Bohemian South Indian Garden Wedding

Swathi & Jay


What do you get when the universe brings together a writer and a passionate culture vulture? A love affair for the ages. Swathi, the co-founder of the Indian fashion portal, Luxemi, was enchanted with Jay’s little quirks and scavenger hunts for cake. I wonder how he proposed? This wedding is a charming mix of intersectional cultural identities and plenty of nostalgia. Their love was celebrated organically with thought and kindness. An open-air Sangeet with an Italia-Jaipur vibe, followed by an enchanting traditional South Indian wedding ceremony under the canopy of centuries-old oak trees. And of course, there’s the best of New Orleans for the Reception, complete with coffee, beads, a brass band, a parade and an afterparty on Bourbon Street! There’s color, there’s excitement. With jazz flanked right alongside Desi Girl. A wedding set in the Bayou with lots of Cajun chili, love, and a Louisiana drawl that will charm you, absolutely disarm you.

About The Couple

How did we meet?

Jay and I first met in New Orleans at my brother’s New Year’s Eve party. I was based in NYC at the time, and Jay was in New Orleans pursuing his postgraduate degree. A good mutual friend introduced us but we didn’t really connect until three years later when we were both living on opposite sides of the country. We maintained a long-distance relationship for six years before getting engaged!

How he proposed?

The proposal was just the sweetest thing. Jay used to create mini scavenger hunts around my house every now and then for things as simple as my favorite cupcake! He’s a wonderful writer and always had the funniest clues. So, when it came to the proposal, Jay planned a scavenger hunt that involved my close friends (some even from different cities!) popped up with clues in meaningful places. We ended up on one of my best friend’s rooftop with twinkling lights overlooking the Chicago skyline with Jay down on one knee. It was absolutely perfect! To top it all off, we had an engagement party that night on the roof with all our friends.

The ring

Jay and I talked about engagement rings prior to getting engaged. We definitely debated whether or not to even have one, given the questionable history around diamond engagement rings. Designing a ring was too daunting because I didn’t even know what I wanted. Doing it from scratch stressed me out too much to even think about it. I figured I’d know it when I saw it, so we decided a vintage ring made the most sense, and it was a decision we both felt good about. We ended up finding the most special 1920s cognac diamond ring from Claude Morady, an estate jeweler in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles. We didn’t even have to resize it! I love that the ring has some history to it. Now it’s a part of our history.

The Details

Wedding Planning

Our wedding is the stuff dreams are made of but the process of getting there is something I won’t soon forget.

Our Approach: After our rather short engagement, we only had six months to plan four days of wedding events. We needed to move quickly to make decisions that aligned with our priorities. It was never about having the best of everything. It was about making our friends and family feel cared for, making Jay’s family feel welcome and comfortable; to creating a space that reflected us as a couple. Jay and I met in New Orleans, Louisiana so we decided to have our wedding there. Many of our guests had never been to an Indian wedding or visited Louisiana before, so we really tried to blend the best of both these worlds together. Once we decided what our priorities were, we took out everything extraneous that didn’t support our objectives. The process was quite trying at times. The fun seemed to get zapped out of wedding planning at various points, but it was all worth it in the end. This wedding was such a special moment in not just our lives, but in our family’s lives as well. We have such bright happy memories from that weekend. We’re so grateful to our family and friends for being a part of it.

Location & Logistics: Our wedding weekend had three different venues in three different cities in Louisiana, so logistically it was complicated. We had to make sure everything was coordinated to a ‘T’ since we had people coming from all over the US and India. Once the venues were nailed down we started to pray for good weather since the events were pretty much all outdoors!

Choosing a Planner: Our wedding planner, Sarah of Events by Sarah Ashley, was wonderful and was instrumental to the success of the weekend. I specifically wanted to hire someone who had never done an Indian wedding before. I didn’t want anyone with pre-conceived notions of what an Indian wedding was supposed to be. We looked for someone who could distill the best of Indian and Southern traditions that made it look fresh and modern yet had all the classical elements.

Resources & Tools: Like every modern bride, I initially used Pinterest to help hone my vision but a few months before the wedding I stopped looking at it. I didn’t want to second-guess the decisions I already made or keep seeing new cute things. I technically could incorporate them but really didn’t have time for. When you go down the internet rabbit hole, there’s always a feeling that you should be doing more. I had to keep reminding myself why we were doing this and what the spirit of the event was really about.

I used Postable to gather all of my guest’s addresses. I even used them to send my thank you note cards out after the wedding. It was so easy and a real time saver. We used Appycouple for our wedding website and Eversnap so guests could share pictures after the wedding. This was a great help!

Wedding Shopping

Being a lover of all things fashion, especially Indian fashion, you’d think that I would have had all my outfits picked out years ago but that wasn’t the case. We did the wedding shopping in 8 days in 4 cities – Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Vijaywada. I didn’t have time to get any of my outfits custom made because we had such a short engagement. I had a list of designers that I knew I loved, including the likes of Anamika Khanna, Sabyasachi, Kotwara, and Rohit Bal. I figured I’d just go to the stores and something would catch my eye that would be perfect. I’m not sure if it was the timing, but none of my “go-to’s” had anything in stock that screamed “dream wedding outfit”. Needless to say, I was a bit panicky after leaving Delhi with only my Mehendi outfit.

I was looking for outfits that fit the settings of the events, that was easy and comfortable to move and dance in. I wanted something timeless. I always thought I’d go the super “fashion-y” route for my wedding but interestingly enough none of those types of pieces felt right for the events we planned.

Wedding Events

Our wedding was held over a weekend in three different locations around Louisiana:

1. Pellikuthuru/Pellikoodiku, Wednesday AM, Private residence. This was the “making of the bride”/”making of the groom” event that we had at my house. Jay’s event was at my aunt’s house nearby.

2. Mehendi, Wednesday PM, Private residence. My aunt and one of our very close family friends hosted this event. It was an informal gathering of all the ladies. It was a fun way to kick off the festivities.

3. Sangeet, Thursday PM, Private residence.

4. Wedding Ceremony, Friday AM, Houma’s House.

5. Reception, Saturday PM, New Orleans Board of Trade.

Invitations: Ashley of Events by Sarah Ashley did our custom invitations and the design turned out great! Our wedding invitation suite included a hand-drawn traditional Indian wedding garland and Ganesh motif that served as the inspiration for all paper products and signage.

Photography: Jessica Janae of Jessica Janae Photography blew me away with her photography. She was the first and only photographer I reached out to after discovering her on Pinterest. She captured the big and little moments in her signature style and made our wedding look like a fairy tale. Her pictures are the gift that keeps on giving.

Donations: We worked with Nanubhai Education Foundation, an India based non-profit that helps to fund public education in rural areas, for our Save the Date cards. Middle school children who are part of the Nanubhai mission designed the cards. The proceeds from the cards funded education scholarships for other rural children in India.

Sangeet - Overview

The Sangeet was a hometown affair that we held in my parent’s backyard the night before the wedding.

Venue: I really wanted to have an event at the house I grew up in. Growing up, my Dad would always tell me that was his dream; so we made it happen. I envisioned this very charming backyard soirée with a hint of east meets west. I wanted it to feel intimate, festive, and guest-focused. 220 guests attended the Sangeet.

Highlights: My favorite part of the night was the dancing that my loved ones indulged in. I know it’s not unusual at Indian weddings to have choreographed dancing but there is something so special about your closest friends (who live all over the country) taking the time, effort, and energy to plan a dance to celebrate us, to celebrate our wedding. Everyone you love under the roof of your childhood home, dancing to your favorite music underneath the stars AND twinkling fairy lights? That is heavenly.

My cousin MC’d, my friends, and my baby cousins danced to a choreographed routine including one of my all-time favorite songs, “Callin’ Baton Rouge” by Garth Brooks (I’m from Baton Rouge). Then Jay and I danced to “Desi Girl”. We almost didn’t dance because we ran out of time to choreograph it. However, my darling husband insisted that we pull through to make it happen. We did and it was perfect!

Catering: We served Indian food with different stations that included kebabs, fresh-made dosas, with a bit of Cajun food as a nod to my hometown. All catering was by Ruchi Catering/Heirloom Cuisine.

DJ: We had the amazing DJ Rocky from Houston DJ for the night. Boy! He killed it.

Sangeet - Décor & Unique Details

The decor for the Sangeet was a mix of DIY and working with my planner, Sarah of Events by Sarah Ashley. The whole effect was surreal as opposed to what I had envisioned in my head! Some of my favorite details:

1. Hanging florals: Sarah, my planner, had the brilliant idea of hanging Bougainvillea flowers overhead which gave the space a very Italia-meets-Jaipur style vibe.

2. Table linen: My two best friends and I hand block-printed linens for the tables.

3. Table decor: We made the centerpieces from vintage gold platters with carnations.

4. Henna for guests: We had mehendi artists applying henna to the guests’ hands.

Sangeet - The Look

Swathi’s Outfit: True story – three weeks before my wedding I still didn’t have a Sangeet outfit. I left India, clueless as to what I’d wear, with no outfit. It was absolutely stressful and unlike me. However, I just didn’t want to get anything that I felt “meh” about. Luckily I pulled it together with the help of my cousins in India. We found a Ridhi Mehra piece that worked beautifully. I paired it with a dupatta from an old Pakistani-style lehenga I bought in Delhi when I was 15.

Jewellery & Accessories: I wore a pair of chandelier earrings my Dad bought for me when I was 22 from a jewelry store in Hyderabad. Other jewellery pieces were my vintage 1920s engagement ring from jeweler Claude Morady and bangles from Luxemi.

Shoes: Kate Spade.

Hair & Makeup: Paul Eastin did my hair and Sasha Ahart did my makeup. My hair and makeup inspiration were from the Dolce & Gabbana Spring/Summer 2014 shows.

Jay’s Outfit: Custom made kurta-pajama and vest from Portfolio in Hyderabad.

Jewellery & Accessories: Gold necklace by Symphony Diamonds.

Wedding Ceremony - Overview

Venue: The wedding was held on the grounds of Houma’s House, a beautiful old plantation house in Darrow, Louisiana. It was a spectacular setting with beautiful gardens and a canopy of 200-year-old oak trees populating the lawns. The wedding itself was outdoors underneath a majestic oak tree. 300 guests attended the ceremony.

Highlights: Jay had a traditional Baraat, he arrived on a white horse with all our wedding guests dancing in front of him as they entered the venue. The traditional South Indian Hindu was held outdoors under a majestic oak tree. There were so many memorable moments from the wedding ceremony, but my favorites are:

1. I remember when Jay and I were sitting on the mandap, I happened to catch my Dad’s eye when I looked over. He mouthed “ You look so beautiful.” He was just beaming with pride. I’ll never forget how he looked at that moment. It was special because my Dad had helped my Mom and I in picking out the best jewelry for all the wedding events. He kept on insisting “Don’t wear too much jewelry, you don’t need it. Your face is already so beautiful, it’ll cover everything up.”  My dad is not what you’d call a fashionable guy, however, he approved every single piece before it was finalized.

2. The most emotional moment for me was probably right before the pheras. We were in the mandap with sunlight was streaming through the canopy, we were holding hands, and the pujari was reciting mantras. It was so spiritual. It felt like God was omnipresent. It was nothing short of spellbinding.

Catering: A vegetarian luncheon with a traditional South Indian meal was served in the garden after the wedding.

Bridal Entrance Song: Tere Bina from Guru.

First Dance: The Luckiest by Ben Folds.

Wedding Ceremony - Décor & Unique Details

Since the natural outdoor setting was already so beautiful we didn’t feel the need to go overboard with the decorations. We wanted to highlight what was already there. Some of my favorite details included:

1. Mandap: Our mandap was made entirely with organic materials (willow branches, orchids, etc) with gold leaf garlands hanging from the back. My planner, Sarah, hand-painted them.

2. Guest apparel: We had a fashion illustrator do sketches of the girls in their Indian outfits. I, along with one of my best friends co-founded Luxemi, a startup where you can rent or buy Indian apparel and accessories. So many of our guests were dressed in clothing from our site.

3. Fresh flowers: We imported jasmine flowers for all the female wedding guests to wear in their hair.

4. Fashion illustrations: There is nothing I love more than a good fashion illustration so we hired a fashion illustrator to sketch all the female guests in their Indian finery. It served as both a favor. It was a fun activity during the two-hour wedding ceremony.

5. Favors: We gave out a special home fragrance made in New Orleans as favors. The scent is designed to evoke the aroma of New Orleans: its Oak lined boulevards and jasmine air. The olfactory senses are such a powerful memory tool, we thought it was the perfect way for our guests to take a little bit of Nola (New Orleans) back home with them.

Wedding Ceremony - The Look

Swathi’s Outfit: I’m South Indian and because we were having a traditional Telugu wedding, I needed two outfits for the wedding as according to our rituals, the bride changes her attire in the middle of the ceremony. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I’ve always loved lehengas ever since I was little and was sure I wanted to wear one for my wedding. In a compromise, I ended up purchasing a lehenga for the first part of the ceremony, then change into my Thalambralu saree that I was obsessed with. Of course, that traditional South Indian look ended up being one of my favorites from the wedding. Mom knows best, right?

For the first part, I wore a lehenga by Dolly J. Indian craftsmanship is the best in the world, and my lehenga was truly a work of art. The skirt had delicate chikankari, and Mukesh works all over it with the tiniest embroidered pink flowers scattered throughout. It was lovely, I felt like a princess in an enchanted garden. For the Hindu ceremony, my Mom had found a Thalambralu saree by Rahul Mishra. I was in love with the lace blouse material it came with. I had it stitched with 3/4’s sleeve. The saree itself was chanderi silk with a simple zari border. Combined with the lace blouse, it gave a bohemian twist on the traditional South Indian saree. It was a perfect fit for an outdoor ceremony.

Jewellery & Accessories: I wore a mix of heirloom jewellery (maang tikka and choker) from my grandmother with pieces from my aunt’s jewelry company, Symphony Diamonds (long diamond necklace), peppered in with costume pieces from Luxemi (hand chain and waistbelt).

Shoes: Kate Spade.

Hair & Makeup: I wanted my makeup to be fresh instead of caked on. I wore orange matte lipstick- a potentially questionable decision. However, I still stand by my choices. Hair was by Paul Eastin and Sasha Ahart did my makeup.

Jay’s Outfit: We had Jay’s outfit custom made by Kaadambini in Hyderabad. I loved the brocade fabric, I sent a picture to Jay. He was all for it. They weren’t sure if they could get that exact fabric since it was a leftover scrap from an older piece but they came through. It was perfection. He really rocked the pink!

Jewellery & Accessories: He wore a necklace and brooch from Symphony Diamonds, Inc in NYC.

Shoes: Custom made along with the outfit from Kaadambini in Hyderabad.

Bridal Party: We didn’t have a formalized bridal party but I did have incredible friends and family who helped out tremendously throughout the weekend. Especially on the day of the wedding. Many of my friends wore Luxemi. They all looked sensational if I do say so myself.

Reception - Overview

I really wanted to have the Wedding, and the Reception on separate days. It was a little unconventional, but it allowed us to fully enjoy each event without rushing. It also gave a chance to our guests to explore New Orleans and allowed them to recoup their energy so we could go all out after the Reception and keep the party going!

1. Venue: The Reception was held at the New Orleans Board of Trade with 225 guests attending the event.

2. Highlights: We had the pre-drinks in their courtyard including an oyster bar that served fresh and grilled oysters for the guests. The MichaelFoster Project, a Louisiana-based jazz band played classics and jazz versions of contemporary classic songs. These guys are the real deal and really set the tone for the night. Creole/Cajun dinner catered by Pigeon Catering was served in a family-style setting with long tables in the venue’s main hall. The dessert was freshly made bananas foster (a Nola classic) out in the courtyard. After speeches and all the formalities, we danced the night away to DJ Rocky‘s mixes.

After three days of partying, we still had one more party to go- the after-party! My brother and sister-in-law hosted an epic after-party on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. They had late-night eats, drinks, and bead throwing on the balcony. We couldn’t let our guests miss out on a true New Orleans experience! Memorable moments from the night included:

  • When I heard the jazz version of Beyonce’s “Love on Top” during the cocktail hour I remember just stopping and staring at the scene around me and feeling overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude.
  • Jay’s most incredible speech. I thought we were just going to give a quick thank you to everyone for coming. Then off-the-cuff, Jay pulled out a “3 Reasons Why I love Swathi” with the audience’s participation!  It was equal parts sweet and hilarious.
  • Another memorable moment was when John Gray of The Michael Foster Project started playing “I Got 5 On It” on the trumpet along with DJ Rocky who was spinning. The vibe in the room was electric! We then went into a traditional New Orleans Second Line (a brass band parade) where we had the jazz band leading us in a parade as we spilled out dancing on the street under the moonlight. It was the perfect ending to the Reception and lead into the afterparty.

Reception - Décor & Unique Details

Some of my favorite details from the Reception included:

1. Courtyard decor: We decorated the venue’s beautiful courtyard with fresh flowers and candles by Bees Florals and Event Design.

2. Ballroom decor: The ballroom had long banquet tables with trees as the centerpieces. Palm trees lined the perimeter of the room. The tables had cream linens with gold lace overlays. There were candles everywhere. I intended for the room to feel elegant and earthy as if it were just a continuation of the courtyard.

3. Coffee truck: Jay LOVES coffee so we hired Brigade Coffee, a local coffee truck to come to the reception. It served lattes and espressos to all of our guests. It pretty much fueled the entire reception party and make sure we were ready for the afterparty.

4. Cake: Instead of doing one big cake we did several cakes in various sizes. We had Pure Cake mimic the design on my Reception outfit for the decoration.

Reception - The Look

Swathi’s Outfit: I looked everywhere for “THE” reception outfit. Everything that I found, at the time, was either too heavy or not appropriate for the venue. I finally saw this Vikram Phadnis piece. It was regal with just the right amount of sparkle. I was a bit hesitant about the color since navy blue isn’t a color I normally gravitate to but it worked!

Jewellery & Accessories: My necklace and earrings were from Luxemi (which you can rent!). I turned my Philip Lim for Alexis Bittar earrings into a jhoomar for the night. It was the perfect accent to the whole look.

Shoes: Kate Spade.

Hair & Make-up: Hair was by Paul Eastin and Sasha Ahart did my makeup. My hair was inspired by a look Keiichiro Hirano did for a Vogue editorial shoot. As for makeup, I went with a classic red lip, and kohl lined eyes.

Jay’s Outfit: Jay had his suit custom made by the good people at Suit Supply. He was able to pick out the fabric, lining, and the little things. Suit Supply embroidered our initials underneath his collar and the word “New Orleans” inside his jacket. It is awesome.

Accessories: He also wore a bow tie from Barneys NY and a lapel pin from Hook & Albert.

Shoes: Paul Smith.

Tips For Brides-To-Be

1. Things will go wrong and that’s OK. Your wedding isn’t meant to be perfect in every way. It’s meant to have a heart, and soul.  Positive energy will surround you, lift you up as you enter the next stage of your life. As long as you have that you’re already having the “perfect” wedding.

2. People want to help so let them. Pick the 3 things you absolutely want to have control over. Then let everyone else handle the rest.

3. Wedding planning is stressful so set yourself up for success. Hire professionals who really want to be a part of your wedding. They may not have the flashiest websites or featured in tons of blogs but they will be people who will work hard so you can have your dream wedding.

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