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 spoke with Elisa Benson, who manages lifestyle and publishing partnerships at Instagram, and Peter Gaston, who most recently served as global creative-solutions lead at Spotify. After meeting on Hinge and getting engaged in their apartment, the digitally minded duo found themselves getting their marriage license online and holding their wedding in the same Williamsburg space. They explain how they utilized every bell and whistle Zoom has to offer for the 170 people who tuned in to the livestream.
Elisa: I really love to entertain. I love to throw parties. And I was so excited to marry Peter, but, when thinking about my wedding, I had no glimmer of what it should look like. I read every wedding magazine and blog. All the advice I read on how to personalize one’s wedding had to do with spending money. Every venue, no matter how “original” and unique it is, offers a different version of the same thing.
Peter: We were in the mindset that we wanted to do something quickly. I proposed in our apartment in Williamsburg in December 2019 — I thought the place where we’d built a great life together would be the perfect venue. We thought we’d do something small with our families in the early summer because Elisa’s older sister is a teacher. Hometown Bar-B-Que had just opened this event space in Industry City, and we thought it was really charming and cool. We loved the idea of a casual barbecue thing.
Elisa: We settled on June 27 and started sending out invites in early March. At that point, we were like, “This whole health scare will be completely resolved by June. Aren’t we so lucky that our wedding is in the summer, and not in a couple of weeks?” I feel like everyone in New York has a story about the last regular thing they did before the shelter-in-place guidelines began. For me, it was shopping for my wedding dress.
Peter: We said, “Let’s just push the pause button for a month and see where we are in April.” Obviously, we all know how things ended up. We canceled the venue, and Hometown could not have been more understanding. Then we decided to pivot.
Elisa: We knew that we did not want to be in a situation where we would have to revisit our decision again and again. No one knew at that point when it would be safe to have this kind of gathering.
Peter: We’d both been using Zoom for work, and the first time I saw the breakout feature I was like, Wow, this is the future. We read about our options online, and we came across Wedfuly, this company in Denver that helps people with their Zoom weddings, and set up a consultation. They understand how Zoom features fit into the course of a ceremony and reception, and they provide the backend support. They kind of quarterback the Zoom with a run-of-show.
Elisa: I work at Instagram, and Peter has spent his career in music doing a lot of livestreaming. The funny thing is, once we started to talk about livestreaming, the vision for our wedding clicked into place. I wanted to lean into creative possibilities. My sister said, “You should do custom Zoom backgrounds!” I’d already doodled little flowers for our invitations, so I decided to use those same graphics to make custom backgrounds and put them on our website. Then I created templates where people could print those flowers out and make their own decorations.
Peter: Once we created a #YouMakeMyStreamsComeTrue hashtag, we started to see photos of people engaging with this stuff. Our friends’ kids printed the templates out and made them into an art project.
Elisa: To be honest, I put all these “printables” on our website just for fun and thought that no one would use them. But it was one of the biggest surprises of the day, and several people even printed out the cake topper we used to decorate our own cake. Instead of having one wedding venue, we had 150 venues across the country.
Peter: At 10:30 a.m. on our wedding day, Elisa was inflating hundreds of balloons in the living room for an arch that would be the backdrop of our Zoom. I was working on the technology, setting up tripods, putting in a new SIM card for an old iPhone that would function as our secondary roof camera, and dealing with family, all of whom were asking, “Where’s the link? What do I do?” Oh, and rain was coming down in buckets.
Elisa: Our plan was to get married on the rooftop of our building and then do the reception in our apartment, so it wasn’t ideal that the weather was awful. I was remarkably chill about it because, like everything else that had impacted the wedding so far, there was absolutely nothing we could do to change it. Around 1 p.m., our amazing florist from Pic and Petal showed up. She said, “I can set up in the rain. Flowers love rain!” Then she proceeded to create an entire backdrop with tons of gorgeous flowers. I was so glad to have a professional there. Normally, on your wedding day, you’re with your mom, sisters, or bridesmaids — people who can do little, helpful things for you. That day, it was just the two of us.
Peter: Elisa had a full rack of wedding dresses she’d ordered online and was still deciding on the day of our wedding what she was going to wear.
Elisa: I’m not a very good online shopper. So it was around 4:15 p.m. and Peter was in his suit on the roof setting up microphones in the pouring rain. The wedding was supposed to start at 5 p.m., and I was trying to pick out what dress to wear. The plan was to barrel ahead and hope for the best. “We have clear umbrellas; let’s just do it. If people can’t hear because of the rain, then we can move into the hallway.” I chose a dress by Racil that I got on Moda Operandi. I was drying Peter’s suit jacket with a hair dryer while he cut the hanger straps out of the dress.
Peter: At one point, the tripods blew over and we ended up filling tote bags with cans of soup that we then hung from the tripods so they would have some stability. Elisa then came up to check in on our progress when her veil blew off and across the roof deck and got caught in the fence. Our family was on the Zoom early and witnessed all of this, apparently.
Elisa: But then, a miracle: The weather cleared up. The wedding started at 5 p.m., but we knew that, like with any wedding, there’d be a few stragglers. So we planned to start around 5:15 and had previously decided to play some videos during that time. I have this amazing footage of my 90-year-old grandmother’s wedding that we played, and we shared photos of our families and advice for newlyweds that people had submitted with their RSVPs. Peter stitched together archival footage of Brooklyn that spoke to its important place in our present life and his family’s lives. My niece just turned 3, and we knew all along that we wanted her to be our flower girl — every time she sees me, she says, “Where’s Peter?” My sister filmed a video in their backyard where they’d set up an “aisle” of her toys and stuffed animals that she walked up. At the end, she screamed, “Happy wedding day!” in her cute voice. Peter and I cry every time we watch it, and we’ve watched it 100 times now.
Peter: We chose our mutual friend Kim to officiate since she knows us both well. She’s also a phenomenal writer — creative, eloquent, and thoughtful. We were going to ask her to do it anyway, but, funnily enough, when we emailed about changing our wedding from IRL to Zoom, she was the first to respond and said, “If there’s any help you need, we’re here for you.” We knew she’d crush it. She immediately sent us questions to get information about our relationship and each other.
Elisa: Kim basically hosted our second date, because we were both guests at her wedding. She has always been a character in our story. My parents have said, “Oh, your vows were really great, but that Kim!” My mom asked for a copy of her speech to put in a scrapbook, which she did not ask of my vows. I began to write mine on my phone in March 2019, months before we got engaged. I added to them every month and always sobbed. That is a tear-jerker moment for me — when people write their own vows.
Peter: I pegged my vows to the idea that — after having worked in music for so long and going to concerts with my person — she was deemed my “plus one,” but that was a terrible description of what Elisa meant to me. We’re equal partners. She’s my “equals one.” We knew lots of people were watching during our vows, but we didn’t have a monitor or anything, so it really felt like we were the only people in the world, up on the roof.
Elisa: For the cocktail hour, we used the Zoom functionality of breakout rooms, where you can split people into smaller, new windows. So it was just like wedding tables, where you put family in one room and your friends in another room, just to catch up. Then we’d drop into a room for 60 seconds until the Wedfuly team would pull us out and drop us in another one.
Peter: It was pretty jarring and hilarious. Everyone was excited and talking at once until we were virtually yanked from the room. But we’ve all been at weddings where the bride and groom are trying to get face time with you and they don’t want to be rude, but they’re being pulled to the next thing.
Elisa: Then the coordinator at Wedfuly introduced us as a couple, and we came into the balloon-arch room and did our first dance to “Oh, What a World,” by Kacey Musgraves, and we went into the toasts.
Peter: My mom and stepdad asked to speak first. My stepdad is a really stoic dude, and seeing him get emotional and having them speak to us directly, face to face, was almost as intense as Elisa and I holding hands and reciting our vows. That kind of physical proximity, even though you’re looking through a screen, just rocked me. It was unexpectedly powerful.
Elisa: After the speeches came the cake-cutting. There’s a women-owned bakery in Williamsburg, Ceremonia, that we chose for the wedding. I ordered a funfetti cake and somehow completely missed that the cake would be blue, so that was my something blue.
Peter: “And Then He Kissed Me” by the Crystals played during that portion. We also had a playlist and slotted it in at different moments. Having a dance party as part of the wedding was something that we were concerned about because we weren’t sure whether it would work or not. The DJ was Hesta Prynn, who I’ve known for a few years. She is one of the house DJs that Spotify uses for events. She did an amazing job and kept it fun from song to song. Wedfuly spotlit different people, and it was unbelievable to peek into our friends’ and families’ homes and see them dance in front of their computers. Some were dressed up, while others were in jean shorts.
Elisa: She understood how to cater to a dance party not being in person. I remember she said, “The music has to be a little campier; you have to lean into the camp,” and I was like, “You’re speaking my language.” She played a song for the Horah, and people grabbed chairs in their homes. People lifted stools, high chairs …
Peter: I think the DJ kept the song going a little bit longer because it was so funny and organic. People seemed to have so much fun, and I think it came at a time when people really needed a release. We asked for a half-hour of dancing, and it was the perfect length. We were wiped out.
Elisa: We knew we weren’t going to cook dinner, so we arranged for delivery from Concord Hill, one of our favorite restaurants in the neighborhood. A bunch of friends texted us about Zoom after-parties, so we ended up jumping in a few of those.
Peter: We got in our sweats and had cheeseburgers, fries, and wedding cake in the apartment, which was filled with flowers and the balloon arch. We’re literally living in our wedding venue.
Elisa: I think we’ll do some sort of in-person celebration with our families at some point. Peter and I love to celebrate things, always. But I feel this was 100% a real wedding.
Peter: We’re done, we’re married, we had a wedding. I don’t know how it could have been more memorable or meaningful.