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A Lake Como Wedding Weekend Planned in 26 Days

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Ali Greenfield was just about to leave her friend’s 30th birthday one fateful night in September 2016, but as soon as she saw Rafique Jiwani, she knew she had to stay just a little bit longer. “We immediately hit it off, so we decided to leave the party and get a drink at The Standard,” Ali shares. “Our first kiss happened on the car ride over to the restaurant. We drank espresso martinis until late in the night.” 

Though a comedy of errors delayed their courtship by over a year—the couple officially started dating on January 27, 2018—their meet-cute proves that love (or intrigue) at first sight does exist. Simply put, Ali and Rafique were meant to be—and they ultimately made things official in June 2020 during a family vacation to Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico.

“Our trip was filled with hiking, fishing, yoga, and horseback riding,” Ali shares. “We arranged to take some family photos while on the trip and Rafique had mentioned it would be nice to take some couples photos beforehand. Our photo shoot turned into a proposal at a remote lake with the backdrop of a mountain we had hiked the day prior.” 

Since Ali and Rafique share a love for travel, they wanted to get married somewhere they had never been before—and Lake Como ticked off all the boxes. Problem was, the ongoing pandemic made their destination wedding dreams difficult to accomplish. “Covid-19 was still very much troubling travelers and the professionals in the event industry,” Ali explains. “We had several flights canceled and it was hard to find available venues.”

So, when they did finally secure a venue and date—Lake Como’s Mandarin Oriental on July 22, 2021—they only had 26 days to plan. Fortunately, they enlisted planner Gionata Russo to help streamline the planning process. The result? An intimate, three-day celebration for the couple and their 19 guests. “Our families and friends are also globetrotters. For us, it was paramount to offer them a one-of-a-kind experience,” the couple explains. “The three days were planned keeping in mind the enjoyment of our loved ones with boat excursions and hikes.” 

Read on for all the details of Ali and Rafique’s dreamy destination wedding, as planned by  Gionata Russo and photographed by Jessica Mangia.

Ali and Rafique envisioned a summer celebration that was romantic, intimate, and straight out of a fairytale. To set the stage, the couple opted for a dreamy invitation suite by Studio Wren Co. “[We wanted a] wedding that was inclusive of the traditional colors of Indian weddings, with the more muted tones of classic Western weddings,” the bride explains.

As a token of their appreciation, the couple surprised guests with welcome bags, which had a selection of locally-sourced treats, postcards, a welcome brochure, and Italian drinks and liquors. Ali shares that bags were made with recycled and reusable materials “for the love of our planet.”

Though Ali and Rafique touched down in Italy four days before their wedding weekend to relax and get used to the time change, the festivities officially kicked off with welcome drinks at La Finestra Sul Lago. The bride sported a printed dress by Uterque, while Rafique sported white slacks and a blue sports jacket from Jiwani Custom Clothiers, which his father founded over 30 years ago. “I chose blue cufflinks that Ali had given me as a Christmas gift the previous year, and blue suede shoes to match the blazer and pay tribute to a few of the family members’ favorite artists,” the groom adds.

Little did Ali know, the welcome drinks would offer more than great food and fashion. “One of my best friends coordinated with my family and the planner to make a surprise entrance at the night of the welcome party which was a complete shock to me,” she recalls. “As we greeted everyone coming off the bus, we thought we were done saying hi to everyone, until one last surprise jumped off the party bus and ran to give me and Rafique the biggest hugs! It was such a special moment.”

The next day, Ali, Rafique, and their guest met at Villa D’Este for a rehearsal dinner. For this soiree, the twosome made a grand entrance for the books. Not only did they dress to the nines—him wearing a blue slacks and a printed sports coat from Jiwani Custom Clothiers and her in an appliquéd dress from Matsouri—but they also entered the party via Riva boat. 

On his wedding day, Rafique squeezed in a quick workout—and a surprise appearance from his cousin who had just managed to get a Covid-19 vaccine in the nick of time—before slipping into his tuxedo, which was also made by his father. 

“Ali had an amazing vision of a cream white smoking jacket with black tux pants for me to wear to the ceremony,” he says. “I paired it with a feathered bow tie and black velvet loafers, which Ali and I picked out a couple of months beforehand. I chose matching pearl cufflinks and studs to complement the cream jacket. The combination stood out perfectly with the backdrop of the lake on the wedding day.” 

As the couple got ready separately, they wrote (and read) sweet notes from their loved ones—and each other.

Meanwhile, Ali prepared for the big day with her inner circle. After a quick skincare routine—which featured her go-to brands like Obagi, SkinCeuticals, and Drunk Elephant—she got her hair and makeup done by Alena Trigolosova of Glam Garage Milan. “I wanted my look to be very natural and not too different from my everyday look. I wore my hair down as I typically do. Alena created a fresh, natural look for my wedding day with soft curls and a neutral glowing look focusing on my blue eyes.”

After working at top fashion houses like Halston and Diane von Furstenberg, Ali wanted to find a one-of-a-kind dress that spoke to her personal style. Fortunately, the Reem Acra gown she ultimately chose ticked off all of the boxes. “It was meant to be. The style name was literally called the Unique from the United Collection,” she shares. “It was all lace with a very unique pattern, jewel neckline, and short flowy cap sleeves.” 

The bride completed her look with a custom-made diamond bracelet and blue topaz earrings from Tenenbaum Jewelers, as well as pink heels from Dolce & Gabbana. A simple spritz of Maison Margiela’s Under the Lemon Tree fragrance and she was ready to get married in style.

I loved getting to show him the dress before the rest of my family and friends saw me or us together.

Before they kicked off the ceremony, Ali and Rafique shared a sweet first look. “We wanted that special moment alone together before walking down the aisle,” she shares. “I loved getting to show him the dress before the rest of my family and friends saw me or us together.”

Ali and Rafique paired their first look with a photo-op, courtesy of photographer Jessica Mangia. Similar to the couple’s own love story, it was like at first meet. “We had a Zoom call with her and instantly knew she had to be the photographer based on her amazing portfolio, keen eye, and bubbly personality,” the bride shares. 

“We wanted to be married in Italy in a romantic place with an incredible view at an intimate venue,” the couple shares. “We decided on the Mandarin Oriental on Lake Como, Italy.” To make their venue feel even more special, florist Figli Dei Fiori created an arch with a mix of bright pink flowers. (Dahlias, roses, and white hydrangeas were just a few of the many blooms incorporated here.) Rounding out the look were neoclassical urns filled with flowers and white garden chairs for an al fresco look.

The couple enlisted a harp and violin to perform during the ceremony, playing Andrea Bocelli’s “Con Te Partirò” during the processional. 

The bride glided down the aisle, with her father-in-law and a lush bouquet of pink flowers in tow.

Cerimonie Laiche presided over the intimate—and, yes, emotional—nuptials.

Once they sealed their marriage with a kiss, Ali and Rafique recessed down the aisle as husband and wife.

After the ceremony, the couple snapped a few pictures alongside their wedding party. Rafique’s two brothers—who were his groomsmen—sported midnight blue tuxedos by Jiwani Custom Clothiers to complement the groom’s look.

Meanwhile, Ali’s sister and maid of honor sported a floral gown from Oscar de la Renta. “We coordinated the flowers and colors of her dress to the décor of the ceremony,” the bride explains.

The party continued at the Mandarin Oriental’s greenhouse, which was swathed with flowers and lush greenery. “The contrast with the black marble tables [reminded us] of the colors of the lake at night when the shimmering lights of the houses reflect on its surface,” Ali recalls.

Each table setting was decked out with moody glassware and high-contrast dinnerware, creating a soft blend between modern and romantic. Taper candles and votives were the final touch to create a warm and elegant atmosphere.

Before dinner began, the newlyweds snuck away for a few more pictures with their photographer. “She made us feel incredibly comfortable throughout the days and all the photos were perfect,” the bride beams. “Although we were already in a fairytale setting, she made the dream come to life through the lens of her camera.”

After making their first entrance as husband and wife, the party sat down for a delicious dinner. As a food stylist, Ali worked directly with the chef to create the perfect menu of locally sourced ingredients.

Dinner wrapped up with a sweet and sentimental story from one of Ali’s best friends. “She coordinated with our wedding planner to get lotus flowers flown in to present to us during her speech at the reception,” Ali shares. “I told her at our welcome party how I presented a lotus flower to the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok, which was what made me go back to New York and reconnect with Rafique. It was a special moment for Rafique and I, along with all of the guests. Only my Aunt Julie, who I was visiting in Thailand, knew the story of the Emerald Buddha. Now, everyone knows the significance of the lotus flower!”

As for dessert? The couple tapped Qualcosa di Dolce to whip up a chic confection. “I am gluten- and dairy-free, and thought I might have trouble finding a bakery who would be able to make me a wedding cake,” Ali shares. “I found one and the cake was amazing! It was coconut cake with coconut icing and shavings.”

Later, the couple continued the party at the Mandarin Oriental’s hotel bar. Ali switched into a second look and added a shorter veil. “I chose two different veils for my wedding day—a long one for the ceremony and a cute very short one for the reception—because I wanted to feel like a bride all day, but with a touch of fun,” she shares.

The couple continued their Italian vacation with a honeymoon spent exploring Sicily’s Aeolian Islands. “We had the most incredible time exploring the islands,” the bride adds. Though Ali and Rafique firmly believe it’s important to prioritize your wedding vision—not what family members or friends think you should do—their most important tip is simple: Just have fun. “Don’t stress out too much and enjoy every moment,” they say. Because even a three-day celebration will be over in the blink of an eye—like it was all a destination dream.

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