Ever since I sneaked a peek of this amazing wedding on our Facebook page last Saturday I’ve been itching to share this with you lovely lot. And from the super enthusiastic response you gave, it seems you’ve been eagerly awaiting its publication on the blog too!
For a start it took place in a blissfully romantic Château in France; I mean there are parquet floors and chandeliers and grand pianos and everything. There are also ponies which also get a huge thumbs up in my book.
But mainly, Susie and Russell know how to throw a darn good party; any wedding that still has guests dancing at 3am is a testament to that.
I guarantee that you folks will be pinning this big day to your hearts’ content. There are suave menfolk in black tie, beret favours (I know! IMMENSE!) handmade chocolates, a traditional French Croquembouche and hazy sunlight streaming through ancient trees.
I adore it.
Château de Pennautier
Susie The Bride: With me being from Cork and Russell from Leamington Spa we were always going to have to ask the wedding party to travel one way or the other. Both of us pictured our wedding as being warm and sunny with great food and wine. Added to this we run an international events company and are often in spectacular European locations wishing our friends and family were with us – this was our chance to make that happen.
The South of France has been a special place for both of us. Growing up we both spent many family holidays in France and have many fond memories there. When we first met Russell suggested we travel to France together – at the time it was just small talk but a couple of months later, with the tent in the boot of his car we headed off for our first holiday – to France. We therefore had a strong frontrunner.
Having researched which parts of France would be most accessible for our guests by plane, both from UK & Ireland, we narrowed our search to Languedoc Roussillon. We packed up our tent and our tandem (yes – we are that cool) and spent a fortnight in July 2012 cycling from château to château looking for the perfect wedding venue.
Having visited about twenty different venues, we drew up a shortlist of three venues. However our first choice was always Château de Pennautier. As soon as you drive through the gates, there is that wow factor! It is a fairy-tale venue; the beautiful and extensive grounds, the absolutely unique rooms and importantly the wine all draw you in.
When it came to the preparation for my wedding hair and makeup, I can positively say I was a nightmare for my hair and makeup artist – Lauren Irwin. Having scoured wedding websites & fashion websites, I vacillated between different looks and styles, eventually settling on a natural look for both my hair and makeup. My dress was simple and I wanted this to be the case with the rest of the look.
However achieving this, is not always as simple as one would think and up until the morning of the wedding I hadn’t made a final decision on my hairstyle. Up or down, up or down? In the end, I settled for half up, half down with some skinny plaits to add detail. I was absolutely thrilled with the final result and Lauren did a fantastic job in taking my vague instructions and creating the final look. Most of the makeup used was Bobbi Brown, which lasted till 3am – at which point the lights went off in the honeymoon suite!
I am an impatient shopper at the best of times and there was no change when it came to the search for my wedding dress.
I initially visited a couple of vintage boutiques in Warwickshire and London, accompanied by my sister and mother, who were both thankfully brutally honest! While the girl in the changing room opposite was receiving ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Aaahs’ from her five bridesmaids, I had some very firm ‘No’ and ‘I don’t think so!’ responses to my selections!! This may seem harsh but you don’t want to make a mistake on probably the most expensive item of clothing you’ll ever buy and so I appreciated their honesty. I did however find a dress which was perfect in almost every way other than its price tag. So again I took the look and focussed on finding a dress with a similar shape and style. Elegant, sophisticated with a hint of a romantic bygone era.
I visited a few more dress shops alone and found that they all had a very similar selection and weren’t really offering the style of dress I was looking for, so again I took to the internet.
I found that J.Crew had a selection of different dresses, simple, classic and not outrageously priced. Their customer services team were extremely helpful in answering questions on colour, size, delivery and returns. Nervously I placed my order and held my breath! One week later my very special parcel arrived with the most stunning dress, which fit perfectly and was exactly what I had been searching for! Simple, elegant, with some antique style detailing, I had the dress of my dreams.
Once I had my dress I was able to make decisions on completing the look. A wedding is possibly the only opportunity in life to wear a veil and my dress lent itself to a very simple veil. I found exactly what I was looking for on the Not on The High Street website from Faulkner & Carter London – a silk tulle veil which was the length of the train on my dress and complemented the dress perfectly.
Finding the perfect shoe was a little more challenging. As I wanted something I could wear all day, the shoe need to offer a little support, without being too high (I am already 5’11) and also reflect the elegance of the dress. Rachel Simpson, offers a beautiful selection of wedding shoes, which have a vintage flair but are beautifully made.
Luckily living in Leamington Spa, I am not too far from their warehouse shop where I was able to try the different options before settling on the Mimi, which I added some sparkle to with some shoe clips, which matched the detailing on my dress nicely. As I wanted the dress to do the talking, I avoided any bold jewellery and settled on a pair of vintage style pearl earrings to complete my look.
The Bridal Party
I made the decision early in life that if I got married, my sister would be my only bridesmaid. I have one sister and although there are over six years between us, we are very close and so Veronica was my natural choice. Equally Russell’s brother, Ryan is his best friend and was Best Man for the big day.
Veronica and I spent a day shopping for bridesmaid dresses and once I knew which colours worked on her, I set about searching. The dress had to be lightweight but elegant. Again I settled on a J.Crew dress buoyed by my success with my own dress. I was lucky that I only had one bridesmaid to dress, as I was able to focus on what suited her and also I was able to budget a little more with only one to spend on.
The colour scheme was also dictated by the bridesmaid dress, which was a spiced wine. We were not strict in having everything exactly that colour but used a palette of colours based around that tone. I love the antique / vintage look. Given the elegance of the chateau, I erred toward a more elegant antique look rather than the shabby chic (which I also love).
Russell has two nieces, Monica and Elsie, who acted as flower girls on the day. They looked like two princesses in their cream dresses from Debenhams. Again I chose dresses and shoes based on comfort. We knew the weather would be warm and wanted to make sure that they were both able to run about freely in their fairy dresses. Their ballet pumps came from Next.
Russell again had some firm ideas in his head on the look he was going for. Marrying abroad meant that renting suits would be costly and in the anticipation of good weather Russell didn’t want to go for a traditional morning suit. Russell often wears suits for work and for the wedding wanted something which was not just another work suit. Eventually he settled on a French Connection navy tux trimmed with a black satin collar. The Best Man and the fathers wore fitted black tuxedos by Cerruti.
Wild Roses And Peonies
In early February Russell & I paid a second visit to the Chateau to familiarise ourselves with its layout and location, along with meeting our suppliers who include our fantastic florist Sarah Menager, who came highly recommended by Sabine our contact at the Chateau. I had some firm ideas on what I wanted and shared some pictures with Sarah, who executed my ideas perfectly.
My bouquet was a mixture of wild roses, peonies and other seasonal flowers, predominantly cream but with the purple and pink tones from our colour palette. For the church we had some urns filled with hydrangeas and a small garland of mixed flowers on the altar. Sarah used lovely antique style silvery vases for the flowers on the tables for at the reception. The tables were completed with seasonal berries which were delicately strewn down the centre of each table.
We chose a banquet layout, as it worked well in the room which was rectangular in shape. With five years of event organising experience we knew that once noise levels increased the traditional round tables leave you only able to talk to your direct neighbours (one of which is probably your partner). With the banquet layout you have five immediate neighbours which really helped conversations and built a community feel, rather than creating isolated circles.
One of the main challenges about getting married in France is the actual ceremony. Being a Catholic I always wanted to be married in the church. There are very few Catholic priests available in France to do this and so my local parish priest from Cork, Fr. Cormac agreed to join us for our wedding in France.
Fr. Cormac delivered a brilliant sermon, which incorporated personal details about both Russell and me, and was inclusive for the non-Catholics in the congregation. He even managed to crack a joke about Russell’s TVR or ‘the other woman’ as I sometimes refer to her! We chose members of friends and family who have played a special role in our life to read and sing at the ceremony.
The music was provided by a talented local harpist, Dominique Wolf, who went to the trouble of learning some new Irish tunes for the day. Being showered in the petal confetti leaving the church is one of the vivid memories captured in eternity by our brilliant photographer Jon.
Don’t Stop Me Now
We know from running our own events that creating the right atmosphere has a huge impact on the mood of the day and the feeling of the guests. Choosing the music was key to this and we did struggle to find the right band and DJ in the South of France.
This was not the case for the cocktail reception. While on our trip scouting for venues, we perched ourselves outside a little café in Narbonne where the most captivating singer you have ever heard was singing. It wasn’t long after she started to sing that Aline had drawn a big audience. Her voice transports you to a different time, recreating the sounds of the great Edith Piaf. We knew that if we found a venue this was the girl for us. Aline Algudo is the sound of France. Singing in the shadow of Chateau de Pennautier, surrounded by guests sipping on their drinks, it felt like we were in another era, one of glamour and romance.
For the reception we decided to invite a caricaturist to caricaturise some of our guests and provide them with a memory of the day. Simon Roberts divides his time between the south of France and the UK. Mingling quietly among the guests, Simon was a great addition to the day and captured some alternative perspectives on our guests. After the wedding Simon also provided a caricature of Russell and me which we used on our ‘thank you’ cards.
Russell and I have, shall we say, an eclectic taste in music but we were determined that everyone would dance at our wedding! Finding the right band and DJ to deliver on this was a bit of a challenge. After many searches and drawing many blanks Russell managed to connect with Nicky Saunie and her band Les Gazelles. Welsh by birth and living in France by choice, Nicky immediately understood the brief. The dancing continued beyond 3am.
Our first dance was Queen’s – Don’t Stop Me Now. Neither of us are dancers, so we decided that something lively would be the best way to kick off the party and get everyone onto the dance floor. The fact that the open bar had also been set-up to one side of the dance floor also helped keep the atmosphere alive and the dance floor busy for obvious reasons.
Anyone who knows us, knows that food for our wedding was very important to us. We used a local Traiteur – Gauthier Hille. While we both love snails and rabbit, we were considerate of the wedding party and chose a menu of monkfish, veal and a trilogy of deserts – all presented to an excellent standard.
After bringing everyone down to France for the wedding we were determined to present them with a fantastic French meal. We were also conscious that what is easily delivered for two at a tasting can be difficult to replicate for 100 but we needn’t have worried as each and every plate returned to the kitchen clean!
The dinner was finished with plates of local handmade chocolates, from Jeff de Bruges.
The wedding cake was a talking point too, we decided to go with the traditional French Croquembouche. We cut the cake outside, the Chateau as a backdrop. It didn’t explode much to the disappointment of our flowergirls (there were fireworks sticking out the side), but it was delicious and Russell and I were lucky to have tasted a mouthful, before it was devoured!
The wine was from the Lorgeril estate, we chose an unoaked Chardonnay for the white and a delicious red Cabardès, both bottles bearing the name and silhouette of Château de Pennautier (our venue). For the cocktail again we stuck with the regional Cremant de Limoux Rosé, which is produced from local grapes. The cherry and strawberry flavours provided us with the perfect elegant, crisp drink for a summer wedding.
Baubles And Berets
Russell and I worked on the initial design for our wedding invitations. We wanted to keep the invites simple and elegant. We are lucky to work with a talented graphic designer, Adam Moody at Rogue Design who helped us to put the finishing touches to our design. The tree used on our invitations was carried through as a theme for all the printed materials used at the wedding, including the mass booklet and the menus.
The table plan was conceived from a number of ideas. We wanted each guest to feel they were really in France and what is more French than a Beret!! We purchased a beret for each guest and after much experimentation, we wrapped each around a lollypop stick to create a rose, each rose had a guest’s name and the table at which they were sitting attached with a baggage tag. We then arranged these on a large table on the way into the main dining room. Russell and I had two unique Berets and entered the dining room to much applause!
I had purchased name place baubles and hand wrote each place name in calligraphy; this took time but the final effect was really worth it. The Berets were a great hit and we have some fantastic photos of the guests wearing them right up to the end of the night!
Tapas And Wine
The night before the wedding we arranged an informal get together with tapas and wine at La Table du Château. This helped break the ice for everyone and they were more familiar with each other on the day of the wedding. We also had a wind-down day with our guests on the Sunday, resting next to the outdoor pool at Château de Pennautier with a touch of sun bathing and water polo thrown in!
On the Sunday evening, before most guests headed home we also met up in the Medieval Citadel which Carcassonne is famous for which really rounded off the weekend. I really recommend planning in pre and post wedding activities, particularly when people have travelled so far to be there.
Even little touches like providing blister plasters (girls, we’ve all been there with new shoes!), mouthwash, deodorant and sunscreen in the bathroom helped the guests to enjoy the day and not worry about those little things which can grate!
After The Sun Sets
Take some time to yourselves. On your wedding day you may expect that you will be by each other all day but in truth you are really busy chatting to guests and having a great time. However, this is your day and it is really important that you take some time for just the two of you. About an hour into the party, after the sun had set, Russell led me down the garden where we could look back at the Château in peace, just the two of us. We could see people milling around the Château, chatting with drinks in their hands. Standing there together, watching the wedding from a distance really left a strong memory for both of us which we can jump back to at any moment.
Try not to leave anything until the last minute. This sounds obvious but the earlier you prepare the more time you will have as the big day approaches to cover off any unexpected or forgotten details. It is also important to visualise the whole weekend, think about all of the things which will be happening, is there anything you can do, prepare or take with you to make each part more enjoyable? When doing this also try to think about the weekend from the perspective of the guests, your parents, the priest – what will be on their mind, what can you plan to make their weekend more enjoyable?
The Best Photographer
I cannot stress enough the importance of choosing the right photographer for you. It’s not just the photos that are important, but how the photographer interacts with the group. On your wedding day you are surrounded by people who you love and who you choose to spend your time with. The last thing you want is an aggressive photographer pushing you around and barking orders – which we have all seen in the past. The day is about you – the photographer is there to capture the day, not dictate it.
In this regard Jon (who we found through Rock My Wedding) was absolutely fantastic and he made it clear from the start that we were to just enjoy the weekend and he would try and capture as much as possible. It really is true that in order to get great photos, you need to have happy subjects.
On showing the photos to family after the wedding a number of people said they had not seen the photographer and if they had that they thought he was just one of our friends. This is fantastic endorsement especially when Jon seems to have been all places at all times. The photos he has captured are so natural and unforced. When we look through the photos it is not like looking through a roll-call of who was there, but it is like being back in France, people are smiling, laughing and dancing – the photos are so full of life.
Jon was so easy to get along with that on Sunday, Russell persuaded him to borrow a pair of swimming shorts and join us by the pool for a wind-down, during which he still managed to grab a couple of photos!
Venue – Château de Pennautier
Dress – J.Crew
Veil – Faulkner And Carter
Shoes – Rachel Simpson
Make-up – Lauren Irwin
Florist – Sarah Menager
Catering – Gauthier Hille
Harpist – Dominique Wolf
Band – Les Gazelles
Caricaturist – Simon Roberts
Stationery – Rogue Design
Photography – S6 Photography
I think it’s fair to say that the image of Susie and Russell coming out of the church is the best confetti action shot that I’ve ever seen.
All my love Lolly xxx