There’s only one appropriate word to describe Sophie and James’s Italian-style Jewish wedding day: bellissimo!
Yes, if you breathe in deeply, you can almost smell the stunning Italian-inspired herb garden this creative couple reconstructed in their London venue, you can almost taste the limoncello, the bombe desserts, the gelato station… sorry we drifted away for a minute! I think we can all agree that wedding planners, Banana Split, know a thing or two about creating an incredible, immersive experience.
Sophie and James had their ceremony (conducted by none other than THE Chief Rabbi Emeritus, Lord Jonathan Sacks) at the place their relationship began, Norrice Lea Synagogue, under an ah-maaaazing olive-tree chuppah.
The party really got started at super-luxe venue, The Dorchester, which was transformed into an Italian heaven, with ludicrously wonderful floral arrangements by Wild at Heart. Seriously, a recipe for divine decor.
Let’s take a second to swoon over beautiful bride Sophie’s stunner of an Oscar de la Renta gown, altered especially to fit her vision – and what a vision she looked!
There’s so much to love about today’s big day, from a singing groom to a rapping dad (YES!) but we don’t want our writeup to be longer than Sophie’s! So we’ll take a minute to appreciate the absolute photography GENIUS that is our Recommended Vendor and Smashing The Glass regular, Blake Ezra Photography. We have been lucky enough to feature Blake on many, many occasions, and he has knocked it out of the park yet again with today’s sublime spread of images.
Videographer AtMotion provided the beautiful wedding film below – and if groom James’s speech doesn’t make you well up, then we don’t know what will! Enjoy, and remember, Pin your gorgeous hearts out!
How we met
Sophie, the bride: We actually grew up around the corner from each other, but being a few school years apart, our paths never crossed. Our fathers trained as accountants together, and both our mothers went to the same hairdressers and regularly chatted.
Our fathers share a best friend, Wayne, who approached James in shul during the Kol Nidrei service and told him that he had just had an epiphany — that he had the perfect match in mind. He told James he should take me out on a date, and the rest is history.
Getting married where it all started
We chose Norrice Lea Synagogue because it is the shul that both of our families are members of and also where both of us had our Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
It was also where the initial conception of us dating arose; our dads have a mutual best friend who decided to set us up during the Kol Nidrei service!
Because the synagogue was near to our family homes, we were also really lucky to be able to have the tisch and bedeken at Sophie’s parents’ house. This made the pre-ceremony parts really special and intimate, with only immediate family and, of course Sophie’s dog, Kolo.
The Dorchester is a place where we both had always dreamed of getting married, arguably the most iconic London hotel and a place of true elegance and class.
An immersive Italian experience
James proposed in Italy on a stunning hidden terrace in Capri overlooking the bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. We decided to share the unforgettable Italian proposal by incorporating it as a strong feature of our wedding; I had always dreamed of a more rustic outdoor feel to my wedding, so we decided on a relaxed Italian garden theme.
We decided that we wanted the guests to have a truly immersive experience at our wedding, being transported right into our special moment. Tables were decorated with entire trees created with olive branches and adorned with hanging lanterns, along with pots of rosemary and other herbs (providing a complete sensory experience including amazing smells) as well as cute succulents in terracotta and glass pots and finally pillar candles in glass jars to make the room feel incredible warm and welcoming.
We hired Banana Split to help us create the wedding of our dreams and ensure our production was top notch and in-keeping with our theme, from our gorgeous lighting down to our delicately hand-painted dancefloor.
We designed the invite ourselves from start to finish, with the help of Big Day (via Banana Split).
We opted for a folded card design in order to present our guests with something unique and created a lovely signature motif of olive branches to tie neatly into our Italian theme, which we extended to all our stationery for the wedding.
The front of the invite said: “Welcome to our beginning”, and the inside had the wedding information. The back of the card had our “S&J” logo, which also featured on other parts of the wedding stationery.
Airbrush makeup and half-up, half-down hair
The lovely Michelle Court from Court On Camera, did my makeup as well as the rest of the bridal party. Michelle largely works on fashion shoots, but did a great job with the bridal party. We were all airbrushed to perfection.
Our hair was done by Will Hunt from Gielly Green. I wanted my hair up and out of my face (as I normally wear my hair in a tight bun) but I knew my new husband would appreciate seeing some of my long locks, so I went with a high ponytail/half-up, half-down look.
An altered Oscar de la Renta gown
My dress was from Oscar de la Renta. I was never fixed on one dress design and wanted to stay open minded when shopping for dresses. All I knew was that I wanted something that wasn’t over embellished, and that I wanted something a bit different. The only certainty was that I did not want a strapless dress.
Typically, I fell in love with a dress that happened to be strapless (!) as it was beautifully simple and elegant with a really unusual cut that I had not seen anywhere before.
The seamstresses were amazing, and patiently altered the dress until I felt comfortable. They built up the front so that it was a halter-neck top and then added sleek yet chunky straps down the back, which was previously completely backless and open.
They also made me a bespoke jacket from a lace that I had found in their shop. They only had a small amount of this specific lace left, as it had been discontinued, so they cut out each piece individually and attached it to a tulle jacket.
I did not wear anything in my hair, as I wanted to keep my up ‘do nice and fresh.
My earrings were a present from my parents along with a Monica Vinader bracelet. I also had a Dior bag, which said ‘Le Monde’, meaning “the world” in French, which was a touching gift from my mum, wishing me the world of happiness on my big day. She also placed a small part of her own wedding veil inside as my “something old”.
My veil was cathedral length with silk edging, and also came from Oscar De La Renta.
Style over comfort
I was planning on getting sensible shoes to not kill my feet, but I fell in love with 10cm heel white Valentinos with white studs. I lasted in these until around 10pm and then changed into Tori Burch white flats, which I used as my mini-moon shoes afterwards.
The handsome groom
James went for a full outfit change; he wore a beautifully traditional tailored morning suit for the ceremony with an ivory waistcoat and tie to perfectly complement my dress, then changed into an Italian handmade Richard James dinner suit, which he had created at their bespoke store on Savile Row, just in time for the party.
Bridesmaids in TwoBirds dresses
I had four bridesmaids; my three first cousins, who all also got married this year. One has already been featured on STG (Tash) and one who you have already approached to feature (Tori) and then another cousin (Camilla), along with the groom’s sister/my new sister in-law (Alex).
My bridesmaids wore TwoBirds dresses; they were perfect. The bridesmaids wore them with a matching more covered-up look for the ceremony and then got to change their style in their own individual ways for the party, they went for a complementary combination of halter neck, one shoulder, a chunkier sleeve and a covered/modest look.
I chose a teal/aqua color called ‘seafoam’ to match the outdoor/fresh Italian garden feel.
An Italian garden-inspired chuppah
We wanted our chuppah to be in keeping with the Italian garden theme, and give a hint to the guests as to what they have to look forward to at the next venue, so created a striking olive-tree construct at the shul.
I had always wanted more greenery than floral and did not want a regular chuppah covered with ornate flowers.
A ceremony officiated by Lord Jonathan Sacks
Our chuppah was created by our phenomenal florists and resembled a large olive tree, which tied in perfectly with our Italian garden theme.
We knew from the get go that there were two essential components for our ceremony; we absolutely wanted for the Chief Rabbi Emeritus, Lord Jonathan Sacks (James’s cousin) to be our Rabbi and for Avromi Freilich (the chazan we grew up listening to at Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, who sang at both our Bar/Bat Mitzvot) to be our chazan.
The two of them inadvertently decided the date of our wedding, as it was so important for us to have them both there, conducting and singing at our chuppah. Both of them were truly amazing and really lifted the ceremony to a truly celebratory and spiritual level.
As previously mentioned we had the tisch and bedeken at my parents’ home, which was immensely special.
A work-of-art ketubah
Although there were so many amazing ketubot to choose from in his collection, we eventually agreed to one with laser-etched trees and vibrant colors as a fitting memory of our wedding and theme.
Personalized music choices
Our first dance was choreographed for us by our friends at Pineapple Dance Studio and was to a unique mix of Michael Buble’s Everything (the first song that I ever heard James sing) and Maroon 5’s Sugar (the first song we felt was truly our song, that reminds us of our first holiday together).
We were so fortunate to have the amazing Nikki Tibbles from Wild at Heart as our florist.
The bridal and bridesmaids’ bouquets were each comprised of white peonies and herbs.
The groomsmen each wore a simple white rose accompanied by a sprig of rosemary.
Nikki Tibles transformed the Dorchester Ballroom into a stunning Italian garden. Tables were decorated with a varied mixture of large trees, runners of small succulent-filled pots and fragrant herbs organically arranged around the room.
The trees were all comprised of olive branches and adorned with hanging lanterns and assorted flowers at the base. Longer tables had runners made up of small pots and candles including succulents, rosemary, white roses and peonies.
Our fabulous photographer and videographer
Our photographer was the amazing Blake Ezra! Would never have chosen anyone else. The photos are the lasting visual memory of our special day, so we had to make sure we had the best person to capture it all!
Our videography was done by AtMotion, who have done brilliant work and we are very excited to see what they create for us.
Tastes of Italy
We did not have a cake, as did not want to detract from the Italian sharing feast presented to our guests. We had a decadent brownie-containing, melting chocolate bombe for dessert, followed by the truly Italian-inspired biscotti and petit fours, making sure there was no absence of sweet treats to finish our meal.
And for anyone craving more, we wheeled in an Italian gelato cart to keep everyone dancing through until the end of the night.
The amazing Tony Page catered and created our dream Italian feast. He outdid himself at our wedding, feeding us along with all of our guests an incredibly delicious meal beyond our wildest dreams.
A funk band
We had a live jazz band at the reception, the Hetty Club, who played fun Italian versions of popular jazz songs to get the party started early.
Music was very important for us as James has played in funk and jazz bands throughout his many years studying, so we decided not to go for the standard wedding band and went for the amazing Soul Jets who we saw play at the Arts Club, London. We were blown away by their style, charisma and funk.
A little taste of Italy
We handmade all the favors ourselves. We bought small glass bottles and filled them with top-quality Italian olive oil. Every bottle had a cork and then we sealed them individually. These acted as a favor for everyone to take home and also doubled up as place card holders; we labelled them with a name tag decorated with our uniquely designed monogram and olive branch design for each of our treasured guests.
A larger-than-life family tree
In the reception area we had a floor-to-ceiling ‘family tree’, decorated with childhood photos of the bride and groom (and our families), pegged to strings of fairy lights wrapped around the trunk.
Our guests were invited to take polaroid photos of themselves and add them to the tree at our wedding, representing them being an important part of our celebration and lives.
One unique part of our wedding was James (the groom) completing his speech by singing to me, before bringing me up to the dancefloor so we could dance together as the band carried on the song.
We also had a surprise performance from James’s father, Peter, who spontaneously snatched the microphone from the vocalist as he was about to start “No Diggity” and proceeded to do an impromptu rap set with the band, leaving them, us and all our guests very confused and also surprisingly impressed.
Toasting with limoncello
Limoncello shots were given out to each of our guests so that the entire room felt truly Italian during toasts on the sweet Italian spirit in between the speeches, rather than toasting with wine.
Advice to couples currently planning their wedding
Try to have everything done by the week before so that that in the days leading up to the wedding you can just pamper yourself and spend time with friends and family. Massages and manicures are a must!
Make sure you fully enjoy your own wedding. Eat, drink, dance and be merry — yes it’s your party, but no you are not hosting an ‘event’, this is your happiest day and so you shouldn’t worry about running round the tables and ensuring you speak to every guest individually. Enjoy your meal, enjoy your music and trust that your friends are having an incredible time and are so happy to see you happy.
Both my husband and I went to the Mikvah prior to the wedding and we both found it a refreshing and spiritual experience and would both recommend it to all, regardless of religious levels.
We spent the full week in the lead up to our wedding apart from each other, with zero direct contact. It was hard (especially when trying to get the final touches for our wedding decided with various suppliers and family) but also made that moment when we first saw each other at the bedeken so much more special. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder! So do holidays and kisses. So don’t spend too much time apart. Just the week before the wedding.
Sophie & James’ little white book
Photographer – Blake Ezra
Videographer – AtMotion
Wedding planner – Banana Split
Venues – Norrice Lea Synagogue and The Dorchester
Bride’s dress and veil – Oscar De La Renta
Bride’s shoes – Valentino and Tori Burch
Bride’s accessories – Monica Vinader and Dior
Groom’s attire – Richard James
Bridesmaids – TwoBirds
Hair + Makeup – Gielly Green and Court On Camera
Flowers – Wild at Heart
Catering – Tony Page
Chazan – Avromi Freilich
Band – Soul Jets
Ketubah – Danny Azoulay
Choreography – Pineapple Dance Studio