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A Pirate Disco-Themed Wedding in Panama

by Staff

Sacha Pytka and Matthew Hotsko’s relationship began typically enough. ”We initially met in February of 2008 at a party at UPenn, where Matthew went to school,” Sacha remembers. “I was visiting my best friend and was there for the weekend. We locked eyes, talked all night, and shared a sweet goodnight kiss.” But, nothing came of it.

It was when they reconnected via Facebook eight months later that the adventure truly began. “I sent Matthew a flirty Facebook message,” Sacha says. “He was living in India and I was in Paris. Our messages quickly turned to endless Skype conversations and, in February 2009, I was on a plane to Bangalore. We went diving for a week together in the Andaman Islands and it’s been on ever since.”

The adventure has never ceased; yet, the proposal in 2018 was surprisingly low-key. “Matthew was driving me to the airport in Panama on a rainy day in November,” Sacha recounts. “I was heading back to Los Angeles for my dad’s birthday. He put the ring in my hand on the freeway and caught me SO off guard! I clearly said yes and he pulled out a cold bottle of Champagne from the backseat that we shared in the airport parking lot. Getting on a plane after that was so difficult!” 

The proposal was made all the more special, though, by the ring. Matthew is the founder of FabLab Ecostudio, Panama’s first MIT-recognized digital fabrication laboratory. “Once the initial shock wore off and I saw the details of the ring that he had designed and made at the FabLab, I totally lost it with happy tears,” Sacha says. “It’s all of my favorite things in one, with personal symbols that just made it so much more special than anything he could have bought.”

They spent the next year planning their perfect wedding down to the last detail—and truly had to plan for everything, as the destination they chose was so remote. Their grand vision? To host 230 friends and family on Isla Contadora in Panama’s Pearl Islands. “We have always loved Contadora as a weekend getaway from Panama City,” Sacha says. “The white sand beaches and turquoise waters are idyllic, but the island has a run-down charm and mystique to it that’s hard to describe.”

For one, it’s chock full of history. “Spanish conquistadors used Contadora as a stop to count their pearls and booty before returning to Spain,” the bride explains. “In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Pearl Islands were full of pirates looting Spanish ships. More recently, in the 1960s through ’80s, Contadora served as a luxury party and resort destination for the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Christian Dior, and John Wayne. Today, the main resort has been totally abandoned and taken over by nature. What remains are a handful of B&Bs and private homes.”

The history of the destination became the jumping off point for their theme. “We wanted to touch on the history and inject a dose of fantasy,” Sacha shares. “Instead of trying to turn the place into a luxurious destination—which it isn’t—we thought we could work with the tropical decay that has taken place and just make it more magical. I imagined sequined sirens on the rocks calling in the pirate ships for a disco dance party.”

Realizing their specific vision, of course, would require some intense logistics. “The island has no resources, so we had to think of every single detail, down to bringing ice machines and power tools,” Sacha says. “I was also concerned that there were maybe not enough accommodations on the island for everyone, so I knew about every house available for rent and tried to make sure the biggest houses were booked by big groups to ensure everyone had a place to stay.” Then there was the transportation. The couple turned to 507 Charters for maritime planning. “They helped us find ferries and barges to bring our guests and decorations to the island.”

Luckily, bride Sacha has a soft spot for planning and logistics—not to mention a host of talented friends. “The florist, makeup artist, DJs, decorating team, and more were all friends who offered up their time and talents and whom I trust with my eyes closed,” she says. “Planning the wedding ourselves meant we relied heavily on the help of friends and family and, as a result, our wedding was a product of pure love.”

Continue scrolling to see all the unique details from their magical maritime wedding on leap day—February 29, 2020—as planned by the couple and photographed by Ana Hinojosa.

The wedding weekend kicked off with a rehearsal dinner-meets-beach-party on February 28. Sacha, a vintage buyer, set the style bar high on day one, donning vintage crochet pants by A Current Affair over a Minimale Animale bikini and, to top it off, a cowrie shell headdress by Lafalaise Dion.

For the big day, “makeup artist Georges Pauline Don covered me in shimmer, glitter, and different colored highlighters, saying she wanted me to look like the iridescent inside of an oyster shell,” Sacha recalls. “We never even did a trial makeup run—she just knows me so well and understood the vision.”

I had a vision for a crochet dress dripping in pearls,” Sacha says. She did a quick search for LA-based knitters and discovered Dominique Calvillo of Namaste & Crochet. “Dominique’s page was the first I clicked on. It felt like the universe dropped the right person right into my lap. She was so positive, easygoing and wonderful.” Sacha continues: “We worked together to come up with a design by combining elements of samples she had already made—the back of that dress with the front of this top, this skirt, but add a slit, train, ruffle—until we came up with a totally new design. After our initial design meeting we had one fitting, a few adjustments—more pearls!—and the dress was ready.”

The couple opted for a first look before the ceremony. “Having that moment to just be the two of us was so special,” Sacha remembers. “There is so much going on over the whole weekend and you dedicate so much time and attention to your guests that it’s easy to forget to check in with one another. This calm before the proverbial party storm was one of my favorite parts of the day.”

Matthew and his brothers wore simple linen shirts and trousers; we opted out of jackets as it was 90 degrees and they just didn’t feel right for a barefoot beach wedding,” Sacha says of her groom’s attire. “Matthew did plan one very special detail, though. He recreated gold buttons from one of his late father’s guayabera shirts and sewed them onto his and his brothers’ linen shirts.”

“The head scarf fish net veil was the vision of my stylist friend Guille Montiel,” Sacha says. “It was made of glittery tulle I bought at a fabric shop in Panama City, and some cotton fishnet decorations I got at the dollar store.”

UK-based florist Lily Hickman of That Florist crafted an organic bouquet of anthurium, alstomeria, various types of orchids, and foliage foraged around the island. 

Many elements of the ceremony itself seemed to come together at the last minute in a sort of kismet—including the music. “Our friend Emilio DiZefalo China just so happened to bring his violin to the island, and he freestyled as we all walked down the aisle,” Sacha says. 

“We did not have a flower girl or ring bearer, but my chihuahua, Coat, did follow us down the aisle in his own little tuxedo,” Sacha says. Her father accompanied her toward the altar. “He had a custom embroidered white linen Nudie Cohn suit made just for the occasion—a total surprise to me! He looked so cool.”

The wedding theme was “pirate disco”—and guests delivered. “The official dress code was Pirates of the Caribbean meets Saturday Night Fever meets ‘Gilligan’s Island,’” Sacha says. “My sister Arielle was my only bridesmaid, and she’s got impeccable taste, so I just let her choose whatever she wanted to wear. She wound up in a Libertine skull- and rose-print silk slip dress that was not only very on-theme, but was also very her.” 

“We had no idea what the altar was going to look like until we walked down the aisle,” Sacha admits. “I had a plan to make an installation using giant bamboo poles that we had harvested behind our house, but the poles stayed behind when we loaded the barge as we just had too much and the captain refused to take anything else. I had so much on my plate that weekend that I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.”

That’s where some friends stepped in. “The morning of the wedding two friends woke up feeling a bit loopy after the rehearsal dinner, and decided to take on the task of building the altar. One of the bartenders from the beach bar showed them how to weave the palm fronds and they made something so special. It was made of bamboo they found on the beach and foliage and flowers foraged from the island.”

They enlisted a group of friends to co-officiate the wedding, but neither bride nor groom spoke personalized vows. “We can both be a little shy and sensitive and I don’t think we would have been able to keep it together if we had,” Sacha says. 

“Instead of having rows of seats, everyone huddled around us and it felt like a giant group hug,” recalls the bride. “Our friend Chris led a little prayer and had everyone reach their arms out toward us to bless our marriage. Looking out to the crowd and seeing all of our favorite faces reaching out with all their love brings a tear to my eye to this day.”

The outdoor reception space was, once again, a group effort—and decor was curated over time. “I gave Lily, our florist, total carte blanche for the flower arrangements and she did such a beautiful job, and kept everything fresh on a hot island—not an easy task!” Sacha says. “I sourced vintage crochet and lace tablecloths and bedspreads the previous summer in France that we covered the tables with. We had battery-operated lanterns on the tables, as that time of year is extremely windy; everything had to be low and heavy. I collected smaller whimsical tabletop decorations from flea markets and stores like HomeGoods that I slowly brought down over the course of the year. There was no assigned seating, just a few long communal tables.”

We kept dinner light and casual,” the bride describes. “We started the cocktail hour with traditional Panamanian bites like ceviche, empanadas, and patacones, then followed up with tacos to fuel everyone for a long night of dancing. We figured you can eat one or five, depending how hungry you are. There is less pressure and less waste that way.”

Additional fuel came from the thoughtfully curated beverage selections. “We had small grower Champagne and wines flown in from France,” Sacha says. “I’m half French and it was important to me that the wines be French. We also had one of Matthew’s best friends bring a few kegs of craft beer from his brewery, Cervecería Legítima. He brewed a summer helles for the occasion and also brought a red IPA, Matthew’s favorite.”

After dinner, Sacha slipped into her second dress, an off-the-shoulder sheer tulle gown with puff sleeves and feather trim by Adi Karni; underneath, she donned a high waisted bikini from ASOS. The gown was a dream come true. “A friend had worked with Adi on a Katy Perry music video and I fell in love with her candy-colored poofy tulle dresses,” Sacha says. “I asked my friend about the designer and she said, ‘Just DM her, she’s so cool.’ So I did! Next thing you know we were on the phone, making plans to meet up in Israel, where she is based, later that summer.”

Sacha continues: “Adi brought a bunch of samples to my friend’s apartment in Tel Aviv and I had so much fun trying them all on. After deciding on ‘the one,’ we took a trip to the shouk and sourced the fabric and feathers together, and hung out for the rest of the afternoon. She was able to hand-deliver the dress to me in LA in December when she came for a trip. She stayed with me and I showed her around the fashion district in downtown LA, nerding out over fabrics and trims yet again. I can honestly say I’ve made a great friend in the process.”

For the family dances, groom Matthew and his mother opted for Dean Martin’s “You’re Nobody ’Til Somebody Loves You”; Sacha and her dad selected Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.”

Next up, the newlyweds performed their own first dance. “We decided about two weeks out to do a traditional Panamanian baile típico called ‘El Gallo y La Gallina,’ the rooster and the hen,” Sacha says. “Neither of us is particularly coordinated, so we found one on YouTube that was very simple and fun. Matthew’s mom loaned me some of the traditional gold jewelry and tembleque hair combs to wear, and Matthew had the full outfit on, including the montuno shirt, pintao hat, chácara bag, and chinelas shoes.”

Matthew’s mom, Maureen, is an excellent baker and makes the most delicious rum cake you’ve ever had,” Sacha says. “She made us ten rum cakes—which we found fitting with the pirate theme—instead of going the traditional wedding cake route.” 

As the sun went down, palm trees were illuminated in shades of blue, green, pink, and purple. The party was on. Guests moved into a dancing area again DIY-ed by the couple. “My pride and joy was the net that hung over the dance floor,” Sacha says. “I stumbled across a photo of Ingo Maurer’s ‘Lacrime del Pescatore’which translate’s to fisherman’s tears—online and fell in love immediately. I recreated my own version on a much larger scale by hanging more than 3,200 crystals by hand from yards and yards of netting. It was everything mermaid dreams are made of.”

“Two of our close friends DJed all night, and we even had a guest step in and they all mixed together,” Sacha remembers. “We started with a mix of classics and pop, but by the end we were full on raving.”

There was one more outfit change in store for bride Sacha, who swapped her Adi Karni gown for a glittering mesh cover-up. A mermaid-inspired crown finished the fantastical look. 

“For midnight snacks, we had a friend save us one of his finest fruit-fed pigs from his farm, La Provence Porc; we had it whole roasted ‘Caja China’ style and shredded for pulled pork sandwiches,” Sacha says. Even after the wedding of their dreams, they didn’t want the fun to end. Instead of a honeymoon, “we chose to stay put in Panama and take advantage of seeing our friends who had traveled from so far to be with us,” Sacha says. “A group of us embarked on a ‘buddymoon’ road trip all around Panama, to the mountains and beaches, surfing and relaxing.”

Just a couple short weeks later, the world shut down with Covid-19. Looking back, it made the wedding that much more sweet, the couple shares. “The amount of hugs, kisses, squeezes, and cuddle puddles that were shared are some of the best memories of the whole wedding,” Sacha says. “When we got our photos and video back we were well into lockdown, and the thought of embracing so many people already felt so foreign. It was amazing to have proof of all these hugs! No masks, no social distancing, no nerves—just pure love and fun.”

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