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 spoke with Diane Tsai, a video producer for Time magazine, and Justin Shin, who works in project management at a financial tech firm. The New York–based pair married this past September in their native southern California: The venue was the extremely photogenic Frank Gehry–designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, which inspired the bride’s dress, the calla lily flower arrangement, and the live band. The photographer, whom Tsai found on Instagram, managed to strike the balance between “textbook wedding” and “super artsy” — despite the fact that he and the groom got stuck on the fire escape right before the ceremony.
Diane: I walked into a birthday party in New York in October 2013, did a quick scan of the room, and saw him immediately — a tall, good-looking guy playing darts. This mutual friend introduced us and said —
Justin: “She likes cameras, you like cameras. You guys should talk.”
Diane: I had just started working at Time as a video producer. He was into Nikon and I was into Canon. He showed me this short black-and-white horror film that he had made with his friend, literally shot on iPhone and then edited.
Justin: When she showed me her videos, with various celebrities and prominent figures, oh my God, I saw how gifted she is. We talked to each other the whole night, basically disregarded everyone else that was there. I proposed five years later, in Paris, in the garden of the Palais Royal.
Diane: I just immediately started crying and completely blacked out.
Justin: I’m actually pretty impressed with myself that I remembered a pack of tissues.
Diane: I’m a visual person, so I immediately wanted a venue that was very well-lit and easy to photograph. I knew I wanted an outdoor ceremony and indoor reception and something interesting architecturally that would affect how the light hit.
Justin: I really wanted it to be in L.A., where Diane and I both grew up. Our families are there, we still have a lot of friends there, we had international friends coming, and it gave our New York friends a reason to go to L.A.
Diane: I remembered the Walt Disney Concert Hall, how modern and sleek it was. I grew up around classical music — my dad owns a violin shop — and my family went there when it first opened. We sat a few rows behind Frank Gehry, its architect, and I remember my sister and I went up and asked for his autograph. I ran it by Justin as a venue idea, and he loved it immediately. Then we had to wait for the L.A. Philharmonic to release their schedule — they only book weddings on weekends when they don’t have events.
Justin: You can’t get more iconic than that when you think of L.A., right? And once we chose the concert hall, we knew we had to do it justice by getting a band. A friend recommended the Dart Family Ban. They’re not your commercial “wedding band.” These guys sounded like people you’d see at a concert. They bounced all over the place; they had a sax player, and I love songs with sax.
Diane: My dress was inspired by the venue. I wanted something that felt structured and had some interesting lines. It was really hard for me to find a dress — I went to so many places and I almost cried at one because I didn’t know if I’d ever find one I liked. When I saw this One Day Bridal dress at Lovely Bride on the rack I thought it could be interesting. The second I put it on, it was just so clean, structured on the bottom but still dramatic with the train. The veil was very simple, without any edges or lace or details. It happened to be windy that day, and there’s a photo of it standing straight up, and I love that it wasn’t a manufactured moment and it just flew up on its own.
Justin: I’d worn tuxes for prom and stuff like that, but I’d never had my own, that was fitted to me, and I kind of went all out. I bought it at Z Zegna, and it had a nice navy blue color with a dark black shawl. It really stood out.
Diane: We got ready that morning at Hotel Figueroa. Our photographer and videographer were so good about keeping the cameras at a distance for our first look so we had that time to ourselves. This will make me sound crazy, but I started looking at wedding photographers before we were engaged — but it was because a friend was getting married and I helped her out. I went down an Instagram rabbit hole as a challenge to myself, like, Is there anybody out there who is doing work I really love? You have the photographers who know how to get a textbook wedding moment, and you have the super artsy photographers where it feels like a produced shoot, and it’s hard to find that balance. Then I found Tomasz Wagner. I followed him for a year or two until I was confident I loved his work. It feels really cinematic.
Justin: Leading up to the first look was a little stressful because I got stuck on a fire escape with the photographer. He scoped our hotel and found this fire escape on the top floor and he said, put your phone down, I don’t want anything in your pockets, and so we left them and then after 20 minutes of shooting we go to the window and it’s locked. My groomsmen were running around, it’s 80 degrees in L.A. and I’m trying not to sweat or panic. Luckily the videographer had his phone. I didn’t tell Diane until much later.
Diane: Someone asked me to call a groomsman to ask them to find Justin and Tomasz, which I did, but I had no idea about the extent of what was going on. I was still getting my hair and makeup done with my mom and bridesmaids at that point. The ceremony was officiated by a pastor who’s a family friend. We kept it pretty low-key Christian. He and my dad served in the military together in Taiwan, and he’s watched me grow up. His kids are like siblings to me. The funniest part was, we did a community vow of support and he accidentally said my and my sister’s names, because he’s so used to saying our names together. So technically, everyone vowed to support Diane and Linda, which is also great.
Justin: During the ceremony, we bowed to her parents and mine. In any culture but in Asian culture particularly, the respect toward elders and your past is a key thing. Bowing is our simple way of acknowledging their sacrifices, everything they’ve done for us.
Diane: We wrote our own vows, and I felt really strongly that they be strictly vows, like ten or so promises to each other, not a speech. We sent ours both to my maid of honor, Francesca, who I’ve worked closely with and who proofreads a lot of my stuff. She said, yes, great, you’re on the same page! Then secretly told Justin, “There’s a little phrase that I think would be great if you added it in.” During the ceremony, we promised each other the same thing at the end. People probably thought it was coordinated but it was a surprise to us and I love the way it happened. The line referenced embracing the changes to come in each of us, as well as our relationship.
Justin: The wedding was on a terrace on the second floor of the Disney Hall, and adjacent to it is this walkway with trees and stuff so we decided to do cocktail hour there, because it was nice to be outside in California weather. We were talking with so many people and weren’t able to try the hors d’oeuvres; our month-of coordinator was really great and flagged down the waiter because I was so hungry. The one thing I really, really wanted to try was the tortellini. It was mind-blowing.
Diane: Catering was through the venue, and the rentals were included. Because it’s a union space, the staff and the ushers and all of that, it was one packaged deal. The month-of coordinator, Kelly Demaray at Demaray Events, it was just great to have her there to know we were on track. She took care of so many little things, like the band wanted a certain stage configuration. To this day, I probably still don’t know the extent of the details.
Justin: The reception was in the open concert hall. You flow down the staircase and people are funneling in, and Diana and I shared a moment, just the two of us, at the top as the band was warming up. Like, wow, this is really happening, and we talked about how perfectly the day was going.
Diane: Our friends told us they really loved the feeling of walking down the stairs into the room. It felt like an entrance. Florists usually present you with cool, elaborate ideas, but ours at The Loved Co. was like, this venue is so beautiful you really don’t need anything up front. I’m over-using this term but I wanted it to be modern architectural, so I requested incorporating white calla lilies. For the tables, we alternated floral arrangements and tall greenery. It’s this huge room and I wanted to add a bit of height.
Justin: Oh, the food was amazing. The caterer, Patina Catering, has an award-winning restaurant. I remember seeing this short rib plate on their menu months before and saying, we need to have this, and then to have it in front of you after planning for months was crazy.
Diane: Our first dance was to “Coming Home” by Leon Bridges —
Justin: We took a dance lesson to prepare, and practiced at home, and there’s a dip at a pivotal moment and I mean, we killed it. Tomasz took this photo of us doing the dip and I didn’t realize how low we got. I tell her now, it’s symbolic of our future, hanging on to each other like that. I’ll never forget it. The band played anything from Earth, Wind & Fire to Justin Timberlake, and they just killed it.
Diane: For the real dancing portion of the evening I changed into my traditional Chinese dress. I’m really proud of being Taiwanese and I wanted to incorporate that. I got really lucky and was invited to Taiwan the summer before the wedding to share some of my work for Time, and my mom was there and it was the perfect opportunity to find one. It’s supposed to be red, traditionally, but I tried on a ton of red ones and they just did not feel like me. I tried on a black one and my mom was like, “Absolutely not. That’s so bad in Chinese culture.” I ended up with a green one, which is my favorite color, and my mom approved because it wasn’t too crazy and wouldn’t shock any of our more conservative guests.
Justin: I had seen it at home but in that moment, seeing her, it was just beautiful. That emerald green.
Diane: One of my grandmothers had passed away earlier that year and she left me these beautiful jade earrings and a jade ring, so it came together nicely in this moment where I could honor my family and my background. Toward the end of the night, Justin and I gave short toasts and I learned a phrase in Korean for his parents, and he learned a phrase in Chinese for my parents, and we surprised them with that, which they loved.
Justin: We had two desserts, a strawberry torte and a tiramisu.
Diane: Dessert was included with the dinner so we didn’t do a cake. We left Disney Hall around 11, and walking down those main steps was the perfect final moment at the venue. At night, the building has a completely different feel—it was giving off this soft, warm glow in the dark. If not for the afterparty, it would’ve been difficult to leave.