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 Ron Fisher, the founder and CEO of Mesh, a venture-backed analytics platform, and Michael Fragna, who works for a data startup. After dropping plans for a Downton Abbey–inspired wedding upstate, they embraced perhaps New York’s most iconic venue, the Plaza, for a celebration with cultural references closer to home: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Disney, and Ariana Grande, to name a few. Their nuptials this past December were lit by grand candelabra and deeply rooted in the Jewish traditions they hold dear.
Michael: We don’t like to do anything low-key, as I’m sure you’ve already discovered. It was summer 2021 and we hadn’t gone on vacation in forever. All the while his parents had, on the backend, been like, “So when are you getting married?”
Ron: He kept saying he wanted to wait till he was done with business school, so I assumed it was far out. Then he said, “Why don’t we go to Lugano, Switzerland?” out of nowhere. Okay, that’s a random place to bring up out of the blue, but why not?
Michael: It’s a beautiful country. Also, I speak Italian fluently, so I said, “Why don’t we go to the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland?” It worked out well because as I was making arrangements for this proposal, I was able to communicate with everyone in real time without him understanding.
Ron: We go to a Michelin-starred restaurant and all of a sudden he pivots to this speech about how life is an adventure with me and I see the waiter videotaping us. He gets on one knee and I’m in pure shock. Wait, what just happened? How? Who? What? Where? We kiss and hug and I see the crowd glaring at us, because they’re so not used to this New York, Jewish gay couple taking the restaurant by storm. We were cry-laughing out of joy.
Michael: We met on JSwipe, the Jewish dating app. He wanted that roaring ’20s, Gatsby vibe at some estate or mansion. I wasn’t going to stand in the way of that dream.
Ron: My original vision was a Downton Abbey–esque wedding in a Vanderbilt mansion upstate with rolling green grounds. We quickly found that (a) weddings outside of the city are difficult for lots of people and (b) doing it to the level we wanted outside of the city is prohibitively expensive. We knew we wanted a Gilded Age wedding, so I started to Google city venues, and No. 1 was the Plaza. My jaw dropped, because I knew that was it.
Michael: Once we looked at open dates, we established it’d be a winter wedding. Come out of the frigid New York air and into this warm, light environment …
Ron: I wanted a gay male wedding planner, because I felt like he would get us, that we didn’t want — obviously — a traditional affair. I wanted somebody who had a specific point of view, an artist’s point of view.
Michael: I admittedly put up a fuss in the beginning. We needed someone who was an expert in adapting Judaic customs for a same-sex wedding more than an expert in warm color palettes. But Jove Meyer was phenomenal. He started by asking us for five adjectives each.
Ron: “Cozy, comfy, magical, elegant, surprising.” It ended up being gay Great Gatsby meets Beauty and the Beast.
Michael: I wanted a ton of candles and for it to feel cozy in terms of people being close with one another and not spread out. You see it in the candelabras. We also wanted it to be colorful, but not rainbow.
Ron: For the ceremony, it was all candles with an acrylic chuppah, acrylic chairs, and white flowers at the top of the chuppah. Then, when you walked into the cocktail hour, there was a lot of 1920s velvety furniture, trees [from Foliage Garden], and food stations. Finally, in the ballroom, there was an explosion of color, all types of flowers and huge candelabra. The room was set as a banquet, with long tables at diagonals — that Beauty and the Beast feast. We rented basically everything but the china because we were doing the Plaza our own way.
Michael: I have family in Verona, Italy, which is about an hour and a half from Milan. There are a ton of outlets out there, so I flew out and found these incredible Ferragamo shoes at a discount. Then I went to the flagship Armani store in Milan to pick out my suit and velvet bow tie.
Ron: I wanted to be classic, but with a touch of color, so I did a navy tuxedo with a black lapel. I went to all the top tux designers and brands, found what I like, and brought the design to a tailor, Michael Andrews Bespoke, near Bowery. They treat you really well.
Michael: Our suits were meant to be our own individual expression. We tried to align with one another, but it was our own choosing.
Ron: We each had six groomsmen and one best man, and then women accompanying each of our groomsmen. It was a little tricky figuring out how to do the procession; when you’re a gay couple, you have to reinvent the wheel for yourself. We got ready at the Plaza in two separate suites, sipping Champagne, eating crumpets.
Michael: We both grew up in religious households; my Italian side are all observant Orthodox Jews who now live in Israel. As I started to come to terms with my sexuality, it became increasingly important for me to find the vocabulary to speak with my religious side. Starting with the ketubah signing, which is how you kick off the whole ceremony. Hebrew is a language dictated by sex — nouns are female and male — and the ketubah was adapted to be all male terms.
Ron: As were signing that upstairs — just us, our families, our witnesses, and the rabbi — the rabbi turned to us and said, “Now I’d like your parents to each whisper something in your ear, and it will be the last thing you hear before you get handed off to each other.” My mom whispered to me and I started bawling. It’s such a significant moment. You can’t describe it.
Michael: I was living in San Francisco at one point and followed this rabbi in Berkeley, Menachem Creditor, known to be progressive, a voice for LGBTQ equality. But it was super-important for me to have the first openly gay orthodox rabbi ordained by the Orthodox Union be our rabbi. I just wanted this guy. I reached out, but in the 11th hour he decided that he couldn’t marry us because we weren’t serving only kosher food at the wedding. He tried to help us find one, and we landed on one from Berkeley that I was already familiar with!
Ron: We really wanted a traditional Jewish ceremony, potentially an untraditional choice for a gay wedding. He sang in Hebrew, adjusting all the songs to groom and groom. We never thought that would be possible — even ten years ago, when I came out of the closet — to have it be so adherent to what we would have pictured as kids, getting a conservative rabbi to do that … the whole room was weeping.
Michael: We took turns trading off the traditional gender norms. I waited for him under the chuppah to walk up to me.
Ron: We did the circling, we wore the kippahs, he put the talit around us and gave us each other’s blessing.
Michael: And we both smashed the glass at the end.
Ron: The cocktail hour was a mountain of food. It was important for us to incorporate Middle Eastern food, so instead of mini hot dogs it was mini lamb sausage merguez with harissa.
Michael: I think that space was the most challenging part of the wedding to design — it was a difficult room to transform. Jove brought in couches and dividers that broke up the room nicely. We had signature cocktails: I did a mezcal espresso martini.
Ron: Mine was an Old Fashioned. Apparently I was the first person to bring large ice cubes to the Plaza, because I hate when they do those ice chips for your cocktail. That drives me nuts. The escort cards were made to look like room keys that people could take off the wall, as if they were checking into the hotel.
Michael: Of course the food at the Plaza was great. But, full transparency: I did not have a single bite of our food through the entire wedding.
Ron: For the appetizer, we did a duo of risotto and salad. The entrée was short rib or fish.
Michael: Then I spoke, my best man spoke, and then Ron’s brother and father.
Ron: Michael talking about the moment he fell in love with me and what draws him to me — to have him say that in front of 250 people was something I’ll never forget. Hearing my brother call me his best friend was a very moving moment.
Michael: His father talked about the story of me joining the family. They’ve always been nothing but great.
Ron: We did a first dance to a remix of John Legend’s “Conversations in the Dark.” I had it in my head that we had to choreograph it, but as my dance instructor said, “You do not want to become TikTok fodder.” At one point he picked me up and twirled me. Then it went straight into the horah.
Michael: Oh, my God, the band was insane. It felt like we had our own concert going.
Ron: They’re called Sugar Lane, from Hank Lane Music & Productions. They were so beyond anything we could have imagined. Their singer, Chioma, said at one point, “Would you care if I did a Whitney Houston mashup?” I said, “We are obsessed with mashups. Do them as much as you want.” They blew people’s minds. There was a “Toxic”/”7 Rings,” Ariana-Britney mashup that gave the crowd serotonin overload.
Michael: It was the Britney–NSYNC–Backstreet Boys mashups that were really cool.
In Israel, they have this thing — whether it’s at a Sweet 16 or whatever — where desserts are Jackson Pollock–style splattered all over a surface. They make art out of the dessert display. The Plaza did something similar for us on the stage of the grand ballroom.
Ron: The band played “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics (my favorite song as a kid), and the curtain opened, and there were fireworks, and Mike and I ran up and started dancing around the table. Then everyone was invited to come up onstage to get the dessert. The chef created a whole menagerie of different cakes and pieces.
Michael: We had an after-party in the Oak Room.
Ron: We tried to get everyone to the party with “Follow the saxophone to the Oak Room.”
A saxophonist was playing “after the party, it’s the hotel lobby …” Then we brought in Matt Denton, who DJs at Burning Man and a lot of gay music festivals, and he basically headlined our after-party.
Michael: For three hours afterward, we were dancing and drinking, and of course there was the food.
Ron: We had a bourekas bar where people could make their own Israeli boureka sandwiches. I was, for a second, doubting if the guests could handle that level of energy for that long, but we have a strong crew. People brought it to the very end.