Today’s wedding? It’s not a wedding, it’s a love party. You see Gemma and Mitch had a very specific vision in mind for their day, they knew getting legally married wasn’t for them. But celebrating their love? Now that. That would be perfect. So they gathered their favourite people, including their two young daughters, their favourite foods (pizza and ice cream) and all the colourful, handmade details they could manage (think paper twirls and tinsel garlands). This is their story, and their unforgettable love story, as told in beautiful photographic detail by Elle DS Photography.
Gemma kicks off their tale with the telling of how they met – over a decade ago! “Mitch and I have been together for 13.5 years and met in the typical way a 19/21-year-old in 2008 might meet. At a party, through mutual friends, with follow up social media stalking. It’s been pretty special growing up together, supporting each other through our 20s, university degrees, sharing houses, first real jobs, career changes, travel and parenthood.
When we were expecting our first child in 2014 we had several big conversations about what we saw our future looked like and decided that getting legally married wasn’t something we wanted to do. However, we are big fans of celebrating love and decided that one day we would like to have a “Love Party” in place of a wedding. Life got busy and every time the idea of arranging the Love Party came up we put it on the back burner for a less busy time (like that ever happens- haha). We hit peak wedding season amongst our friends in 2020/early 2021 (which is pretty wild considering it was also peak pandemic) and being part of so many joyful celebrations of love and watching our friends get to bring all their favourite people together, got us inspired again.
We wanted a colourful, relaxed, child-friendly and love-filled day, with picnic vibes during the day and a disco-inspired dancefloor at night. We called our celebration a Love Party as we have chosen not to get legally married. The best part of this was that one of our dearest friends acted as our (un)officiant and put together the beautiful, personalised ceremony of our dreams! Complete with audience participation and vows we read to our kids as well as the ones we read to each other. We chose a funny time in history to plan a big celebration but we’re so glad we did it, if a global pandemic has taught us nothing else, it’s to celebrate the good times and the ones you love while you can..”
Opting out of a formal processional, Gemma and Mitch greeted their guests on arrival, they explain “Mitch and I decided to get dressed together so once he joined us at the Air BnB we snuck away to the bedroom for a quick chat and helped each other get our outfits on. It was so nice to have a quick moment together and then to head out to show our gathered friends our complete look.
As we had decided not to walk down the aisle we had to figure out what our entrance would look like. Eventually, we decided that we would arrive before our guests and wait at the entrance to the venue and greet everyone as they arrived. This turned out to be one of our favourite parts of the day and it meant that we got to talk to everyone! It also helped set the tone as a fun, love-filled and relaxed day with minimal formalities. ”
Thanks to bad weather, the ceremony had to be shifted inside, and with that tinsel backdrop, we’re pretty glad! Gemma and Mitch tell “Our original plan had been to hold the ceremony outside in front of a beautiful old fig tree however when stormy weather was predicted we decided to put up a stretch marquee in that location instead to set up picnic areas under. This meant we had our ceremony inside and despite our initial disappointment it ended up being perfect. We had hired an amazing tinsel backdrop for the dancefloor and ended up setting our arbour up in front of that and it looked incredible.”
“Instead of walking down the aisle, our ceremony started with us standing in front of our guests while my (Gemma’s) choir “Choral Grief” sang a song from the first mix CD Mitch made for me (Your Arms Around Me by Jens Lekman) which they’d learnt especially for the occasion. It was so special and I cried.”
Because the wedding was not a legal one, Gemma and Mitch were able to have a friend officiate, and their ceremony to be completely what they wanted. They share “When considering what a ceremony might look like for us we quickly figured out that we would like our very dear friend Lara to perform it, and fortunately she was as into the idea as we were. She is a natural gatherer of people and a wonderful speaker and storyteller. It was a very special way to involve such a special friend. We gave Lara a bit of a brief about what we wanted. We wanted the ceremony to be inclusive, to celebrate what already exists in our relationship and not be a marker of commitment or “firsts”, to involve our kids and not take itself too seriously. We know lots of people whose most significant love falls outside of a traditional, monogamous, romantic relationship and it felt important to us that our Love Party was about celebrating all love, not just one type of love – even though our particular relationship falls within a more traditional definition.
We knew it would be good but still, Lara managed to blow us away. She embraced having fun with the ceremony, while still keeping it very meaningful, incorporated the perspectives of our kids after arranging a secret meeting with them in the weeks prior and somehow arranged for a moment where while our backs were turned during the ceremony, for flags to be passed around to all our guests who waved them furiously to symbolise their support, encouragement and love as we turned to face them (and yes we cried, again).
We chose to read “words of appreciation” to each other instead of vows as the day wasn’t about committing anything new to each other and then together read some promises to our children. The ceremony ended with Lara encouraging our guests to cheer us on while we had a smooch. It was perfect.”
Let’s talk about the newlywed’s incredible outfits. Gemma wore jewels from Each to Own, an Olga Berg hairpiece and the most incredible frock from Manimekala. She tells “I knew from the outset that I wouldn’t be wearing white and starting combing the internet for inspiration.
All my googling of colourful gowns paid off when a Facebook ad popped up for an online retailer which featured one of Manimekala’s beautiful dresses (bless you, targeted advertising). The dress ticked a lot of boxes, it was sustainably and ethically made by a small, woman-run business and it had pockets! but it wasn’t quite the right cut for me and didn’t come in my size but when I looked at Manimekala’s website I saw that she offered custom dresses and contacted her to see what was possible.
Manimekala is based in the UK so the whole process was done online. Manimekala asked me for some of my ideas and put together three dress options for me to choose from. I chose a combo of two of the dresses and she made a toile of the dress and sent it to me. Once it arrived we had a fitting over Zoom with one of my friends helping me out with measuring, pinning and cutting everything to fit and then I sent the toile back with all the adjustments in place. Manimekala then made the final dress and sent it to me. It was a truly post 2020 process!”
Mitch had a custom and linen suit created by Mantaikotai and Manimekala made him a tie to match Gemma’s gown. “One thing we hadn’t considered when I chose a colourful dress was how much harder it might be for Mitch to find something that complimented my dress. Mitch is also quite tall and struggles to find suits that fit him in the store. Eventually, Mitch found someone from Etsy who custom made linen suits in a range of colours and we ordered some swatches which we compared to the fabric swatch for the dress and decided on deep forest green. Mitch then picked out a pink shirt and we asked Manimekala to make a matching tie to bring it all together.”
Gemma’s look was completed by the hair and makeup artists Jhai Finlay and Erica Byers. “I also loved my makeup artist Erica, she was an absolute dream, talented, reliable, enthusiastic and such a great presence to have while we got ready. I had my regular hairdresser Jhai from Gang Hair come to do our hair too, she’s just the best and both Mitch and I have been seeing her for about 10 years now so couldn’t think of anyone else I would have rather had do our hair. I felt so comfortable and confident getting ready with such a great team.”
The couple chose photographer Elle for her bright, relaxed style. “I’d had my eye on Elle as a family photographer for a while and knew she did weddings too so when we decided we were going to have our celebration she was the first person I contacted,” remarks Gemma. “I wanted someone who was used to taking photos of kids and who had a fun and colourful style and she certainly fits the brief. When I emailed Elle about our vision she understood straight away and was so enthusiastic. She was such a calm and friendly presence and I love every single photo she took.”
Each guest enjoyed their picnic box. “We wanted the day to feel like a long, relaxed picnic – that ended with a disco – so asked an old school friend who runs a catering business to make up picnic boxes for our guests to enjoy. Later for dinner, we kept it casual and had the most delicious pizza we’ve ever had (arranged through our venue) brought out to our guests as they continued to mingle. Having no formal eating made it easier for us to continue spending time with all our guests which were so important to us.”
The couple held their day at the beautiful McClaren Vale venue Simon Hackett Winery. “Simon Hackett Winery is such a beautiful venue. I’d always admired it as I drove past with its big Mediterranean inspired arches looking over the vines” remembers Gemma. “Tim and Simon have taken it to the next level with their brand new renovations. There is great indoor/outdoor flow with a big open dining area with two sets of double doors opening onto a clear marquee covered terrace that opens onto the beautiful grounds.
I fell in love with the big fig tree which we planned to have our ceremony in front of until dodgy weather had our plans change. We loved that it was only 35 minutes from the CBD so was easy for our guests to get to and that although they offer a range of packages, it is also available as a “Dry Hire” venue so it was a blank canvas and we could turn it into whatever we wanted.”
This was a day filled with as many DIY touches as the couple could handle. “We weren’t going to have an aisle walk so felt like a bouquet might just get in the way, but I love flowers and wanted to have bright, eclectic arrangements scattered throughout the venue adding colour and texture. ” explained Gemma.
“I enjoy gardening and wanted to try growing my flowers for our celebration. Unfortunately, a cooler than usual spring saw everything growing slower than expected so I had to buy some additional flowers from a local grower (Gooseberry Hill Farms) but it felt pretty special to have grown about 1/3 of our flowers. I’d asked some friends and family to collect jars for us and another friend donated the water bottles from her wedding and then the night before our Love Party I gathered a group of my friends together for dinner, facemasks and flower arranging. It was so much fun. As the Love Party drew to a close we invited our guests to take a jar or two of flowers home with them.”
“Aside from our DIY flowers we made our letterbox for cards, Gemma decorated the arbour and designed the invitations and drink menus, Mitch’s brother Jono made our welcome sign. We did a huge amount of the set-up ourselves with the support of Mitch’s family and a couple of friends (with Gemma’s family taking on the equally important role of kid wrangling), this included hanging lighting and streamers and setting up all the sound equipment. We hired an on the day coordinator who set up everything else on the day and it was worth it.”
This was a wedding that was so very kid-friendly, right down to a dedicated kid zone. “With two kids ourselves we wanted them to be very involved and the event to be as kid-friendly as possible. We had a kid zone which included a bell tent full of activities and inside we set up a movie room/slumber party area fully of mattresses, pillows and blankets for kids to crash in as it got later. There were bubbles, lawn games for kids and adults to play and watching all the children run around having the best time together was such a highlight. I know kids at weddings isn’t for everyone but us it was one of the best bits for us. That said we hired a babysitter to keep an extra eye on our kids for the day/night so that we could relax.”
Despite Gemma and Mitch wanting their day to be relaxed, they also understood that to make that happen, they needed to hand over the responsibility of the day to someone. Enter their decision to hire wedding planners MASE Agency. “We hired a bunch of furniture and decorations (including the kid’s tent) through MASE Agency, the owner Jade was so quick to understand our vision and pulled together exactly what we wanted. We also hired our Day of Coordinator through MASE and Abbie was an absolute gem, she visited us while we were setting up the day before and immediately got on board with everything we were doing and then pulled it all together on the day.”
“We decided we didn’t want a wedding party but we asked some friends to play special roles, give speeches and get ready with us on the day. It was so wonderful sharing the excitement with them. Mitch, his best friend and his brothers went out to brunch on the morning of the Love Party while my friends and I had our hair and makeup was done at the Air BnB we’d hired, then they came back and we all hung out together.
We had our two daughters (7 and 2) heavily involved and they both wore pale blue dresses from Seed with rainbow pompom hair clips in their hair, also from Seed.”
When we give you planning advice Dotties, we often say to remember what is most important to you, it is this advice that Gemma and Mitch also pass on. “Make the day your own, don’t be afraid of doing something different! Also, don’t use confetti if you’re planning on doing your clean up (or don’t do it anyway – no one deserves that mess) – our one regret!
We loved reflecting on our relationship, our values and what was most important to us during the process. By deciding on a Love Party instead of a wedding it felt like we got to strip the whole concept right back and then build it up again, keeping the parts of weddings that felt true to us and getting rid of the ones that didn’t. Everything felt like us, from the decorations, the format of the day, the food, the music, the ceremony. We didn’t feel like we had to make any compromises.”
Gemma and Mitch skipped the first dance, but made sure they included their favourite songs anyway, tells Gemma “We didn’t have the first dance but Mitch carefully crafted soundtrack of some of our favourite songs from the many eras of our relationship that took us from picnic to dancefloor. Mitch also had the very sweet idea of asking some of our friends who couldn’t join us due to border restrictions to contribute their favourite songs, so we could still share a dance with them from afar.”
Dessert? Ice cream of course! “As ice cream lovers we decided that instead of cake we would get an icecream cart. Scoop and Tap – Vintage Caravan Bar delivered the goods and we’re so glad we decided to go with what we love (so was our seven year old and her mates who indulged in five icecreams each!)”
The icing on the wedding cake? The film was captured by Matthew Trump. “We also are so glad we ended up having a Videographer for the day. We both felt pretty awkward about being filmed but once we realised our interstate and overseas friends and family wouldn’t be able to make it for the day, having someone capture it on film seemed like a good idea. Matthew was so incredible, he was ever-present but completely non-intrusive and perfectly captured the feel of the day which was so special to be able to share with the people who couldn’t make it.”
Congratulations to you both Gemma and Mitch! What a beautiful day we got to share. Thank you both for sharing your day with us and thank you to Elle DS Photography for sharing today’s celebration.