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A Literature-Themed Wedding on a Private Estate in Malibu

by Staff

Jacqueline Ja-Rei Lee and Eduardo Rivera met in line for the bathroom, of all places. It was January 2012, and they were at an indie rock concert in Washington, D.C. “Sparks flew, but we went our separate paths,” Jacqueline says. “Eduardo moved to Los Angeles to study film composing and to help launch the psychedelic band Lauren Ruth Ward. I remained in D.C., where I worked building partnerships and impact campaigns to support international humanitarian efforts.”

Four years passed, but their respective careers put them back on the same path again. “We were reunited in D.C. when a film Eduardo scored, Sea Gypsies, premiered at the Smithsonian National Green Film Festival,” Jacqueline remembers. “The rest was history, and six months later, I joined Eduardo in Los Angeles.” She has since run social impact campaigns for films like the Academy Award-winning documentary American Factory.

“In December 2019, Eduardo took me to where it all started in D.C.,” Jacqueline says. “He proposed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a location close to my heart because my life has been dedicated to social justice work.”

They began wedding planning almost immediately, though ultimately pushed the wedding back a year due to COVID. Their goal was to truly join their families with their celebration. “Eduardo and my communities span across the worlds of social justice, music, and film, and our families come from different cultures. Eduardo’s family is from Honduras and my family is half Chinese from Taiwan and half from the U.S. of English descent,” Jacqueline shares. “We wanted to design a wedding at a location that would unite our loved ones—most of whom had never met each other—and build bridges through our shared love of literature.” They found a private estate in Malibu overlooking the Santa Monica Mountains for the ceremony. “Eduardo and I both gasped when we stepped onto the property,” she says. “We wanted to get married somewhere outdoors with a breathtaking view to create a ‘ceremony in the air,’ which is an ode to our shared Buddhist beliefs.”

“While it was very much a DIY location, we knew we wanted to share the location’s inspirational feeling with our communities,” she continues. “Because the venue required the event to be built from scratch—everything from the kitchen to the bathrooms—there were a lot of moving pieces to hire and manage. By having a clear vision, budget, and expert event team, the planning process went smoothly.”

The couple worked with planner Michele Gott of Center of Attention Events to execute a literature-themed affair with a color palette inspired by the desert sky at sunset. “Michele captured the ethos of our vision to create an experience better than we could have imagined,” Jacqueline says. 

On December 18, 2021, the couple finally tied the knot. Read on to see all the sophisticated details of Jacqueline and Eduardo’s wedding, planned by Center of Attention Events and photographed by Michelle Shiers Photography.

To prep her skin for the big day, Jacqueline got a microcurrent facial two weeks before the wedding, and stuck to her usual regimen of using May Lindstrom’s Blue Cocoon and Ayuna Cream II lotion in the morning and at night. “I have super dry skin, but I do not use harsh chemicals,” she says. “May Lindstrom and Ayuna products are amazing and natural for all skin types.”

Glam eyes are always my go-to,” she continues. “My makeup artist added lashes and made my eyes stand out in a dramatic and gorgeous way.” For her hair, she wasn’t as sure. With my first trial, the stylist had me try big, big updo hair. It was so fun, but it wasn’t me. My planner then introduced me to Wendi Yvonne and her team. They helped me land on a classic low bun, since my dress had the dramatic one-shouldered arch.”

As the finishing touch, “I wore the perfume that I wear every day, Yves Saint Laurent Libre Eau De Parfum. Even though I was completely decked out in bridal gear, I wanted to have a familiar scent to remember it’s still me underneath all that dress and attention.”

 I wanted to have a familiar scent to remember it’s still me underneath all that dress and attention.

“I wanted to go with a dressmaker whose brand focused on inclusivity, so I chose Pronovias,” Jacqueline says. But, though knew the designer she wanted, she wasn’t sold on any particular silhouette. “I thought I would choose a simple silk dress, but I wanted to at least try on other styles—when else would I be able to do that? I tried a mermaid, trumpet, ballgown, and simple styles. As soon as I put on the Sedna gown, I came dancing out of the dressing room. It was glamorous and dramatic. Even better, it had pockets.” The pure Mikado gown featured a draped bodice, with an arched off-the-shoulder sleeve and voluminous skirt.

Jacqueline accessorized with with a gold bracelet gifted from her stepmom’s mother, who had recently passed away. “It is traditional to wear something gold in Chinese weddings,” she says. “In my pocket, I carried a borrowed blue brooch from my mother, and Buddhist prayer beads.” Underneath the ballgown skirt, she wore rhinestone booties by Betsey Johnson.

Her bouquet fit the color palette beautifully with peach and sunset orange roses, purple thistle, bluebells, and white feathery stalks.

For his custom suit, Eduardo worked with celebrity stylist Adolfo Sanchez. “The inspiration was to pay homage to classic styles while hinting at touches of modern,” Jacqueline describes. “For example, it was a three-piece suit, but the vest had a gold zipper on the side instead of buttons in the front. The back of the jacket was a double vent, but the neck was a mock collar with no lapels.” The gray suit featured a soft sunset-pink silk lining and was accessorized with a gold pocket watch engraved with the wedding date.

For their “ceremony in the air,” the couple chose a location at the cliff’s edge, overlooking the mountains. “Rows of gold chairs faced the edge and an eight-foot crescent-shaped arch covered in flowers served as the altar,” Jacqueline says. “Peach and sunset orange roses, purple thistle, bluebells, and off-white feathery stalks covered the crescent ceremony arch. The ceremony was timed to and facing the sunset.”

The duo hadn’t originally planned on doing a first look, but “we realized that because the sun was setting during our ceremony, our photos would be at night,” shares the brides. “So, we changed course and decided to do one, and I am so glad we did—the lighting was perfect.” They used the stunning ceremony space to meet. “The first look gave us some quiet time to talk, appreciate the day, and admire each other all done up. It also kept my nerves calm before the wedding ceremony and celebrations began.”

“We wanted our wedding party’s individuality and creativity to shine, with the only limitation be that they wear something within the color palette, specifically Pantone’s Desert Twilight set,” Jacqueline says. “The bridesmaids and groomswoman all chose long flowy dresses in different styles and colors. Together, they looked like a gorgeous sunset.” Groomsmen chose suits with ties in different colors from the palette as well. 

The couple’s two 2-year-old nieces served as flower girls, in white dresses with faux fur jackets sourced from Etsy. “Their shoes were covered in silver glitter to match my silver rhinestone boots,” Jacqueline says. “They looked like little princesses.”

Their 100 guests were handed glasses of Champagne as they found their seats for the ceremony. A live harpist played Gershwin for the prelude, then “Moon River” by Andy Williams as the wedding party entered.

“For the bridal processional song, Eduardo custom orchestrated for the harp the song ‘Just Us’ by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross,” Jacqueline shares. “I loved that song from the movie Soul, so hearing it gave me a sense of grounding and connection to Eduardo as I walked the aisle.” Her father accompanied her toward the altar.

Stanley Shimamoto, our friend and fellow member of the world-peace Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai, officiated and wrote a custom ceremony based on our beliefs,” Jacqueline says. “We recited traditional vows and then recited our Buddhist prayer three times: nam myoho renge kyo.” They exchanged white gold bands to make it official.

Ella Fitzgerald’s “At Last” was played as the newlyweds recessed out, a nod to their long engagement delayed by COVID.

Each guest brought a book and swapped with another guest whom they had not met to connect hearts and minds.

During cocktail hour, a live poet wrote custom haikus on a typewriter for guests based on a single word or feeling the guest provided. “We also had a book exchange, where each guest brought a book that influenced their life and swapped with another guest whom they had not met to connect hearts and minds,” Jacqueline says. “Custom bookmarks served as both escort cards and keepsakes to remember the day in the book they serendipitously took away from the wedding.”

At the reception, gold chairs surrounded long tables covered in nude velvet linens and set with gold-rimmed dinnerware. Peach goblets complemented the color scheme, and florals were arranged in gold vases alongside old-world candelabras. “Because the venue was completely DIY, it was hard to conceptualize through photos how the event flow would materialize,” Jacqueline remembers. “We trusted Michele and her team fully to take this on, and the layout was perfect to emphasize the mountain views and open skies, and provide a winding layout to encourage exploration and intimate nooks for conversation.”

The literary theme showed through in chic decor details. “Stacks of books were placed throughout the property with literary quotes printed on the bindings, and menus were rolled into vintage-style scrolls,” Jacqueline says. 

The newlyweds entered the reception to Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams,” then sat down to dinner. “Throughout the planning process, there was a lot of studying about our respective family cultures,” Jacqueline says. “I learned that in my father’s Chinese heritage, it is customary for weddings to have seated dinners that last for hours while the liquor flows. This helped us decide to do a formal seated dinner. The menu selection was harder because of our love for food.” Following a roasted beet salad, they decided on three options to accommodate dietary restrictions: braised short ribs, sea bass, or vegan puttanesca.

The moon was full that night, so the couple chose Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” for their first dance. “Music was extremely important because Eduardo is a composer and musician—as is most of his community—and I grew up playing the piano,” Jacqueline says. “We put a lot of thought into the songs and music played, and made sure to have live music leading up to a DJ to dance the night away.”

Jacqueline chose “Give Me The Simple Life” by Steve Tyrell because she and her dad love the Father of The Bride movies. “My father took dance lessons with my stepmom for a year leading up to the wedding and had a custom simple choreography made for the father-daughter dance,” she shares. “He had never danced publicly before, while I grew up doing dance classes. So, he wanted to do something special for me. It went off perfectly. He is now continuing dance classes with my stepmom.”

The classic white cake—with a gluten-free top tier for the bride—was another homage to literature and Chinese culture. “The cake had handwritten script from the bride and groom’s favorite texts, and featured a keyhole flanked by two rabbits,” Jacqueline describes.

“We had carefully curated the seating and layout to connect our community members across the social justice and entertainment fields and across cultures,” Jacqueline says. “It meant the world to us to see all of our loved ones, laughing, dancing, and making new friendships. I made sure to take moments to step away and look around the room, taking it all in.”

The next morning, they rented blankets and pillows and set them up on the beach for a low-key brunch gathering. They picked up HomeState tacos—a nod to Texas, where Jacqueline was born and raised—and coffee. “It was the perfect way to wrap up the wedding weekend before our loved ones departed: tacos on the beach in Malibu, right next to the ocean.”

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