the wedding files

A Desert Wedding With Its Own Newsletter

“We wanted it to feel like a rollout. We wanted our version of the Met Gala.”

Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.
Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.

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!” Gathering with old friends and eating mini grilled cheeses in formalwear to celebrate love feels more special these days than ever, even downright miraculous. And the betrothed have never been less attached to the old wedding handbook — or 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 writer-director Curtis Taylor Jr. and Danielle Taylor, a marketing executive. Together since college, the Chicago-based couple sought to create a cinematic experience for their wedding last August, with a range of references from the Met Gala to Alice in Wonderland to a family reunion. The setting: the desert of Moab, Utah. The color palette: punctuated with bold chartreuse. The start time: a little delayed after their transportation got stuck in the sand.

Curtis: People were like, “Why did you guys have a wedding in Moab?” We wanted people to be on this treasure hunt with us to find love, which was reflective of what we hoped marriage would be — constantly longing for the beauty in our journey.

Danielle: A treasure hunt doesn’t seem like something that happens locally. We wanted our friends and family to feel immersed in our wedding experience, to get away from work or responsibilities. We chose Utah because of its majestic and spiritual nature. That comes from Curtis being a writer-director, and very cinematic, wanting to set the scene for our love story.

Curtis: We’re both very creative people. I met Danielle in undergrad at the University of Missouri. Her light was definitely the first thing that I saw. She was warm. She made me feel like home, even then.

Danielle: When Curtis asked me to marry him, or when he asked me to be his girlfriend, I felt like he kind of cast me as a lead role in his film. It was November 2021, and we flew to Dublin and then drove to Belfast. He asked me to marry him in a castle on a cliff.

Curtis: We knew we wanted an outdoor wedding. We’re very spiritual people, and we knew that we wanted something connected to Earth; we wanted to feel like God was present in our ceremony.

Danielle: We wanted our wedding to feel whimsical, ethereal, communal, vibrant, contemporary, and very majestic. We wanted joy and laughter.

Curtis: We had a general gist of states — either Wyoming or Utah — and with budget and logistics, we realized Wyoming wasn’t going to work. A desert wedding was not on the mood board; we’d wanted something with green pastures, picturesque in a different type of way. But we found this new venue in Utah, and when we saw it online, we knew in our spirit it felt right.

Danielle: When Curtis came across the Red Earth Venue, at first he wasn’t going to show it to me. He’s like, “I don’t know if this is going to mess with our illustrious color palette.” But I loved it. It was the nature, the wide-open space.

Curtis: And Moab has a tie to the Bible, which we didn’t know at the time. Red Earth is a glass venue with partitions that open on either side of the venue, and so you either have the option to do everything at the site, or within five minutes’ walking distance. We situated our ceremony with a really beautiful spiral aisle at this platform, and the dining and the remainder of our reception at the glass venue.

Danielle: With the chartreuse — we both love the color green, like the lush greenery of the pastures that had attracted us to the first venue. We also had shades of lavender for Curtis’s mother, her favorite color. There were shades of orange for the sun’s warmth, and soft blush as an accent.

Curtis: “Whimsical” was very consistent. We wanted it to feel like an imaginary world erected in the desert, an oasis. There were very specific florals that we were looking for, ferns and things that felt in the same world as Alice in Wonderland.

Danielle: Our bridesmaids dresses were custom William Okpo, a Black-women-owned brand. When we saw the chartreuse of the dress, we were like, “Oh gosh, is this too much?” But we didn’t want it to feel muted, either.

Curtis: We tasked guests with wearing “fantasy chic,” to bring color and vibrancy to the desert in the name of love. We wanted people to feel like it was worth flying to Utah for. We did a series of newsletters leading up to it, because we wanted it to feel like a rollout. We wanted our version of the Met Gala.

Danielle: My dress was the Noa gown by Danielle Frankel. I was in love with Danielle Frankel’s work because I really felt like it was modern and contemporary in a way that I just hadn’t seen from any other designers. My gown in particular has this beautiful wilted neckline and really long sleeves. I wanted a dress that complemented the antique nature of my engagement ring. Something that wasn’t overstated, but if you look closely at the details, you can have an appreciation for it.

Curtis: Obviously I felt I had to match her fly. I wore a custom Bode suit that I worked on for probably two years. I think that Bode really spoke to the imaginative nature of who I am as a storyteller. I knew that Bode could do these custom embroidery pieces. I wanted to do a pictorial love story, basically a map of our relationship over the past eight years: an ice-cream cone because our first date was ice cream; a beach from when I took Danielle to Catalina Island parasailing for her birthday; a castle because I proposed to her in a castle.

Danielle: The bridesmaids and I got ready at the Hoodoo hotel. Now, we knew that things always go wrong at weddings.

Curtis: We had just a few complications around timing. Because our wedding party was so big, we had super Jeeps, Sprinters. There’s no paved roads to get to that ceremony site, and it’s all sand, like dry riverbeds.

Danielle: Unfortunately, our Sprinters got stuck on the sandy path to our ceremony site.

Curtis: We’re freaking out.

Danielle: All I remember thinking is, I just want to marry Curtis. How do I get to him? I was also thinking about our guests and how they were sitting in the heat for a while. It was very scary.

Curtis: How are we going to get these heavy Sprinter vans unstuck to keep going, even after the ceremony?

Danielle: It was a time when we just had to lean on faith.

Curtis: Our spirits never left us. We’d seen a wedding on Pinterest that had a spiral format, and we thought it would be really beautiful to do this in the middle of nature. One, we wanted everybody to have a great seat. It afforded an intimacy you couldn’t run away from. It gave a fashion runway. And two, it spoke to this transition, the circle of life, this idea of two becoming one. My mom passed in 2014, which made the wedding a very emotional thing. We tasked the florist with having purple flowers more present at the center of the spiral, to embody her presence.

Danielle: The closer you got to the center of the circle were our parents, grandparents, and godmothers. Our officiant was Joekenneth, a poet. His voice alone — when he starts to speak, you want to hear what he has to say.

Curtis: We had done so much work to make sure that God was present in our marriage and how we went about stewarding our wedding day that we didn’t feel like we had to have a traditional officiant. We wanted somebody charismatic who was going to be able to speak life into our marriage. We didn’t want to give him too much framework; we left it pretty open, since he is a poet.

Danielle: We wrote our own vows, and I was so nervous because Curtis is a writer-director. He’s going to outdo me! I tried to compensate, and he tried to compensate for me, so I wrote a novel.

Curtis: When you grow up in a Black church, there’s call and response. There was one line in my vows, “I know everybody’s thinking, Why Moab?” and everybody was like, “Yeah, we were waiting!” It was a beautiful way to break the fourth wall. The response was, “Because there isn’t a desert or river or ocean in this world we wouldn’t cross for each other.”

Danielle: When we finished our ceremony, we walked back to the glass venue and our guests had drinks and refreshments on the patio. We had two drinks, a “his and hers.”

Curtis: We love a Bee’s Knees, a drink you can get in most places, and it’s always light and refreshing. It’s just our thing. And a rum punch, because my family has a home in Jamaica and I grew up around a lot of Jamaican traditions. Rum has always been a staple.

Danielle: Also, and I know this is going to sound so crazy, but we had a bounce house in the back of our venue because we wanted our guests to remember the joy of childhood activities. We wanted them to feel like they could relax, even though they were dressed to the nines.

Curtis: At first we wanted the typical, plated, coursed-out meal for dinner, but then we thought about who we are. Ultimately we wanted the feel of a family reunion.

Danielle: Like guests were in our living room. So we chose buffet style, and we chose barbecue, because it felt like a disarming approach and reminded us of family cookouts.

Curtis: It’s like having McDonald’s fries after the Chanel show, the mix of high and low. Because Moab is so isolated, the catering was very limited, but our coordinator suggested Colorado Q. We had plastic baskets with the checkered inserts, and it was a real hit. Everybody loved the barbecue.

Danielle: My maid of honor gave a beautiful speech touching on our relationship from childhood. My siblings — my two sisters and 17-year-old brother — spoke and confessed their love and appreciation for Curtis and why they’re so happy to unite the two families. My parents spoke, and Curtis’s two best friends from childhood.

Curtis: And my dad spoke. Obviously, you can’t not let the parents have their moment. We gave everybody a time limit. They went over, but that’s how it goes. From dinner, we went into a performance by one of our really good friends, the artist Brandon Banks.

Danielle: We listen to his album on repeat at home. He performed a few of his original songs, and some by Corinne Bailey Rae and “A Woman’s Work” by Maxwell. It felt like a mini-concert at our wedding.

Curtis: He serenaded the crowd. By the time we got to the dance portion, because our wedding was late — we were probably, I would say, two or three hours behind — and because we had a cutoff time with a venue located in a national park, we couldn’t go over. We didn’t get to dance as much as we wanted to. Our DJ, Huneycut, was able to get us really hype in a short amount of time.

Danielle: Curtis is an Alpha [Phi Alpha], and a lot of his line brothers were there. We had some songs that you would hear at a Mizzou party, but we also had music that Curtis and I dance to in the living room, so a good blend of oldies and that nostalgic music from college.

Curtis: There was a cake, but we never got to cut it. We ran out of time. It was pretty! Wait, did it get cut up? It did get cut up, we just didn’t have a cake-cutting moment.

Danielle: But we did get to gift all of our guests Moodeaux fragrances. One of our really good friends, a guest at our wedding, has this fragrance line, and we wanted to gift something that felt like us. We’re really big on scent and fragrances. Friends were trying to take multiple packages because they thought it was so cool! From there, everybody dispersed. They did go to an after-party that Curtis and I did not go to.

Curtis: The groomsman facilitated that back at the Airbnb.

Danielle: We picked up Mexican food and crashed at our hotel.

Curtis: Our guests were in Moab doing stuff together all weekend, because we had other events planned. By this point, everybody felt like family.

Danielle and her bridesmaids got ready at the Hoodoo hotel. The bride’s hair was done by Lurissa Ingrid, and her makeup was by Joslyn. Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.
“Because we wanted our reactions to be real and authentic, we didn’t do first looks,” says Curtis. “We just wanted that moment to be unforgettable.” Photo: Joshua Renfroe
Danielle wore a dress by Danielle Frankel. Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.
En route to the ceremony site, the Sprinters bringing the couple and their bridal party got stuck in the sand. Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.
The couple arranged their ceremony seating in a spiral, which “afforded an intimacy you couldn’t run away from.” Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.
Their florist, Details by Laura Lee, created a striking, saturated palette of bold greens and oranges with lavender touches because it was the groom’s late mother’s favorite color. Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.
Their officiant was the poet Joekenneth. Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.
Danielle felt the pressure to live up to the vows Curtis crafted, given his literary background. Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.
Curtis’s vows included a call-and-response with the crowd. Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.
To conclude the ceremony, the newlyweds jumped the broom. Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.
Danielle and Curtis met at the University of Missouri. “She made me feel like home, even then,” Curtis says. Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.
The bridesmaids and groomsmen wore custom William Okpo outfits in the wedding’s signature shade. Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.
Curtis wore a suit by Bode with embroidered images representing their relationship. Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.
“We wanted joy and laughter,” Danielle says of their vision for the day. Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.
After the ceremony among the sand dunes, the reception was held back at the glass-encased Red Earth Venue. Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.

“We tasked guests with wearing ‘fantasy chic’ to bring color and vibrancy to the desert in the name of love,” Curtis says.

For dinner, guests enjoyed barbeque in plastic baskets for a touch of high-low. Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.
Nine speakers were invited to share a few words, including Curtis’s childhood friends and Danielle’s siblings. Photo: Joshua Renfroe
A performance by Brandon Banks kicked off the party. Photo: Joshua Renfroe
“We listen to his album on repeat at home,” says Danielle. “It felt like a mini-concert at our wedding.” Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.
A photo booth provided another opportunity for a chartreuse moment. Photo: Tayo Kuku Jr.
The couple hit the dance floor after a pyrotechnic introduction. Photo: Larry Lewis Jr.

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