During the summer of 2014, Gina Matar headed to New York to complete research at Columbia University. Steven Ujvary was there, too. He had been for nearly a decade, working for a private equity firm. “Fate had its way after the clock struck midnight one night,” the couple shares. “Steven spotted a girl and her best friend slashing face paint across their faces, an iconic symbol that they spent the evening at Riff Raff’s nightclub. Steven maneuvered his way toward the duo.”
Steven and Gina, who is now a surgery resident physician, chatted for hours that night—first inside the club and then on a street bench outside—sharing life stories and making a significant impact. “Numbers were exchanged and they went their separate ways,” the duo says. “For nearly four years.”
They stayed in touch only intermittently. “Then, in one of their infrequent texting conversations, Steven asked Gina for recommendations for his travels to the Middle East, so she connected him with her friend to show him around. Social circles expanded, the texts became more frequent, and on St. Patrick’s Day 2018, they re-met back where it all started in New York City.”
They got engaged in New York, too, right outside the then-shuttered Riff Raff’s nightclub. The proposal came in October 2019. That meant wedding planning happened during the height of the pandemic. “We wanted to host a wedding that allowed our guests to be comfortable and safe, and actually ran a poll asking our guests what they would feel most comfortable with,” the couple shares. “It was pretty conclusive that our best chance for a ‘normal’ wedding celebration was going to be an open-air outdoor wedding. Without hesitation, our wedding planner executed the change.” They decided on Cranbrook House & Gardens and constructed a custom tent onsite to host a celebration that paid homage to the bride’s cultural background.
“Arab wedding traditions are extravagant and jubilant, with celebrations going for multiple days and culminating in a wedding ceremony that feels like a non-stop party,” Gina describes. “It was important to both of us to include Lebanese and Palestinian traditions in a way that was not only inclusive, but also excited and surprised guests in a unique way.” She continues: “Throughout the event we went back and forth between Arab and modern traditions. We are both fun-loving independently, but even more so together. We enjoy traditions, but also appreciate being progressive and unique. We were firm in incorporating the important traditions, but mixed in a way that allowed us to show our more modern day-to-day urban lifestyle.”
They aimed to host not just a wedding but an experience, “an eight-hour party that guests didn’t want to end,” Gina says. That’s exactly what they did on July 10, 2021. Read on to see all the unique details from their wedding day and cultural rehearsal dinner, planned by Ann Travis Events and photographed by Kyle John Photography.
The palette? “Color blocking!” says Gina. It began with a vibrant paper suite, and the bride and groom wax-sealed all 200 invitations themselves. “We also mailed every invitation with Wyoming and Michigan postage stamps from years past, which Gina was able to find online from stamp collectors,” they share.
Instead of a rehearsal dinner, the couple hosted a traditional Arab party known as a zeeyaneh the night before the wedding. (Gina donned a Galvan London dress for the occasion, with Alexandre Birman shoes and Made by Maddie jewelry.) “During a zeeyaneh, the groom is shaved by a close family member or friend—my older brother did it—in preparation for his wedding,” Gina describes. “The greatest part about this celebration is that Steven has no Arab roots—he was born and raised in Wyoming—but insisted on incorporating this tradition during our wedding weekend. We toasted with Arak, an anise-based distilled spirit kind of like Greek ouzo, to kick start the joyful union of our families.”
The week of the wedding, Gina and Steven got facials together at DAPHNE in Soho to prep their skin for the big day. “I wanted classic makeup and glamorous curls in my hair,” Gina says. “Andreea, my beauty stylist and hype girl, kept encouraging me to choose something that made me feel comfortable, and I realized what I gravitated to was a much more glam version of my typical half up-half down hair routine.”
When it came to her gown, however, “I loved making a statement!” Gina says. “I wanted something I can only wear once in my life.” She found that in a Monique Lhuillier dress with floral embellishments and a flattering corset sweetheart top. And, it was all thanks to her mother. “My mom came to New York City on a Friday to dress shop, which happened to be a busier-than-expected remote workday,” the bride remembers. “While I was juggling sending emails and making amendments to my research projects between appointments, my mom would help hail cabs and pick out dresses. My mom actually found the very dress we chose while I was on a call with one of my attending physicians. I literally couldn’t have done it without her!”
“I was inspired by florals, but ultimately let the girls choose what they wanted and encouraged them to find something that excited them,” Gina says of her bridal party’s looks. “One of the best friends even designed and made her own dress.”
Steven wore a custom tux made by his friend Rich Zyne, who owns a high-end tailoring shop in New York, Acustom Apparel. He paired the look with laced Salvatore Ferragamo shoes and a black paisley bow tie from Tie Bar. “Steven and his wedding party but had some difficultly with the bow ties; usually Gina helps Steven out his,” the couple shares. “So, he called Rich up to the room to help make sure that everyone’s attire was spot on.”
The finishing touch was a Cartier watch, gifted from Gina’s mother with a custom engraving that read, “your timing was perfect.”
“Steven wanted the guys to wear black tuxes, but allowed them to be different,” Gina says. “We liked the slight imperfections and differences among the bridal party, but the guidance made it all cohesive.”
The couple fell in love with the architecture throughout the grounds at Cranbrook, including the towering columns at the entrance of the art museum where they said “I do.” “We wanted a long cascade of flowers coming up the stairs with a bit of a curve,” Gina says. “It felt ethereal and almost like a royal wedding—grand and big in scale. It really set the mood for the rest of the evening.”
A string quartet played “Can’t Help Falling in Love” as Gina processed down the aisle accompanied by her mother.
The moment was filled with so much love and beauty around us.
Gina grew up going to a Maronite Eastern Catholic Church, so the couple opted to have a ceremony comprised of both English and Arabic elements. She adds, “It was the first time we saw each other all day, and the moment was filled with so much love and beauty around us. It was the entire reason why we were there!”
They recessed out to the perfect tune, Bruno Mars’ “Marry You,” and stopped on the steps for another romantic kiss.
Guests moved into cocktail hour for Negronis (Steven’s pick) and spicy margaritas (Gina’s choice)—plus more anise-flavored arak—then found their seats in color-blocked frames representing each table number.
Rainbow cloud installations above the tables were the perfect symbolism of joy.
To keep the event al fresco, a custom open-air tent was constructed on the grounds near a garden pool. The decor, too, was color blocked. “Every section of the tent concentrated on a different color: yellow, purple, red, and more,” Gina says. “We used a floral pattern napkin to bring all the colors together at each setting and had rainbow cloud installations above the tables. It was the perfect symbolism of joy. The tables were a mix of completely clear and white acrylic, a clean balance to the rather eclectic floral design.”
Another memorable Arab tradition the couple incorporated was the zaffe, a procession to the reception led by boisterous groups of dancers, drummers, and musicians. “The ArabianKnights are professional dabke dancers and drummers that really enhanced the atmosphere and energy,” Gina recalls.
Upon entering the reception, the couple cut into their cake, a blood orange olive-oil confection with vanilla praline. Whimsical adornments mirrored the colorful florals on the tables.
The groom changed into a white dinner jacket before sitting down for the reception. “The salad was fresh mixed greens with strawberries, blueberries, pear tomatoes, and toasted garbanzo beans. Guests had the option of short rib, whitefish, or Moroccan chickpea cake,” Gina says. There were toasts during the meal, as well, and “my brother gave an epic, tea-jerking speech,” she adds.
The newlyweds danced to “You Are the Best Thing” by Ray LaMontagne. Since Gina’s father passed away in her teens, she danced with her brother to “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers. Steven and his mother swung to “Forever Young” by Rod Stewart. Later, the bride performed another traditional Arab dance.
“There were moments of the reception when we were surrounded in a circle in the middle of the dance floor, and it felt like pure bliss,” Gina shares. She and Steven did their best in those moments to soak it all in. “Enjoy the entire process,” she says. “It goes by so quick and is truly once in a lifetime!”