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 get a look inside the nuptials of beloved engagement ring designer Anna Sheffield (you might recognize her work on past Wedding Files brides). Sheffield married Emahn Ray in October in Taos, New Mexico. They started the day crying into the Rio Grande and ended it around clay fire pits, with everybody extra tipsy because of the altitude. At the ceremony, they did a pinky swear with coordinating turquoise pinky rings made by the bride.
Anna: I don’t feel like we got engaged, in all honesty. What I do for a living precluded him surprising me with a ring. I wear different rings on different fingers. I do what I do for others.
Emahn: We started dating in New York and moved out to L.A. together in 2017. One day in spring 2019, Anna called worrying about earthquake survival. “What if the power goes out?” she was asking me. “What if there’s no water? Are you going to be able to come into an emergency room? There’s a domestic partnership thing.” You mean get married? I asked. And she said yes.
Anna: I said, where? And he said, “New Mexico, of course.” That’s where I’m originally from. And secretly inside my head I was like, yay!
Emahn: It was this moment of — this girl wants to get married and it’s going to be me. I just got so excited. And then all of a sudden we were planning a party for 130 people in the middle of nowhere. But we go to New Mexico two to three times a year; I knew that it was good for everyone we wanted to invite.
Anna: He’s from D.C. Only six months into dating, for my birthday, we went to Santa Fe and met my parents, and then we went to the hot springs of Ojo, and Taos, and he said, “I love it here.” My dad has since passed away, and it just feels like he’s there. If we hadn’t gotten married there, he wouldn’t have been with us.
Emahn: Anna is very business-like, but every once in a while she needs to recharge, like when Superman goes into his little crystal palace. When I went to New Mexico, I saw how much it meant to her. It has its own smell, its own light, its own food. It’s not the east, it’s not the west. It takes the wind out of your sails and makes you go at its pace.
Anna: I thought my parents’ house in Taos would be the perfect venue. We’ll just do it under the trees! Then it was apparent we had to bring in the dance floor, the tents, the bathroom, chairs. We were like, God, maybe we look at venues. A friend in Taos recommended a new space, The Stakeout. You drive up on a dirt road and you see this whitewashed adobe — you feel like you’re pulling up to a temple. It has the most phenomenal view I’d ever seen of Taos, over the gorge, out over the mesa, into the mountains. Oh my God, I thought, this is it.
Emahn: For my suit, I pulled up Adrian Brody’s suit in The Darjeeling Limited. I could do that because I’m tall and skinny-ish. I went to Paul Smith on Melrose and we tried on some funny colors and there was a teal and it fit really well. Anna’s stepfather is into the Native American style of jewelry and has been buying bolos for years, and he let me borrow a bolo with a big piece of red coral on it.
Anna: I didn’t have a plan for what to wear. One of my best friends, who I called my homie in honor, flew down to L.A. to help me figure it out, and we went to Loho Bride because the owner is a good friend. I said, I’m not trying on more than two things. I just don’t want it to be complicated. I tried on one and it was too fuzzy. Then I tried on separates, a Cortana tank top and skirt, and I liked the idea of that because it was more casual and more me. Off white and textural, but no lace, no beads.
Emahn: The morning of, we went to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, the highest bridge in Taos.
Anna: I spent a lot of time with my dad there, and it was just such a special place. So we went there first thing in the morning and just had a little ceremony there of our own, just me dropping a couple of teardrops into the river.
Emahn: It was a way to keep him involved. Then we had this huge list of things still to do. I was in charge of the escort cards. We’d come up with this idea where, on the back of your escort card, was another person’s name that we thought they should meet.
Anna: We went back to the venue and finished things, because we did pretty much everything with our friends. My friend Clark did my hair, my friend Jodi did my makeup. My best friend Emily is a set decorator and she did the arches and table settings. My friend Douglas did my bouquet. It was all hands on deck. I ordered the flowers myself. That was fun research because I’m like an amateur botanist. I am covered in flower tattoos. It was autumn in New Mexico and there was still chamisa blooming, the native wildflower, which is a mustardy yellow. Then there was pignon, pine, and sage brush in pale to deep green. I did anemones, white with the black center, and ranunculus and green amaranthus. I like to have an ikebana nature vibe, texture and height and weight. For the arch, it was fresh flowers but I also ordered these big white Mexican paper flowers. Emahn is half Mexican and I have spent all this time in Mexico, in addition to growing up in New Mexico, so it was kind of nostalgic for us.
Emahn: Anna found this officiant, Susan, who goes by the name Enchanted Circle Ceremonies. We chose her after we did a phone call with her; she just listened well. She sent us a questionnaire and we went back and forth on revisions of how we wanted the ceremony to go. We started by clearing the air with sage, then we proceeded down the aisle to a song that we always thought was super cute, “He Needs Me” from the Popeye movie.
Anna: My stepfather walked me down the aisle. He’d had stage four cancer a year before and everyone was so happy he was there. We opened the ceremony with a song from a group in the Taos pueblo, the Hail Creek Singers. There are 19 pueblos in New Mexico and they have distinct languages and customs. Our event planner Cecilia Cuff found them for us. It was drums and singing and it was utterly magical. Every single person that I talked to about it said it made them cry.
Emahn: I was surprised at how powerful they were. The stripped-down rhythm and their voices sort of put everyone on the same page. We wrote our own vows. It was definitely something I lost sleep over. I worked really hard on it, and I’d built it pauses and stanzas and little breaks for people to laugh, and when the officiant handed me the paper, she had text wrapped up so it was a brick of words. I had a hard time reading it but I pulled it off.
Anna: I really wanted to make us pieces of jewelry that captured the symbol of the day. We hadn’t done engagement rings and we went simple on the wedding bands, so we decided to do pinky rings. I made them in turquoise, because it’s New Mexico and we definitely needed a turquoise something. They’re totally distinct from each other, his is his and mine is mine.
Emahn: We looked at pieces of turquoise together — like, which type of blue was I after? I chose a cabochon shape, round on the top with a line at the bottom, and she chose one with a loop-de-loop, like a horse bit. We thought it’d be cute in the ceremony to do a pinky swear. And on my left hand, I wore an Art Deco-style piece that is one of Anna’s more popular rings. It’s inspired by a family heirloom and named after her aunt, Hazeline.
Anna: We do a collection called Flying Flowers, which is butterfly-inspired and also tied to my dad so I wanted to wear a piece from that line. I picked these asymmetrical earrings, a pearl on one side and diamonds on the other. Then I wore all the same bracelets I wear every day, a couple of which are Native American and one that’s gold and diamond that Emahn also has, by the same artisan. And I made myself this diamond necklace from this crazy antique egg-shaped diamond that I found through one of my vendors. On my left ring finger, I wore a diamond ring that I inherited from my great aunt on my dad’s side, the eldest in her family, who had been proposed to but was never allowed to marry the love of her life. So she never had any children to give it to. It felt like this talisman of darkness, from a time when someone could be told they can’t marry the person they love. I’m the eldest daughter and I felt like I wanted to walk down the aisle wearing this ring.
Emahn: We had a traditional cocktail hour while we went off and took photos with her friend Leslie Satterfield. I had my friend Wayne, a tattoo artist, paint a crescent moon and we set up a photo booth around it.
Anna: Everybody mingled and hung out and had drinks and took pictures with the paper moon while we ran around the property.
Emahn: Dinner was at 13 round tables, placed by breaking everyone up and so that opposite cities were together, or complementary couples. We split up the troublemakers. It was family-style with a local chef. The food was… here’s the thing. I just remember potatoes, polenta, I think and maybe some spinach. I was so nervous I could barely eat. Someone made me eat.
Anna: There was dancing and — we didn’t have a schedule. We were anti making it too scripted. It was hilarious because everybody else just kind of took charge. We debated our first dance song, if we wanted it to be a little weird, but we ended up dancing to the Beatles covering “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me.”
Emahn: I was in charge of the music. Anna’s friend Othelo Gervacio has a hobby of DJing ’90s hip-hop, and my friend Will Robbins, a bartender at Blue Ribbon and one of my main therapists in the world, he plays disco records and DJs around New York.
Anna: Tandem DJing.
Emahn: I rented a sound system and a subwoofer from a local guy. I was on the dance floor the entire time with a bottle of mezcal.
Anna: The altitude really gets people tipsy, oh my God. My best friend Emily’s 85-year-old mother was like on the dance floor longer than most of the people our age.
Emahn: I didn’t want a cake — I’m vegan — but she was like, no, we are definitely having a cake.
Anna: I needed a buttercream cake. The first fancy cake I ever had was when I moved to New York in 2002 and got a super gooey, delicious, amazing rich chocolate cake from Dean and DeLuca. I wanted that, from Maggie’s Wedding Cakes.
Emahn: She was like, get your own cake, so I found a vegan place, B&B Bakery, in Santa Fe and it was a little 10-inch strawberry cake they made. I do get that tradition of the wedding cake — it was a nice touch.
Anna: At some point I got pulled off the dance floor to throw my bouquet. Emily gathered the girls and some of the gays. My friend Masha Orlov caught it; you might know her. She’s a stylist.
Emahn: There were these small clay fire pits around the property and we had multiple fires going but it had been a long day, these poor guests, it started at 3pm. My friend was playing his guitar and we did a little last hoo-haw and called it around 12:30. Shuttles took people back to town.
Anna: We’d rented a house with a bunch of our closest friends and we wrapped up the evening with a fire there.