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 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 Brooklyn couple Dani DeLuna, a brand manager at the Boukman rum company, and Doreen Kramer, a certified nurse-midwife. Their June 2018 wedding at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture was a tropical disco dance party where rum punch (courtesy of Dani’s co-workers) flowed all night, a conga line substituted for the traditional bride-parent dances, and 1970s-themed karaoke followed after dinner.
Dani: We ended up going to a couple’s therapist while we were wedding planning. We agreed on the more fun aspects, but the heavier parts were more challenging. We have very different relationships with our families. Doreen’s mom and siblings moved here from Hong Kong in the 1970s, and she’s supertight with all of them, and I am not tight with my extended family at all. It’s interesting — you think you know somebody, and you’ve been in a relationship with them for a few years, and then you start planning a wedding.
Doreen: We met on OkCupid. What I was really looking for in a partner was somebody that could keep growing with me and wouldn’t be stopped by the things that were challenging.
Dani: The day I met her, in December 2012, I felt like I had met the person I wanted to be my spouse. I know it’s one of the hallmarks of a lady and lady relationship, that you talk a lot, but it was the most talking I’d ever done in a relationship.
Doreen: I proposed to Dani on the North Fork of Long Island in September 2016. She is from Marin, in California. I’m from Long Island, and there’s this commonality of vineyards. I made these origami rings, because I knew we’d want to pick our own rings. I wrote on one, “Marry me?” and on the other, “Yas queen.”
Dani: It was so cute, and I was so shocked, and then I was like, “High five, girl, I had no idea.” You got me.
Doreen: From that point, it was a lot of looking on the internet for ways that cool Brooklyn couples are getting married these days.
Dani: We wanted it to be outside. We wanted to have dancing and karaoke. But the challenge was the guest list. We realized through research that 75 is the magic number, unless you want to be paying a lot more. From my family, I was only going to invite my two brothers, my mom, my dad, and his wife, but Doreen needed to be able to invite her aunts, uncles, cousins. So trying to get to 75 was challenging.
Doreen: We looked at a lot of places, then chose a venue that was 15 minutes walking distance from our apartment. Throughout our relationship, we have lived in the Prospect Heights and Park Slope area, and we’ve done a lot of bonding in the park. Having our wedding just across the street at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture felt really meaningful. It’s a nondenominational, spiritual space where groups meet to discuss ethical issues. There’s stained glass windows, and kind of a rec-hall feel. And then outside there’s a beautiful garden. So we got both: an intimate, secluded-feeling garden, and then this weird dark-wood space infused with past meeting and organizing. It didn’t come with a bunch of rules of how it had to go down.
Dani: Theme-wise, we decided on like a ’70s tropical beach — I’m in the rum business, we both like disco, our apartment has a ton of plants and bright art, we go on holiday to the Caribbean. The venue is a bare-bones situation, so you’ve got to decorate the whole thing yourself, and bring almost everything in — catering, the tent, a lighting guy. They provided chairs and tables, and the screen for karaoke. I brought the alcohol through my connections. And our wedding planner, Amy from Modern Rebel, she was so on top of her shit and so delightful.
Doreen: I had such weird feelings about dress shopping and we weren’t sure we wanted to wear white, but then I felt like it really signals who’s getting married. On BHLDN’s website I saw a dress by Tadashi Shoji. I’m Chinese, and I think there’s something about designers from Asia that speak to me. My mom, actually, totally separately, chose a dress by the same designer.
Dani: I guess in the spirit of trying to save money, I also got my jumpsuit at BHLDN.
Doreen: We went dress shopping together and were both heavily involved in the evolution of each other’s looks. That jumpsuit is one of the first things she tried on. She bought it and was good to go.
Dani: We worked with my best friend, Belinda Martin, who’s a stylist, on the flower crowns. We decided we wanted to do mostly fake flowers for cost. They photographed well, and you kind of can’t tell. Only our bouquets were real. We started at Michaels and bought a few flowers, some filler leaves, a garland. Then Doreen, the research queen, found Jamali Garden in the Flower District, and they were the ones with the good fake flowers. We had this theme, and we wanted to build it out in a way that was as cost effective as possible. But we were still throwing a party for 75 people. So it was like $35,000 for the whole thing, which was frustrating. But also the truth.
Doreen: One of my best friends from college officiated. Her name is Chinaka Hodge and even when we were college she was already a well-known poet. There was a story — she was ordained in the unofficial church of California to officiate some other people’s weddings, and New York doesn’t recognize that. But we didn’t figure this out until the last minute. She was filling out paperwork and Dani was running it down to City Hall on Friday and our wedding was Saturday. It was down to the wire when we got confirmation that she would officially, legally be able to officiate.
Dani: We sort of loosely pulled from a pagan ceremony. Our original inspiration was to go off the beaten path. The pagan ceremony is great because it’s like, “I might hurt you, but I don’t intend to. I’ll try my best, but I might have some failings.” You’re like, damn, that’s good. That’s really honest. Then we read vows to each other, and then we did the four elements ceremony from West African tradition, which is where you eat something bitter, then you drink water. Then you eat something spicy. It’s to recognize that these things will be a part of your marriage.
Doreen: At the cocktail hour we had an hors d’oeuvres station with cheeses and grilled peaches and all this delicious stuff that the Night Kitchen, an amazing catering company, made for us. There was a melon granita, tuna tartare on a rice cracker, Korean-style fried chicken. And then this punch that Danny’s friends from work had made, which was served in these little pineapple sippy cups. We had talked to our photographer about doing some sunset couple shots, but we also wanted to get into the party and so we did. Half of cocktail hour we were with our friends.
Dani: The rum company I work for, Boukman, we did an Old-Fashioned with that because it’s a very woody rum. We had a gin-and-tonic bar because I’m so into that. There were botanicals and fruit peels and some aromatics, mint, and four different gins. They did some outrageous cheese board, and I’m so sad we missed it because everyone talked about it for like a month. We also served wine and beer. Everything that was available during cocktail hour was available all night, because having worked in the industry, you should keep allowing people to do whatever the fuck they want to, drinking-wise, all night.
Doreen: Dinner was family style. We had this amazing grilled chicken in a Mexican sauce, a fish dish with tropical relish, a jicama salad, and an arugula and watermelon-radish salad. A dahl lentil dish for our vegetarian friends. We wanted it to be veggie-forward. Dani’s mom gave this riotous speech, like a call and response cheer for us. And then my dad gave a much more tear-jerking speech, so there was this nice balance.
Dani: Like I said, in couple’s therapy a lot of family stuff came up for me — my mom’s side is Pentecostal Christians, and that meant I did not want a parent to walk me down the aisle for my same-sex wedding. From the time I came out to my mother in 2004 till now, there have been a lot of little micro pivots. We’ve had check-in conversations over the years and she’s always been a loving mom even when my life choices and lifestyle go against her Christian beliefs. Even now, I know that she still believes that homosexuality is a sin. At the same time, she loves Doreen and she loves me and she loves us together as two people. So the speech wasn’t really a “We’re all good now! It’s all totally okay!” It was more of her being a cheerleader and being encouraging in spite of her own beliefs. She has come a long way.
Doreen: Acceptance has not been a linear curve of progress or a full-circle arc in our families. They are still people who grew up with different beliefs, and who are doing what is within their reach to show us they still love us. We decided not to do the parent dancing because we didn’t really know what it symbolized. There were some problematic feelings around parent dances. We decided just not to do it. We did have an organized conga line at some point. We just wanted it to feel like a dance party, and not like we’re putting on a show for people.
Dani: Half of you already know we can dance, you don’t need to see this. We had the first dance (Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”) go immediately into a disco track after about a minute and a half. I did all the music — I made mixtapes with transitions and at certain speeds for certain dance sets, so it would be like somebody was DJ-ing even though nobody was DJ-ing.
Doreen: After dinner we were fully in dance mode for a good hour. Then we had karaoke. We love karaoke. Some of the finest nights we’ve had have been singing with our friends. We’re both kind of musical people — I played the cello for 13 years, very seriously, and she went to school for music. So while we are not, like, singers, we can carry a tune and really, really love doing it. We chose our closest besties to sing a few songs, with the parameters that they pick a song from the ’70s. Dani and I did “Oh What a Night” by the Four Seasons, my brother did “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie, and my best friend Mae did “Last Dance” by Donna Summer. A group of like 15 did Earth Wind and Fire’s “September.”
Dani: There was another dance set, and we cut the pie. I hate cake, and I think that cake is inferior to pie. Fruit pie is also so fucking amazing in the summer.
Doreen: Dani is an adamant hater of cake and a passionate lover of pies. And I too like pies.
Dani: We had an after-party at Sisters in Brooklyn. They’re my bar crew, and I love them. It was sort of like, you can hang out and come with us, or see you all later, but we didn’t do an official exit. We kind of just left, which was also fine by me.
Doreen: They had the back area closed off for us, and we stayed there with our closest friends partying for a few more hours.