A Tradition-Infused Botanical Wedding at an Urban Farm in Chicago
When event planner and stylist DeYandré Thaxton first asked Vishal Reniguntala out on OkCupid in 2017, he said no—but she took it as a good sign. “We’d bonded over a shared love for basketball. I invited him to Ice Cube’s BIG3 Tournament but he was helping his older sister move that weekend,” she remembers. “It was already a good sign that he cared about his family.” Instead, their first date was a visit to the Takashi Murakami exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and Vishal presented yet another good sign. “He showed up wearing bright red pants—I loved it!” DeYandré says. “Despite having a color deficiency, Vishal loves color.”
In fact, color would become a baseline for their creativity-infused relationship—and eventually, their wedding. “Our first date was the only time I asked for a second date during the first,” Vishal remembers. “I was excited to see her again, and I had a feeling it was mutual.”
That was in July. By September 2017, they were official. By early 2020, Vishal knew for sure that DeYandré was the one. “I knew I was going to ask her to marry me for most of 2020,” he remembers. “We went to Boston for the first time in a year for Thanksgiving, myself staying for three weeks, DeYandré staying for six. I asked her mother for her hand in marriage early in the trip.” His plan was to look for a ring when he got back to Chicago and propose after Christmas—but after nearly a year of knowing, “I decided I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to propose before I flew out,” he says. “The only thing missing was an engagement ring.” He borrowed DeYandré’s mom’s car and headed to the mall, where he bought a simple silver ring. “I was super nervous, second-guessing if my plan was good enough, if the timing was right, and if she’d be okay with this ‘placeholder’ engagement ring.”
She was. When Vishal got down on one knee, DeYandré replied with a resounding “yes” and Champagne was popped. “It was such a special moment, especially with my entire family present,” she recalls. Vishal flew out the next day as planned, and “we spent the next few weeks giggling over FaceTime long distance.”
The duo spent a couple months monitoring changing Covid restrictions—and mostly thinking they’d have to get married just the two of them—until they decided on a micro wedding at a gorgeous urban farm in Chicago. “I had worked with Big Delicious Planet in 2018 to cater a conference I coordinated,” the bride says. “In our search for venues BDP came up. We visited the venue in March 2021 and had to use our imagination to envision what the scene would look like in September.” They booked the venue regardless and by springtime, knew they’d made the right call. “At our check-in visit, the farm was coming to life with bunnies hopping, butterflies dancing, and bees buzzing around flowers,” Vishal remembers. “It felt like a scene from a Disney movie. The location felt significant too: BDP is located in the West Town neighborhood, which is coincidentally where we both first lived upon moving to Chicago.” DeYandré adds: “We’re city-dwelling nature lovers, so Big Delicious Planet really captured that aspect of our personality.”
Over six months of planning, the couple turned to friends and family for help and put their own unique stamp on the details, decor, and a host of cultural traditions that paid homage to both of their heritages. Read on to see how it all came together, planned by the bride and photographed by Emily Melissa Photo.
“Our friends Eleanor and Jacques—both designers—created caricatures of our likeness using an abstract single-line design style,” DeYandré says. “The style is often depicted in minimalist black and white, but our friends knew the importance of color for us. They grounded a deep plum line with bright abstract shapes in the background.” She continues: “Working with our best friends on our invite design was the easiest part of planning. During a time of isolation, it was so fun to have double dates with our favorite people and create something so beautiful.” Rohner Press letterpressed the artwork onto double-sided square cards. “With the majority of our guests tuning into the ceremony virtually, every interaction with our wedding needed to feel special,” the bride adds. “We wanted to send our loved ones a work of art in the mail.”
The invitation set the tone for a bold event infused with color from start to finish. “Our scheme was orange, plum, pink, green, periwinkle blue, and yellow,” DeYandré says. “We were inspired by the transition from summer to fall, astrology, abstract shapes found in nature, and the beauty of plant life that sprouts between the cracks of a city sidewalk. We selected color swatches from the floral samples created by our friend and florist at Thistle + Plume, Sabrina Severns. We wanted big and bold colors—colors that Vishal can see.”
“My vision was to look and feel natural, and my beauty look came together organically,” DeYandré says. “I’m truly a clothing gal, so I really trusted my sister-in-law with my hairstyle and Sandy Thinnes with my makeup. Both are holistic artists who made the journey easeful and relaxing.” During their wedding trial conversations, Sandy and DeYandré decided on a bold lip. “She blended RMS lipstick in Jezebel with MAC lipstick in Mangrove to create a beautiful warm red lip. I loved that she incorporated natural products into my look.”
“I wanted color, which is very challenging to find in bridal,” DeYandré says of her gown. “My everyday style is quirky and colorful; I love thrifting and pattern mixing.” When she saw Rara Avis’ Lily gown on display at Belle Atelier, she made a beeline toward it. “Not only was it colorful, but it was decorated with texture, clay flowers, and embroidery. The fabric is printed with branches and birds. I’m a Gemini, an air sign. The dress was both airy and earthy. It belonged with me at my urban farm wedding.”
The bridal salon has its own in-house atelier, and the team shortened the front of the gown for a subtle high-low draping to accommodate DeYandré’s five-foot-two frame. “I didn’t want to drown in a big gown. The results were perfect,” she says. Plus, “Rara Avis means ‘rare bird,’ which I definitely identify with. That was the icing on the cake!”
“I found my fuchsia velvet block heels at Nordstrom,” DeYandré says. “They were the last pair in my size and I came across them the day after I said ‘yes!’ at Belle Atelier.” Once again, it was a match made in heaven.
To mirror the climbing branches on her botanical gown, DeYandré chose a pair of artisan-made earrings. “Faris’ pomme twist hugs upward on the ear and appears like a tree branch with an irregular pearl suspended underneath,” she describes. “They’re so beautiful and suited my look perfectly.” She hit ColorBox Nails for a lilac mani-pedi.
“My sister-in-law, Sarah, has been there for many of my hair milestones, including my big chop and first color,” DeYandré says. “I gave Sarah creative freedom. Thistle + Plume included blooms that she could incorporate into my look, and Sarah gave me a gold hair barrette decorated with small pearls and two dangling gold chains.”
The finishing touch to DeYandré’s garden-inspired look, of course, was the bouquet. “Sabrina mixed big coral, fuchsia, and orange blooms with neutral tones, as well as some darker pops of mahogany and lavender and light touches of textural green accents,” she describes. “My bouquet was organic in shape and wrapped in a draped silk ribbon.”
Ever as stylish as his bride, Vishal opted for a royal blue suit with colorful touches. “I paired it with chili-colored Park Avenues from Allen Edmonds,” he says. “I wanted accessories in a contrasting color to the rich blue. Tie Bar had a great selection; I found a pink paisley bowtie, a white pocket square with pink piping, and gray socks with pink polka dots.” Thistle + Plume finished his look with a bold orange boutonniere.
My nerves were washed away once I saw her and got to see her dress for the first time.
“Our photographer, Emily, really sold us on a first look, and we’re so glad we did it,” the couple shares. “It really did put things into perspective and helped us realize what this day was about.” For Vishal, especially. “My nerves were washed away once I saw her and got to see her dress for the first time,” he recalls. “I knew it would be unique, and she was absolutely stunning! I’ve never seen a dress like hers before. I was just in awe. Like, this is going to be my wife. Imagine the heart-eye emoji in real life.”
Their joyful glow was natural—mostly. “If our skin was glowing it could be due to our nalagu ceremony,” DeYandré says. “Two days before our wedding, Vishal’s mom hosted a nalagu, also known as a haldi or turmeric ceremony. The ceremony prepares the couple physically and spiritually for their new life in marriage. It consists of friends and family taking turns applying a turmeric paste to the face, arms, and legs of the couple while singing traditional songs.”
“I was the wedding planner, though Vishal and I made the majority of decisions together,” DeYandré notes. “Planning a wedding together is like a boot camp for a life united. We had a lot of hard conversations but we learned a great deal about ourselves and each other.”
“We tried to personalize every inch of our wedding day—starting with our theme, Chocolate Gemini,” DeYandré says. “We call ourselves Chocolate Gemini as our birthdays are three days apart. Gemini is associated with The Lovers card in tarot. Chocolate Gemini quickly became the foundation of the wedding, including our website name.” She goes on: “We love our community. Since we celebrated virtually with the majority of our loved ones, we were very intentional with our website. We wanted our virtual guests to feel included despite distance.” A livestream through Lovecast and a unique timeline created using open source tools developed by Northwestern University, DeYandré’s former employer, added creativity and customization.
“We actually rode to the venue in Vishal’s white VW Golf,” DeYandré recalls. “I was worried about taking a car service and ruining my makeup with a mask. It was funny and sweet being all dressed up piling into our everyday car as if we were about to run errands. My dress consumed the front seat. I loved that moment with my future husband.”
“I wore my late father’s gold chain bracelet and gold ring with etched diamonds,” Vishal says. “It was important for me to honor my father, and my mom suggested wearing his jewelry that she has kept for me since his passing roughly 21 years ago.”
Vitamin String Quartet’s rendition of “Good Life” by Kanye West came on as the wedding party processed in. The couple’s 3-year-old nephew, Quincy, walked out with his parents in an adorable five-piece suit, and flower girl Sahaara donned a bright turquoise lehenga choli.
It was a beautiful moment that I’ll always cherish.
DeYandré’s mother walked her down the aisle in a chic dress by Mac Duggal. “She’s my best friend and we’ve been through a lot together,” the bride says. “It was a beautiful moment that I’ll always cherish. We walked to ‘Take Care of You’ by Charlotte Day Wilson—cue tears.”
The ceremony staging was “very organic,” the bride says. The couple was centered between beds of flowers and produce grown at the venue’s on-site farm, and set against an ivy backdrop. The ceremony itself was impactful and emotional. “The contributions from our friends and family were remarkable,” DeYandré shares. “My 90-year-old grandmother traveled to Chicago for the wedding and read her late sister’s favorite poem. Our dear friend Kate not only married us, but brought us laughter and calm at the altar. Family and friends around the world who joined virtually sent love in the livestream chat. We’re so blessed by our community.”
“Our vows were 100 percent our own words,” the couple says. From DeYandré’s: “You bring out the best in me. You’ve loved parts of me I was unable to love myself. I will practice self-love and self-care. To always be myself, the person that you love.” And Vishal’s: “I admire your drive and determination. You are focused on improvement and making things better. I vow to support your dreams and aspirations. In turn, I also vow to continually grow and improve myself.”
Proposing with a placeholder ring turned out to be a blessing, as it meant the couple could select the perfect ring together. “We looked at rings together for months, particularly at Asrai Garden, a local floral, jewelry, and apothecary shop,” the groom says. “We discovered a diverse array of jewelry options and talented designers. I wanted something unique for DeYandré! Ultimately I worked with Digby & Iona in Brooklyn for the perfect Sri Lankan purple and blue sapphire engagement ring. I surprised her with it and she absolutely loved it!”
“In Indian tradition, a mangala sutra or thaali is a necklace adorned by the bride on their wedding day,” DeYandré says. “The thread used to create the necklace is made by dying white string in turmeric, giving it a rich yellow hue. We chose to create our own take on a thaali by braiding three pieces of string together and adding a more traditional jewelry clasp to keep it in place. There is a 22-carat gold pendant that was gifted to us by Vishal’s mother. Vishal dyed the strands in turmeric and my maid of honor, Meghan, was able to create the necklace in an afternoon.”
Another tradition in Indian weddings is the draping of colorful garlands, or varmala. “The tradition is believed to have originated from Hindu gods and goddesses,” Vishal explains. “The bride would place the varmala on her chosen groom. The flowers represent excitement, happiness, and beauty while signifying their acceptance of one another.”
Next, incorporating DeYandré’s heritage, the couple “jumped the broom.” “Jumping the broom is an African-American tradition that signifies marriage,” she describes. “Enslaved African-Americans could not enter into marriage legally. A bride and groom would jump the broom publicly to honor their commitment. Today, it represents great joy and honors ancestral heritage. It symbolizes the sweeping away of negative energy while making way for all the good to come.”
The bride’s mother decorated the broom they used for the rite. “She wrapped African-printed fabric around the handle and tied it with a bow near the bristles. Cowrie shells, beads, appliqué, and artificial flowers adorned the broom,” explains the bride. “The artificial flowers allow us to display the broom in our home for years to come.”
While more than 100 friends and family members tuned in virtually, the couple hosted just 24 guests in person. “Like most things during the pandemic, many of our decisions changed as restrictions were updated” they share. “At first, we expected to get married at a courthouse, just us. By February, we decided to take the leap and plan for our immediate family to attend, about 16 people. By April, we felt comfortable extending up to the venue limit of 24. We didn’t want to delay the joy of getting married. This pandemic, which comprises half of our relationship, taught us to live fully and celebrate the present moment.”
During cocktail hour, passed hors d’oeuvres paid homage to the couple’s roots—mini lobster rolls for DeYandré’s New England upbringing and lamb vindaloo naan cups for Vishal’s Indian heritage. Signature cocktails were personalized, too. “Vishal’s was Last of the Oaxacans, a citrusy mezcal drink,” the couple shares. “DeYandré’s was English Garden, a gin and elderflower drink.”
While guests mingled, DeYandré’s brother rolled out an incredible surprise gift for the couple, a handmade tufted rug of their wedding logo, another ode to the gemini theme. “Gerald recently adopted the new hobby, but we had no clue he was working on a gift for us,” the bride says. “We were in awe; I started shouting, ‘He made this! He made this!’ The rug sits in our living room where we shared our first look. We’ll cherish it forever.”
“As a fashion stylist, I love witnessing personal expression,” DeYandré says. “We opted out of traditional bridesmaid and groomsmen outfits to celebrate our family and friends’ individual style. We requested that everyone wear color and avoid black.” The results were impeccable. “Everyone looked amazing! A few people pulled quirky pieces out of their closet that they hadn’t had the opportunity to wear yet. The venue told us it was the best-dressed wedding they’ve ever seen.”
In addition to catering, the team at Big Delicious Planet also created the couple’s cake, a single-tier confection topped with toasted honeycombs and pressed with wildflowers. The flavor? “Chocolate cake and ganache, playing into our Chocolate Gemini nickname, made with harvested honey,” DeYandré says.
Big Delicious Planet is alive—lush, green, and vibrant. We merely needed to bring ourselves.
“As an event planner, I knew I didn’t want to work with an empty blank space, providing every piece of decor to bring a space to life,” DeYandré says. “Big Delicious Planet is alive—lush, green, and vibrant. We merely needed to bring ourselves.” For decor, “We asked Sabrina to incorporate flowers that were in season and have fun. She created a lush tablescape with airy blooms styled with pillar candles. She provided a bright, colorful mix of magenta, hot pink, and orange with pops of neutrals, pastel blue, and lavender.”
DeYandré continues: “French industrial chairs wrapped around the large farm table; bistro lights and cream linen swag draped the pergola. Gold flatware was paired with classic glassware, wicker chargers, and saffron shantung napkins in a knot fold.” Custom menus featured their gemini logo.
“We loved the farm-to-table element and appreciated the venue’s commitment to the environment, being the ‘greenest’ caterer in America,’” DeYandré says. “We wanted to showcase some of our favorite foods, along with some nods to our combined culture.” A summer salad was served with fresh-baked bread and churned flower butter featuring orange and pink petals that matched their color palette. Next, braised short rib and seared branzino were plated with smashed potatoes and roasted beets and carrots.
The couple built out their own Spotify playlist with more than 100 hand-selected songs to set the tone for a relaxed and intimate event—and afterward, the energy picked up with drink-fueled karaoke back at their apartment. Their day was a perfect reflection of their collaborative partnership. “Celebrate your individual strengths while divvying tasks,” DeYandré and Vishal advise other couples. “Plan together to ensure the day and wedding season reflects each of you. Follow your intuition, reimagine tradition where you see fit, and ask for help.”