the wedding files

At Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch, an ‘Epic’ Wedding

No speeches, just dancing.

Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael

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!” Despite our new (pandemic) normal, that answer hasn’t changed. If anything, these days, gathering with old friends and eating mini grilled cheeses in formalwear to celebrate love feels more special than ever, even downright miraculous. And the betrothed have never been less attached to the old wedding handbook (and the need to please their great aunt). So, in a flurry of pampas grass and perfectly mismatched-to-match bridesmaid dresses, how do you pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answers, 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 Arpan Somani, the head of technology partnerships at the Obama Foundation, and Chelsea Trout, who works in social media and digital marketing. Although they’ve long been based in New York City, they chose to tie the knot in November 2021 amid the mesmerizing landscapes of New Mexico at the one-time home of one of the state’s most famous residents (“We’ve both been Georgia O’Keeffe stans for a long time,” says Arpan.). The dreamy backdrop belied some of the difficulties of planning (not that the guests would have known), but the result was one “epic party in the desert.”

Arpan: No, we’re not from New Mexico. Everyone always asks us that. But we did travel there a couple years before, and something clicked for both of us.

Chelsea: Arpan said, “Should we get married here?” I am very quick to latch on to ideas that I like, so I was like, “Yep, that’s what we’re doing.”

Arpan: We fell in love with the landscapes, the peacefulness. We both grew up an hour outside New York City, went to college in the city. We’ve lived here for the last ten-plus years. It’s the polar opposite there. There’s so much space.

Chelsea: We met at NYU when we both studied abroad in the same program in Buenos Aires. Initially, we were just very good friends. The kind of friends where you don’t have to caveat anything you say, and your senses of humor mesh well.

Arpan: We wingmanned for each other for four months. Then she lived with my friends the following summer because she needed a place to stay for an internship, and they were constantly texting me like, “Dude, what are you doing? She’s so cool! She’s perfect for you.” I realized, Oh, shit, you’re right. This is my best friend, but I could date my best friend. 

Chelsea: It was June 2020, and we had already talked about getting engaged the year before. We went to one of the Black Lives Matter protests starting in Grand Army Plaza. We got back and ordered pizza and popped a bottle of sparkling wine.

Arpan: We were sitting on our stoop, drinking some wine, reflecting on the day. I thought it was romantic, but in retrospect I was probably a little drunk. I thought, Okay, this is it. I’m going to do it.

Chelsea: We’d been training our cat to be on a leash outside, so Arpan said, “Should I go get Mushu?” He had put the ring on the collar around Mushu’s neck.

Arpan: We didn’t think twice about New Mexico. We didn’t even really consider other places. It was just, We’re committed to New Mexico. Now let’s figure out New Mexico.

Chelsea: When we had gone to New Mexico the first time, Georgia O’Keeffe’s house was on our list of spots to visit. The drive up there is insane. It’s absolutely magical. The mesas are just so beautiful, but, I mean, this is true of most of New Mexico. So when we were planning the wedding, I thought, Should we see if Ghost Ranch does weddings?

Arpan: Again, without doing any research, I was like, “Yes, let’s do it.” Months later, after we had already locked in the venue, we were talking to our caterer and he said, “Yeah, this is going to be sick! But, just so you know, this is literally the hardest place to do a wedding in New Mexico.”

Chelsea: You truly have to bring everything in. Tables, chairs — we rented lights, lounge sets and fire pits. We made a dance floor out of rugs with rentals from Darling Details, the Canvastry, Whiskey & Clay, and Damian Velasquez. The catering staff had to bring an entirely mobile kitchen. And, mind you, it’s like an hour drive from Santa Fe. This is where the impulsiveness starts to rear its head. If we had understood what it takes, maybe we would’ve gone with a place that’s more turnkey.

Arpan: We had a bit of a saga with our planner situation, too. We hired a planner in fall 2020, and she was just moving at a slower pace than we are used to. Chelsea and I have produced events, and we’re very active. We’re not waiting for people to do stuff. At first we were like, “Okay, let’s just be patient. This is New Mexico. Things move slowly.” Then it felt like “dog ate my homework”–type excuses for why certain things weren’t happening.

Chelsea: It didn’t work out. We went with another planner, Vicki Newsom of Orange September, who we had interviewed but seemed so much more lax. I realize now that that’s just the New Mexico way.

Arpan: She came, through — such a pro. Our vendors eyes opened up, like, Oh, we’re so happy you’re working with this person.

Chelsea: With the pandemic, we temporarily moved to New Mexico before the wedding, staying from September to mid-January. I’d found a dress in New York by Calla Blanche I was pretty set on, but with the timeline of fitting dresses, they were like, “Okay, this will come in — whatever — nine months.” I had my last fitting in August, and Arpan picked it up for me while in New York in September. When I tried it on, there were so many pieces not actually altered. There was literally one seamstress business in Albuquerque, called Sew Whateva!, who actually worked in costumes on Better Call Saul, and in weeks, her team worked wonders.

Arpan: I really wanted a green suit. Green’s my favorite color, and I could see it popping in a really beautiful way against the browns and reds of the backdrop. I have a cousin in India — “cousin” is in air quotes, we’re somehow related — who’s a fashion designer, Duara. I reached out to him and he sent me color swatches, then my sister-in-law, who also works in fashion, took my measurements. We did it all over the phone, and when he sent it over, it fit perfectly.

Chelsea: I didn’t want to do a traditional veil, but I really love tulle. I had this idea and brought it to the seamstress, and her team member Xannie made it custom: a shawl with a train and elastic bands on my arms, kind of like a shrug. It was probably my favorite part of the overall outfit!

Arpan: We got ready separately. Chelsea’s bridal suite was actually the Georgia O’Keeffe cabin where she lived and painted. We did our first look near the entrance of Ghost Ranch, where a lot of old westerns have been shot. Chelsea looked amazing. I had not seen her dress; I had not seen anything. I was like, Damn. She looked really good.

Chelsea: For the ceremony, the floral designer, Amanda Marshall of Manmade & Sage, and I concepted this little altar space, this absolutely stunning not-really-an-arch adorned with beautiful florals. I don’t even have the words to describe it, but I was so in love with it.

Arpan: Chelsea and I were very thoughtful about every single touch. The way that we operate on big projects is she has a vision that’s usually over the top, very grandiose, and it’s my job to figure out how we can actually make that happen. It works well! We wanted to go with pretty minimal design in terms of ornamentation because, again, it’s the landscape itself catching people’s eyes. And a lot of it came down to budget. Shit, we don’t have a lot more money to spend, so let’s lean into the minimalism. It worked in our favor, totally.

Chelsea: Our officiant was Eric, a very good friend of Arpan’s who I met early on. So we’ve been able to establish our own relationship as well.

Arpan: He wrote this beautiful speech guiding our family and friends through our relationship with observations he’d made over the ten years he’s known us. People came up to me afterward to say they were really moved by it, I think because he said things that were about us but could be applied to anyone. We didn’t hire a videographer for budget reasons, but a cool trick our planner taught us was to put a phone on “record” in the officiant’s breast pocket. The audio came out really well!

Chelsea: We chose our caterer, Dig & Serve, because they were keen on farm to table and their bread and butter were these bespoke pop-up dinners. We were finalizing the menu within a couple of weeks before just because they’re so intentional about making sure it’s in season and quality. The cocktail hour was a large grazing table with vegetables they’d pickled, cheese and crackers, and little tacos.

Arpan: It looked beautiful. We had a lot of vegetarian guests, so the whole menu was very veggie forward. The cuisine was “New American”–ish, but they added little nods to Indian food. There was a soup at the beginning of dinner called rasam, a spiced broth, and my Indian aunties were asking for the recipe afterwards. It was like, You guys will be surprised that these white dudes made this!

Chelsea: Between the cocktail hour and dinner, we lit a pathway with these luminarias, brown paper bags with candles in them. It’s a Christmastime decoration that’s traditional to New Mexico. Dinner was a steak, a chicken dish, and a vegetarian dish, squash with grains. Everybody really raved about the bread.

Arpan: We did not want to do speeches because that’s the part where people start to get antsy and bored. Speeches go on for too long. But my dad stood up and he gave a short-and-sweet one just appreciating the work that Chelsea and I had put into making the event happen.

Chelsea: Truly, the rest of the night was just dancing. I read this book, The Art of Gathering, which was hugely influential in my thinking about the overall plans. There’s a dance-floor science, apparently; if you want an intimate, sweaty dance floor, you actually make the dance floor smaller.

Arpan: We had set up overlapping rugs in front of the DJ booth, and they were way smaller than we thought. At first I was, Oh, man, this is awkward. It’s so tiny. But it ended up being perfect. There was no standing along the edges.

Chelsea: We had American music, Indian music, a lot of throwbacks. Our DJ was Vicki Vibe — you wrote about her wedding, actually. We were like, “Could we fly you out? Because we don’t want a wedding DJ; we just want you.” And she was down.

Arpan: You don’t need to worry about clichéd wedding music with her. She crushed it. I gave her ten or 12 Indian songs to weave in. What we saw was basically a rush of Indian aunties and uncles to the dance floor, then they would go sit down, then four songs later, they’d rush back.

Chelsea: A really wonderful, wonderful, wonderful dance party after that.

Arpan: At some point everyone started to chant for Vicky, literally shouting her name in unison, which I’ve never seen happen. We did an assortment of desserts from Dolina Cafe & Bakery and Chocolate Maven in Santa Fe, and everything was bite-size, so you could just grab it.

Chelsea: Chellise and Mike showed the power of killer wedding photographers because many of our guests were dancing with them.

Arpan: Ghost Ranch had a pretty hard rule about sound ordinances, especially outdoors, but we had an after-party in one of the common areas near the cabins where we had strategically placed certain friends to stay because we knew we were going to be up late. We had a little fire, and our friends set up flip cup and beer pong. People were fighting over who got to DJ the iPhone plugged into a speaker.

Chelsea: Arpan and I just felt so goddamn lucky to have been able to pull that off and to have people who love us enough to partake in it.

Arpan: I am really proud of what we did. Damn, we threw a really epic party in the desert.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s former cabin served as Chelsea’s bridal suite, where her hands were painted by PB Henna. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
Arpan wore a green suit custom-made by a “cousin” in India whose business is called Duara. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
The couple had their first look near the entrance to Ghost Ranch. They met a decade ago during a semester abroad in Buenos Aires. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
The ceremony was officiated by their friend Eric, who’s known them since college. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
Chelsea worked with florist Amanda Marshall of Manmade & Sage to create a “not really an arch” of fluffy white flowers set off with bursts of orange. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
“He wrote this beautiful speech guiding our family and friends through our relationship,” Arpan says of Eric’s officiating. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
The dress code was “Southwest cocktail flare,” and guests really delivered. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
During cocktail hour, guests grazed on a veggie-focused spread from caterers Dig & Serve. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
Dinner was held at long tables under a tent. The group enjoyed unseasonably warm weather that evening. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
Chelsea and Arpan snuck away at sunset for a few more photos. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
They reentered to the glow of firepits and dangling lights. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
“The cuisine was ‘New American’–ish, but they added little nods to Indian food,” Arpan says. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
The couple wanted to avoid lots of lengthy speeches but were happy when Arpan’s dad stood and thanked the couple for pulling the event together. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
Arpan proposed by stringing Chelsea’s ring around the collar of their cat, Mushu. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
“If you want an intimate, sweaty dance floor, you actually make the dance floor smaller,” Chelsea explains. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
What ensued was a “wonderful, wonderful, wonderful dance party.” Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
The DJ was Vicki Vibe, who did such a wonderful job that the crowd started chanting her name. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
Aunts and uncles flooded the dance floor every time an Indian song was played. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
An after-party with flip cup and beer pong followed. It was one “epic party in the desert,” as the groom says. Photo: Chellise Michael Photography/Chellise Michael
At Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch, an ‘Epic’ Wedding