous and made an exception, and I got it for $1,500.) I wanted it to be very summery, but not too wrinkly, so the fabric is a mohair-linen blend, very lightweight. And it was completely unstructured; no lining, no shoulder pads. I just wanted to feel comfortable and not too hot. The color was a lighter taupe.
Vicki: I also started my day with my really good friend Elissa Schell, who’s a nail artist. She hand-painted designs like blue and white Chinese porcelain. And my shoes by Dries Van Noten, I searched for them for two years before my friend found them in my size for $400 on The RealReal. I didn’t do a bridal party, but I had a group of friends who helped me throughout the process and I called them the Heaux Patrol, because my last name is Ho. My friend Maddy has a stationery company so she did the invites, signage, and menus. My friend Chelsea — she’s a freelance interior designer who also does floral arrangements. A few days before the wedding, we went to the flower district and pre-chose the flowers for my bouquet and the table settings. It was all wildflowers. I wanted to make it super budget-friendly — we spent $600 — and nothing too complicated. I had a theme of clementines throughout the wedding, on the invites and seating cards, so we bought a bunch of clementines. It was a lot of green and orange.
Todd: I was just so floored when I saw her. She looked beautiful. Vicki has this drive, this fire in her. I think I was able to accept myself and love myself because of her.
Vicki: The ceremony took place outside, right in front of the barn, and then there was a nice little upper garden area where we served happy-hour cocktails and light bites. I really wanted a wedding band that complimented the engagement ring, so I went with a white-gold band with five blue sapphires set into it. Todd’s more minimal when it comes to details. His band is a simple, white-gold band (gold is too traditional for him) in a slimmer width. Both our bands are Euro cut — we really love the dome-shape style and how it sits on the finger. I really like rings that just look a little bit different, or a little bit asymmetrical. So when Todd was picking out the engagement ring with our jeweler, he chose an emerald-cut yellow sapphire, but instead of having it standing upright, he flipped it horizontally, and then added a diamond to the left. So it looks a bit uneven, which is cool.
Todd: There was a lot of photo-taking, so unfortunately, we didn’t get to have any of the hors d’oeuvres. But we did drink a lot, so there was that.
Vicki: We had three specialty drinks throughout the night: a Passion Pit Spritz with Baijiu and a fruit called a calamansi, which is this very traditional citrus fruit in the Philippines; we did a Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms cocktail, with green tea and rye whiskey; and for a non-alcoholic option, we did a calamansi soda.
Todd: We had a roast suckling pig, a very Filipino aspect, with servers carving it out and putting it on Chinese buns. I believe there were spicy wontons at one point.
Vicki: They also did a vegetarian option of steamed dumplings stuffed with water chestnuts, tofu, corn, and edamame. My biggest hiccup throughout the whole process of the wedding was the caterer. I got totally screwed over by my first caterer, who dropped out four months before the wedding. I really leaned on my Banana network because it’s honestly really hard to find an Asian caterer who understands Chinese food and Filipino food, and impossible to find one upstate.
Todd: We found Guang Xu—she’s a private chef who also works at this restaurant called MáLà Project. We told her the proteins that we wanted, the Asian ingredients, and within a week she came up with a private menu and a month after that, she came over and essentially just cooked the entire menu and it was spot-on.
Vicki: For our first dance, we did Sade’s “Lovers Rock.” We landed on this awesome Filipino female DJ named Darling Chuck. I had DJ’ed with her in New York and we became good friends. We’re, like, really big hip-hop heads also, so a lot of music was very hip-hop focused. We were introduced into the reception with Memphis Bleek’s “Like That.”
Todd: Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” was one of the first few songs, and it brought everyone out to start dancing.
Vicki: There was a lot of line dancing. There’s one song that Filipinos do at every wedding by this Spanish artist Daniela Romo called “Todo Todo,” and there’s a very specific dance that goes with it that I practiced for weeks.
Todd: We didn’t have a cake moment, but Guang made us just a very personal wedding cake, like single serving.
Vicki: It was a “just for us” type thing.
Todd: It was an black sesame and ube cake — ube is a purple yam, or taro.
Vicki: It’s a big Filipino vegetable. Then she covered the top with these beautiful white and purple orchids. We ended the night with a bunch of sparklers where we walked down the middle.
Todd: We ended up going straight to bed, exhausted. We originally planned for a $20,000 budget but went over. We didn’t want to half-ass the cultural elements that made the wedding representative of us–-most wedding vendors don’t have specialty decor, plating, or even cookwear that would cater to an Asian wedding, and so we had to pay more for those elements. We are hoping to pay off the wedding first, and then save up to do a proper honeymoon. We want to do Japan and South Korea.