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 in which group celebrations are either being called off or adapting to extreme social distancing, in many ways these pre-quarantine parties are just the escape we need right now.
Here, we spoke with an American and a Brit, Elizabeth Vaziri and Jake Van Koevering, who met as freshmen at UPenn and returned to Philadelphia for their wedding last fall. The Philadelphia Museum of Art called for some special measures — like a particular insecticide so the English roses wouldn’t invite damage to the Rubens tapestries — and the evening concluded in a frat house.
Elizabeth: I’m from Columbus, Ohio, and have three little sisters. When I spoke with my sister about Jake, I was like, “Mr. Darcys don’t really exist in real life, but he’s the closest thing to it.”
Jake: I was born in England — my mom’s English, my dad is American — but I lived in Mozambique, where my parents worked, and attended boarding school in South Africa. I’d never spent much time in the States despite the fact that I had family there. So for university, that was something that appealed to me. That’s why I picked Penn and studied at Wharton. I don’t think anyone’s really looking to be dating when they’re first starting out in university, but we found each other and it worked out.
Elizabeth: We were long distance after we graduated in 2015 — I was in New York and he was in Philly — and he proposed in 2018.
Jake: When we thought about where we wanted to get married, we knew we wanted a place where there was a shared experience and fond memories — that was naturally Philadelphia.
Elizabeth: Jake’s family is actually pretty small, but mine’s massive. My dad’s side is huge, sprawling, Persian. Philadelphia has such a rich sense of history, so we looked for venues that would reflect that. Christ Church is called the “Founders’ Church,” because it was frequented by George Washington and John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. I’m a history nerd, so that appealed to me. The bells in the tower are from the same foundry as the Liberty Bell, and the chandelier that currently hangs over the aisle was also lit for Benjamin Franklin’s daughter’s wedding. Coincidentally, the day we picked for the wedding, October 19, was the anniversary of the British surrender, so that was a running joke as Jake’s British and I’m American.
Jake: I grew up in the Anglican-Episcopal Church, and my parents are both ordained — my dad’s a bishop. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a landmark of the city. When you want to show the culture — the lights of the city — that’s a pretty good place to start.
Elizabeth: Luckily, it had become available for weddings pretty recently at the time. There was, and still is, a massive renovation project by Frank Gehry to expand the museum; so, certain entrances were closed off, but the museum is so special that we were willing to work with that. Because the spaces really spoke for themselves, both at the church and at the museum, we did not want to impose our own design vision on them — we wanted to complement them. At the museum, the reception was going to be in the Great Stair Hall, which is lined with a series of Rubens tapestries, so we pulled our color palette from those: oxbloods and plums and rich creams. One tapestry in particular actually depicted a marriage, The Marriage of Constantine and Fausta, and we used it for our invitations. A really big, foundational element of our planning was working with Sullivan Owen, our floral designer. It’s a shame her flowers can’t be in a museum. She created these sprawling, romantic florals for us — Dutch still life-inspired arrangements for the centerpieces and head tables to evoke the art. She used English roses for Jake’s heritage and Persian buttercups to reflect mine. She and our planner, Styled Bride, made sure we were in regulation — the flowers had to be sprayed with a specific insecticide to make sure that no bugs got into the museum. There were a lot of tapestries and things made of cloth that would be particularly exposed if a bug got to them. We also had to work from a list of approved furniture rental places.
Jake: I wore a tux, which was probably one of the easier decisions in this whole process. I went with a British designer-tailor, Thom Sweeney. They’ve got a store in New York that I used to go to quite a bit. They mainly have a traditional style, but with slimmer cuts and tighter sleeves — that sort of thing. I went with a shawl collar, which I don’t think is as common in the States. It was a very formal occasion and a lot of people would be in black tie, but I wanted something more casual and modern. It was a little less formal than a peak lapel.
Elizabeth: My aunt convinced me to go to Mark Ingram in New York, where I worked with a stylist named Tiffany, who, after hearing about the venue and the historical references, brought out this exquisite brocade by Reem Acra that looked painted with English roses. It was originally strapless, but she had the idea of creating an off-shoulder silhouette, which offset the modern leg slit. For my veil, I went to Monvieve — the owner, Alison, has a background in art history and works with artisans in Italy and France. We picked this dreamy, cathedral-length veil, which was actually called the Elisabetta. It had a Baroque pattern of roses, and she customized the color to match the brocade of my dress and added a Juliet cap.
Jake: I got ready at a hotel, the Logan, the same place Elizabeth and her bridesmaids were getting ready, too. My groomsmen were six guys from all over the world — Nigeria, Botswana, South Africa, Ireland, England, and the States — so I stitched each of them cuff links with the flag of their country.
Elizabeth: I actually struggled to settle on one bridesmaid dress color because my bridesmaids had every hair color under the sun, including red. I went with burgundy because it’s such a flattering color on everyone, and it’s also the color my mom used for her wedding. We didn’t do a first look, because I wanted to preserve that traditional bride-coming-down-the-aisle moment.
Jake: I wanted the full church service, so it was longer than most ceremonies I’ve been to. We incorporated a lot of music — Christ Church had a wonderful organ they’d just replaced. I went to this old, traditional boarding school where we would sing hymns multiple days a week at chapel service. Their organist, Parker Kitterman, was able to incorporate so many hymns and songs from our backgrounds.
Elizabeth: English hymns with South African ones. I picked “Largo” from Handel’s Xerxes as my processional to reference my Persian family. We met with the priest, Susan, four times before the wedding, and she was absolutely lovely to work with. She was so excited about all of the multicultural elements being brought from Africa and Iran.
Jake: We got all of the women on both sides of the family to speak — both of our mothers, my grandmother, and Elizabeth’s aunts, adopted aunts.
Elizabeth: We had a Biblical reading and a Rumi reading. My cousin had it translated from Farsi, and we had it read in both Farsi and English. “That moment when we enter in love’s orchard, the colors/Of the flowers, the voices of the birds, will give us immortality – you and I.” After the ceremony, the bridal party took a trolley to the museum, and we got an Uber code for everyone else. We went into the galleries to take photos, and during the cocktail hour, Jake and I took our portraits.
Jake: We missed the cocktail hour. I think our friends enjoyed it. But that’s part of the drawbacks of not having a first look.
Elizabeth: We had a bunch of appetizers. I remember an ahi tuna spring roll. Our specialty cocktails were a “Rubens on the Rocks” — after the museum — which had bourbon, mead, and an Earl Grey honey, and a “Franklin Fizz,” which was made with chai-infused gin and sparkling wine.
Jake: We technically were allowed to go anywhere we wanted, which was quite amazing. The museum hired a number of staff members who were around to prevent anyone from causing trouble or banging into the artworks or anything like that. We ended up limiting it to a few exhibits that we’d identified beforehand — maybe four or five. Elizabeth really wanted some photos in the cloisters, and we got a number of lovely shots around the Dutch masters.
Elizabeth: We made our entrance down the stairs of the Great Stair Hall. Once we got to the bottom, our band leader, Eddie Bruce, introduced us and we had our first dance to “Moon River.”
Jake: Our walk down the staircase was a bit intimidating! But it was a cool shot, with 215 guests at the base of the staircase. There were a couple of speeches from Elizabeth’s dad and my dad. Then, we proceeded back up the stairs to have dinner on the upper level. The band played while people ate and spoke, and you could see them down the stairs. Guests were free to wander around, view the exhibits, go down to the band, whatever they wanted.
Elizabeth: The first course was a goat cheese-stuffed, poached Forelle pear salad. Then, people had a choice between wine-braised Angus short rib, a roasted branzino filet, and polpette for the vegans. Each table was named after an early modern artist, and the menus and place settings referenced one of the pieces of art guests were able to view — it’s a Latin quote, but it translates to, “Without food and wine, love grows cold.” We did dessert later on in the evening because we really wanted to get everyone on the dance floor.
Jake: It was quite a large band and Eddie Bruce is a fantastic singer, but he also had a number of other people with him who could sing a variety of genres. That was important because we wanted everyone to enjoy it, and not just have music from our college years. Even people who shouldn’t have been dancing — like my dad, to be honest — were on the floor most of the night. All these people from different countries came together.
Elizabeth: Then, we did the cutting of the cake, which was made by Nutmeg Cake Design and speculaas-flavored. We danced until closing — the museum has a pretty strict cutoff, for obvious reasons, with all of the staff members there. I think it was 11:30. We weren’t ready to stop dancing, so the bridal party went to Dolphin Tavern. It was one of the dive bars we used to go to in college. People were like, “Who are you? Why are you here?”
Jake: We ended the evening at my old fraternity house on campus at Penn — knocked on the door until someone let us in.
Elizabeth: We had all joked about the idea of ending the night there because his fraternity was known for its “late nights” — the afterparties for the afterparties. So it felt like the natural thing to do.
Jake: The next day, I was like, Oh, I couldn’t imagine if I was in their shoes and these old guys showed up. I’d roll my eyes. But they left us alone; they were all asleep. And we raged on the ground floor just like old days.