“The Age of Innocence on Acid” Was the Design Directive For This Wedding at the National Arts Club
Michael Grynbaum, a national correspondent at The New York Times who covers media and politics, first fell in love with Juli Weiner through her writing. “I was a devoted reader of Wonkette, the political satire blog, and admired Juli’s laugh-out-loud posts,” Mike says. Juli now works as a writer on the show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. “I discovered she lived a few blocks away, after some intelligence gathering via mutual friends, and reached out via Twitter and Facebook.” Their first date was at Nussbaum & Wu, the black-and-white cookie emporium in Morningside Heights.
“We met when I was 20, which is how I’ll preface the fact that we dated for eight years before actually getting engaged,” Juli says. “I knew I wanted to keep dating him forever, but I also knew I didn’t feel ready to be married at 25.”
Eventually, though, they started visiting what, at the time, felt like every jewelry store in the city, looking for an engagement ring. They even hit some in Connecticut. Finally, at Fred Leighton, they found the ring: an Art Deco piece from the 1920s with diamond, onyx, and emerald, Juli’s birthstone. “I had never been so excited to stop jewelry shopping!” Juli says. “After I told Mike we could call off the search, we went down the street to the Carlyle to celebrate at Bemelmans, our favorite bar in our favorite city—Manhattan—for a round of our favorite cocktails—Manhattans.”
A few weeks later, Mike suggested they go back to Bemelmans. When he showed up with a tote bag, Juli suspected something might be up. He then escorted her to a table that had been reserved, which Bemelmans never does. At that point, she knew something big was about to happen. “This unleashed a wave of panic: not about what I’d say if he proposed, but whether anyone in the bar would notice him proposing,” she says. “My allergy to big, showy gestures is so severe that I probably would have gone into emotional anaphylactic shock had he gotten down on one knee.”
Instead, not only did both knees remain above ground, but Mike actually slipped the ring to Juli under the table. “He was like a mobster handing a politician an envelope of cash,” Juli jokes. “It was absolutely perfect. And while the ring itself was, of course, the one we had picked out, the packaging it came in was a surprise.” Unbeknownst to Juli, Mike had commissioned one of their favorite sculptors Doug Johnston to create a custom vide poche—molded after a piece he got for her when they first started dating—and hidden the ring box inside.
Afterward, they went downtown to Le Coucou for dinner. “We actually waited a few days before telling our parents and friends,” Juli admits. “We felt so happy having this little secret.”
Once the cat was out of the bag, Juli and Mike hit the ground running and began to plan. From day one, they knew they would marry in New York City. “It’s where we met; it’s where we live and work; it’s where most of the people closest to us live. There was never any question we’d get married in the city,” Juli says. “I didn’t want a wedding factory—that is, an event space with six weddings a month that exists almost entirely for that purpose. It was going to be an evening of such happiness and significance, so it was important to us that it be a place we’d be able to revisit in more casual circumstances.”
The National Arts Club was Mike’s idea, and Juli immediately got on board. “We had been there for drinks before with a member, one of our best friends Audrey Gelman, and had loved its history, its dusty glamour, its rumpled charms—essentially, its whole Miss Havisham’s library vibe.”
Juli wanted their wedding to feel like a dinner party, because that’s the essence of a wedding, she thought. “The bride and groom aren’t the guests—we’re the hosts!” she explains. “I really tried to think of everything from the perspective of our friends and family. For instance: Would people enjoy listening to a string quartet play unidentified orchestral music as they filed in, or might they want to hear the same Talking Heads, Steely Dan, and Rolling Stones they’d put on in their own homes? Cue the classic rock!”
The goal was for everything to feel witty, layered, and carefully considered—nothing too stuffy or self-serious. The first order of business was creating invitations. “Last year, we stayed at the Ritz Paris and were agog at the gorgeous, whimsical watercolor illustrations on the hotel’s website,” Juli says. “So I contacted the artist, the brilliant Caitlin McGauley, and—not knowing if she’d even consider doing a wedding invitation—introduced myself and gave it a shot. We were so thrilled and so honored that she was game. She designed our invitation suite, website, and save-the-dates, which took the form of matchbooks featuring Caitlin’s lovely illustrations of the National Arts Club.”
Juli’s friend, Vogue.com contributing editor Chloe Malle, recommended event planner Rebecca Gardner. “I already followed Rebecca’s dreamy work on Instagram and long admired her for striking the exact right balance between gorgeous and twisted, a favorite word of Rebecca’s and now mine,” Juli says. “Chloe suspected our senses of humor and aesthetics would align, and she couldn’t have been a better matchmaker. Rebecca is a flat-out genius and an organizational mastermind. Both sides of her brain are firing on all cylinders at all times. She had brilliant solutions to problems I didn’t even know existed, and she was endlessly available to solve the ones I brought to her attention. And she is, simply put, one of the most creative and talented people I have ever met.”
Very early on, Rebecca characterized Juli and Mike’s wedding look as “The Age of Innocence on acid.” “For the second time in my life, I knew I had found the one,” Juli laughs.
Zeroing in on the dress was a bit more complicated, however. “I wanted something dreamy, but so often ‘dreamy’ wedding dresses end up erring on the side of ‘Coachella weekend two,’” Juli deadpans. “My goal was more Marie Antoinette petting a lamb in an overgrown garden at Petit Trianon—or, more accurately, that scene in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette where Kirsten Dunst is petting a lamb in an overgrown garden at Petit Trianon. But black tie.”
To sum it up in a collection, it was Rodarte Spring 2018, which in Juli’s words was “a dazzling, dreamy fireworks display of femininity and romance, bursts of baby’s breath exploding into a backdrop of chiffon and leather.” She became obsessed with hunting down her favorite dress from that collection: a pale pink polka-dotted tiered tulle gown with a beaded floral detail at the waist—a dress that, it just so happens, Kirsten Dunst wore to last year’s Venice Film Festival.
Juli tried on other dresses, but in the back of her mind, she always held out hope that she’d somehow be able to track down the Rodarte dress of her dreams. “Understandably as the wedding quickly approached, this made my mother increasingly nervous,” Juli reveals.
Lo and behold, on Christmas morning, she was scrolling through Moda Operandi when she noticed something that hadn’t been there the night before. “It happened to be in my size. It was nonrefundable. I had never even tried it on. But I ordered it. It was a Christmas online-shopping miracle,” Julie jokes. “Watching the Moda Operandi van pull up to my apartment the next day was like watching Santa’s sleigh parallel park. Another stroke of good luck: The dress fit perfectly!”
As a nod to the Rodarte styling, the bride wore baby’s breath hoops from 14 / Quatorze and worked with hairstylist Britt White to incorporate baby’s breath in her hair. “The phenomenally talented Joseph Carrillo made me look like a Facetuned version of myself,” Juli says. “Completely obscuring all traces of the boozy fun I had at our rehearsal dinner at the Waverly Inn the night before.”
Shoes, however, were an issue. Three weeks before the wedding, Juli broke her toe by walking into a pipe in her house. As a result, she was in a surgical boot right up until the rehearsal dinner. The next day, her toe was still too tender for the pink, glittery Jimmy Choo heels she had planned to wear at the wedding. “I couldn’t even get my foot into the shoe without writhing pain,” she says. “Thoughtfully, my mother suspected this might be the case, and a few days before the wedding found an ideal backup: Manolo Blahnik flats with ample space for injured toes.”
Instead of having a religious ceremony, Juli and Mike were married by their best friends, Steven Chaiken and Simon Vozick-Levinson. They asked each of their fathers to give a toast before they said their own vows. “Of all the many things people told us they loved about our wedding, our ceremony and the inclusion of toasts was by far the one we heard most frequently,” Juli notes. “My father was so nervous about his speech, which was brilliant, heartfelt, and hilarious. In fact, he ended up getting the biggest laugh-line of the night when he joked that as a surgeon, his audience is usually comatose. As I suspected, he is much better at writing comedy than I am at performing surgery.”
“My father Joe gave a moving tribute to my late grandparents, Holocaust survivors whose courage and strength inspire me every day,” Mike adds. “I was overjoyed to have my dad and my mother, Patty, standing by my side for the occasion.”
As professional writers, Juli and Mike knew they wanted to pen their own vows—and just like the best deadline-motivated journalists, they both wrote them the day before. “My vows were about how Juli has made my life better and fuller than I imagined it could be,” Mike remembers. “And also about how Juli is a lot like Pajama, our cat: precocious, stubborn, constantly falling asleep, and having extremely high standards for everyone around her—in the best possible way! I also quoted a Jane Austen line that perfectly captures Juli: ‘She had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous.’”
After a quick trip upstairs to sign their marriage certificate with their wedding party, the newlyweds met guests downstairs for cocktails and dinner. “Rebecca Gardner’s tablescapes are, rightly, the stuff of legend,” Juli says. “From the Mottahedeh tobacco-leaf chargers to the vintage bohemian glassware to the guavas and kumquats interspersed among the flowers, everything was wild and unexpected and ravishing. It was the perfect balance to the National Arts Club’s gilded, slightly batty neo-Victorian vibe.”
Post-dinner, the bride changed into the Paco Rabanne dress and Aquazzura flats for the cake-cutting and dancing. DJ Riki Bryan got the very specific vibe Juli and Mike had requested, which was “weeknight at Lit in 2005 meets Last Days of Disco.” This meant lots of The Strokes, Tom Petty, Brenton Wood, Pulp (their old favorites), and new favorites courtesy of Riki (Cosmic Rays, Bill Wyman, Marvin Gaye).
When the party wrapped, a dozen of the couple’s closest friends walked down Gramercy Park South to L’Express, the 24-hour French bistro around the corner, where they ordered champagne, cocktails, and plates of steak frites with lots of extra frites. “We had spent so much time hopping from table to table, so it was really fun to catch up on party gossip and hear about everyone’s impressions of the evening,” Juli says.
“The perfect Manhattan night ends at the Carlyle, and we’re so grateful to Jennifer Cooke for arranging a beautiful midcentury suite for us to crash,” Mike adds. “When we woke in the morning—ok, the early afternoon—we had champagne on the balcony overlooking Central Park. Then Juli, who had only packed her wedding outfit, put on a bathrobe for our coffee and Duane Reade run. That evening we stayed in, eating room service, and watching Shark Tank. Flawless.”