Designers Melisa Denizeri and Alexander Orley have different versions of their “how we met” story. “I saw him before he saw me at the Parsons Design Studio,” she says. “I noticed a new cute guy in our department. At the time, he was completing his associate degree in fashion design, and I was in my final year for my undergrad degree in fashion.” (She has a recently launched swimwear line called Denizeri; he has a knitwear brand called Orley.) A couple of weeks later, Melisa met up with a friend at a bar, and she was talking to Alex. The friend introduced the two of them just as Melisa was getting ready to leave. “I ran into him again a week later,” she remembers. “Apparently he got the news I was there from a friend. We texted for a bit, and he asked me out, but it was a year from that first meeting until we went on our first date. He says he chased me for a year, but in my opinion, he didn’t chase hard enough…”
The two had been dating for two years when Alex proposed. “We were supposed to go to Il Buco, our favorite restaurant in the city,” she says. “When we showed up, there was a mix up with our reservation. Turns out, Alex booked the Il Buco in L.A. by accident! He seemed quite upset, and I didn’t know why. I thought it was a normal night and didn’t care where we ate, but we eventually found a seat at the bar.” Melisa kept asking him what the big deal was—assuring him that it was just another Friday night, and they could have their cozy little dinner and then go home.
“I could sense he was getting a bit nervous towards the end though,” she remembers. “When we got back to our apartment after dinner, I rushed to get Scout, our 4-month-old puppy to let him out.” In her hurry, she failed to notice that in the entrance there was an entire table filled with several arrangements by Metaflora, her favorite florist, as well as a bottle of champagne on ice—and the ring. “I grabbed Scout and turned to walk out the door. Alex was still standing in the entryway and asked me if I noticed anything different. When I turned around, I immediately knew what was happening. It’s funny—I sensed this was coming to me soon, but when it happened, I was in complete shock.” After Melisa finished laughing and screaming, Alex got down on one knee. “It was so special, and he wrote me a sweet letter.”
Melisa grew up in Istanbul and has always had a deep connection to her culture. “We wanted our closest friends and family to experience this place that has such a special place in our lives,” she says. Over the years, amidst visa struggles and family vacations, Alex visited Turkey many times with Melisa. “Of course we love the Bosphorus—it truly is the most beautiful place to me,” Melisa explains. “We knew we wanted to be by the water and share this with our loved ones.”
They landed on Esma Sultan Palace—a burned down palace from the Ottoman Empire which has a restored interior but a singed skeleton on the outside. “We wanted to keep it simple as the location itself had so much beauty,” says Melisa, who worked with event planner Asli Kuseyrioglu to achieve her vision. “We also love the symbolism of Istanbul—how we both come from different cultures—me with an Irish mother and Turkish father, Alex from a Jewish family from Detroit. It felt appropriate to get married in Istanbul where so many cultures have overlapped over history.”
Last year, Melisa actually designed a wedding dress for her best friend, and while it brought her a lot of joy, she knew she didn’t want to create her own gown. “Since I work on design everyday, I was sure I did not want to go through that process for myself,” she says. “It probably would have been more stressful for me, and I just wanted to have fun and shop.”
A dress on Moda Operandi caught her eye, but they were out of stock. She reached out, and a buyer emailed her back with an image of a blue tulle tiered J. Mendel look. “I went in and tried it on, and it felt really right and fun. During the day I am super casual, comfortable and tend to wear sporty clothing. However, for evening, I like to go all out. I knew I did not want a simple minimal dress for this occasion. They were generous and cut the dress in white for me in Paris. I added some crinoline to the body and straps as strapless did not seem 100-percent me.”
Melisa loved choosing her veil and shoes. “My friend Natalie, who I worked with at Trademark when I was designing there, is a talented bridal designer and creates custom veils,” she explains. “I wanted a shorter veil for the dress. I was sort of imagining Madonna in her look from ‘Like A Virgin’!” Her heels were a rare impulse purchase from Chanel.
At the ceremony, Alex’s older brother Matthew officiated. “There is something special about having your wedding officiated by a family member,” Melisa says. “He is sensitive, kind, curious, and funny, so I knew he would do a great job. He also was there since the beginning of our relationship, so he really witnessed our story. He wrote a beautiful heartfelt ceremony—it was the perfect balance between emotional and funny.”
Afterwards, a four-course meal of traditional Turkish dishes was served, and the newlyweds did their first dance to music DJed by their good friend Jonny Solos. Guests immediately started dancing too, only pausing later for speeches and cake. “A few hours into dancing, we did the Hora, and it was the most fun,” Melisa says. “I had never been up there, and I did not want to come down!”