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Luke’s proposal was a complete surprise to me; we were in Thailand for our best friend’s wedding after-party. Everyone knew what was coming except me; in fact Luke was acting so strangely that I thought our relationship was on the rocks! After being extremely weird for weeks before our holiday (especially during my stint as a bridesmaid the week prior) he took everyone out on a day tour touring the islands by boat. Each time we hopped back on board the boat I wondered why everyone seemed so eager to hear of our adventures on each island; it was nearly the end of the day and the last stop before Luke finally found the perfect place – a secluded inlet with not a tourist in sight (or the prying eyes of our closest friends!)

There was a swing hanging from a palm tree (swings seem to have held significance during our relationship) but still I didn’t catch on. I was excited about the prospect of a swing. He got down on his knees and fumbled around for a few seconds and as he stood up he started a deep and meaningful conversation, whilst pulling out a bizarre little yellow box wrapped like a mini present.

I however was wondering what he was doing and why he was not behind me giving me a big push on this swing I was sitting on so patiently. He asked me if “I would do him the honour of becoming his wife” and with total ‘shock face’ I said … nothing at first! Of course I said yes soon after – it was one of the most exciting and surreal moments of my life! We gathered up our jitters and wandered around the corner to a bunch of friendly eager faces all wondering if it had finally happened. It was so romantic!

Our engagement was a ‘quick’ two years; we had decided we wanted to have as long as possible to plan, especially with me working with brides and deadlines every day in my own business. We were very grateful we hadn’t rushed the planning process as I fell very ill eight months before the wedding. ‘Bell’s Palsy’ paralysed half my face and I was sick for a very long time. My recovery was lengthy, I had to learn how to blink, eat, smell, talk and smile again. One of the main problems I could foresee was not being able to smile on my wedding day. I wasn’t so keen to postpone the wedding and my determination got me through the hardest and most exciting time of my life.

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My Dad’s beautiful four acre property in Woodend was so inspiring for our wedding venue – it has long been known for its beautiful gardens many years before my family bought it. Soon after deciding we would have it at Dad’s we realised there was no where flat enough for the Tipis so Dad decided to bulldoze the land (16×8 metres!) Luke and I sewed the grass-seeds, we all helped a family ‘landscaper’ friend with the landscaping, tidied up the gardens, pruned trees and built fences. It really brought my family a lot closer together and enabled the two families to get to know each other throughout the year whilst working on the land.

I’ve always been inspired by Morocco; the colours, the fabrics, the patterns and textures. Ishka Handcrafts has always been one of my favourite places to shop for their jewellery, clothing, and homewares. I was never happy to settle for a traditional marquee but wasn’t sure of the options. Once we found the Tipis, the whole Gypsy/Moroccan theme was a ‘no brainer’ and it all started to come together. It was important to have something I’d never done before as a floral/event stylist. This is what I love doing for a living and mine had to be standout and not feel like work at all.

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For my dress, I was after something so different from anything that I had seen before. I had a particular style I was after – something Spanish, gypsy, bohemian and vintage. My inspiration was wedding dress designer Yolan Cris from Barcelona.  I had fallen in love with some pictures I found on Pinterest and started to search for something similar in Melbourne. After attending ‘One Fine Day’ bridal fair, I found a boutique who sold a similar dress but it was more expensive than I had hoped so that is when Mum and I decided that she would make my wedding dress – it was an amazing journey of sketching pictures, testing materials and trialing ideas; we enjoyed the process together so much!

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There was so much more DIY too – from the bridesmaids’ earrings and capes to the aisle doors, the bouquets, invitations and cake topper. We also made the grazing tables from huge planks of timber we found on Dad’s property whilst our handmade table runners and cloths included an eclectic mix of patterns and colours to enhance the Moroccan feel.

Considering I have designed the flowers for over 600 weddings, my own flowers had to be something unique! I wanted only my two favourite varieties but in abundance – hanging Amaranthus and Dahlias. I chose a rich colour palette and varied textures for a vibrant, luscious look. Lucky for me the blooms were handpicked by Dakota Flowers; a good friend, wedding guest and flower supplier, she found some incredible and rare colours.

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I wanted the flowers to speak for themselves so the 18 metre aisle was lined on each side with two rows of “shipping” rope with mini brown bottles dotted down the length; each little bottle had it’s own giant Dahlia bloom. Matching blooms sat atop our signing table – a gorgeous marble-topped old school Singer sewing machine table.  We used the same flowers for the large white aisle doors but added green Amaranthus to cascade over each corner.

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My favourite moment of the day was my journey and experience walking down the aisle; my bridesmaids had walked through the doors and down the aisle to ‘We Are Family” by Sister Sledge whilst being accompanied by an African drummer from group, Wala Is Life. Our two ushers then closed the doors and my song started –  “Something’s Got A Hold On Me” by Etta James. My aisle song and the African drummer was a complete secret from everyone including Luke until the moment. I waited whilst the introduction played out and when the beautiful gospel lyrics started I walked through the door with my Mum and Dad on each side of me (unique for me as they had not spoken in nearly 20 years until the wedding.)

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It had been horrible weather the day before and morning of wedding; we didn’t have a backup plan and everything was set up outside with fingers crossed! As soon as I walked through those doors the clouds cleared and the sun shone so brightly it lit up my dress so ethereally that it felt like magic. All of our 150 guests all gathered close to the aisle and started singing to the lyrics and dancing around with massive smiles on their faces. I too began to bop and sing down the aisle and laughing! I looked even further to see my groom trying to keep it together wearing an outfit he too had kept secret from me! With our bridal party and guests sitting behind Luke and me, it was a moment I’ll never forget!

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We passed on most traditions, we didn’t have ‘readings’ our vows weren’t traditional and we didn’t ‘cut the cake’ although we wanted all of our family to be involved which led to Luke’s Mum and my step Mum to be the ring bearers.  Our photographer, Madeline Chiller, was amazing;  Luke and I never wanted those traditional structured vibes or photo; our images are just beautiful!

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There were many surprises planned throughout the wedding, little fun secrets that added a wondrous, “what’s-coming-next? “vibe to the day. My favourite detail of the day was the Beer Gyspies horse float bar! As an avid horse lover this was one detail I was wrapt about and it was so different from anything I had seen before. It suited the Tipis (which we had also kept as a surprise!) and our gypsy theme so well and with all the fairy lights, it added something special to the ambiance. Ordering drinks from a horse float was a fun experience for everyone! The warm light of the Tipis and the blazing fire drums combined with the fancy spit roast, our horse-float bar and fairy lights helped create our gypsy festival vibe.

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One of the highlights of the wedding was learning our first dance – it was hilarious; we had just started Salsa lessons a few weeks before I fell ill with the hope of pulling off an amazing choreographed Salsa. But it was seven months until we could go back, by this time is was one month to go until the wedding; we had four hours of professional one-on-one lessons and practiced at home for a few hours.

As a surprise for our huge bridal party of 16, we invited them to a dinner for my birthday at a bar across the road from where our dance lessons were held. After dinner and drinks we quickly announced our plan of turning them all into fabulous Salsa dancers so they could join in on the first dance. It was so funny watching everyone trying to get the dance moves right, we all couldn’t stop smiling and laughing, They were all excited and nervous but we had a heap of fun together over the next few weeks learning some basic steps, twirls and twist combos.

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What was important to us was to create a ‘vibe’; nearly all of our guests told us that night it was the “best” and most “romantic” wedding they had ever been too  – they just fell in love with every element! ” Having a DIY wedding was also very rewarding; to look around and see so many hand-made items from so many talented and creative friends and family made it that much more special.

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Ms Chinoiserie Says: Congratulations Alyssa and Luke; such a lovely wedding where every little DIY detail matched back to your theme! And how special that we were able to see your beautiful smile Alyssa in your photographs; an unforgettable memory!