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An “Alice in Wonderland”-Inspired Wedding in St. Louis

by Staff

Lily Cella and Charlie Gilvarg met at a bar in Chicago while watching the Kentucky Derby. Charlie approached her to flirt, and then they got a small-world surprise. “Our mutual friend—unknowing that we had any mutual friends—came up to us asking how we knew each other,” Lily remembers. “Our response was that we hadn’t a clue what the others’ name was; we had just met.” They each went on with their days, but the following week, Charlie asked the friend for Lily’s number and took her out on a proper date. “We never looked back!”

With Lily’s parents’ blessing, Charlie proposed three years later during the Cella family summer vacation in Wyoming. “Being the early risers we are, we woke up a bit before 7 A.M. It was about 45 degrees in our cabin, typical of early mornings in Wyoming in July,” Lily remembers. “So, Charlie began to build a fire in our cottage. As I came toward the fire, he started fumbling over his words and began to tear up, explaining how he felt this was the most perfect moment to ask me to marry him. He pulled out the ring from his pocket and proposed!”

For their wedding on November 13, 2021, “we wanted our guests to experience a journey,” Lily says. “From the conceptual stages of planning and choosing a venue, we wanted a space that could provide various stages throughout the night, from cocktail hour all the way to the last song.” St. Louis Country Club provided just that. “It has a layout of siloed spaces that we could both add to and also create by way of a tent.”  

Planning was also a family affair. “We had so much fun working with my parents to make our dreams come to life—along with the glamorous Van Wyck & Van Wyck team,” Lily says. “My mom, Rochelle, is an interior designer—so with her background of understanding colorways and design, she led us to have an appropriate amount of color explosion and detail throughout every inch of the night. My dad, Louis, is the fourth generation to own and operate Oaklawn Race Track, which has since expanded into a casino, luxury hotel, and spa in Arkansas. By trade, entertainment and attention to detail run through his veins. It was the perfect storm of brainpower and experience to create an event that represented Charlie and my personalities so very well.”

The concept? Take guests down the rabbit hole into a fantasy world à la Alice in Wonderland. “We were not scared to be bold,” the bride says. “We absolutely love color and for a November wedding, we wanted to match the changing leaves and environment around us, while adding our favorite pops of color. Throughout our years of dating, we have also loved to travel. We wanted to grab inspiration from our favorite hotels and restaurants around the world, and inject that inspiration into every inch of our special day.” 

The results were whimsical and every bit the magical journey they hoped for. Read on to see all the fun details, planned by Van Wyck & Van Wyck and photographed by Sara Beth Turner.

Groom Charlie wore a custom tuxedo with an extra special accessory. “I gave Charlie a watch the Friday of our wedding week, inscribed with my future initials, LCG, and his initials,” the bride shares.

The moment I tried it on, I had an overwhelming sense of calm and excitement.

“I have always been extremely decisive when it comes to style. However, going into the wedding shopping process, I did not have a single idea of what I envisioned myself in,” Lily admits. And yet, when she tried on a just-unboxed off-the-shoulder Monique Lhuillier at Warren Barron Bridal—the first dress at her first stop—it all became clear. “From the moment I tried it on, I knew it was the dress I wanted to marry Charlie in,” she says. “I had an overwhelming sense of calm and excitement. It was traditional and simple, and immediately spoke to me.”

It was extremely important to us that we had a first look before our ceremony,” Lily says. “We wanted to have a special, intimate moment before we stood at the altar, and it took place in my parents’ backyard.” It was a beautiful moment—except for one little snafu. “It was also important to us that we had a first look with our English bulldog, Fannie. Right after our own first look, Charlie reached down to grab our little Fannie girl, and ended up ripping his pants! I don’t think we have ever laughed so hard in our lives! Luckily, my dad had an old pair of tuxedo pants that fit Charlie like a glove, and he ended up changing into them before the ceremony.”

“We wanted to have our black-tie wedding [look] as classic as possible: all black, with accents of curated color,” Lily says. “The bridesmaids were dressed in four different styles of Amsale black dresses. Groomsmen wore black tuxes [with] Brackish hand-made feather bow ties. Each bow tie was different and unique, incorporating our favorite colors of blue and green.”

For the ceremony, “it was so important to us to lean into the spiritual space and create an emotional floral depiction of simplicity,” Lily says. “The florals were a total surprise to me as I walked down the aisle. As if I wasn’t emotional enough, hand-in-hand with my father, seeing Charlie at the altar under the trees and florals is a moment I will forever cherish.”

The couple’s guest count was no small matter—“after 400 we stopped counting!” Lily laughs—and created a bit of a snag with COVID. “One month before the wedding, we learned that we were unable to have every guest in the church for the ceremony. Rather, the ceremony would have to be family only. The Van Wyck team didn’t skip a beat, and began quickly planning for a change that was completely unexpected: They created a fabulously fun watch party at the reception venue, where guests could watch us say our vows on the big screen, with flowers everywhere and mock church pews, while having a drink in hand.”

The couple joined their guests post-nuptials, and began the journey down the rabbit hole. Guests entered into a variety of colorful rooms with whimsical decor to sip their signature drinks. “My drink of choice is a Cosmopolitan with two blue cheese-stuffed olives,” Lily says. “So, we had a massive cosmo tower guests could grab from as they walked from cocktail hour into the dinner tent.”

The bride’s parents surprised her by flying in Wyoming-based Western artist Teense Wilford and his band for cocktail hour. Teense and Lily’s grandfather had been close friends, and she’d seen him perform countless times growing up. “The most special portion of the night was when Teense kicked off ‘God Bless America’ as our guests began seating at their respective tables at the reception,” she says. 

Inside the dinner tent, “the Van Wycks waved their magic wands and took us all down the most enchanting rabbit hole,” Lily says. “It was romantic and whimsical with all the right touches.”

In addition to their enormous eight-tier wedding cake with icing florals cascading down in a spiral, there were miniature four-inch round cakes served to each guest, adorned with a pink G. “It was an incredibly unique touch that everybody loved!”

“We knew from the beginning that we wanted to break up the night from the first welcome to the first cocktail to the dining room to the big reveal of the dance floor and band within Club Gilvarg,” Lily says. And, what a reveal it was. After dinner, their guests moved into a nightclub-esque reception space, complete with checkered dance floor, disco balls, and art on the walls. “We had two speakeasy-inspired side bars to the right and left of the dance floor, one of which was hosting an elite selection of cigars, scotch, and bourbon,” Lily describes. “Every part of the night was a total surprise for our guests.”

The newlyweds danced under the glittering lights to “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest as their guests gathered around.

We wanted every guest to have as much fun as we have together in our relationship.

“The headliner of the night was Atlanta’s finest, Party on the Moon. They were exceptional, and played constantly without any halt for four-and-a-half hours,” Lily says. “They have a team of 30 people, including singers and [musicians], and would seamlessly move from one song to the next while changing out the performing artists.” The goal was to keep the dance floor packed at all times, and the band delivered. “They brought us onstage to sing and dance along, which was incredibly fun.”

“From the beginning, we had a vision of what we wanted the wedding to look like—but most importantly, we wanted everybody to have a blast,” Lily shares. “Charlie and I were so thrilled to be getting married with all of our most important people under one roof, and it became our goal to create a space in which everybody would share delicious food, the Champagne and cocktails would stay flowing, the flowers and decor would be over-the-top throughout every stage of the night, and there would be such spectacular entertainment that not a single person would want to leave the dance floor.” Ultimately, “we wanted every guest to walk away from our wedding having as much fun as we have together in our relationship.”

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