AAPI individuals have had a long and rich involvement in the history of the United States. It's a community that’s incredibly diverse, yet tradition plays a huge role in weddings and celebrations across different cultures. A common thread in these events is a focus on honoring one’s parents and elders, be it through a tea ceremony, a presentation of gifts, or simply wearing a particular color or motif.
Treading the line between traditional and modern practices, AAPI wedding pros not only organize and design the fanfare for celebrations of love, but sometimes act as the neutral party between the couple and their families as they navigate their big days.
Ahead, we’re highlighting some AAPI superstars of the wedding industry. These creatives and entrepreneurs share what drew them to their careers and what it means to honor their own cultures within their work.
For this New York-based Korean American designer, the red carpet and his mother inspired his debut bridal line Collection 1: Reminiscence. The collection launched during the pandemic, and is now carried at Bergdorf Goodman.
“I always loved the fantasy of the red carpet, and the incredible magic it brought to those who walked it every award season,” shared Kwon. “I grew up in the suburbs of Colorado, California, and Pennsylvania, and there were never red carpets there. Growing up, I noticed the women closest to me didn’t get to have that fantasy of the red carpet, except for their walk down the aisle. That’s when it clicked. I wanted to make their fantasies and dreams become a reality through my designs—especially through a bridal collection.”
In a line full of beautiful, ethereal gowns with modern silhouettes accented by embellishments like 3-D floral embroidery, crushed silver, and hand-braided soutache straps, Kwon’s pivot from evening wear to the bridal space was one born out of hope.
“I knew that the world was going through such a dark and difficult time, but I wanted to give back to the world,” he says. "I wanted to give women and men something beautiful to look at. Even if it were just for a fleeting moment, I wanted to give them the hope and positivity of seeing something beautiful.”
When asked about a wedding tradition he finds beautiful, Kwon singles out the custom of donning traditional clothing. “When the bride and groom change into their traditional clothing that is special to their culture or heritage, it’s such a special moment and an intimate one.”
Jung Lee, Co-Founder of FÊTE
Born in South Korea and raised in New York City, celebrated event and wedding designer Jung Lee has been at the helm of some breathtaking unions, taking a cinematic eye to celebrations she “deconstructs what makes a wedding and builds it with soul" with her company FÊTE.
Over the years, Lee has organized weddings with personalized creative touches like Korean paebaek ceremonies, fan-dance performances, and sake-tasting bars where guests sampled the drink out of traditional wooden cups. “The concepts are endless, but what’s more important for me is that it is something my clients want to share with their guests,” shares Lee. “I view weddings as a movie with different scenes—a storytelling journey that keeps everyone engaged. Through this process, there are often very special and emotional moments that forever stay in the minds of my client and their guests.”
When it comes to fusing tradition and culture, Lee advises couples to look inward, not outward for inspiration. “For Asian couples, heritage is usually an important aspect of your inspiration, but it's not the only thing,” she says. “Try to go deeper into details that have great meaning for you: think food, drink, design, music, etc. Use your wedding to tell your story both individually and as a couple.”
Celebrity henna artist Neha Assar Artistry has been beautifying the hands (and sometimes bodies) of brides for 27 years. Known for her ornate mehndi artwork, her personalized approach coined the "Neha Assar Experience," has made her free-handing skills highly sought after.
“I developed the Neha Assar Experience as I wanted the application process to be relaxing for the bride and fun. I started asking questions about the couple’s love story and incorporating elements from trips they had taken or skylines of cities they maintained long-distance relationships from," shares Assar. "It became a personal story. Often times, the couples possess different ethnic backgrounds, so I use elements from their cultures to highlight the unity of both."
For some couples, they’ve used her intricate work to honor their roots, incorporating names of grandparents, a specific deity the family worships, mantras, or even song lyrics they heard growing up.
“There are so many details surrounding a South Asian wedding, and paying homage to roots and tradition is a huge part of it. Ceremonially, everyone does things differently based on what region of India their ancestors are from, but brides take it upon themselves to pay homage in their way with their bridal mehndi,” she elaborates. “One thing people may not know is that every bridal piece has the groom’s name hidden in it. On the night of the wedding, he has to look through the entire piece to find his name.”
Tzo Ai Ang of Ang Weddings and Events
Mixed-heritage weddings are not uncommon for Tzo Ai of Ang Weddings and Events. The New York-based, Malaysian-born wedding planner boasts a diverse clientele of couples who’ve chosen to observe their heritage in unique ways.
“One of my favorite personal touches was organizing an Indian rangoli vine surrounding the Chinese Double Happiness character," shares Ang. "Both elements were used separately on the invitation, but on the wedding day, they were combined and used on the menus. I loved the symbolism of bringing both families together."
After organizing over 70 weddings, one of Ang’s favorite moments is a sentimental one. “Instead of doing the traditional mother-son and father-daughter dance, the bride sang a beautiful Chinese song while having both sets of parents dance with each other. It was such a sweet and intimate winter wedding and I was so happy to be part of it!”
Brittany Lo, Founder & CEO of Beautini
For brides of Asian descent, Beautini’s team of professionals are a godsend thanks to their commitment to enhance a woman’s natural beauty
“Many of our Asian clients feel that many makeup artists don't know how to cater to our features, which I experienced firsthand growing up and getting my makeup done,” shares Lo who is half Irish and half Chinese. “Because of this, part of the audition process is to know how to do my makeup and features because I want women of all ethnicities to feel comfortable and welcomed working with our team.
"The best example is the eyes," she notes. "Almond eyes have less lid space for eyeshadow and liner, so it's important that our makeup artists know how to cater to features like this, and can open up the eyes with proper eyeshadow placement.”
While most of Beautini’s 2020 events were put on hold, Lo has been busy developing Beia, a line of beauty wellness products which launched in May. The first product is one close to Beautini’s heart: a hydrating facial and setting mist formulated with hyaluronic acid and squalene to keep brides looking their picture-perfect best throughout their big day.
Sasithon Pooviriyakul of Sasithon Photography
As an NYU Photography and Communications major who worked in advertising and documentary photography before shooting weddings, Pooviriyakul uses her lived experience as a first-generation Asian American (her mother is from the Philippines, her father is from Thailand, both are of Chinese descent) and natural curiosity to seek “intimate, unexpected moments of surprise and delight.”
“I think one reason I’m so fascinated by weddings is that it’s as if I’m experiencing a new place and culture every time, much like my experiences growing up. When I shoot a wedding, I like to think of myself as an invited guest being welcomed into someone’s home, so I take that same curiosity, openness, and empathy with me," Pooviriyakul shares.
While her work has exposed her to a variety of cultures, she observes that for AAPI weddings, many traditions revolve around honoring your parents and elders. "Being raised in an Asian family, it’s instilled in you to make your parents and family proud," she says.
Still, her advice for couples is to not get bogged down on the things that “you should do”. “It's an opportunity to invite your family and friends to step into your world and celebrate the uniqueness of who you are as a couple," shares the photographer.
Yena Jung of By Yena Designs
Founded in 2013, Yena Jung’s exquisite florals have been the centerpiece of many of New York’s high-profile celebrations. Taking pride in never repeating the same design twice, her bespoke floral designs are inspired by her clients, albeit indirectly.
“My suggestions are based on not just what colors and flowers they love, but also from what I get to know about them, like what fashion designers they like, what type of clothing are they always wearing, what color combo works best with their looks, or even what their home décor inspiration is," shares Jung.
Her diverse client base has led her to do several multi-cultural weddings which Jung enjoys. “We have done Chinese-Indian Weddings, Korean-Jewish Weddings, Chinese-Jewish Weddings, and Korean-Chinese Weddings," she says. "Some of these couples have been able to have both cultures fully represented in a two-part ceremony—for example, a Chinese wedding and a Hindu Wedding, or a Korean Tea Ceremony and a Jewish Bedeken before a ceremony. I love weddings that have two ceremonies. To celebrate both families and their cultures is exactly what marriage is—the coming together of two different families and blending it into one union of two people.”
Erina Ardianto and Veronyca Kwan of Bella Belle Shoes
On your big day, the last thing a bride needs to worry about is sore feet. Enter Bella Belle Shoes, a bridal shoe brand by Indonesian-Chinese duo Erina Ardianto and Veronyca Kwan.
Founded in 2016 “to fill the void in the market for comfortable and beautiful shoes for special occasions”, the brand has grown to be a bride favorite for being as walkable as they are beautiful. Triple-padded and handcrafted with embellishments like delicate embroidery, pretty bows, and fine lace, the “prettiest 12-hour shoes” lives up to its social media hype (they currently have 275k followers on Instagram).
The duo attribute part of their success to active collaborations with various bridal designers and photographers. “We regularly highlight our brides and fellow wedding vendors from different backgrounds. In recent weeks, we have highlighted our AAPI brides and wedding vendors to bring awareness to diversity," share Ardianto and Kwan.
“We love showcasing weddings from different cultures and ethnicities that make up our diverse group of brides," they say. "We post a lot of content that celebrates cultural diversity, such as traditional wedding dresses from different cultures, how colors signify different meanings in different cultures, and century-old traditions that are still being practiced today. This is a great way for us to pay homage to different roots and traditions, and it always gets a phenomenal response from our audience.”
Their favorite wedding traditions? Both single out the tea ceremony where couples honor their parents and older family members by presenting them with tea in return for red packets with money or jewelry inside. “Most people are not aware that AAPI wedding culture centers heavily around the family. They are about the union of two families and the traditions to pay respect to the families, especially the elders. These traditions are also believed to bring luck, prosperity, and blessings to the couple in their marital life," they explain.
Jay Mataele, Owner of Ring of Fire Island Productions
If you’ve ever attended a wedding in Hawaii and witnessed a fire knife dancer or were captivated by a hula dance, chances are it was one of Ring of Fire’s performers.
The professional Polynesian entertainment company is a fixture of destination weddings in Hawaii or unions looking to honor their Polynesian roots. Mesmerizing performances that boast top Hula and Tahitian dancers, musicians, and championship-level fire knife performers, their repertoire ranges from the Hula Kahiko (ancient Hula) and Hula Auana (modern Hula) to Samoan slap dance and energetic fire dances.
“In Hawaii, the warm spirit of Aloha is synonymous with the expression of love itself!” shares Mataele. “We traditionally present lei to our bridal couple during our show and dedicate a beautiful mele (song) to them. Depending on their culture, we may also gift them a craft handmade by one of our performers. Often we will have clients who have Pacific Islander heritage so we will include him or her in a special participation number to pay tribute to that island heritage and share a special moment with our cast!”
Melody Lorenzo, Owner of Sweet Condesa
“Passion over paycheck” was what led Melody Lorenzo (otherwise known as the #pinyapielady) to quit her government job and commit to becoming a wedding caterer specializing in Filipino-inspired desserts. Unfortunately, two weeks in, all 10 weddings she’d booked for the year were indefinitely postponed due to the pandemic.
This rocky start didn’t hold her back for long. In July 2020, she pivoted her business away from the creative wedding cakes she’d become known for (think Tableya Cake with Dulce de Leche filling and Vanilla Condensed Milk Buttercream) and started selling Filipino-inspired desserts like Calamansi and Ube Pies at San Ramon Farmer's Market.
For Filipino weddings, where tradition plays a significant role through several ritual ceremonies (candle lighting, coin blessing, veiling, and tying of the nuptial cord), having food and flavors representative of their culture is another way to honor their roots.
“Couples have intentionally chosen my creative-flavored desserts to serve at their wedding as a nod to their Filipino heritage and a way to ring back happy childhood memories for themselves and their loved ones,” shares Lorenzo. “Also, some people may not know that cake cutting has a symbolic meaning. It signals the longevity and continuity of the couple's relationship. It’s my favorite part of the wedding.”
Julie Kim Ha of Julie Ha Calligraphy
Wedding suites may not get top billing at a wedding, but it is often one of the more personal elements of a couple’s celebration. Virginia-based Julie Ha’s foray into wedding calligraphy happened quite by chance. A graphic designer by training, it was her own nuptials in 2014 that led to creating her wedding suite, and eventually become a “purveyor of organic lettering and watercolor artistry”.
“For my watercolor wash wedding-suite designs, I hand paint each invite, RSVP, map, and envelope. It makes the guest receiving the invite in the mail feel as if they're opening their special piece of artwork because no design is the same,” shares Ha.
Using a calligraphy writing style which she describes as “effortless and airy,” one of her most memorable weddings was when she worked with a South Korean couple who wanted to pay homage to their heritage by using traditional Hanji paper for everything, from the envelopes and the invites to the menus and the day’s program.
For Ha, being asked to write a couple’s wedding vows is one of her favorite wedding traditions. “I don't get this project often, but I love writing out a couple's wedding vows for their special day. I have the honor of writing out their love and life's journey with one another, and it's a huge respect they're giving me. Many couples tell me the reason they want their words written out is so that they can keep them forever and have them framed in their home so they can look back and remember their special moments together.”
Celia Yu, Chief Planner and Lead Designer of Big Day Service
As one of the Bay Area’s most popular wedding planners, San Francisco-based Celia Yu is a specialist for planning Eastern Asian weddings, offering a wealth of knowledge on the nuances of Chinese wedding traditions and rituals.
“My Chinese heritage gives me special insights on the emotional side of familial expectations, cultural requirements, and how to act as the go-between parents and the couple when required," shares Yu.
Fusing age-old traditions and modern aesthetics can be tricky, but she has it down to an art form. “One of my couples wanted a trendy, yet traditional Double Happiness for their Chinese wedding. So, I designed a 7-foot-tall 3-D gold Double Happiness with elements of red fans and red hue florals. The fabulous decor still has guests talking about it till this day.”
Her savvy advice for couples is a practical one. “Insure the bling! Your engagement ring is the most valuable and meaningful accessory in your life," she says. "Be sure to get it insured as soon as possible to cover any damage, loss, or theft.”
Jenny Fu of Jenny Fu Studio
Based in New York, Jenny Fu’s love affair with the camera started when she was just 10 years old on a road trip with my family. However, it was only in 2010 that the Taiwanese-American decided to “turn my curiosity for photography into skill”.
Known for her editorial and photo-journalistic style wedding photos, she’s captured the nuptials of couples everywhere from New York, Bali, and Lake Como. Regardless of the destination though, her favorite part of the wedding day lies in the raw human emotions which she says “feeds her soul."
“When a wedding is over, the flowers have dried, and the cake has been eaten, the only thing couples have left of their special day is their photos. It's an honor to bring these memories back to my clients years down the road. After all, it's about two people in love, and their closest friends and family who come together to celebrate that love. Specifically, I love when I get to see the nerves before the ceremony, the happiness after the couple is married, and their sweet moments with their families on the dance floor.”
While big weddings were on hold, Fu has been busy photographing micro-weddings and elopements. “There was a micro wedding I shot in August 2020, and it was so special because the bride's parents lived in South Korea and took the risk of flying to New York for the wedding," she explains. "The bride is an emergency doctor, so she saw firsthand how the pandemic raged the hospitals. She originally had a guest list of 100+, but she cut it down to 20 and aired the ceremony on YouTube live for her friends and family worldwide. The couple's family and friends, from afar, recorded video montages to the couple, and they played them at dinner. It was awesome to see how couples pivoted their wedding plans to still get married and celebrate their love!”
Nancy Park of So Happi Together
What started as a blog providing simple wedding-planning tips has grown into a full-fledged wedding planning business that’s been buzzing away for 12 years. Nancy Park of So Happi Together now even has the wedding of Steven Yeun of "The Walking Dead" in her portfolio.
For this Southern California native, weddings are all about creating a memorable experience for the couple and their guests. Occasionally, when asked to weave in cultural traditions into the big day, Park, who is Korean by descent, finds food to be a great medium.
“We love providing desserts and late-night snacks that are nods to cultural traditions and treats! Small rice cakes that are modernized with beautiful floral piping can be boxed up beautifully and serve as place cards," she says. "Celebration noodles can be served as a late-night snack that is both meaningful and satisfying! Food is often such a great way to learn about a culture, so it is often one of the first details we personalize to a couple’s ancestry.”
Park points out that honoring certain traditions can be a delicate matter, so when in doubt, speak up. “Culture is one aspect of your life, not a static definition," she shares. "Since there are so many nuances and differences from one family to the next, I always tell my couples, 'Ask your parents!' It never hurts to ask, but it will hurt to assume and then find out on the wedding day that you did, or didn’t do, something that you never knew your mom or dad felt strongly about.”
Allen Tsai of Allen Tsai Photography
Texas-based photographer Allen Tsai’s path to the wedding world is far from typical. What started as a “mental escape” from conducting research as part of his PhD in Neuroscience turned into a full-time business for this Taiwanese-American whose fine-art photography style has been described as “romantic, ethereal, and natural.”
Paying particular attention to details and lighting, this wedding photographer has seen his language skills (Mandarin, Taiwanese, and Japanese) come in handy when communicating with parents, relatives, and vendors. And, when tasked with capturing wedding traditions he’s not encountered before, he turns to his research skills for help.
“The first time I photographed a Laotian or Cambodian wedding ceremony, I made sure I did a lot of research and asked a lot of questions to ensure our team was well prepared. Also, when couples have special details that pay homage to their roots and traditions, I create stunning flat lays to document them. I love the Korean Paebaek ceremonies because there are a lot of beautiful details involved and it's usually a lot of fun too! I also love a good Shiromuku (wedding kimono) worn by Japanese brides—they are just so intricate and beautiful.
While AAPI weddings differ in terms of culture and tradition, Tsai points to one consistent feature he’s observed. “The couple usually does table rounds and greets every single guest that came to their wedding," he notes. "Fully documenting this part is typically very important to the couple.”
Seychelle Wilmouth and Roanne Nonesa, Co-Founders and Head Design of Silviyana Weddings
As wedding gowns go, a dress from Silviyana Weddings is about as unique as they come. Using blends of pina and mulberry silk, or weaved with abaca and organic cotton, these wedding dresses celebrate the beauty of pina, a traditional Philippine fiber made from pineapple leaves. The same fabric also goes into making barong, the national dress of the Philippines. Additionally, each one of Silviyana's pieces is traceable and tells a story of its own.
”We know who farmed the pineapple fiber that we use for our gowns. For our customers, this means connecting their personal story to positively impacting the kababayans (compatriots) of their forefathers and allowing them to connect directly to their culture, down to the soil of where their dresses come from,” explain the designers.
While they offer ready-to-wear bridal collections, custom designs are where they shine. For a bride whose family owned a rice-mill business, they created a custom gown with rice grains as a main feature. A conversation over plastics found in the ocean led Silviyana’s head of design Roanne to create the Home Collection, a four-piece ready-to-wear collection that uses only natural beading such as wood, coconut, and Mother of Pearl beadings.
On her favorite wedding traditions, Seychelle points to a core pillar of Philippine culture where support goes beyond familial ties. “We have what we call ‘sponsors of a wedding.’ Sponsors are meant to be couples—aunts, uncles, extended family, and friends—that can help the newlyweds in the next chapter of their lives. They are meant to be guardians who will help couples grow their family and love for one another," she explains. "There are typically four sponsors, which essentially mean a couple has four couples that they can look up to for support or guidance for their marriage There are the Coin Sponsors, Veil Sponsors, Cord Sponsors, and Candle Sponsors, which all play an integral part in the wedding rituals.”
Photographer Kylee Yee
Based in New York, she’s been shooting weddings since 2012, and pre-pandemic, was constantly flying to destination weddings in Europe and the U.K. With an eye for detail, Yee’s photographic style leans towards “creating tangible mementos at pivotal life moments.” For weddings where there’s a strong cultural element, she familiarizes herself with the importance of all the traditions included on the wedding day.
“From my experience, the AAPI community tends to have strong family values with traditions that pay homage to their elders. I understand the significance of grandparents, parents, and other key roles within a ceremony and also take the time to know the flow of the ceremony," she shares. "By doing this, my couples feel seen and have confidence that I will capture those meaningful moments without disrupting the authenticity of the moment."
Her favorite wedding tradition though isn’t one tied to culture or heritage. “When it’s important to the couple, any genuine tradition, old or new, will be beautiful and moving. One of my couples was married on a beach, and chose to symbolize their union with the mixing of two types of sand, each with a distinct color, into a jar that would live with them in their new home," Yee recalls.
Linda Ha of Linda Ha Events & Design
Based in Virginia, vintage-loving Linda Ha says her weddings and events focus on “beautiful storytelling through fresh imagery.” While a lot of her work uses picturesque pockets of Virginia as a backdrop, she’s also has weaved in traditional customs like a lion dance to signify a long and happy marriage.
When asked about a lesser-known but beloved wedding practice of Vietnamese weddings, she points to the engagement ceremony, Đám Hỏi. “The most common Vietnamese tradition that most are aware of is the tea ceremony. But, one Vietnamese tradition that is unique and unseen is the Đám Hỏi," she says. "In the past, it would take place a year before the actual wedding. It was a chance for the families to meet. Today, a modern version can be combined with the tea ceremony which occurs weeks, or days, leading up to the wedding.”
Her advice for couples on creating a memorable wedding? “Don't feel the need to follow current wedding trends. Weddings allow you to get creative and share your passions, whether it be food or life experiences with your loved ones," Ha notes. "It's definitely okay to be a little funky and maybe a little weird, and just have fun in creating something that is true to you!”
Mike Zhu of Mike Zhu Films
Wedding videos may be a world apart from basketball videos on YouTube, but for Chinese-American videographer Mike Zhu, the two share a commonality. “I started my journey into videography when I was younger, watching basketball highlight videos on YouTube. I especially loved the videos that were edited to inspire true emotions," he says. "Today, I aim to similarly inspire emotions and share every couple’s own love story that is unique to them.”
Filming couples on their big day requires Zhu to juggle capturing the big highlights with seeking the more real, candid moments filled with meaning. For weddings where paying homage to one’s roots and traditions, like a Chinese tea ceremony, a Korean Paebaek, or a South Asian sangeet and baraat, is pivotal, Zhu makes it a point to include family members and the traditional details in the filming and final edits.
“I find that including the theme of family brings in a new dimension to remember the day for the couple and the people celebrating with them. This focus has also helped me to learn more about the traditions of other families, their cultures, and what love and commitment mean to them,” shares Zhu. “A couple of years ago, I filmed a traditional Chinese wedding. It wasn’t just the tea ceremony—it was an entire wedding day filled with traditional games with family and friends. I’m Chinese myself, and I knew that there would be Chinese traditions that were part of this wedding that I had never been a part of before. This celebration helped me understand the wedding traditions that were of my community and were deep to the core to my heritage.”