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Alyssa Riley admits that she led EJ Solimine on for a bit after meeting him at a dinner in Miami. “We instantly connected and chatted,” she tells BAZAAR Bride of the night they met. But they lived in different cities and had contrasting opinions about what they wanted in a relationship. “We eventually fell in love a year or so later when I moved to New York City. The day I landed, EJ picked me up from the airport, and we had the boyfriend-girlfriend chat. We’ve been together ever since.”
Alyssa, a model who has walked for Armani Privé in Paris, graced the cover of L’Officiel Australia, and, most recently, appeared in the holiday campaign for Harry Winston; and EJ, who worked for his family’s construction business before creating and selling a manufacturing company, rooted their relationship on being mutually family oriented, passionate, adventurous, and outdoorsy.
The latter came into play five years into their relationship when EJ proposed. They were enjoying the end of 2019 in their favorite place in the world: Montana, where EJ’s parents own a home. On every trip to the Northwest, the couple would take their dog, Beau, for morning walks on the path behind the house that leads to striking mountain views. One winter morning, they bundled up and headed out; upon reaching their destination, Alyssa turned to find EJ down on one knee with a ring in his hand. He had been carrying it with him the entire trip, waiting for the perfect opportunity. “Truth is, our relationship has always been so easy and natural—that moment in our pajamas with our dog just felt right,” EJ says.
“It was snowing and beautiful out, it felt like a dream,” Alyssa adds. EJ proposed with an old mine, cushion-cut, five-carat diamond with a ruby inlaid on the inside of the band to signify lasting love and passion.
When it was time to start planning the wedding just a few weeks later, the couple knew who their first call would be: JZ Events. “Jennifer [Zabinski] has done all of the Solimine weddings (three before ours!),” Alyssa says of one of BAZAAR Bride’s Top Planners in the World. “Their attention to detail is impeccable, and Jennifer feels like family at this point—it was a no-brainer for us!”
Though it was clear who would help them plan and design, it was less so when it came to where and how the wedding would come together, given that Alyssa and EJ were hoping to get married in 2020. “We had to navigate through COVID and make a lot of changes. We knew we wanted a Gatsby/French vibe and originally pictured [a wedding] in New York City,” says the bride. “Due to the pandemic, we decided to change things up and use our home in New Jersey as the venue.”
They set the date for mid-October and planned a wedding weekend that would not only be beyond what they’d imagined initially, but as safe as possible for them, their guests, and everyone working to make it happen. JZ Events guided the couple through it all, taking as many precautionary measures as possible. The guest list was kept intentionally small, and under the local limit for legal gatherings in the state. The production schedule was stretched out over a longer period of time than a typical wedding setup, so the number of people on-site at any given time was kept to a minimum. The celebrations took place outside or in open-sided tents, all vendors wore masks, and emails were sent to all guests (who confirmed receipt) with quarantine and safety guidelines for the days leading up to the wedding and the weekend itself. COVID testing was a requirement; JZ Events worked with Mobile Health to set up testing sites where everyone (vendors included) received rapid tests or showed negative results from tests they’d taken elsewhere within 48 hours of the start of the first event they’d be attending.
With all that said and done, the festivities kicked off with a “Western chic” rehearsal dinner hosted by EJ’s parents at their home—a way to honor the bride and groom’s love for Montana and the great outdoors.
To play up the theme, there were large firepit caldrons surrounding the event tent, a topiary in the shape of a stag, and decor that incorporated wildflowers, shed antlers, birchwood, pheasant feathers, and plaid textiles. It was a night of food and games, and a celebration of being together safely after months of lockdown. Agustin Mallmann created an Argentine roast dinner cooked over an open flame that included traditional meats, fish, vegetables, and all the fixings. Guests enjoyed lawn games—like cornhole on a set customized with the couple’s crest—before digging into a night of music, toasts, and delicious bites.
Several toasts were given, and the Dave Higgins Band played country music. “Our families really rose to the occasion,” EJ says of their speeches. “They managed to perfectly combine emotion and comedic relief.”
Allan Zepeda was behind the camera, documenting it all, as well as the wedding day that followed. “We met Allan for coffee at Soho House during the early stages of planning and instantly hit it off. I love his style and ability to catch beautiful candid images,” Alyssa says.
The next day, it was all about a French garden vibe—peppered with Roaring ’20s style. “I have been modeling wedding dresses since I was 15, so I really had a hard time narrowing down a style, because I loved so many different gowns that I had worn in the past,” Alyssa explains. “I fell in love with a long-sleeved, open-back, high-neck style, but I tried on everything to be sure,” she says of visiting a few boutiques before eventually trying on the embellished Eisen Stein Finch gown at Mark Ingram Atelier and knowing that she’d found her dress.
Alyssa added a few accessories and style additions with meaning: Buttons from her mom’s wedding dress were sewn onto the back of her gown as the “something old,” Christian Louboutin shoes were her “something new,” vintage diamond earrings from her future mother-in-law became her “something borrowed,” and she had EJ’s name embroidered onto her shoes in a soft shade of blue.
Johnny Rackleff styled Alyssa’s hair into a low updo with soft waves framing her face, tucking Jennifer Behr pearl hairpins around the base of her veil, also purchased at Mark Ingram. Alyssa had worked with makeup artist Daniela Gozlan previously; the two decided on natural, glowing skin and added a thick lash line, which transitioned to a smokier look for the after-party.
The maid of honor, mother of the bride, and bridesmaids slipped into an assortment of dresses in shimmering shades of pinks and golds by Temperley London, Rachel Zoe, Naeem Khan, Alexandre Vauthier, Dundas, and Sabina Musáyev.
EJ chose a slick Tom Ford shawl-collar tuxedo in a dark gray paired with a black silk bow tie. “I have so many blue or black tuxes that I have accumulated over the years, so I wanted to wear something different for my wedding,” he says of the less traditional color choice.
The other men in the wedding party wore black suits and tuxedos, but it was the youngest attendants who stole the show. The couple’s seven nephews served as ring bearers and wore silk outfits, inspired by the wedding of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince William. Alyssa loved the proper English style of the royal page boys so much that she ordered her ring bearers’ looks from Sue Hill in England.
Before the main event, guests gathered by the pool for pre-ceremony beverages, including a duo of signature cocktails: a Sunset Spritz (Aperol, prosecco, and basil) and an Autumn Old-Fashioned (bourbon, Applejack, and seasonal spices). As the golden hour set in, everyone was ushered to take their seats for the ceremony.
Lewis Miller Design transformed the backyard fountain for the couple's vow exchange. A platform was built over the center of it, with floral arrangements placed along the perimeter. Coral Charm peonies and white roses and rose petals floated within it. Guests took in the ceremony from all angles, as chairs were arranged in the round. The wedding party’s processional began through a floral archway under the terrace, and Alyssa made her debut by descending a stunningly decorated stone staircase.
The festivities kicked off with a cocktail hour in and around one of the two tents erected for the reception. “We wanted to create an intimate experience for our guests, because we were at home,” Alyssa explains. “We had a lot of French and contemporary furniture and lighting that spoke to the decor in our home.” Guests (including Devon Windsor and Johnny Barbara, Shea Marie, Brent Saunders, Daphne Groeneveld, and Justin Hopwood) enjoyed a charcuterie and salumi station, artisanal cheeses, and caviar prepared by Olivier Cheng Catering and Events.
Having a seamless event flow and movement throughout the evening was important to the bride and groom. Masked entertainers guided everyone from one area to the next to keep the mood lively. Wanting a celebration with unexpected elements—and keeping in mind that not everyone would feel comfortable dancing—the supper clubs of yesteryear guided much of the design and timing of the reception. Guests enjoyed more of a dinner and show from their seats, rather than immediately being ushered onto a spacious dance floor.
Upon arriving at the dinner tent, guests were greeted by hostesses dressed in Roaring ’20s attire who checked them in for a “night at the club.” Inside, texture was key in the event design; velvets and silks and a variety of metallic finishes were layered over one another on the tablescape. The ceremony’s blush-and-white color palette continued, with the addition of deeper berry, fig, and eggplant tones—a touch of inspiration coming from the fall 2019 Ralph Lauren runway show. Baccarat candleholders on each table and a group of crystal light fixtures installed by Luminous Designs reflected a warm glow, all balanced beautifully by arrangements of flowers, greenery, and vessels of fruit. Emerald-toned velvet menu booklets with gold tassels by Alpine Creative Group boasted the couple’s monogram, which also adorned the cocktail napkins.
The meal was a three-course feast prepared by Carbone, Alyssa and EJ’s favorite restaurant in the city. Dinner began with a house chopped salad, continued with a primi of spicy rigatoni vodka, and progressed with a choice of three secondi options: a pork chop and peppers, Dover sole meunière, or a New York strip steak served with grilled asparagus and potatoes Louie. The entertainment was just as much a part of dinner, with jazz ensemble Carte Blanche performing throughout the evening.
“We’re both old souls,” explains EJ. “As much as we like to go out, our favorite times are spent by the fire hanging out with our friends. We wanted an extension of that at our wedding.” The newlyweds switched it up for their first dance song. “EJ and I love country music, so we had to throw in a little,” Alyssa says of choosing Sturgill Simpson’s “All Around You.”
Behind the scenes, the cocktail hour tent was transformed during dinner into a lounge for the after-party, complete with outdoor cigar and tequila bars for the groom. Blankets were at the ready for anyone needing a bit of extra coziness on the late autumn night.
Dessert kept with the French influence of the celebration—Marie Antoinette in particular. In addition to towers of macarons and platters of éclairs, pots de crème, petits fours, cream puffs, and a bevy of other confections by Olivier Cheng, a gelato cart from another New York City staple, L’Arte del Gelato, was on hand. For those needing a boost, an old-fashioned espresso bar was set up, and late-night pizza and other snacks were served.
The pièce de résistance, a four-tier creation by Nine Cakes, was a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting—its exterior covered in dramatic, sugary ruffles.
For the reception, EJ swapped his tux jacket for a burgundy velvet dinner jacket also by Tom Ford, ditched his neckwear, and unbuttoned his collar at the start of dinner. Before the after-party, Alyssa slipped on a short, embellished Monique Lhuillier dress and crystal-heeled Sophia Webster shoes in shades of silver, accessorized with earrings made by her sister-in-law (who helms the jewelry line DMA Creatives) that spelled out her new name: “Mrs. Solimine.”
Cabaret dancers performed before DJ Chris Stiles spun a mix of current music and old-school favorites. Informal parent dances were folded in, and Alyssa and her dad even sported customized Nikes for their emotional turn on the dance floor. “Growing up, I loved Father of the Bride, so when I got engaged, my dad said he wanted to get me sneakers to walk down the aisle, like in the movie. He did his own twist and did Air Force 1s, customizing the laces with bride and father of the bride,” Alyssa says of their complementary footwear.
After a year of coordinating a wedding in the midst of a trying and uncertain time, “the whole thing was like a fairy tale,” reflects the bride. “I loved and will always cherish walking down the aisle with my mom and dad, looking not only at my future husband, but our families (including my 93-year-old great-grandmother) and close friends all [finally] together in the same place. We both felt so loved and supported by everyone. It was really a special feeling and a beautiful day.”
EJ couldn’t agree more, adding, “To be surrounded by so much love and support by our families and friends during such a tough year was pretty spectacular.”
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