Written by Tracey Sgambato
Photographed by Catherine O’Hara Photography
“When you are an ex-pat living abroad, your wedding is really the only time in life where your two worlds can collide and everyone in your “new” life can understand where you are from, and those from your “old” life can understand where life has taken you.” –Christina
From McGehee Girl to Parisian Executive
But for a change in plans, Christina Perri would likely have graduated from the Louise S. McGehee School for girls with the class of 2000, along with all her other elementary school friends. But in 1991, when crime in New Orleans was at its height, Christina’s mother decided to relocate to a place where she would feel safe, Aspen. So at age 10, Christina hugged her best friend, Elizabeth “Stella” Walsh, and with a tearful good-bye, they vowed to be best friends forever.
Nonetheless, Christina returned to Louisiana often when she and her mother visited family or drove through to see her dad in Florida. They would always stop in New Orleans to get reacquainted with dear friends. They often came for holidays and events, so Christina enjoyed Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest almost as often as her old McGehee classmates. And so, Christina and Stella made good on their girlhood pact and grew into young women.
Fast forwarding to 2008, Christina was all grown up and about to complete her Masters degree at the Economic and Finance at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (in Paris, it’s just called the “Sciences Po”). One day in February, Christina was in a Paris shoe shop when a handsome, and shy investment banker named Julien Keignart noticed her. He had to take a chance! So he struck up a conversation with her, mentioning that it was his birthday. They hit it off and made a date. They kept dating until Christina returned to New York City for an internship that summer.
Undeterred, Julien soon traveled to NYC to see Christina. Then, in September when the 2008 global financial crisis steamrolled Wall Street, Christina returned to Paris to see Julien again. She was offered a good position in asset management, and to Julien’s delight, she decided to stay and become… a Parisian.
Since it’s not uncommon in France for couples to forgo the wedding and just get on with the business of life, Christina and Julien enjoyed their shared lives together as four years rolled past. Increasingly, however, Christina’s New Orleans roots were tugging at her. Raised in a traditional Italian Catholic family, the French informality to marriage simply didn’t suit her. Julien was understanding about Christina’s American sensibilities, and he understood that to accomplish his goals, he would need to make it official. He needed to marry Christina first! He came up with a plan.
In 2012, Christina had been working in London for a brief period and so the two set off on a summer vacation to the Turks and Caicos Islands. The first morning of their trip, they headed out for a sunrise stroll on the beach. As the sun popped up above the horizon, Julien pulled the ring from his pocket. He had been carrying it around for three months. Christina peered down at a very special ring that Julien had designed himself for the love of his life. He chose a large and lovely yellow cushion cut diamond. All that they can recall now is the rising sun, the overwhelming joy and excitement of the moment, and of course, the resounding, “YES!”
The first thing most women do when they become engaged is call their parents. The second thing is to call all their girlfriends! And that’s exactly what Christina did. She called Stella in New Orleans to share the exciting news about the next chapter of her life. That time in the future that they dreamed about as girls had finally arrived. They had shared so much as children, there was no doubt that Stella would be there whenever and wherever Christina planned to have her wedding.
Planning an American Wedding in France
After the engagement, planning a wedding that would suit their friends and family spread across multiple states and countries took time to simmer. Making matters even more complex, the French often have two wedding ceremonies, one civil and one religious. Since Julien is French and they live in Paris, they were required to have a civil service at the courthouse in Paris.
So they knew they’d have a small civil ceremony a few weeks before a “real” wedding. They also knew they wanted to gather their close family and friends together for a week-long destination get-away, and they wanted to be able to entertain them. The rest was unclear.
Moreover, due to Christina’s demanding job as the Director of International Development for a hedge fund, the task of planning such an event seemed onerous. Lucky for Christina, her step-mother, Patricia, is a party planner extraordinaire, who Christina she describes as “an incredible Southern entertainer.” For the local coordination, she found a wedding planner in Nice to work closely with Patricia. It was finally determined that the “real wedding” after the required courthouse wedding would be a destination wedding in the South of France.
The first order of business was to locate a venue. Christina wanted a wedding in the French countryside near Nice so that guests could find direct flights from the US. From the Nice International Airport, guests would have an easy drive to the heart of Provence, Cannes, Saint Tropez and Monte Carlo. They selected the month of September because the weather is still beautiful, but all the summer tourists have gone home. Plus, flights and rates were all less expensive at that time.
With the framework in place, they scouted out a venue where they could host numerous events to entertain their guests. Patricia reviewed photos and websites while the wedding planner was “in the field” searching here and there. They found an elegant country chateau, Bastide Saint Mathieu, just a short drive from the airport. The grounds featured beautiful gardens, a pool, and a “petanque” court, a French yard game popular in Provence. Christina said the chateau easily housed seven couples in large private suites with private bathrooms, which is apparently rare in France. She knew it was perfect as “it was decorated with style and care,” and most importantly, the reception area and terrace were the perfect size for wedding of up to 150 people.
Now with a plan of “what, where and when,” Christina and her team worked on exactly “who.” To accommodate all the people traveling from the United States, and from within France, Christina and Patricia planned extensively and considered every aspect of the logistics and communication necessary to host nearly 130 people traveling from various states and countries. They created an extensive website with lots of informative details.
For the wedding stationary, Patricia found a New York illustrator who customized everything. The save-the-date cards illustrated a map of Provence marking the locations of the wedding events on the map with bikes, boats, beach umbrellas, etc. The invitation suite included the itinerary of events, times and locations for each of the four days. References to the website provided guests with further details. Their planning was such a success that nearly everyone invited from the US managed to attend.