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.
Emily Huang, the director of corporate communications at Louis Vuitton, and Michael Sweeney, an attorney in patent law, are two native Californians who met at UC-Santa Barbara before reconnecting in New York and marrying in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, this past August. It was a persimmon-inspired affair where they served guava mezcal margaritas and hibiscus empanadas before the dancing got dirty (“You need to be nastier,” the bride kept telling the DJ).
Emily: I don’t know what happened, I’ve never been into orange in my life; it’s just not a color I’m attracted to. But I ended up loving it for the wedding.
Michael: We decided on Mexico as the destination, because at the time we got engaged last January, Emily was doing some freelance PR, and she worked with a company that asked her to look at wedding venues. On Instagram, she stumbled on this wedding in San Miguel de Allende and just loved the color patterns, the streets, the city. That was the inspiration.
Emily: We found a venue, Casa Chorro ($5,000). They provided nothing but the space; we would have to bring everything else in. But the venue connected me to a planner, Monserrat Guerrero ($2,000). It was so great, obviously, to have someone local, on the ground, coming back to me with “These are the three options.” She was definitely more of an executer, not an ideas person, but that’s okay because I used to do event-planning. I’m used to the rhythm of it; I’m also very particular. I’m very specific about my needs. The hardest part was handling the logistics for our 100 guests to get there, because you had to fly, then take a car, and then figure out the hotel — things like that. I actually think that overall, it was less stressful compared to planning a wedding in L.A. or New York, where you have infinite possibilities.
Michael: We contemplated getting married in L.A; that’s where we’re originally from and where we’ve since moved back to. We met in undergrad at UC-Santa Barbara in 2005, and eventually reconnected over ten years later when we were both living in New York. But we wanted to create a vibe where people get to detach from their everyday working lives for a few days and gather and spend quality time.
Emily: And planning a wedding in Mexico it was like, you choose this or that. We hired one business, Maye Cordova Events, where the mother was the caterer, the daughter did the décor and flowers, and the other daughter did my makeup. I loved all of our vendors. I sent a Pinterest board to my bridesmaids, where the inspiration was persimmon and Aperol spritz and dusty orange. I wanted them to pick their own dresses, their own silhouettes; I was open to pattern, and we had an array. One girl did a top and pants, one had a printed dress, my sister was in more of a birch red. And the flowers were greenery with white flowers, anemones, as well as kumquats and other orange touches.
Michael: I had my bachelor party in Mexico the same week, and the day before the wedding we did a parade through the streets — a pretty common thing to do in San Miguel — and the wedding party makes bigger-than-life puppets of the wedding couple. We had them also make one of our little dog, Omar, a terrier mix.
Emily: The day of, we both got ready in the house in different areas with a few friends, our wedding parties. I really wanted a very simple dress. I went to three boutiques and probably tried on 20 dresses, and I ended up with a dress by A La Robe, a French designer, at LOHO Bride in West Hollywood ($3,000). It’s a slip with a really low back — the low back was the only thing I really wanted in a dress. Criss-cross straps added texture. The caterer’s other daughter did my makeup (Jimena Tamayo, $150), and she recommended a hair person (Emily Theis, $100). I wanted to be very natural, but glowing. My hair was down and I had a red lip because I wear one pretty much every day — I love Lime Crime Pumpkin and M.A.C’s Chili. I had baby’s breath in my hair but it kind of fell out.
Michael: Emily says it was harder to figure out my suit than her dress, because I’m a pretty tall guy with weird dimensions and broad shoulders, and jackets tend not to fit me really easily. We bounced around a bunch of shops, went to J.Crew and Nordstrom’s. We chose one from Paul Smith on Melrose ($1,500). The materials were incredible, and it was this beautiful blue.
Emily: We did a first look before the ceremony, and I’m really glad we did because we just wanted to party after the ceremony, hang out with friends, not set aside an hour and a half to do pictures (Pierce Weddings). He looked very handsome. He has these green eyes, so the blue really brought them out.
Michael: When Emily came down the aisle, I caught my dad’s eye — he is such a lovely man and he was crying, which made me cry. I was weeping for a period. Two friends of ours from college officiated, Leah and Alex. Alex was Emily’s roommate in Brooklyn when we reconnected and started dating, and she witnessed the genesis of our relationship, how we came together and fell in love. I started spending all this time at their apartment, which was a trek from where I was living in Harlem, and Emily would cook a meal and I’d do clean-up and it was like, Oh my God, this girl is amazing. She was just the best companion.
Emily: Leah and Alex were the perfect balance of sweet and funny officiants for the ceremony. They emailed all the guests beforehand and asked them to fill out a questionnaire asking how did they know we were meant for each other, or “Tell us a basic story about Emily and Mike,” that kind of thing, and they wrote them into the ceremony.
Michael: We wanted it to be lighthearted but not so lighthearted that it didn’t convey the importance of the moment. A real tone-setter was our walk-in music. The wedding parties walked in to Donna Lewis’s “I Love You Always Forever,” poppy but really romantic, and then for Emily’s entrance we did “Mysteries of Love” by Sufjan Stevens because we both loved Call Me By Your Name.
Emily: The property had different levels, which is really great because you can break it up. People had welcome drinks at the top where you enter, and then the ceremony was at the lowest garden level, so then we went back upstairs for cocktails by the pool and on the balcony. We had two specialty cocktails named after each of us, a regular margarita and a guava mezcal margarita. I wanted them to be really colorful and tropical. We had hibiscus empanadas, and have you ever had hibiscus? It’s sour, but they were delicious. Then mini beef tostadas, and tuna tostadas.
Michael: We brought out the Omar puppet again during the cocktail hour and made our entrance to the dining area dancing with him to “Get Money.” We are both big hip-hop fans. Dinner was — I’m sure this is very common for weddings, but we ate barely anything the night of, we were so busy chatting with people. I think I got a total of three bites of food. We had a really beautiful corn soup. We had a steak. Everyone said it was incredible.
Emily: It was family style. There was guacamole, we had veggies, tortillas being made on site, fish, and beef tamales, and esquites.
Michael: We had our parents and our maid of honor and best man give speeches, and then my siblings. For our first dance, we did a combined thing: we started with “Love” by Kendrick Lamar, and that was our slow lead-in, which we had segue into “Summertime Magic” by Childish Gambino. We have a couple of friends who do sound engineering who helped us with that.
Emily: If you’ve seen the “Summertime Magic” video, it’s basically Donald Glover singing and trying to flirt with Rihanna and she’s just sitting on the beach like “Okay, whatever.” We had said for weeks, Oh, we should do this! But it was on Mike, because he was the one who had to dance while I sat there. We didn’t practice it until the day of, but we did it, and it turned into a strip dance: full-on Magic Mike. I was on the chair and he was basically dancing for me. It got the crowd going and set the tone.
Michael: The dance floor was one of my favorite parts of the whole thing. Emily was the driving force behind almost all of the planning, but the one thing I claimed responsibility for was the playlists. We had a night-before playlist, a cocktail playlist, the dance floor. It took us a while to settle on a DJ we trusted, but DJ Symmetry ended up being great ($1,250).
Emily: I kept telling the DJ, “You need to be nastier.” And he was like, “Yeah, I got it.” I said, “No, you’re not getting it, you need to be nastier.”
Michael: The dance floor was mayhem for three and a half hours. The only time there was a break was for the piñata and cake.
Emily: I really hesitated on whether to have a cake, because I didn’t think it was necessary. We had churros, I love churros. But we did have a cake. Ovenly’s blackout cake is my most favorite, and I’d always dreamt of having that as my wedding cake, which I gave up when we were planning a wedding in Mexico. Then I was like … well, they have a cookbook. So I sent the recipe to my wedding planner and it took her a few weeks but she found someone to make it ($180).
Michael: Then there were Jell-O shots, and servers were bringing around cocktails. Everyone was getting a nice little buzz going for the dance floor.
Emily: Whenever we have a friend gathering, I always make Jell-O shots, so it’s very appropriate that they were there, and orange.
Michael: The DJ had to stop playing at 1 a.m., but we could play our own little boom boxes for the last couple of hours. We went up to the pool for a late-night swim, around 30 of us, all the young people.
Emily: People jumping in the pool is, I think, how every party should end.