SURPRISE Wedding for Friends!

22.04.17

It brings me so much joy to share with you a project that kept me sufficiently occupied for much of last year. With the help of friends, family and more than 20 generous sponsors, I threw the ultimate festival wedding as a complete surprise for friends of mine! I know, you all think I’ve gone completely bonkers, and trust me, the thought crossed my mind several times over the last year. In an industry fuelled by the desire to have, acquire and want, I found a way to use my skills and network to simply give, in a selfless, pure and honest way. To people I felt were the most deserving.

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-115

On a beautiful late summer’s day, my friends Mimi and Yelke, were wed at the very charming De Lievelinge in Vuren, The Netherlands, in a festival style celebration. The wedding was a COMPLETE SURPRISE to both the bride and groom and was organised and funded in it’s entirety by a group of generous vendors, wedding professionals, friends and family. Theirs was a charming, low key, festival inspired celebration in which love and togetherness – along with food trucks and twinklight lights, wildflowers and Chantilly lace – were the main ingredients.

Mimi and Yelke have been together for 15 years. They are close friends of mine, and the kind of people you want to have as friends – relaxed, fun loving, energetic and easy going though theirs hasn’t been an easy journey. After the birth of their daughter, Mimi suffered a very rare condition that nearly caused her to lose her life. Her near death rocked the whole family and reverberated through our group of friends. Despite their trials, Mimi and Yelke  continue to be the light-hearted, spirited people they are and are devoted parents. They wanted nothing more than to be married, and have always dreamed of a festival style, low key wedding where guests could stay the night, eat, drink and just have the best time together. Little did they know, this dream was closer than they thought…

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-001

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-019

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-016

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-018

The most important part of the whole day, for us as organisers (aside from whether or not they would agree to this madness of course!!) was how to break the news. De Lievelinge is the most wonderful camping and festival ground that we visit each year as a group because one of our friends organises an annual festival there and we all love the location with all it’s quirky trailers and tents, wildflowers, lake and general atmosphere. We thought it was the perfect place to have the wedding, and one that would be easy to get Mimi and Yelke to without looking suspicious. The bride’s sister (one of the organisers) decided to invite family and friends for a ‘spontaneous’ weekend away and unbeknown to Mimi and Yelke, we all had something completely surprising up our sleeves! One of the first things we did was create a password protected website for the guests containing all the information they needed to know about the event. This was really nerve-wracking for me because I know how easy it is to let something slip and I couldn’t imagine 80 people being able to carry that secret for more than 6 months! But it was the only way and nobody let us down.

So on the day of the wedding, everyone had been told to gather at a central area for some lunch after arriving. It was all very casual and ‘normal’, meanwhile we had organised that all Mimi and Yelke’s nearest and dearest would be in hiding until given the cue to come out for the big reveal. At some stage, Laura and Neele started talking (to the whole group – who were anxiously waiting for ‘it’ to happen) about how amazing it would be to have a spontaneous wedding at De Lievelinge (I honestly can’t even remember what we spoke about, it is all a bit of a blur because I was ensuring the photographers and videographer were capturing everything as it happened without looking suspicious!). Mimi then said, as if on cue, that in fact it might be challenging to get all one’s family and friends there on such short notice. To which Laura said, “actually, they’re all here already!” and as planned, all Mimi and Yelke’s family and friends walked out from a tent they had been hiding in the whole time. Their faces dropped in disbelief, at which point I felt a small explanation was needed…

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-022

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-024

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-025

That there was the time I got to tell people they were getting married THAT very day.

Needless to say, they were completely bowled over by the enormous and overwhelming secret they had just been let in on. There were tears, laughter and shaking hands while we spilled the beans!

hanke_arkenbout_photography_nadine-004

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-034

You may be wondering what spurred me to organise a surprise wedding in the first place. Well it wasn’t sheer craziness – well, maybe just a little. You will know from reading this blog that I have dabbled in the wedding and wedding editorial industry since my own wedding 3 years ago, having styled several weddings and wedding editorials alongside exceptionally talented photographers and other vendors in the field. I have had my wedding work published on some of the most prominent wedding blogs online and even in print. Knowing how much they wanted to be married, I realised I had within my grasp the potential to throw an incredible celebration for this couple who are so dear to me and many others, with a team of people who would be willing to generously supply their time, goods and services in the name of love.

The idea stayed with me for several months, until I told one of my friends (and the cousin of the bride). She was immediately on board with the idea, agreeing to help me bring a wedding to life as long as the bride’s sister was on board too. When Laura agreed too, it was game on.

The wedding preparations took place weekly for about 6 months over wine and giggles and frequent gasps of disbelief and excitement as sponsors rolled in and the day drew nearer. The bride’s sister Laura and cousin Neele pulled out all the stops to help me to create what was and will remain one of the most beautiful celebrations I have ever attended, let alone organised. While I gathered together the most generous vendors I could find, they tackled logistics, the guest list and finances and together we were the ultimate wedding dream team. The memories we created together working on this passion project are some I will cherish for life.

We could hardly believe we were actually organising a SURPRISE wedding for actual people and would sometimes just stare at each other in disbelief at the sheer craziness of it all!

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-075

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-084

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-065

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-067

You might be wondering about how we managed to get the bride and groom dressed for their wedding? We worked with two main sponsors to gather an appropriate wardrobe for both Mimi and Yelke and created separate dressing caravans at opposite side of the venue grounds for them to get dressed in immediately after the reveal.

Because the bridal garments are such an important part of a wedding, we needed to make sure Mimi had enough choice on the day to make her wedding her own. I worked with Unielle Couture to bring to life a dressing area which offered various bodices that we could match up with a stunning silk chiffon flowing skirt they had created just for her. We also gathered various (borrowed) accessories and hair pieces for Mimi to choose from to create her own outfit, and her mum bought her shoes and underwear, as well as an adorable outfit for Mimi’s little girl, of course! Our friend who is skilled at doing hair and makeup, was waiting at Mimi’s tent to get her ready, it was a truly special part of the day! Mimi chose to pair her gorgeous skirt with a beautiful, fitted Chantilly lace bodice with three-quarter sleeves and chose to keep her hair and make-up loose and effortless.

hanke_arkenbout_photography_nadine-009

hanke_arkenbout_photography_nadine-013

hanke_arkenbout_photography_nadine-014

Across the way, Yelke was getting dressed with his two best friends and it was all shenanigans. He wore garments by  Style Kitchen. His wardrobe included several shirt, trouser and shoe options, and he chose to wear a pair of cream slacks, crisp white shirt, a navy blazer and dress shoes.

While they got dressed, guests did the same and made their way to the ceremony area to wait for the couple, who were being chauffeured there in an old Aston Martin, courtesy of our sponsor Heritage Cars.

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-143

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-144

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-256

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-147

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-150

With the preparations running smoothly and the wedding just days away, a very sudden and sad turn of events took place that added a dimension of sadness we hadn’t prepared for. The sudden loss of the bride’s step-father just two days before the June-planned wedding forced us to cancel the entire celebration in order to focus on grieving the family’s immense loss and attend the funeral.

After the grief subsided, we got to work once again and the wedding took place exactly 3 months after the initial planned date. Due to the new date, not all of our sponsors were able to participate the second time around and we were insanely busy trying to round up new ones to replace the few that we lost.  Try and find a food truck in the height of festival and wedding season available AND willing to sponsor an 80 guest wedding at very late notice. Near impossible, but not impossible. Hah!

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-174

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-141

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-215

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-228

Needless to say, the occasion was a very emotional one for everybody there that day. The ceremony took place under the trees of the festival ground. Our florist Gift by Nature created a floral boho-style archway and adorned the ceremony chairs with tiny wild bouquets, all supplied generously by the Flower Council of Holland, one of our most generous sponsors. We created a fabric garland as a backdrop out of sweet vintage fabrics, which Mimi and Yelke have kept and are using in their little girl’s bedroom 🙂

With a bohemian, festival theme in mind, we kept the styling simple and nature-inspired, allowing the venue to provide the atmosphere. I brought a couple of vintage rugs from my studio to the ceremony area for the bride to stand on, as well as my Malawi bench for the couple to sit on (which is custom for Dutch weddings). It was simple and lovely, perfect for a late summer celebration.

After the ceremony, the guests all breathed a sigh of relief that they said YES and drank some champagne while Mimi and Yelke went to have their photo shoot with photographers Hanke Arkenbout and Snap Me Pretty, with videographer Narratief capturing everything on video (which you can watch below!).

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-116

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-117

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-119

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-121

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-125

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-120

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-128

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-134

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-091

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-110

hanke_arkenbout_photography_nadine-018

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-102

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-105

Don’t they look so happy? Seeing these shots makes me smile every single time. To have been apart of such memories really is quite something.

The reception was held behind the ceremony area under a cheerful floral bunting and colourful cafe lights. We used wooden picnic benches as dinner tables, arranged in a circular shape, and kept the general look and feel very low-key with a festival vibe. Our sponsor Travelling Tableware gave us gorgeous vintage mismatched dinner plates and side plates, crystal wine glasses and cutlery. Ceramic vases were filled with springs of wildflowers, fragrant roses and berries. The tables were styled with hand made linen runners and napkins made by me and the bride’s mum.

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-245

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-240

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-005

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-246

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-244

We had an array of food trucks to add to the festival vibe and provide an incredible BBQ for our guests! Spit en Pan did the most incredible spit roast, accompanied by fresh salads by Haka pure salad bar. Wijnhuis Kastelein generously supplied all of the wine for the evening, delicious wines from Hungary.

Bram’s Pannenkoeken made pancakes, which guests both big and small thoroughly enjoyed, and for dessert we had an ice-cream cart and the guys from Vilter Coffee serving up latte’s and cappuccino’s using White Label coffee from Amsterdam. The wedding cake was a three-tiered sponge made by Delft-based Jans, a lovely little cafe we frequent almost weekly on our market run. We even had the cutest little Piaggio on display which added to the festival vibe! The food was delicious and the atmosphere was really great.

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-287

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-286

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-251

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-262

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-296

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-315

hanke_arkenbout_photography_YM-300

It really was the most wonderful day and evening, I am still processing it all months later. I can’t even begin to image how Mimi and Yelke must feel after their whirlwind wedding! They are now happily married and are deeply grateful to all of the friends, family and sponsors who helped to throw the ultimate festival wedding especially for them.

All-in-all, more than 20 generous sponsors made this event possible. Without their support and the support of over 80 of the couples most cherished guests, we simply couldn’t have put this wedding together. Here they are:

Location: Kampeerterrein De Lievelinge | Photography: Hanke Arkenbout Photography + Snap Me Pretty Photography | Videography: Narratief | Bridal Garments: Unielle Couture | Styling and concept: Avenue Lifestyle | Grooms Garments: Style Kitchen | Floral Stylist: Gift by Nature | Flowers: Bloemenbureau (Flower Council) Holland | Bridal Cake: Jans Delft | Ice-cream cart: Van der Poel IJsmakers | Tableware: Traveling Tableware | Spit Roast: Spit en Pan | Meat: Keurslager Jaap Landman | Salads: HAKA | Wine: Wijnhuis Kastelein | Champagne + glasses: Stadscafé De Waag | DJ: Hero de Janeiro | Wedding Car: Heritage Cars | Pancake Truck: Bram’s pannenkoeken | Coffee Truck: Vilter Coffee | Coffee: White Label Coffee | Piaggio: Promo Piaggio

Thank you to Laura and Neele for making magic with me, our incredible sponsors for your donations both big and small, our guests who so patiently kept this secret for months on end and our hosts at De Lievelinge. I am deeply honoured to be in a position to be able give back to two people so deserving in such a beautiful way, in celebration of what is most important to all of us – love and happiness.

Holly x

10 Responses to “SURPRISE Wedding for Friends!”

  1. Britta says:

    Speechless…absolutely amazing, Holly! You are a wonderful person!!

  2. Maja V says:

    You all did such a great job, what a story! Love the photos and the wedding theme. Just perfect! 🙂

  3. Mariette says:

    Wooooow, I am in awe. This is just heartbreakingly beautiful. You are a wonderful friend, Holly! Xxx

  4. […] And location De Lievelinge is a favorite of mine. I bet you want to read all about this story, check it out here on the blog of organiser + stylist Holly Marder she explains everything from first idea till […]

  5. Jo says:

    O Holly…. this is so sweet. I’ve been waiting for this story and it’s even sweeter than I could have imagined. And so well captured by Hanke and Koen. Gorgeous all over the place. Made me cry. Loved it. So very well done!!

    X

  6. Marianna says:

    Oh Holly, I had tears in my eyes all the way through this post. You really worked magic like a good fairy. God bless the newlyweds and their great friends. This is the most refreshing post I read for a long time. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Hubertienne says:

    Gosh..so beautiful and amazing that you pulled something like this for them. I can only imagine if they would have to plan a wedding like these how much it would cost. You are truly a beautiful person to do this. The video let me feel like I was part of the event. Kudos.

  8. Kara says:

    What a beautiful wedding and such a kind thing to do for friends! Such an uplifting story in a world where the good seems to be harder and harder to find!

  9. sara says:

    a beautiful intimate party! 🙂

  10. RITA TOCTA says:

    Thank you for sharing and doing this. As someone commented above, I’ve cried all through the post and then even more with the video. Like we say in Portuguese “Felicidades!” which translates to “happinesses” (lot of them!) to couple!

Leave a Reply