Welcome to our new series, The Real Wedding Diaries, brought to you by Hera Couture where we profile real Kiwi brides and real weddings!
There used to be a rulebook for weddings – an event venue, three-course-meal, awkward family speeches and an uncle who really shouldn’t have graced the dance floor with his presence.
And while uncles will be uncles, more and more couples are throwing out the rulebook and are embracing the ‘my day, my way’ ethos – and that way of thinking also extends to a bride’s choices of gown for her special day.
In partnership with Hera, Capsule will be profiling real Kiwi brides and real weddings, who decided to go their own way for their big days – and of course, how they decided on their dream dress!
This month, we speak to Auckland bride Rachel-Anne Hills who was keen to throw the traditional ceremony out the window and instead focus on what really mattered to her and husband Brogan. A big ol’ party!
Rachel-Anne and Brogan Hills, February 19 2022, Chapel in the Trees, Clevedon, Auckland
Dress: Hera Couture
Photography: Ivelina Velkova Photography
Rachel, when planning your wedding, did you have a clear idea what you did and didn’t want?
If I had my way, we probably would have just eloped to Vegas [laughs], thank you global pandemic. But after settling on a ceremony in New Zealand, our number-one priority was that we didn’t want to be tricked into not getting to celebrate it ourselves. You find that with the traditional ways the bride and groom have quite a few commitments and expectations throughout the day. You have the photos in between and the sit-down dinner… you don’t actually get to celebrate it with the people you love.
So we decided to do things a little differently, and had our ceremony in a forest, with the reception under a big marquee in an adjoining paddock with lots of food, good drinks and an awesome band. Our hope was that our wedding reception was more of a party vibe while still catering to everyone (like the oldies) so we had designated spaces – a party/ dance area, a formal sit-down and eating area, a photo booth area, the drinking area with bar leaners, and the chill-out zone with lawn games, couches and bean bags. We wanted people to be able to mix and mingle all night how they pleased – but you’d never find me far from that dance floor!
What were some of the differences?
We wanted to minimise our time being centre of attention and maximise the amount of time we got to spend with our nearest and dearest.
We didn’t have a sit-down dinner – instead we had couches and bar leaners arranged in little areas under the marquee, and a food truck that kept pumping out little meals like wagyu beef sliders, pork belly hawker rolls and fish & chips. I guess we wanted it to feel more like a mini festival, and with fancy dining, when do you ever get enough food anyway?!
But the biggest difference, and the one that surprised people the most, was that we didn’t have any speeches. Both Brogan and I HATE being the centre of attention and standing up in front of people to say our vows was more than enough for us. So, we actually used our vows as kind of like our speech for the night, and it was perfect. Some of our family and friends were a bit bemused by that, but it was totally us and it worked really well on the day because it meant the party went on uninterrupted!
We also did a first look and got the photos over and done with before the ceremony because we’re both very practical people, and I was actually surprised with how it didn’t affect the ‘aisle moment’ at all. Brogan cried when he saw me at the first look and still cried when I was walking down the aisle, so all good! I found a first look also kept the moment intimate and we could really soak in the moment that we were about to become husband and wife. It removed the pressure from the aisle – while the idea of being centre of attention still killed me I felt so much more at ease.
Did you change/ditch/or alter any of your plans during your planning, and why?
It’s extremely easy to get carried away in the details when planning your wedding and a small idea turns into a big idea. Instagram can be a dangerous place for someone planning a wedding. My vision board grew by the day! Also, the reality of a budget and sticking to it – but hey, I’m a millennial, what’s a little more debt, right?
My idea of wedding florals changed drastically. I loved the idea of big floral pillars behind us during the ceremony and a floral chandelier hanging from the marquee. But both of those were scrapped. Especially as we weren’t having a sit-down dinner/ much time in the marquee itself, it seemed unnecessary to have extravagant decorations there.
We had planned to do a post wedding lunch event, but during planning we re-evaluated: was it necessary, or just expected of us? We altered it to be just family and the wedding party during planning before cutting it out completely. I think this is great for destination weddings but just seemed like another wedding expectation that we didn’t understand the point of.
We also originally planned to do a proper first dance and then break into a father-daughter dance. This idea was literally scrapped at the start of the reception. Our daughter Lola was pooped and had gone home to bed with her babysitter (unlike us, she loves to be centre of attention) and Brogan and I were too in the party zone to want to stop for a first dance. When the band played our song we impromptu did one anyway for about 30 seconds before forcing everyone back onto the dancefloor with us.
Do you regret any of your decisions?
I was told often by family and friends that I may regret not having speeches. At times I also thought I may later come to regret it, especially after attending a close friend’s wedding a month after mine who had done it traditionally including speeches. I loved listening to the speeches and seeing their relationship form another angle and the thought of regret popped in my mind, but only briefly. I realised I loved it as a guest but I would die of embarrassment if I were in her position.
The planning of a non-traditional wedding was also harder than originally anticipated. I love to plan and in another life I’d be a wedding planner and I love real weddings! But there are so many moving parts at a DIY venue and the fear of forgetting something is constant. During our planning we started looking at all-inclusive wedding venues before deciding on a DIY. It was stressful playing bride and event organiser and at times I wished we had gone with a traditional venue, but we were both thankful on the day we stuck to our guns.
So no, I regret nothing.
There can be a lot of, er, expectation when it comes to real weddings – did you have any anxiety about people’s reactions to some of the less traditional elements of your day?
Oh yeah. I had the fear that our guests wouldn’t like it, because I knew it was kind of out of the box. But then I had so many say it was one of the best weddings they’d been to.
Do you have any tips for brides looking at shaking things up and chucking the rule book out of the window?
Stand your ground. You might get a little well-meaning pressure from your family, but only you and your partner know what you need for your big day.
Whatever you THINK your budget is – double it. Then you won’t be crying when you look at your bank account.
And also have a list of priorities – whether that’s food, music, drink or whatever – and stick to that order. You don’t need a lot of fluff to have an incredible wedding, so my advice would be to spend money on what’s important to you, rather than stressing about elaborate floral table centrepieces no one will remember. They WILL remember the food though!
And I’d also say that if you’re into a mix of traditional elements with a non-traditional approach, don’t be afraid to do the same thing when you’re looking for your dress.
Ah yes, the dress! Tell us about that gown because girl, you looked FABULOUS.
Well, being a typical millennial I was already following Hera on Instagram, and I’d already saved a few styles I liked, and one of them was the gorgeous off-the-shoulder ballgown style because hell, you only get to wear a dress like that once in your life! But then I also tried on a really form-fitting gown, which I didn’t think I’d like at all, but as soon as it was on I loved it, and I loved how my body looked in it, even being 4 months post-partum. I kind of thought, I’m going to look back on these photos one day and really regret not showing my body off when I had it!
Absolutely! But what do you do when you’re in love with two VERY different dresses?
I was tossing up between them, and the lovely lady at Hera told me I could get a custom dress and combine them – the top half of the ballgown, and the fitted bottom of the second dress with a gorgeous slit. I was so lucky I could do that, and that would actually be another tip – if you’re torn between a few different elements, a bespoke dress is the answer to your prayers.
What was the process of a bespoke dress?
I went back to Hera and put on both of the dresses I was tossing up between and explained exactly which aspects I loved of each of them. The top sweetheart, off the shoulder top, and the fitted bottom that hugged my butt. I had (still have) very limited knowledge of dresses/ fashion so couldn’t give them much to go off and somehow Katie knew exactly what I was saying. The dress was made to my measurements and at each fitting we would make slight adjustments to get it looking exactly how I had pictured in my head while also practical (e.g. the slit in the leg so I could still walk in form-fitting Mikado satin). Off the shoulder ball gowns are very in this season and now I get to be different with a one-of-a-kind dress made by Katie! I feel very honoured.
From the designer, Katie Yeung:
Rachel Anne’s custom gown was created in our luxurious silk drill satin, aka Mikado, with an off-shoulder corseted bodice, a fitted ruched skirt silhouette with an overlap tailored high, daring split. Pearl buttons run down from mid-back to her sweep train, and it fitted her curves like a glove with plenty of freedom of movement to fit her personality and her gorgeous body shape.
What was your favourite part about the dress?
The off-the-shoulder sleeves, and because of how brilliantly they were designed, they could be tucked back so the dress turned into a strapless gown, and I was able have full movement of my arms and dance and do whatever during the reception. I had so many people ask if it was a second dress, so I really loved how much of an impact that had! I think the key thing is when you’re looking for your wedding dress, you need to think about what you’ll be doing in it – and I knew my day was going to be a party. BUT, I also needed to be able to breastfeed in it and it was easy to kind of shimmy out of.
It really was the dress of my dreams!
Furniture Hire: LL Hire; Hair: Hare & Hunter; Make Up: Grayson Coutts; Florals: Jardin Bell; Food Truck: Roam Food; Drinks Caravan: Ruby Tuesday; Photobooth: Hotshots
Love real weddings? Stay tuned for our next instalment!