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 Ravon Ruffin, a community arts organizer and executive at a tech nonprofit, and Samantha Feliz, who works in biotech. After falling madly in love on their first date at the Bronx Museum of Art in 2019, the pair married in August in a 1920s transformer factory turned event space in Newark, New Jersey. Their 90 guests wept, dined on vegan soul food, and got rowdy, thanks to pre-batched cocktails and three different DJs.
Samantha: I’m Dominican, and my sweet 16 was overwhelming — I felt like I’d already had a wedding. I just wanted us to have a good time. And photographs are important, but I didn’t want to spend our wedding taking them either.
Ravon: We didn’t want a spectacle. I wanted the people who were there to be the ones who had nurtured our relationship, especially being queer Black women. It needed to feel homemade.
Samantha: It was really a community effort — one friend officiated, another served as our coordinator, our friend Gustavo made the cake, and our friend Zen at Studio Mariposa did the florals.
Ravon: Normally, I’m more of the planner.
Samantha: Ravon is good at organizing everything; she planned out what we needed to get done each month and who was going to do it. And I love Google. Google and I are besties. That’s how I found the venue.
Ravon: She’s the mother of Google. My background is in art, and I thought we might do a small gallery or museum. She was scrolling and scrolling and found ODR Studios, a space in Newark that was very urban, very loft, very eclectic. We didn’t have to do much.
Samantha: Even the bathroom was beautiful. The owner was incredibly nice. It was just good vibes. We needed to get chairs, speakers, the cutlery, chafing trays. We wanted to do premade drinks, so I got a bunch of jars. Our house was full of wedding things.
Ravon: For my dress, I was going to try to find something vintage or secondhand.
Samantha: Ravon thought she was going to thrift her wedding dress, and that definitely didn’t happen. We wanted custom outfits for our wedding, but didn’t know how we were going to go about doing that. We were just leaning on hope, actually.
Ravon: A friend was like, “Do you need help finding a dress?” She set up a day to go to three design studios, and Shareen was the first on the list. I had no understanding of materials or price point, only vague, esoteric terms for what I wanted my dress to look like, but Shareen was so warm and informative. I knew Samantha needed to work with her, too.
Samantha: I knew what I wanted: to feel like a queen. I started Googling “wedding outfit with cape,” and it all seemed cheesy. Then I came across this one outfit with huge puff sleeves and this long, beautiful cape, and it didn’t feel like too much. I showed Shareen the photo and at first she was like, “I don’t know. It’s way out of our comfort zone.” But then she emailed and said, “We’ve thought about it. We can do it.” They really nailed it.
Ravon: I have a tendency to dress a little too comfortable. I wanted something very simple. Samantha’s outfit sounded complicated, and I was like, Shit, am I too casual? Do I need to step it up a bit?
Samantha: I didn’t want to know anything about her outfit, but I was a little concerned. She showed her friends what she was planning and they were like, “Girl, no. This is your wedding.” She was not thinking about herself as the star of the show.
Ravon: Once I started down that path of being the “star,” I was very drawn to this silk, the sheen of it. We started playing with silk on a simple bodice, and overlaying that with tulle. A month before the wedding, I was looking at photos on my phone and was like, “This doesn’t feel right.” It’s starting to look frumpy, overworked. I expected Shareen to say, “It’s a month out and you want to change everything?!” But she said, “I know exactly what to do.” It was like one of those movie montages where you go back to the place you started. It felt natural, light, not cumbersome.
Samantha: We got dressed in separate hotel rooms, and coordinated when we would each leave for the venue so we never saw each other. I didn’t see Ravon until she walked into the ceremony.
Ravon: Seeing her just completely floored me, of course. She looked so beautiful!
Samantha: It was breathtaking. I just felt so grateful, yet also in disbelief — this is who I’m sharing the rest of my life with?
Ravon: When I got to her, she said, “That outfit is fire.”
Samantha: We asked our friend Alison to officiate our wedding and she was incredibly honored.
Ravon: We had dinner with her and she asked a lot of questions about how we came to choose each other, why we were drawn to each other. She meditated on the idea of choice as the basis of the ceremony. It was a through-line of our vows, too.
Samantha: There was a lot of laughter, and holding back tears. We’d arranged the seating in a circle, and it felt like everyone was involved.
Ravon: I didn’t realize the impact that would have — we were by ourselves, but also surrounded by everyone who loves us. I grew up in a Baptist church environment, where there’s a call-and-response. Folks were able to laugh with us, or call out or something when something was resonating with them. It was so special.
Samantha: Our plan was: Get married, we’ll toast, then the party will start. But that’s not what happened. We had these batched drinks, and we later learned that someone poured themselves a drink when they arrived, which led to other people pouring themselves drinks. By the time our ceremony happened, folks were drunk. Everyone’s coming up to give hugs, and I’m like, “Oh, you’re a little loose.” The fun started early!
Ravon: We took some photos during the cocktail hour, but we weren’t trying to take pictures all night. My maid of honor did a tarot reading for the wedding, and for us. Then we had three speeches, from my aunt, Samantha’s cousin Jeremy, and her sister. Every single one was gut-wrenching.
Samantha: My sister told jokes, and my cousin talked about how he’s seen the many different Sams — Meat-Eating Sam, Vegetarian Sam, Sam with the big Afro and then straight hair — and how all these different Sams led to me being this person, and this person for my partner.
Ravon: I’m from the Chicago area, and don’t have any family in New York other than Samantha and her family. My aunt spoke about witnessing that I am in good care and surrounded by love, that our garden is full and growing.
Samantha: Tears and then more tears and then more tears.
Ravon: Dinner was catered by Cadence, our favorite vegan soul-food spot on the Lower East Side.
Samantha: The chef is a Black woman from Virginia, so we were really happy to support the business. We had jerk mac and cheese, cornbread, “chicken” and waffles made with fried oyster mushrooms.
Ravon: And the best vegan potato salad I’ve ever had in my life. Our friend Gustavo bakes just for himself and for friends, and we got him to make his first vegan cake. It was just plain vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream. I didn’t want a lot of fancy weird things.
Samantha: It was incredible. Buttery deliciousness.
Ravon: Since we wanted our wedding to be a party, spending most of the night dancing was the plan. We hired two DJs who are friends of ours: Mari D is an amazing young DJ who did the cocktail hour into the reception, and then a queer DJ who goes by Meduusa, they did the rest.
Samantha: It was a mix. We had Afrobeats house music. I wouldn’t say there was much hip-hop. Like I said, I’m Dominican, so there was dembow and merengue and bachata for sure. What people danced the most to were the Afrobeats and house music, and then there were some Egyptian songs that also got the vibes going.
Ravon: Funny enough, a friend came with another DJ we love, Dana Lu.
Samantha: She left the venue, traveled to her home 40 minutes away in Jersey, got her equipment, then came back and DJed for an hour. I was floored, because we personally could not have afforded her. We were so grateful. It was an amazing surprise.
Ravon: She basically DJed the after-party, until 1 a.m. Yeah, the entertainment was top-tier.
Samantha: Ravon calls it the after-party even though we didn’t go anywhere.
Ravon: The bottom of my dress turned black. I just remember twirling. My feet hurt so bad, but I didn’t stop dancing.
Samantha: We have a friend who refers to our wedding as a “RocNation brunch.” What comes to mind when I replay our wedding is just pure joy. People laughing, dancing, crying — it all amounts to joy.
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