This Couple Used the New Orleans Mantra "Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler" as a Guide When Planning Their Los Angeles Wedding
Ryan Nicole Hughley, a food journalist, and Alejandro Gilberto Calderon Shepard (everyone calls him Shep!), a pediatrician, were in the process of celebrating major milestones—she'd just received her master's degree, he'd just completed medical school—when they first bumped into each other at a graduation party. Both University of Southern California alums, they approached dating the old-fashioned way, explains Ryan—literally. They were an item before they shared their first date: "He moved away to start a residency four days later, so we actually didn't have our first date until September 2016, though we decided to exclusively start dating in July. We had a very old-fashioned courtship since we were long distance."
Two years after that long-time-coming first date, Shep got down on one knee at his favorite bar in New Orleans, Pat O'Brien's; he proposed in the middle of the restaurant's courtyard, in front of the fountain—and followed up the major moment with an epic surprise. Both of their parents—Ryan's father is actor and comedian DL Hughley—joined them for dinner at Restaurant R'evolution.
The couple spent the next year planning a wedding in Los Angeles inspired by their proposal locale: New Orleans. Their driving theme? The go-to NOLA catchphrase, "Laissez les bons temps rouler," which translates to "Let the good times roll." This attitude informed just about every part of their big day, from their food (their Creole-inspired menu was a hit) to their entertainment (a brass band played post-ceremony).
With the help of planner Kim Curtis ("We love her like family now," the bride says of the pro. "She is so knowledgeable and has a genuinely contagious personality where you can tell that she truly loves what she does") and the rest of the team at Toast Santa Barbara, the couple's New Orleans-inspired California celebration was actualized on September 14, 2019. Nearly 300 guests attended the epic destination celebration, which unfolded at Hudson Loft in Downtown L.A. Their venue brought the duo, currently based in Atlanta, back to where it all began: "We loved that the area wasn't far away from [the USC] campus—and was ultimately a nod to the institution that helped to bring us together."
The letterpressed gold foil invitation suite, designed by Tracy Chegwin of Lazaro Press, was printed on cream paper. A subtle trombone motif nodded to the New Orleans-themed event to come, while the moss-green envelope and magnolia liner hinted at the color palette.
The Pins Have It
Ryan actually flagged her strapless, floral appliquéd Berta wedding dress on Pinterest in 2017, just before she moved in with her now-husband—but she didn't realize this until she slipped it on in Lovella Bridal in Pasadena, California. One of her shopping companion's reactions, however, sealed the deal. "My Aunt Don Don, one of my mom's best friends who was with us that day, literally hit her knees bawling crying when I walked out of the dressing room," recalls the bride.
She gleaned plenty of insight on her gown search—insight valuable to any bride currently on the hunt. "Dress shopping is one of the first things you'll do as a bride that really makes it feel real that you're getting married. Enjoy the process. Go to a few different bridal salons, bring some Champagne and include whoever you want! It's your time," she says. "Also, keep an open mind about what will look good on you, but don't be afraid to also speak your mind if you feel like you're not having the experience that you've dreamed of."
Ryan polished off her big-day ensemble with a veil, also by Lovella Bridal, her mother's diamond earrings and bangles, a diamond necklace gifted to her by her husband (the bauble was created by Regal Studio, the jeweler behind her engagement ring), and Jimmy Choo shoes.
She carried one more important accessory during the ceremony: "The night before our wedding festivities kicked off, my mother-in-law gave me the handkerchief that her mother-in-law gave her on her wedding day. I carried that with me as well as I walked down the aisle."
The bride's organic, round bouquet was filled with garden roses, ranunculus, magnolia blooms and foliage, maiden hair fern, and honeysuckle.
Champagne and Hoops
Ryan's bridesmaids—dressed in a mix of champagne-inspired ensembles (the bride's little sister wore a custom blush suit!)—carried gold hoops, embellished with Southern smilax and garden roses, instead of traditional clutches.
A Moment with Dad
Ahead of the festivities, the bride paused for portraits with her father, comedian and actor DL Hughley.
All the Guys
Shep donned a custom navy suit—made from bamboo fabric—from Suit Supply and accessories with formal Oxford shoes, engraved Tiffany & Co. cuff links (a gift from Ryan), and socks emblazoned with the logo of his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania.
The groomsmen wore classic ensembles from The Black Tux; they wore navy socks and ties to coordinate with the groom.
Under the Arch
Both Ryan and Shep say that they felt calm in the moments before their first look, which took place under the archway of Hotel Figueroa. "It's one of the only moments of our entire wedding that is crystal clear to me," says Ryan. "I wanted to take my time tapping his shoulder because I knew I'd never have the moment again."
Shep was blown away by his bride's beauty: "I knew Ryan would look resplendent and she did not disappoint. I was stunned by her dress and loved how it tastefully showed off my favorite curves. After I saw her, I knew it was go time! I was excited to share our celebration with our family and friends."
Meet Me on the Staircase
The ceremony was held at Hudson Loft, where, at the foot of a scenic staircase poised under a ceiling-high arch, the couple became husband and wife. The aisle was lined with antique rug runners and Souther smilax; the greenery was added to a railing at the top of the stairs for a cohesive touch.
Crawling magnolia and garden rose arrangements anchored both sides of the staircase and defined the altar area.
Settled in Her Heart
"I didn't expect to be so overcome with emotion walking down the aisle because I'd already seen my groom before the ceremony," reflects Ryan. "But right before the doors opened, my father turned to me and said, 'Hey, if you're not sure about this, we can leave right now.' But I had never been more sure of anything in my life. My dad started crying when I told him I was settled in my heart about marrying Shep."
During their non-religious service, officiated by Nikita Hamilton (who actually introduced the pair!), the couple exchanged personal, hand-written vows, during which Ryan thanked Shep for being a man she couldn't wait to give daughters to: "You are a man in every sense of the word. One who doesn't require me to shrink myself for his own ego. A man who believes that he shines brighter by lifting me up. A man who knows that I am not something to be conquered, controlled, or tamed. You love me wild and free."
At the end of the ceremony, Ryan and Shep jumped over a broom—"a nod to our African-American lineage," notes the bride.
Another nod to New Orleans, the Mudbug Brass Band filled the ceremony space with joyous music—specifically, "Bustin' Loose," since "after almost a whole year of wedding planning, that's exactly what we felt like doing!" says the bride—after Ryan and Shep were proclaimed husband and wife.
Cocktails, Four Ways
Come the cocktail hour, the newlyweds served four cocktails: an old fashioned, sazerac, mint julep, and "The Eddonna," a mocktail in honor of their mothers (they created this sip together while the duo developed the menu).
L.A. or New Orleans?
New Orleans-style charbroiled oysters and coconut ceviche also made the rounds.
Up on the Roof
Though the couple attended the majority of their cocktail hour, they snuck up to Hudson Loft's rooftop—surrounded by colorful buildings—for a few sunset portraits as the party carried on below.
Chalkboard Seating Chart
Back inside, a chalkboard seating chart, grounded by more magnolia-centric floral arrangements, guided guests to their seats.
The reception space was awash with moody color, thanks to textured, moss-colored linens from La Tavola. Above the head table—which was set with dramatic black candelabras and compote centerpieces via Toast Santa Barbara—a neon sign from Found Rentals spelled out "Laissez les bon temps rouler," the couple's wedding mantra.
Rounds and Rectangles
Guests sat at a mix of round and rectangular tables; some were covered in the event's signature green linens, while others were left bare. Ornate chairs with comfortable black velvet cushions surrounded each station.
Centerpieces were comprised of a mix of garden roses, magnolia foliage, maidenhair fern, ranunculus, South American roses, dahlias, foxglove, and chocolate cosmos; the pink-centric arrangements contrasted the verdant linens below.
A life-size chalkboard displayed the dinner menu, which was focused around Creole food. "We had gumbo, shrimp etouffee, jambalaya, and for dessert, warm beignets," says Ryan.
Lounge vignettes, comprised of contemporary furniture that spoke to the party's overarching color palette, gave celebrants a place to retreat from the festivities.
Other rest areas were marked by floating rattan chairs, made cozy with faux fur pillows.
A Grammy-Worthy Performance
A Predestined First Dance Song
The newlyweds shared their first dance to "As" by Stevie Wonder. "When we first started dating we were chatting on the phone—and when the subject of our favorite Stevie Wonder song came up, we both blurted out 'As' and said that was the one song we'd each pictured dancing to at our respective weddings, well before we knew we'd be marrying each other," explains Ryan.
Dance with Dad
Ryan and her father, both emotional, swayed to "Your Joy" by Chrisette Michele during the father-daughter dance.
The couple's cake was designed by one of Ryan's good friends from culinary school, Shelby Arr. The simple white buttercream confection featured a sugar magnolia bud (Louisiana's state flower!). "We chose a spiced rum cake flavored with rum from Puerto Rico and Barbados as a nod to my husband's family," says the bride.