5 Couture Dresses and Countless Instagram Likes: Gary Pepper Girl’s Dream Destination Wedding in New Zealand
When Nicole Warne (or as her 1.7 million Instagram followers know her, Gary Pepper Girl) married photographer Luke Shadbolt in Wanaka, New Zealand, it was the stuff of social media dreams. First, there was the picture-perfect setting: a vineyard with sweeping mountain and lake views. Then the wardrobe, made all the more high fashion next to the rustic landscape. Over three days of festivities, the bride wore five custom looks, each one more double tap–worthy than the last, starting with a top and pants by Australian designer Toni Maticevski for the couple’s waterfront cocktails held the night before the ceremony.
“I knew I wanted to start my wedding weekend with a really tailored look,” Warne explains. She also considered suiting, but feared it would feel too “trend driven,” and instead settled on sleek separates. With a one-shoulder neckline and an asymmetrical train, it made a strong statement both coming and going. “I finally understood what everyone meant about how special it is to wear a train during your wedding,” Warne says. “In my case, four out of five of my wedding dresses had a train, so I definitely got the memo.”
The actual wedding dress design process began six months earlier, during Fashion Week, when Warne attended the Valentino Spring 2017 show in Paris. “I was so grateful this collection was full of billowing gowns with exquisite embellishments,” she says. “It’s always a completely different experience watching the clothes move on the runway compared to touching and examining them up close.” The next day, she met with the team at Valentino to comb through the lineup and examine the details—from fabrics to silhouettes and embellishments—she might like to take down the aisle. Two weeks later, Warne was having breakfast at her hotel in Seattle when she received a package from Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli; it was her initial wedding dress sketches. “I burst into tears, and Luke was worried I’d just received some terrible news, but it was the opposite,” she recalls. “I’d just received the most beautiful sketches that, for the first time, made me feel like my wedding was actually real.” While Warne had been expecting one sketch, Piccioli had created three for good measure. A bride needs options!
With the sketches as her starting point, Warne took a dip into the Valentino archives in search of additional design details that she could potentially re-create for the big day, providing Valentino with her feedback along the way. Ultimately, two Valentino Haute Couture Fall 2017 dresses caught her attention, so Piccioli merged elements from both, rendered in fabrics and embroidery of Warne’s choosing. The end result was a one-of-a-kind gown of silk organza with full sleeves in cady crepe canvas and a cut-out at the center. “I wanted my ceremony dress to be a balance of timeless yet modern,” she says. “I’ve always gravitated to long sleeves—they’re so chic and sophisticated—and the cut-out detail gave the dress a new and unexpected twist.”
Just as eye-catching were the intricate embellishments and embroidery, which took 20 people some four weeks to create. While the flowers and leaves were made from tulle stitched with silver thread, the hand-pleated organza petals were finished with a mix of transparent and iridescent sequins, crystals, and glass stones. Some 936 man hours later, Warne’s dream dress would be complete. But not until after her first fitting with the designer at the Valentino atelier in Rome. “I had no idea what to expect and walked into their showroom to find two paper versions of my wedding dress waiting for me, along with six variations of embroidery and embellishments hanging on a wall behind them,” she remembers. “I wasn’t expecting there to be options at the fitting, so I felt like I’d just walked into a dream.” At the recommendation of the designer, Warne finished the look with a cathedral-length veil. “I never planned on wearing a veil, as I thought it was too bridal for me,” she says. “But as soon as I saw Pierpaolo’s first sketch, I started to visualize myself wearing it and couldn’t get it out of my mind.” According to the bride, the traditional accoutrement made all the difference: “I quickly went from 0 to 100, and I’m so grateful that I committed to it.”
For the reception, Warne changed into a strapless stunner by Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia of Oscar de la Renta. Like the Valentino, it was also the culmination of a considered design process. Warne began by fashioning a mood board with her favorite dresses from Kim and Garcia’s past collections, including the one Brie Larson wore to the 2017 Academy Awards. “Laura and Fernando sent the actual dress Brie wore to me in Australia to try on for reference,” she says. “We tried to think of ways to make it different, but we realized it was beautiful as is.” The designers re-created Larson’s Oscars dress in white velvet for the win. “I couldn’t dance in [it],” Warne admits. “It was perfect to create a dramatic moment when everyone was having dinner.”
Once the plates were cleared, Warne slipped into a white satin party dress by another Australian design favorite, Dion Lee. “Dion is one of my go-tos for nearly every occasion in my life,” Warne says. “I fell in love with this dress when I first saw it years ago, and asked Dion not to change a thing.” Lee re-created the dress in ivory, but kept the rest the same—asymmetric neck and cut-out detail included. “It allowed me to move and was the perfect dress to dance the night away,” the bride explains.
Come morning, Warne changed into her fifth and final look for the couple’s post-wedding recovery brunch. “The theme was Hamptons chic,” says Warne, “so everyone was in lights and brights.” For this, the bride enlisted her fashion and jewelry designer pals Michael Lo Sordo and Ryan Storer, respectively, to create a silk faille dress accented with Swarovski crystals that were just subtle enough for day. “It was a true fusion of love,” she says. “It was special to have them both there with me to celebrate—especially as they would come over every morning to help me get ready.” After all, behind every modern bride is a team of experts that not only make her Insta-ready, but define a day that lasts a lifetime.