The beginning of Brooke Helmer and John Fagan’s love story is one that is surprisingly uncommon in New York City, where plenty of couples meet at bars but few first meetings actually stick. “We met at Soho House in February of 2014,” Brooke remembers. “We spotted one another from across the room, and I went over to talk to him while I waited for my friends.” Their relationship followed a similarly New York pattern, with many important moments taking place at the NoMad Hotel, just across the street from the couple’s old apartment. “On our first anniversary in April of 2015, we were at the hotel when John gave me a love letter, inviting me to spend the next day shopping for engagement rings with him,” says the bride. She’s a fashion consultant, so of course she would want to be involved in the selection process! Then, armed with his bride-to-be’s tastes and wants, John created a bespoke ring — and revealed the final product to his close friend, again at the NoMad bar. All that was left was to propose.
As the couple busily prepared for a trip out of town, John told Brooke that a friend was in town for business and had invited them to his hotel for a drink. “We headed across the street for a quick cocktail, then John brought me up to what was supposed to be his friend’s hotel room,” says Brooke. “But when he opened the door, it became clear to me that something else was going on!” Inside, the couple found vases of peonies and champagne on ice, and John proposed. “We celebrated, of course, with our favorite meal at the NoMad restaurant,” Brooke remembers. “The restaurant was nearly empty — it was perfect and intimate.”
Since Charleston is one of Brooke's favorite cities to visit, the couple quickly decided on a destination wedding down South. “It’s full of romance, charm, history, and great food,” says the bride. On May 14, 2016, they invited 100 guests to join them at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, with over 300 years of Charleston history on the property. It was the perfect location for the intimate, elegant affair — as well as the meeting of black tie and BBQ, Gatsby glamour and Southern charm. Lucy Cuneo Photography captured the classic details (with the perfect pop of color!). Take a look for yourself, below!
Brooke takes her accessories seriously, and we’re glad she does! She carried a marble L’Afshar clutch, wore vintage emerald earrings and Jo Malone perfume, and capped off her bridal ensemble with two fantastic touches: Nude and black Chloe pumps and a delicate mother-of-pearl bracelet from Cartier, a wedding day gift from John.
A standard bridal designer wouldn’t do for this fashion maven. “I always knew I wanted to wear Lanvin on my wedding day, and it took months of searching to find the right dress,” Brooke says. “I’d actually passed this dress up in the store months prior, but came back and bought it off the rack. It was comfortable, classic, and a little unexpected.” The gown’s sculptural strapless neckline, mermaid skirt, and grosgrain bow were decidedly chic.
Brooke and her bridesmaids got ready at a friend’s home in downtown Charleston — the same friend who was “in town” the night John proposed. “The girls got ready on the first two floors, while the groomsmen were on the third and fourth floors. John and I passed gifts and notes up and down the stairs, and it was so special knowing he was nearby,” Brooke says.
Her bridesmaids all wore white, donning strapless Monique Lhuillier dresses with ruffles at the bust. “I wanted their dresses to offset the beautiful greenery of the venue,” says the bride. “I also don’t love color, and having us all in white was so elegant!”
John and his groomsmen all wore classic tuxedos, with the groom donning a bespoke Michael Andrews design, black velvet loafers, and mother-of-pearl cufflinks (a gift from Brooke that just so happened to match her bracelet!). The men’s boutonnieres were soft pink ranunculus, accented with Italian ruscus.
John and Brooke had their first look on Magnolia Plantation’s long white bridge. “We knew we wanted to have that be our meeting point from the moment we saw it,” the bride says. “I had never seen John cry in the time we’d been together, until the moment he turned around and saw me in my wedding dress.”
Brooke paired her gown with a lush bouquet of white peonies, garden roses, ranunculus, lilac, Italian ruscus, and jasmine vine, as well as a delicate waltz-length veil.
The ceremony took place on the lawn, with the long white bridge in the background. “We were lucky that it was so naturally beautiful, we barely had to decorate the space,” says the bride. Guests sat in wooden folding chairs, with the back row draped in greenery and the aisle edged in white rose petals.
“John’s childhood priest officiated,” says Brooke. “It made the ceremony feel so personal.”
Dinner took place on the plantation’s veranda, overlooking a black-and-white checkerboard dance floor strung with café lights. The tables were dressed with matte gold painted pineapples (a symbol of hospitality) and centerpieces combining peonies, garden roses, and ranunculus in shades of pink, coral, and orange. Each place setting featured blue and white china, coral napkins, and gold flatware — an unexpected pop of color in an otherwise neutral-hued celebration.
“We appreciate the finer things, but wanted our guests to feel like they were partying in black tie attire while also comfortable enough to indulge in pimento cheese and a strong gin and tonic,” says Brooke. They sipped gin with cucumber and mint and Mount Gay rum with tonic and lime while dining on the aforementioned pimento cheese and deviled eggs, then sat down for a Southern meal of chopped salad and cheddar biscuits, fried chicken with a honey glaze, BBQ brisket, baked macaroni and cheese, and collard greens.
After their first dance to “Have I Told You Lately” by Rod Stewart, Brooke stepped away to change into her reception dress, a Lanvin cocktail dress with floral texture and an oversized bow. “I actually found it on Net-A-Porter,” she says. “I wasn’t so inspired by traditional bridal boutiques, so shopping online (with a good return policy!) worked really well for me.”
“When we called to see if Magnolia Plantation was available, it was my last resort before choosing a different wedding date,” says Brooke. “Most of the places we called were booked two years in advance!” Thankfully the date they’d had in mind was available, though it did mean booking other vendors quickly: “May is the most popular month in Charleston, so you need to plan ahead, move quickly, and be prepared to hear that your dream vendor is already booked.”
The pair’s classic three-tiered wedding cake, topped with fresh flowers, featured layers of lemon, coconut, and carrot cake with vanilla buttercream. “During dinner, my father gave the most heartfelt and humorous speech,” says Brooke. “Every time he said something funny, one of Magnolia Plantation’s resident peacocks would crow! It had guests in fits of laughter.”
While wedding planning can be a huge task, Brooke reminds brides to try to enjoy every minute. “This time only happens once, and it’s the only chance you’ll have in your lifetime to have everyone you care about in one room, celebrating your love. Make the most of it!”
Ceremony & Reception Venue: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens || Wedding Planner: London and Francesca of Pure Luxe Bride || Bride's Wedding & Reception Dresses: Lanvin || Veil: Yuri C. Wedding Shoppe || Jewelry: Cartier || Shoes: Chloé || Hair & Makeup: Canary Rock Salon || Bridesmaids' Dresses: Monique Lhuillier || Groom's Attire: Michael Andrews Bespoke || Engagement Ring & Wedding Bands: Fabrikant || Flowers: WildFlowers Inc. || Invitations: J Papers || Music: Palmetto Strings; Momentum Party Band of East Coast Entertainment || Catering: Jim N Nick's BBQ; Spike by Snyder Events || Cake: Honey's Baking || Rentals: Polished Tabletop; Event Works || Videographer: Something Blue Films || Photographer: Lucy Cuneo Photography