An artist and a lawyer skirted tradition and entwined two cultures to plan a wedding that was 100% them.
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Risa Puno wasn't looking for love when she went with friends to a Haiti-relief benefit at a New York City club in 2010. An installation and sculpture artist who was wearing purple tights that night, she certainly wasn't looking for a buttoned-up lawyer type. But when she went to settle her bill at the end of the night, there was "this really cute guy closing out his tab, too," Risa remembers. That was Ross Leff.
She smiled. He struck up a conversation. She showed him all the photos in her phone—a detail they both recall vividly—and then they spent the rest of the early-morning hours on the dance floor. They've been having a great time together ever since. "The thing I loved about Ross, right from the beginning, was that it felt easy," Risa says. "It was exciting, but in a fun way."
Fun was a key word for both Risa and Ross when they were planning their wedding six years later, after he proposed at home—with an engagement ring that had belonged to Risa's late grandmother—following an evening out that recreated their first official date.
"We went to quite a few weddings together in the years prior," says Ross, "so we got a sense of the things we both liked and didn't like." But aside from agreeing on dancing and having fun, the couple had fairly different ideas about how their wedding would look. "Ross compromised on a lot of the 'traditional' stuff," Risa says. "I definitely didn't want a hotel ballroom, which he probably would have picked."
She found herself charmed by a metal factory turned event space called 26 Bridge, in Brooklyn; she loved its industrial vibe, and its high ceilings gave it the grandness her groom was hoping for. Venue in place, they found planner and event designer Jove Meyer, who helped refine their style—which Risa describes as super-colorful, elegant…and nerdy. "The things I was pinning were all over the place," says Risa. "My stationery board has business cards and patent diagrams." Meyer reined her in and introduced her to vendors who were willing to work with her way-out-of-the-box ideas.
In addition to managing each other's expectations, Risa and Ross also wanted to consider their families—hers Filipino Catholic, his Jewish—by including each culture's traditions. Naturally, they approached them with an artistic twist: In lieu of the Jewish chuppah, the pair exchanged vows under a massive floral canopy. The recital of the seven blessings, another Jewish tradition, had Risa's parents each read a blessing first in Tagalog, then in English. Ross's parents read theirs first in Hebrew, then in English. (Their siblings' partners read the other three.) For the Filipino candle, cord, and veil ceremony, the couple used the veil that had been worn first by Ross's mom, Wendy, and then his sister, Brittany.
The inspiration and individual details—from geometric sculpture installations to a Taylor Swift/classical mash-up processional played by a string quartet—were eclectic to say the least, but the end result was a bold, beautiful party that overflowed with fun. (That word again!) "I'm not someone who usually pays attention to wedding details," says Ross, "but when I saw everything come together at our wedding—the way the flowers complemented her dress and the invitations—it made sense." Just like a lawyer and an artist in purple tights.
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Big Love in the Big Apple
One thing Risa and Ross knew for sure: They wanted their wedding to be colorful. When friends asked what their wedding colors were, Risa says she wanted to reply, "All of them!"
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Risa also worked with Swiss Cottage Designs to create every element of the graphic stationery suite, which offered hints of the lightheartedness to come. "I wanted to give people a heads-up that there would be elements of tradition," Risa says, "but also that it was going to be kind of a weird wedding!"
Invites were mailed to eight countries, including Germany, Mexico, and the U.K.
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Illustrations inspired by patent diagrams (a detail that reminded Risa of her childhood and her spine-surgeon dad) on the invitations' belly bands were carried over to the welcome bags.
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Risa's engagement ring had belonged to her grandmother on her mother's side. She knew it was set aside for her, and when Ross asked her dad for his blessing, he was directed to her mom for the ring. After the proposal, Risa had it appraised for an insurance policy, and the jeweler immediately recognized it as a Filipino heirloom based on the pattern around the side stones. "I loved that he could tell," she says. "There's something really special about it."
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From the Outside In
When Risa shared photos of the wedding venue with friends, they suggested adding something to the exterior of the building to make it feel more festive. A huge, loosely wrought floral installation by Putnam & Putnam over the doors did the job nicely. "I didn't want the wedding to be too fussy or too tight," says Risa. "We wanted everything to look a little 'undone.' Not SO perfect. Although I think it turned out perfect."
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Risa says her bridesmaids were confused at first by her directives on their attire: Pick your own dress. Bright, warm pinks. No baby pinks. "They were like, 'Do you care how we wear our hair? Our makeup? What about our shoes?' I didn't care!" she says. "I wanted them to be happy."
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Yellow-ribboned boutonnières went to the groomsmen (they wore them with mismatched yellow ties, pocket squares, and navy suits).
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Raise a Glass
Ahead of the ceremony, guests enjoyed Champagne along with passed snacks—homemade blinis, gougères, sashimi, and seared duck.
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I Thee Wed
A draped floral display marked the ceremony spot. The bride's mom, Regina, had urged a 9-year-old Risa to learn Pachelbel's "Canon in D" on the piano, hoping one day she would walk down the aisle to it. Young Risa's response: "No way!" And 26 years later, she still had a penchant for the nontraditional. During the ceremony and cocktail hour, a string quartet played songs by pop artists—Beyoncé, Pharrell Williams, Sam Smith. But when Risa got to the top of the aisle, the processional melded seamlessly from Taylor Swift into "Canon in D."
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In addition to listing the order of events, the programs also shared details about Risa and Ross's wedding party and the traditions-with-a-twist the guests would witness.
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Guests mingled at cocktail hour and enjoyed more pink Champagne in the same coupe glasses that had been stacked in a tower.
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Two signature cocktails were served—ginger-beer-and-bourbon Kentucky mules in copper tumblers, for the Louisville-raised bride; and Manhattans made with rye, for the groom. Illustrations of the drinks and their recipes, laser-cut from adhesive vinyl, provided a visual of the drinks on offer.
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Grab a Bite
Wooden serving trays topped with leaves—here, offering up tuna sashimi—were an extension of the trees and branches featured throughout the wedding, all a nod to Risa's last name, which means "tree" in Filipino.
"Ross and I enjoyed collaborating on the food—upscale comfort with a cultural twist," says Risa. Some favorite nibbles: mini lobster rolls (one of their summertime must-haves), mini latkes with smoked salmon (Ross's favorite) and crème fraîche, Filipino noodles (which symbolize long life), mini grilled cheeses with tomato-soup shots, Oysters delivered by roving shuckers, and a surprise roast pig at cocktail hour. "You can't have a Filipino celebration without a roast pig," Risa says.
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Ross's mom, Wendy, on the left, expected the wedding to be black-tie. "But I didn't want to get married in a sea of black!" says color-loving Risa. The couple's invitations suggested "festive summer formal" attire, and their website linked to a Pinterest board where guests could get an idea of what that meant. Both moms—that's Risa's mom, Regina, on the right—obliged.
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A Graphic Seating Chart
The hexagonal seating chart ("Hexagons are my favorite polygon!" says Risa), as well as geometric sculpture installations throughout the reception, were the work of designer Michelle Edgemont. 200 cardboard hexagons were used between the chart and a hanging geometric installation.
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Each rustic-industrial reception table was adorned with pillar candles. This centerpiece had peonies with different bright blooms; others had tall branches. Table numbers were adhered to mini water towers (a Brooklyn icon), which were built from kits and then painted by an assembly-line team that included Risa's parents.
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Risa's last name was the inspiration for the branch arrangements, as well as upside-down trees suspended from the ceiling at the reception.
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Another of the four table centerpieces featured flower-filled bell jars flanked by pillar and votive candles in simple glass holders.
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Mr. and Mrs.
Risa and Ross shared a happy moment during the reception.
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A Night to Remember
Risa had initially wanted long, farmhouse-style tables for the reception, but round tables were more space-efficient. Her planner and event designer was able to help her track down round rental tables that had serious farmhouse vibes.
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Strike a Pose
The bride and groom provided a bunch of photo-booth props, but a framed photo of Ross's law firm head shot was an unexpected favorite.
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Risa says all of her favorite moments with her groom were on the dance floor, including their first dance. "Ross is known for having two left feet," Risa says, "so all of his friends were surprised that he learned to dance."
"I was really nervous before the wedding—not about the ceremony, but about the first dance," says Ross. But the lessons the couple had taken paid off when they stepped onto the dance floor to Justin Timberlake's "Mirrors." "Midway through I realized we're doing this. It's going ok! I was someone who couldn't dance, pulling off a fairly complicated, choreographed dance."
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Location, 26 Bridge,
Event planning and design, Jove Meyer Events
Flowers, Putnam & Putnam
Décor, Michelle Edgemont
Photography for the couple, Inbal Sivan
Videography, Forged in the North
Officiant, Barbara Ann Michaels
Stationery, Swiss Cottage Designs
Cake, Nine Cakes
Lighting, Universal Light and Sound
Bride's gown and veil, Romona Keveža
Hair and makeup, SB Beauty
Groom's suit, shirt, tie, and pocket square, Monsieur Brunold
Welcome bags (printing), Pete's Print Shop
Coat rack, Eames "Hang-It-All"
Trays, Hay "Kaleido"
Valet, Elite Parking & Hospitality
Blank chipboard water towers (painted and used for table numbers), Boundless Brooklyn
Breaking glass, Mazel Tov Glass
Bride's manicure, Akiko Nails
Custom cocktail napkins, ForYourParty.com
Hexagon confetti, NikkiCrossApplesauce
Late-night doughnuts, Doughnut Plant
Mother-of-the-bride's dress, Monique Lhuillier
Photo booth, We Love Photobooths