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!” Gathering with old friends and eating mini–grilled cheeses in formalwear to celebrate love feels more special these days than ever, even downright miraculous. And the betrothed have never been less attached to the old wedding handbook — or the need to please their great-aunt. So in a flurry of pampas grass and perfectly mismatched-to-match bridesmaid dresses, how do you pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answers, 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 spoke with Nicole and Ryan Russo from Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Although they’re a stylish couple — she is an interior designer with her own firm, Abode Interior Design; he’s in sales for surf-inspired fashion brands — who are close with their big families, they eschewed a traditional wedding and all the attention that comes with one when they eloped this past August. They wedded on a balcony overlooking the pastel houses of Positano and under a blue moon, aided by a gossipy officiant, an old-school travel agent (yes, really), and some supportive, Springsteen-loving locals.
Ryan: I knew pretty early on that Nicole was the one. I don’t know if it was the same for her. We met through mutual friends, and everyone just loved her. My family loved her. She’s very caring.
Nicole: I knew when I brought him around my family. He actually reminds me a lot of my mom: social but also quiet — and always happy.
Ryan: We both dislike the spotlight on us, ever. Every time we went to a wedding together, we’d be like, “Oh, I don’t want any of this. I don’t want to be walking down an aisle with everyone staring at me.” It made me feel like we were even more meant for each other.
Nicole: I’m shy and I have a big family. They were all understanding once I told them why we wanted to elope. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s while I was in college, about ten years ago. It was slow at first, but it’s gotten progressively worse and now she’s on hospice. I didn’t want to plan anything without her there every step of the way. She was always the party person, and I can’t really imagine having a party without her there.
Ryan: My family obviously was bummed, especially my mom. But I have two older sisters and they both had big weddings and I was like, “You already got your fix.” At the end of the day, it’s just about us two.
Nicole: Though if I left it up to them, my family probably would have shown up in Italy. It was Christmastime two years ago that we got engaged.
Ryan: We were living in this little bungalow in Bay Head, New Jersey. I would wake up before her every morning and make her coffee, then we’d bring our dog up to the beach. I slept with the ring box in my shorts.
Nicole: We’re really early risers. He proposed super-simply: in our living room while having coffee. Then we went to the beach and FaceTimed everyone. Both of our families are Italian, so we always had Italy on our dream list for a vacation. So we were like, “Let’s just go there.” I probably wouldn’t have picked Positano if I’d known how touristy it is, but it was still dreamy. We got a travel agent who helped us pick the hotel.
Ryan: It looked like one of the nicest places in the area. Given what we were doing, it was like, All right, let’s splurge on the hotel. Nicole is an interior designer, and she loved all the little things about it. And I was very adamant that it have a pool.
Nicole: Palazzo Murat was actually King Murat [of Naples]’s villa at one point. It had a history. Dress-shopping was actually so painful. I went to BHLDN with my friends because they wanted to do something, and I bought two dresses that I didn’t even like and then it was a nightmare to send them back. It’s so uncomfortable to try things on and stand on that stupid podium thing. It’s so bad. My friends made it less painful, but … there should be a company that lets you try on dresses at home.
Ryan: I kept it very summery: a linen suit by J.Crew, no tie, and a Bode shirt underneath that Nicole bought me for my birthday a couple of years ago, which made it more special. And Italian loafers.
Nicole: I went through a bunch of dresses and then I found this overlay thing on Etsy by Legacy Bridal and kind of worked backward from that, Googling “strapless silk gown” until I found one by Anna Quan. I definitely wanted a hat and found Janessa Leoné, who makes a packable hat, which was perfect. I also knew I wanted a piece of my mom with me, so I had the lace of her veil sewn onto the hat for me.
Ryan: She kept wanting to show me her dress, and I was like, “No. Isn’t that bad luck?” I’d refuse and she’d put it on sometimes and run into the room.
Nicole: We flew into Rome on a Sunday and drove down to Positano. It was supposed to rain all week, but then Thursday, our wedding day, turned out to be the one nice day.
Ryan: It was the most beautiful day. I was just blown away by Positano — all those houses built into the hills. I just kept saying, “This is crazy. This is crazy!”
Nicole: We woke up really early that day and went to the beach and watched the boats take people to Capri. We stayed at the beach way too long, getting spritzes and what have you, but that’s kind of how we are.
Ryan: We got ready really quickly.
Nicole: Looking back, I would’ve gotten my hair and makeup done for sure. But we rushed and I half-blow-dried my hair, so it was kind of frizzy, but it’s fine. I always hate how my makeup turns out when I get it done anyway. The hotel had an officiant who handles ceremonies for them: Rafael.
Ryan: He was really rad. He was supposed to be officiating the wedding that was going on downstairs, but he had all this drama with that couple and was talking shit on them: “You want some tea?”
Nicole: No, he said, “Do you want some ‘deep chatter’?” And we were like, “Some what?” And he said, “That’s what we say!” He asked if we were comfortable talking about God, to which I said “yes” — for my Grammie. And he made us kiss the rings before we put them on, which I guess is an Italian thing that I didn’t know of.
Ryan: Afterward, I realized we hadn’t eaten all day, so we went and got pizza. While we sat on a ledge eating, random people were coming up to take photos of us, saying congratulations: “Beautiful bride, beautiful bride.” Everyone was saying how beautiful Nicole was, and I was like, And what about the groom?!
Nicole: Our photographer, Kayla from Dear Fioré, had suggested we get on a boat just to keep the day going. I wouldn’t have thought of that, and it was super–worth it. To see everything from the water was so pretty.
Ryan: We were just basking. It was mellow with beers and a wedding playlist Nicole had created.
Nicole: We played “Rosalita” by Bruce Springsteen, and people on another boat nearby freaked out. Italians love Bruce, apparently. And it happens to be both of our moms’ favorite song.
Ryan: Our travel agent had made us a dinner reservation at the nicest restaurant in the area, but when we went in a couple of days before to confirm it, they had overbooked or something and we had to pivot. The day of, I just stopped by one of the restaurants along the beach.
Nicole: It was super-touristy.
Ryan: But the food was really good! To wrap up our night, we got in our robes and had a bottle of wine and read our vows to each other on the balcony. My mom was texting us that she’d found out there was a blue moon that day, the actual day of our wedding, so it was the backdrop.
Nicole: It was perfect. I cried. Though while Ryan was reading his, room service kept trying to come in and we told them they had the wrong room, and it was just so funny. We were laughing and crying.
Ryan: From there, we took a high-speed train back to Rome and just stared at our rings. We stayed in Europe a total of 13 days. Rome was so cool.
Nicole: We went to San Sebastián and Paris, but honestly our favorite place was Biarritz because it’s castles on the beach. Ryan surfed every day, and I was able to just decompress. That was the dreamiest part.
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