When we ask newlyweds to think back on what they wanted most for their big day — and we’ve interviewed hundreds of them over the years — the most common response is “For it not to feel like a wedding!” But in a monsoon of flower crowns and macaron towers, how do you see beyond the usual tropes and actually pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answer, we decided to interrogate the cool couples whose weddings we would actually want to steal — right down to the tiger-shaped cake toppers.

Here, we talked to Rafael Rios, an editorial photographer who’s shot for the New York Times and Nike, and Jassine Chrisphonte, who manages the culture and partnerships program at Milk Studios. Not surprisingly, the pair met on a photo shoot. They married in August at Chrisphonte’s workplace, with baby’s breath installations, sunset views, a Hot 97 alum for a DJ, and only a minor snafu in which they forgot to bring their rings to the ceremony.

Jassine: It was like 7 in the morning when he proposed. We were packing for a vacation to Haiti that day. I’m Haitian-American, but my parents moved here in 1981 and never went back.

Rafael: It was June 2018. Jassine and I met six years before, at a photo shoot downtown in 2012. I was digital tech-ing that day, so I was organizing files, making sure that everything’s coming in, backing them up. Jass was assisting the talent. There tends to be a lot of downtime in between shots at fashion shoots, and during hair and makeup, so she and I made standard small talk. I knew that I liked her immediately, even though we didn’t actually go on a date until a year after that. We’d been together five years by the time we planned that Haiti vacation, where I was going to propose, but I got a little nervous at the last minute. So out of nowhere, while she was getting ready, I got on one knee.

Jassine: When he took out the ring, I remember thinking, Wait, I really like that. I had never dropped any hints, never showed him any photos on Instagram. Even though I did have a ring in mind that I really loved — I saw a friend at a dinner party once and her band had a knife’s edge, and I thought to myself, that’s perfect. When Rafael pulled it the ring, it had the same knife’s edge, an oval diamond ring with a gold knife-edge band. Wait, what? How would he know?

Rafael: I had help from female friends. They even helped me figure out her ring size. I have a friend who works at a showroom who hooked me up with a designer, Lizzie Mandler. I said, “I know Jassine likes something that’s very simple, not too flashy, with subtle detailing.” We designed from there. Thankfully, she was happy.

Jassine: We definitely toyed with, should we just have a civil ceremony? Because that would be equally beautiful to us. But we have our families, and we thought it would be cool to do a big celebration for them, give them time to really unite. From the start, we thought, it has to be like a dance party. We didn’t want it to be too serious. We didn’t want a lot of the tradition — it just didn’t make sense for us. We knew from the beginning that we weren’t going to get married in a church. So right there, for both of us being raised Catholic, that was a big chunk of tradition that we cut out.

Once we knew we weren’t doing a church, we were like, it doesn’t have to be the same format that we always see. And I definitely don’t like attention — even the short ceremony we did end up having, I was sweating up there.

Rafael: In my family, we haven’t had too many weddings, so it was important that family was there. It wasn’t too large — 120 people. We decided to try to keep it to people who’ve known us since the beginning of our relationship. I’m from Fort Greene, Brooklyn, she’s from Astoria, Queens.

Jassine: I researched a few venues, and the competitive part was a little scary to me, the feeling of, okay, if this is the right place I have to compete over the date. There was a time I stopped by a bed and breakfast in Brooklyn and there was another couple there, and I felt like, “Will they get the right date, or will I get it?” Then I thought of Milk. I work under Madzack Rassi, our co-founder, on incoming inquiries from people who want to partner with Milk: businesses, nonprofits, artists. We do photography exhibits, gallery shows — last Friday, we had an opening for William Strobeck. We choose artists that we specifically want to work with, then our events team helps produce. I talked to my boss, who said, “Why don’t you just do it here?” I was like, am I overthinking this? A photo studio would be awesome because of how we met. And we reconnected through Milk from time to time, at Milk parties.

Rafael: I’ve been going there for years, even before we met — fashion parties, art openings. Their events tend to be lively and fun.

Jassine: When I spoke with Rafael about it, he said, “It makes so much sense for us. It’s part of our world. It’s a beautiful venue, we love the space. Let’s just run with it.” It was actually really nice to work with coworkers on my wedding, because we already work on events together — the only difference was that Rafael was here all of August, in meetings too. The people who helped with the wedding are really the people I hang out with outside work. I was fairly chill. Everyone else says I was chill, which is the only reason I can say that! In my job, I’ve always had to be really rigorous on details — I wanted to be a lot more relaxed during my wedding and think, nope, it can’t be perfect. Because if I try and make it perfect, I’m not going to have any fun on the day. Once it was two weeks out, I thought, okay, if it’s not done now, there’s almost nothing we can do. Like trying to get matchbooks with our names on them in the same font from the invites. We were trying to order them last minute, and I was like, “Just let it go. We can’t do everything.” I definitely let go a lot with my wedding — on purpose.

Rafael: We stayed at the Standard the night before and night of, and I got ready there. I bought a bunch of suits and then at the end of the day, Jass bought me a couple of suits from a Ralph Lauren sample sale and I ended up going with this Purple Label suit that fit perfectly. I didn’t really want to overthink it. Just a simple gray suit, white shirt, no tie.

Jassine: I didn’t want a big heavy wedding dress, or something so intricate that it needed a big lead time. I procrastinated until January 2019 because once I hit the streets and went to a few appointments, I hated the feeling I got in them. There was a lot of pressure making me feel like I had to choose something right then and there. I think maybe that’s a sales tactic for a lot of them, but I don’t know, it didn’t feel right. You want me to pick anything. You don’t really even care if I love it or not. I posted an Instagram story of all these gowns, and wrote, “I hate bridal shops.” And my friend Yara Flinn, the designer at Nomia whose clothes I wear all the time, she DM’d me and said, “Let’s make you a dress!” We had meetings and we really just got each other. I sent her some references, and everything I loved was an early-2000s shape, minimal. Right now, ready-to-wear doesn’t have a lot to offer if you want something more chic and simple. And I wanted a cape moment. She decided on an organza cape overlay, which I felt tied together perfectly. I have long hair but I met this amazing hairstylist, Illeisha Lussiano, who created a fake bob for me. Then for jewelry, I didn’t want anything to clash but I did want something fun. When I saw these Sophie Buhai earrings that were really long, I thought, what if I just wear one?

Rafael: We saw each other at the cocktail party before the ceremony. That was in the penthouse of Milk, on the deck, with the ceremony in the same area.

Jassine: The ceremony actually happened in the middle of cocktail hour. So people came, and they had drinks and they were eating, and then we were like, “Yeah, if we could just get five minutes of your time, we’re going to say some words.”

Rafael: Picking the person to officiate was one of my wedding duties, and I felt like Danielle Levitt made the most sense, since she knew us from the beginning, and knew our story — she was the photographer I was working with on that fashion photo shoot when we met. We’ve stayed friends since then. It wasn’t religious at all — it was just basically like a brief talk about us. Short and sweet. I’m not a big public speaker.

Jassine: We are both definitely very shy, and were like, I don’t think I can say vows aloud. That’s why I loved the idea of Danielle marrying us. When we walked up and held each other’s hands, we were like, oh no. The rings. I’d made a PDF that had a wedding checklist, and I somehow didn’t put the rings on there! It didn’t cross either of our minds. Definitely we were having too much fun when we were setting things up the Friday before the wedding — Rafael was pre-batching all the drinks and we were drinking some of them and I think that has to be the reason why. Literally when I went up there and held Raf’s hand, it was the only time the rings crossed my mind. I tried to signal over to our events lead, Imondre Johnson, but she was scared to come up. Danielle caught on really quickly — she just kind of glossed over the rings part; said the vows like, “Okay, do you take Rafael, and do you take Jassine? You may now kiss the bride,” and left it out. So we’d have to wait until we were home the next morning to put them on. The cocktail hour resumed, and we mingled and then took photos.

Rafael: There were two photographers, David James Swanson and Nadeemy Betros. Nadeemy worked with Jass and focuses on more intimate portraits, and then I used to work with David, assisting him. He does concert photography as well as weddings. I felt comfortable hiring someone I knew. The photographer in me kicked in a little bit during the cocktail hour. We were doing portraits, and I just, I couldn’t help it. I was like, “You all need to look here.” I go crazy with these group shots where everyone’s just looking at a different zone. At some point there was too many shooters in the kitchen.

Jassine: For me, the sunset was the biggest part of the décor. I loved the loft space because of all its windows, all the white. I told Fleurotica, I love baby’s breath installations, is that something we could do? She thought we should keep it really minimal, to not interfere with the space. She was there at 6 in the morning with her team, creating these hanging installations. We chose to keep the table with candlelight and glassware only, so the baby’s breath could have their moment.

Rafael: The day before, I mixed all the cocktails with Nicole from Milk Cafe. It was a Moscow Mule and Palomas — then for the end, we made a bunch of Nutcrackers. We premixed them and bottled them the same way they’re sold on the beach. It’s just a very boozy, very sweet cocktail. New York Magazine did a whole article on it last year. Then we went down to the loft studio, which faces New Jersey and the west side, so we ate during sunset. I had like two bites of food the whole night.

Jassine: We used a caterer, KG Fare, that we tend to use at Milk a lot. I knew the prices because we had worked with them for years. Rafael is Puerto Rican, so I immediately thought to do a pernil, a roast pork that’s very traditional in Puerto Rican cuisine. We served pernil with rice and sweet plantains, an eggplant jambalaya — eggplant being another big ingredient in Haitian cuisine — and then we had a salmon in a miso glaze.

Rafael: No one gave speeches, but dancing started pretty much during dinner. There was dancing even before the first dance, which was to D’Angelo’s “Lady.” I’ve been a D’Angelo fan for a very long time, and I just thought it was a sweet song. I like the message, to this woman he’s fallen in love with.

Jassine: We had two DJs — the first was DJ Rich Knight, the second was DJ Mister Cee, who is just a legend in hip-hop in NYC. I actually used to work with him at Hot 97. He was Biggie’s DJ, Lil’ Kim’s DJ. I don’t know a lot of hip-hop DJs who know Haitian music as well. He just reads a room really well, and he had everybody up dancing on their feet. At one point, we were doing kind of a conga line. I changed into a Jacquemus dress right before our first dance, a dress I bought for my birthday and ended up not wearing on my birthday. It was a halter-top dress and one side is like a long scarf. I didn’t think I was going to switch, but Yara said, “You don’t want that one dragging around.” I brought two and then I got so sweaty in my wedding dress — I was like, actually, I could change. It was so fun. We were dancing the entire time, and then we started noticing cake coming out, and we were like wait, what happened to the cake-cutting?! It was fine.

Rafael: It ran a little over; we kept an extra hour or so with the DJ, and and then everyone was pretty much out by 12:30 a.m. Jassine and I walked to the hotel, carrying our bags. We took a quieter, more roundabout route to get there, not through the Meatpacking zone.

Jassine: We’d had a reservation at the Boom Boom Room for an afterparty, but we didn’t do it. Everyone ended up dancing way longer than a normal wedding — it was a four-hour dance party. Everyone had their shoes off by the end; we were ready to call it a night. After everyone was gone, Raf and I went back into the kitchen, and we picked through all the leftover food and had drinks in the lobby before we left for good.

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