As a self-professed Francophile, I’ll be the first to admit that this sun-drenched South of France fête totally made my heart skip more than a beat or two. From the hand painted watercolor and calligraphy on the invitations from Signora e Mare, to the final departure of the Bride and Groom in their amazing getaway car, Lavender & Rose pulled out all the stops. Get lost in the entire dreamy gallery from Xavier Navarro here!
From the beautiful Bride… François and I met at a (now closed) bar in Paris called Footsie. We had no friends in common; it was totally random. My girlfriend and I were planning to go to a bar down the street, but said “Hey there are some cuties in this one, let’s check it out…” François is from Paris and I was in Chantilly (a small town outside of Paris) for an internship at the time. It was December 2008.
We had a long (almost 3 year) engagement, and thus plenty of time to ponder all sorts of destination weddings. Maybe too much time for second guessing and Pinteresting… It came down to France or New Orleans, which is our favorite American city. I had contacted venues, photographers, etc in New Orleans when my mom asked me what I “REALLY, REALLY” wanted to do. Getting married in France just seemed like such a fairytale. I wasn’t sure we could pull it off… and I wasn’t sure anyone would come! But with the help of our great wedding planner, Kerry Bracken of Lavender and Rose, and all our great vendors, we did. We didn’t have any particular reason for choosing Grasse except that we found a venue we liked and we knew we were fairly likely to have good weather in late June in that part of the country. We also considered Bordeaux, as François’ mother is from there (and we are winos), but for the weather and proximity to Nice’s airport, we chose the Cote d’Azur.
I had a bachelorette night the Wednesday before the wedding. When else am I going to have a chance to go out with girlfriends in Cannes?! Friday night before the wedding we had a “Soirée Blanche” cocktail/ welcome party. Everyone wore white, we had copious amounts of rosé, oysters and beautiful food at a beachfront restaurant in Juan-les-Pins. It could not have been more perfect. The weather, the sunset, seeing our families meet for the first time, the jazzy voice of Lizzy Parks…I couldn’t believe just how fabulous it was!! It was great for the French and American guests to meet, laugh, and break the ice before the wedding day.
Saturday morning we took it easy with massages by the pool. My bridesmaids came over around lunchtime. We hung out, had champagne, lounged and just got ready slowly. The wedding was supposed to start at 6:30, but the vintage pink Cadillac I was arriving in broke down. It was hilarious and I’m so glad our fabulous photographer, Xavier Navaro, was riding along with my mother and I, so he was able to capture our emotions and laughter as we watched the locals try to get the car running. The timing worked out perfectly. The ceremony began right at 7pm and the church bells starting chiming as I walked in the church with my dad. Perfect! (I should mention that our gorgeous, simple, rustic church was built in the 12th century. I was adamant about being married in a church–and we were thrilled to find one that would perform a Protestant, multilingual, modern wedding ceremony.)
François and I put a lot of thought into our ceremony. While we didn’t write our own vows, we did say our vows in each other’s language– I said mine in French and he in English. We had meaningful readings done in both languages by friends and family, and chose songs from the Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, the Rolling Stones, Cat Stevens, Procol Harum and James Brown. Additionally, we had all of our groomsmen and bridesmaids sign our marriage certificate, which was a special moment. Our priest, Peter Madan, is British and perfectly bilingual, and made all our guests feel welcome by alternating between French and English.
A few more details that stand out would be that we had our guests greet each other with “bisous” and hugs–it made the atmosphere very warm. We also had flowers placed in the seats where François’ parents would have been seated (they are both deceased). And my bridesmaids were stunning. Each one had a unique look with different dress styles, fabrics and colors and each bouquet was especially made to complement each dress. I LOVED how it turned out. We kept the decor in the church simple and understated. Lots of white pillar and votive candles, along with huge urns full of olive branches.
Although we didn’t get married in New Orleans, we did incorporate my favorite NOLA tradition, the second line. Upon leaving the church, guests were given hankies to wave in the air as we marched behind a fabulous New Orleans-style jazz band to “When the Saints Go Marching In.” I doubt the town of Valbonne had seen such a sight…
Our reception started with a cocktail hour around the pool at Bastide de Valbonne. Guests enjoyed more spirited jazz music, French 75s, and passed appetizers. There was a beret wearing caricature artist making the rounds and a pétanque court for our more “sporty” guests.
We had a seated dinner, which also served as the time for toasts. The French give the BEST speeches at weddings–I am always impressed at the thought that is put into preparing and delivering very sentimental speeches. Our tables were named after the places we grew up and then places we have lived and traveled over the years. I couldn’t get over the tablescapes created by Wayne Riley, our florist. He totally “got” our vision and we were stunned at how beautiful the tables were–gray candles, lavender, bright peonies, wild arrangements and single buds in small vases. Our menus and table names were hand done by Katie Hyatt of Signor e Mare. She is a gem of a calligrapher, and also created our custom wedding invitation suite and crest.
After dinner we cut our macaron tower, and it was time for dancing. Our first dance was to “Beast of Burden.” Not traditional, but I am obsessed with Mick Jagger and we love the song. Sappy isn’t for us, and this worked. We went for a DJ because we wanted a dance party with no breaks and only our favorite tunes. For added lubrication, we had an absinthe bar, which was a big hit. Much to François’ chagrin, I also had jager bombs reminiscent of my college days. The party went until 4 or 5 in the morning, and true to form, we were the last ones on the dance floor.
Sunday we had a very casual farewell brunch in the afternoon. A great bluegrass band played and guests dined on delicious burgers from a local food truck, Camion de Sophie. We had Bloody Mary’s and margaritas (my mom’s favorite) and enjoyed recounting the previous night’s antics.
Our family friend and well-known Birmingham artist Bob Moody created a custom watercolor painting of the church where we got married. I had the idea to use it as an envelope liner, giving guests a preview for how the wedding would look and feel. It was just gorgeous and now the original painting hangs in our bedroom.
I loved the idea of having a custom crest and Signora e Mare created one for us to use on all of our paper products. It incorporated a frog (for the Frenchie), an elephant for me (the Alabama fan), lavender (for the wedding location), and cotton (for the South). I picked out vintage postage stamps to represent the France/US relationship/alliance. There were stamps with Grace Kelly, Lafayette, Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemingway, Nina Simone and Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty. Also, each invite was in English, but included a vellum overlay of the invite in French. I wanted every aspect of the wedding to be a “mélange” of French and American culture. At times I felt I was getting way too into the weeds on these details, but I’m glad I did.
Americans, and especially Southerners, want to make sure wedding guests feel special, welcomed, and taken care of throughout the weekend. We put together welcome bags for our guests that included a bottle of rosé, local olive tapenade and crackers, water bottles, a burlap bag with our crest monogrammed, a custom map of the wedding weekend events, a very detailed welcome note from our wedding planner with all logistics, recommendations, etc and a hand written note from me. We also included a unique vintage postcard from the Cote d’Azur in each bag and asked guests to write their wedding advice/wishes on it and leave it at the reception. I happened to find the postcards at a junk/antiques store in Birmingham. I bought every postcard from the South of France from about 1910-1930. We plan to make these postcards into a guest book of sorts…
The inspiration for the absinthe bar came from the fact that François and I drank absinthe together the night we met…and we continue to toast the anniversary of our meeting with absinthe :) We wanted to recognize our family members who are no longer with us and include them in our wedding. I had my grandfather’s wedding band tied onto my bouquet with a handkerchief that belonged to my brother-in-law’s grandmother, who was a kind of mentor to me. Our wedding programs included a favorite love poem of my grandmother, who loved poetry.
Photography: Xavier Navarro | Event Planning: Lavender & Rose | Floral Design: Wayne Riley Flowers | Wedding Dress: Monique Lhuillier | Bridesmaids Dresses: Amsale | Catering: Parfums & Saveurs | Makeup: Sophie Killian | Hair: Gerard Coiffeur Cannes | Lighting: Riviera Organisation | Transportation: French Riviera Car | Calligraphy On Black Boards: Nice Plume | Music: Jazz Alpes Orchestra | Stationery & Calligraphy: Signora E Mare