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. Though we’re living in a moment where group celebrations are either being called off or adapting to extreme social distance, in many ways these pre-quarantine parties are just the escape we need right now.
Here, we talked to professional pop singer and former American Idol (season eight) contestant Anoop Desai and his new wife, Anna, an assistant at a private-equity firm. For their two-part wedding this past September, they went big and small: first, an intimate rooftop gathering followed by sage-butter sausage pasta, then the next day a traditional Indian celebration at the Green Building, which kicked off with a full-on serenade by the groom.
Anna: We met on Hinge and decided to go to a cocktail bar for our first date. Anoop said there was a karaoke bar right across the street, and I said, “Maybe I’ll show you a thing or two if things go well.” He had been on American Idol many years before we met, and I had watched it but didn’t recognize him when I saw him on Hinge. He’d used a pseudonym of sorts on his dating profile, so when he then told me his first name just before our date, I thought, Oh, I’ve heard that somewhere before … then remembered where … then Googled … then thought, Wait! I told this guy we could do karaoke! Nooo!
Anoop: We went for five hours, mainly duets. She knows a lot of rap lyrics, and I only know the hooks, so that’s what we did. That was August 10, 2015, and I proposed three years later.
Anna: I wanted the wedding to be very personal.
Anoop: I wanted to throw a big party. So we had different ideas about it: She wanted it to be more intimate without pomp and circumstance.
Anna: But that’s not really an option when you’re marrying an Indian guy — to not have a big wedding.
Anoop: I’ve been to a lot of fusion weddings, and, to me, they end up confusing and muddling until they don’t really mean anything to anyone. So we did both — a really good ceremony on our roof and then a big party.
Anna: On Friday evening, we had the Western ceremony on our roof in Cobble Hill with 25 people — just our immediate families and a few friends. We spend so much time up there. It’s where we began to make our life together. The idea of getting married at home was so special.
Anoop: We’re in a brownstone, and we’re lucky to have a great relationship with our landlord and the owner of the building. We just asked, and they were more than happy to let us do that, within reason. We rented chairs and bought a couple of big plants — we already had quite a few plants up there since we spend a lot of time on our roof-deck in warmer months, but Anna and her mom went to Lowe’s the week of the wedding to supplement those. The florist, Rebecca Shepherd Floral Design, was instrumental in making it all pretty ($12,000).
Anna: We used the same florist for both nights, but for Friday I wanted it more wildflowerish looking, a little bit softer. Since I was going to have henna on my arms, I knew I wanted my dress to be simpler, not too busy. My mom, sister, and future mother-in-law flew up for a weekend of shopping, and I bought a Louvienne dress at Lovely Bride ($2,100). I put it on, and the moms cried, my sister cried. It was comfortable. It was sexy. It was what I wanted to be wearing when I got married.
Anoop: Our downstairs neighbor, Ellen, officiated. The owners live on the first floor, Ellen lives on the second, and we live on the third, and we and Ellen moved in around the same time. Being in a brownstone, there is a little more intimacy with your neighbors. Ellen and Anna became good friends, and we go out to eat together; this is our family in New York.
Anna: The whole ceremony was so romantic, and I’m not even a superromantic person. The vibe was just very sweet. A friend did a reading. We wrote our own vows. And after worrying so much about rain, rain, rain — we had a tent on reserve but ultimately decided the chance of rain wasn’t high enough to have them set it up and ruin the vibe — it ended up misting. Our officiant, Ellen, wanted to send someone to a drugstore to pick up umbrellas, but when she asked me about it, I told her I was only okay with it if the umbrellas were all uniform. Which she thought was insane and still won’t let me live down.
Anoop: People were soaked by the end, but it made it less stuffy, you know? Nobody was thinking about the rain. We have these great pictures of soaked people smiling ear to ear. For dinner, we rented out the back garden of Frankies 457 on Court Street. There were about 70 people at that dinner.
Anna: It was a full spread of Italian food: antipasti, pastas, the meats, and desserts. We ate and drank, and that’s when people did speeches, as opposed to Saturday. My mom spoke, and a couple of friends got up.
Anoop: That sage-butter sausage pasta! For our friends and family coming in from out of town — we’re both from the South — bringing them there, to have that level of food and that presentation in that space, was as impressive to them as it was to us.
Anna: We had not planned to have a wedding cake, but a few weeks before, a friend of ours said, “My mom would like to make you guys a wedding cake as a gift if you would let her.” And we said, “Of course!” We sent her our invitations from Basic Invite so she could see the bright color scheme. And she made us this mini wedding cake. It was lovely.
Anoop: Saturday was definitely the big party day, at the Green Building, where we could utilize the indoor and outdoor spaces for our 175 guests. Again, we wanted to have everything in the neighborhood, to let our friends and family experience our life together so far. When I proposed back in August 2018, we knew we wanted to get married in the next year, year and a half. We didn’t have a lot of insight into the actual process of finding a venue. We started looking online and sending emails, and everybody was like, “Oh, we’re booked until May 2020.” We got lucky that someone backed out of the day for the Green Building. It was almost a year to the date from our proposal, so we just locked it in.
Anna: The ceremony lasted a little less than an hour and a half, which is very abbreviated for a Hindu ceremony! It’s really beautiful because it involves your family; it involves your parents. They bring a big floral thing called a mandap: Parents sit under there with you for their parts. It’s about bringing two families together, not just about the bride and groom, and I know that my family — who had no exposure whatsoever to Hindu culture and had never been to an Indian wedding — were so pleasantly surprised. They felt so included, and they weren’t expecting that.
Anoop: My big thing with the Hindu ceremony was that I wanted to hang on to cultural tradition, not necessarily my religion. I wanted it to be an homage. I wanted it to be under 30 minutes. There are a number of blessings and rituals and stuff, like we were bound together with a sash and walked around a flame seven times. Although it’s my tradition, really the only Hindu ceremonies I’ve been through were my cousins’, where I just showed up and people told me what to do. But I really appreciated how into it all of our friends and family were — how enthusiastic and accepting and awed they were by the spectacle of it. I appreciated that our officiant really took the time to explain what was going on, because with the Sanskrit and chanting, you could have easily just zoned out.
Anna: His parents had found a Hindu priest who was willing to travel from New Jersey. It was also a big help that we made a program with all the steps for our guests, so they could follow along. I felt like royalty getting to wear that gown and that jewelry, getting to dress up like that. I’d never had notions of what my wedding would look like one day; if I’d seen myself walking down the aisle in what I was wearing, I’d have thought, Who am I? What am I doing? Who am I marrying? But his parents have always been so warm and welcoming and open to our relationship. I felt so lucky to be a part of that, to show his family that I was joining their culture.
Anoop: We wore formalish Indian clothes. I got mine in Bombay, actually, when I was there last March on a work trip. I don’t perform overseas often, but I am often on these international writing trips, writing for Indian pop artists for Universal and Sony. You try and mix in a little bit of pleasure, but it’s mostly a lot of studio work and then hanging out with your co-writers afterward. The clothes I got there feel like armor a little bit, with the jewels. Anna picked hers out at Daminis in New Jersey with both of our moms and her sister. It just looked amazing — very heavy, apparently.
Anna: Then there was a cocktail hour, during which Anoop and I took pictures and changed clothes — he into a custom suit and I into a dress from Bloomingdale’s. I think we both just wanted to change into something more comfortable and fun. I couldn’t have danced in my very heavy lehenga, jewelry, etc. I chose a dress in blush, the same color family as my lehenga.
Anoop: We had Indian passed apps, and the catering team from Darbar Grill was really great. We were initially going to have a half-American/Western, half-Indian menu, and as we got deeper into the planning process, we realized that even though the Indian flavors were going to be new to some people, the caterer would still be able to keep them accessible. So the cocktail hour was a number of Indian street foods.
Anna: Then we had the reception. It started with Anoop singing to me, which was the most special thing ever. He claims I told him on our third date what song I wanted him to sing to me at our wedding, which … I don’t think it was quite that early on. He’s really, really incredibly talented. We did that in lieu of a first dance.
Anoop: It was “I’ll Stand by You,” by the Pretenders, and one of my best friends, David, accompanied me on the guitar. Then we did a mother-son, father-daughter dance.
Anna: It wasn’t a seated formal dinner; it was stations of all Indian food. I had a lot of family visiting from Mississippi who had never had Indian food in their lives, and they loved it. That made me so happy. Then everybody raged on the dance floor.
Anoop: We had DJ Rang, one of my friends who has toured with me. We didn’t integrate a ton of Indian music because the ceremony and food was overly Indian. We have really strong opinions about music, and we wanted that to be a celebration of our time together, harkening back to our first date at the karaoke bar with songs like “Down on Me” by Jeremih, some Chris Brown, T-Pain, Jagged Edge, Kevin Lyttle. Full circle. Her tagline on Hinge had been “I’m just looking for a Ja Rule to my Ashanti.”
Anna: A friend was like, “I can’t believe your mom let you have a playlist like that at your wedding,” and I was like, “I didn’t submit my playlist to my mom for approval.”
Anoop: At one point, there was a conga line with like 75 people. It was kitschy, it was fun, and everyone was into it, which was the best possible thing we could’ve imagined.
Anna: The other fun thing was, we had an ice-cream cart come. We didn’t care about cake and then Malai opened in our neighborhood before the wedding with Indian-inspired flavors. It cost $1,000, and we were like, “Perfect.”
Anoop: It was masala chai, and rose-cinnamon-almond ice cream. So good.
Anna: People were dancing for so long they were like, “Oh my God, when is this going to be over? I’m drenched in sweat and so drunk.” Like, “When are we moving to the next activity?” We had rented out Camp in Cobble Hill for $2,400 and did karaoke for the next several hours.