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Anne-Claire and Chris
Born and raised in central Arkansas, Anne-Claire Allen and Chris Owens were set up on a blind date by a mutual friend. "The joke is that neither of us had much hope for the date, so we went to a complete dive bar," Anne-Claire laughs, "but we talked throughout the evening, despite the horrible, loud band that was playing, and as they say, the rest was history!"
With nearly a decade of working in the wedding industry as a planner, Anne-Claire created Anne-Claire Allen Planning & Design in 2013, as Chris was working for his family's industrial fencing company. "When we were dating I wanted to impress her, so I volunteered to assist her with one of her weddings. We had so much fun together and worked so well as a team that I have been by her side ever since!" Chris says. The couple currently continues to work together as a husband and wife wedding planning team, with Anne-Claire working as the lead designer and Chris leading labor and logistics.
Prior to their whirlwind romance, Anne-Claire remembers praying for the day she would meet her future husband. "I had been encouraged by a mentor in high school to find something that reminded me to pray for my husband on a regular basis and I chose a weeping willow tree, for some unknown reason. For years and years, I was consistent in praying for my husband every time I came upon a willow tree," explains Anne-Claire. Sharing this story with Chris when they were dating, he ended up surprising her by proposing under an old willow tree. After an evening of Champagne and celebrations with friends and family, Chris had one more surprise for Anne-Claire—a young sapling of their own! "We planted the tree along a popular walking trail by the river near our home to remind us of our growing relationship. It is such a special sentiment that I hope we one day get to share with our children and grandchildren!"
Before their engagement, Anne-Claire and her mother had been planning a three-month summer trip to Paris, with plans for Chris to visit. The couple soon realized (after Chris's suggestion) that a destination wedding in France was not a far-fetched idea, but exactly what they wanted. The pair fell in love with Domaine des Evis, a restored farmhouse just outside of Normandy, complete with old, French charm and willow trees that line the property (an added bonus they claim they weren't aware of when booking). On September 8, 2015, Anne-Claire and Chris exchanged vows in front of just 14 guests and celebrated with impeccable French cuisine, custom details, and memories to last a lifetime.
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The Stationery Suite
"My mother, Deborah, who is a very talented artist, brought our entire vision to life," says the bride of the hand-painted invitation suite, which included hints of willow branches and leaves. "The painted details, our custom wax seal and the handmade paper were details that were very important to us, and tied together the entire event!"
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Upon arrival, guests received a French wine crate filled with quintessential goodies from Paris. Each box held the fixings for a traditional Parisian picnic including wine, baguettes, cheese pairings, jam, a pear, and disposable wooden plates and cutlery. An illustration of the venue by the mother-of-the-bride, served as a beautiful memory. In addition, guests were surprised at turndown service in their guest rooms, when small, sealed boxes (like the one pictured above) adorned each pillow with a thank-you note. Inside the boxes were Anne-Claire's favorite French chocolates—Maxim's Chocolate!
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Domaine des Evis, a 15th century restored farmhouse located in the charming town of La Chapelle-Fortin (approximately two and half hours outside of Paris) provided the authentic, French ambience Anne-Claire and Chris had envisioned for their soirée. With on-site accommodations, the couple and their guests were able to truly relax and take in the romantic French countryside.
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A few days before the wedding, Chris's luggage—which included his tailored suit and Anne-Claire's wedding veil—had been lost overseas during his travels. Initially saddened by the realization of their lost property, the pair acted quickly and calmly, and Chris ended up wearing a slim fitting suit from Zara, which their photographer picked up the day before the wedding.
While living in Paris during the summer, Anne-Claire and her mother had been eyeing Jade Couture, a charming bridal shop, and became friendly with the owner. The night before the wedding, Anne-Claire returned to Paris with her mother, and tried on the last veil available at the shop. It wasn't until the morning of her wedding that her mother convinced her that she should not leave Paris without it. "We bought it right as we were leaving, and it was the most ideal addition, and the perfect souvenir to bring home and pass down throughout our family for years to come!" says the bride.
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The Bridal Party
The bride's sisters, Gracie and Emma, served as her maids of honor and wore long gray gowns from David's Bridal. Many of Anne-Claire's friends from back home were unable to travel and served as honorary bridesmaids, surprising her with Champagne toasts over social media using the hashtag #cheerstoourgirl moments before the ceremony.
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Despite often encouraging their clients to do a first look, Anne-Claire and Chris decided to wait to see each other until the ceremony. The bride walked down the aisle with her father, Jim, to an accordionist playing Pachelbel's "Canon in D". "I felt so comfortable and safe in my Dad's arm and then I would catch a glimpse of Chris, and there was nothing to do but smile."
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"There is something just so neat about saying 'I do' under a tree, whose roots run so deep and has stood the test of time for decades upon decades," says Anne-Claire of the ceremony spot.
Guests were seated on cushioned wooden benches and watched as the couple exchanged traditional Christian vows. "We did offer our guests communion. We wanted that to be a part of our ceremony and requested to serve our guests versus be served. It was such a special moment!" the couple recalls.
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Following the ceremony, the newlyweds posed for portraits throughout the property, including under a majestic willow tree.
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The Cocktail Hour
The happy couple toasted with a tower of coupes, over which they poured French Champagne, while guests enjoyed accordion music by Dominique Legrix until dark.
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The Personalized Details
Embroidered cocktail napkins featured a personalized monogram created from a PassionateProse, which the couple still use at their home.
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Monograms for Days
The monogram also appeared on the wax seals adhered to the deckled-edge, calligraphed escort cards.
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A portion of the property with enclosed walls gave the feeling of both being outside but also covered. "We wanted everyone to feel completely relaxed and taken care of, and for dinner to be entirely lit by candles so it felt magical and intimate," explains Anne-Claire. Following the reception dinner, guests moved into the study for cake, coffee, and dancing into the night.
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White floral arrangements and a mix of candles lined the table.
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The Place Settings
The couple served a French version of a Caprese salad, creamy risotto with salmon and vegetables in a beurre blanc sauce, and a course of cheeses from the Normandy region. Chef Freddy Pommier carefully paired each course with the couple's favorite French wines.
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The bride and groom shared their first dance to "La Vie en Rose" by Louis Armstrong just as the sun set. Another magical dance was to Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely" that Anne-Claire shared with her father.
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To wrap up the evening, a three-flavored croquembouche was served with coffee and Champagne. The traditional French pastry was adorned with sparklers and a cake topper.
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To take advantage of the picturesque scenery, Anne-Claire and Chris took additional portraits the following day by the breathtaking Etretat beaches and cliffs. Wearing her wedding gown a second time, Anne-Claire added a light sweater and alternated between a low knot and ponytail (both which she describes as being very "her"). "When we were standing on the cliffs, watching the sunset, there was such a special moment where everything just seemed to stand still and we held each other and both got teared up," she says, "It gave me a chance to wear my dress again and another chance to grasp every bit of beauty France has to offer! I would recommend this to so many brides if given the chance!"
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Photography, Kati Mallory Photo & Design
Location, Domaine des Evis
Event planning, Anne-Claire Allen Planning & Design
Catering and Cake, Chef Freddy Pommier from Hotel Du Trinumal
Flowers, Amy Humphreys of Flowerjugs
Videography, BKT Films
Officiant, Parker Windle
Stationery and Calligraphy, Deborah Allen Art
Music, Dominique Legrix
Rentals, Options out of Paris
Bride's gown, St. Patrick
Bride's Veil, Jade Couture
Bridesmaids' dresses, David's Bridal
Groom's suit, Zara Men
Ribbon, FrouFrou Chic
Chocolate, Maxim's Chocolate