Upile Chisala and Sakhe Mkosi's milestone relationship moments have taken place in cozy, comfortable settings around the world.
Upile, a poet, and Sakhe, a consultant, first met in a common room at the University of Oxford—their first week on campus. "There was a group of African students, some of whom I had met the day before, sitting across the room, so I waved at them and sat at another table with a friend," Upile recalls. "Eventually, the group all left except one, the handsome and dapper Sakhe. He walked over to my table and asked if he could sit next to me, I agreed. We laughed for the rest of the night and then he walked me home. That was October of 2016 and we have been together since."
When Sakhe proposed in October 2018, he did so on a couch in Brighton, a resort town on the southern coast of England. "Brighton, much like us, is eccentric and lively and served as the perfect background for Sakhe’s intimate proposal," Upile says. After a day of visiting the beach, an arcade, and a castle (!!), they settled in for the night with a bottle of wine and Indian food before Sakhe got down on one knee. "I said 'yes,' and we spent a few days in our blissful bubble before sharing the news," she adds.
For their wedding on December 22, 2019, the couple set about creating a similar vibe—even though they were marrying in a destination event at Lace on Timber in Pretoria, South Africa. "We wanted our wedding to feel intimate, comfortable but elevated," Upile says. "Since we love hosting our family and friends and curating beautiful experiences for them, we wanted our wedding to feel like an extension of that but in a fancy place and gorgeous live music."
Upile calls the wedding planning process both "stressful" and "thrilling." "Although I had the support of so many people, I was a bit stubborn and hesitant to use it all the time," she admits, "My phone was filled with random Etsy links, and I don’t think I slept much that year. Thankfully, Sakhe made lists for us, and I was forced to share the workload with him and everyone else."
I feel like my story is quite like my dress’s journey. It's taken an international village to make us both.
"I bought my first dress prematurely," Upile admits. "It took a few months for me to regret the purchase and that is when I emailed my dear friend Syreeta and asked her to make me the real dress of my dreams." Together, Upile and Syreeta spent weeks going back-and-forth, going from an ivory mermaid style to the final masterpiece: a stunning satin ballgown made of a nude-pink material that the bride found on Etsy.
"She [Syreeta] singlehandedly made this heavy dress in Maryland while I was in South Africa! I only tried it on once and my sister, Ngawina, brought it with her to South Africa. It had its own suitcase on the plane!" she admits with a laugh. "This dress was very mine not only because it was custom and Syreeta let me participate as much as I could, but because it was the result of love and came together because of so many people and cultures."
To ultimately reach Upile's doorstep in Johannesburg, the fabric was mailed from a seller in Cyprus to the dressmaker in Maryland and then transported by Upile's mother, who delivered the gown from Maryland to California, and her sister, who ultimately traveled from California to hand-deliver the gown. "I feel like my story is quite like my dress’s journey. It's taken an international village to make us both," Upile adds.
Her advice? "Please do not buy a dress on your very first trip to the dress shop! If you love a dress, go home, and have a think about it before swiping your card. Sit down and be honest about how exactly you envision yourself on the day. "
With the exception of Upile's blush gown and Sakhe's suit (more on that later!), every design detail was done in a palette of greenery and natural colors. "Our bridal party and the décor complemented each other perfectly in a combination of lush and subtle greens," describes the bride. "I love botanical gardens and keeping house plants alive, the poet in me wanted our own story of growth, nurturing, patience, and tenderness to shine through even in the decorations."
Upile's bridesmaids wore olive green dresses from ASOS, nude sandals, and brass earrings that the bride's sister Akuzike brought from Uganda. "All my bridesmaids lived in different countries from me and each other so after struggling with measurements and trying to find someone to make custom bridesmaid dresses, I decided to go for an online option," she explains. "I immediately fell in love with the olive satin dresses and knew that they would be flattering for each of these women I adore. They all have such different body types and skin tones, the color, and the fit managed to complement them all."
Sakhe wore a white-cream mandarin collar shirt, a bespoke peak lapel burgundy wool suit from Fran's Tailors, and brown wingtip brogues. He completed his look with a wedding gift from Upile: an About Vintage watch inscribed with "U&S."
His "groomspeople," which included a "groomswoman," matched in mandarin collar shirts with bespoke suits, also from Fran's Tailors. The obvious difference? They skipped the tie! "We chose forest green after choosing the olive green dresses and loved how the colors looked against each other," Upile adds.
Limiting their guest list to 100 guests was a challenge, admits the couple. "We always knew we wanted an intimate wedding but Sakhe’s family is much smaller than mine, and I could never have prepared myself for the stress of cutting down a guest list," Upile explains. "And once that list is done, then there is helping coordinate guests’ accommodations!" It was all worthwhile though, when many of their guests traveled to South Africa to the first time and spent the Christmas holiday there.
The easiest part of wedding planning? Finding the venue! "We fell absolutely in love with the industrial-meets-French architecture that creates this balance between elegance and fun," Upile says of the venue. "The outdoor-indoor feel of Lace on Timber is far from stuffy and traditional and so are we." In fact, once they were able to visit in person, Upile and Sakhe booked the very same day. "It seemed as ‘us’ as we could get," she says.
Since the venue is an indoor-outdoor space so, the ceremony site was decorated with eucalyptus, pampas grass, and baby’s breath to create a seamless look between vows and dinner. The couple ultimately wed in front of a hexagon-shaped arch that was draped in coordinating blooms.
When asked about the most memorable moment from the wedding, Upile says, "Sakhe’s sweet heavy tears as I walked down the aisle. Everyone in the room cried with him."
"My mother, Ruth, walked me to the door, took a seat, and I walked the rest of the way," explains the bride. "It was significant, as an immigrant mother in America, she has opened so many doors for me to be my best self and has always left it up to me to take the step to walk through them."
We poured as much for ourselves into every detail, me scatterbrained and panicky, and Sakhe as thoughtfully and gathered as he tends to be.
The couple made their own decisions, from selecting their unique wedding attire to planning a customized ceremony. "We did not wear the traditional white dress and black tux. There was no veil or tie. I walked down the aisle to one of my favorite musicians Loyisa Gijana singing ‘So into You’ by Tamia. And my eldest sister, Sarai, married us!" Upile explains. "We poured as much for ourselves into every detail, me scatterbrained and panicky, and Sakhe as thoughtfully and gathered as he tends to be.
"We wrote our own vows, and they were full of jokes and all the good soppy stuff. Of course, we both cried quite a bit while telling them," Upile recalls. "Of all the promises we made to each other, I constantly remind Sakhe that he promised me cuddles and omelets often."
As mentioned, the bride's sister Sarai led the ceremony. "Being married by my sister, who also happens to be my best friend, was so special," Upile admits. "It was Sakhe’s idea. Meeting her moved him and he couldn’t think of anyone better to help us join hands and futures."
Loyiso Gijana sang during the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception. "He is a soulful vocalist and his renditions of songs, as well as some of his original songs, was so warm and poetic," adds the bride.
Guests were greeted with fresh lemonade before the ceremony and the couple's two signature cocktails, a red wine sangria named ‘Poet’s Poison’ for Upile and a gin and tonic named the ‘Anish Ginny’ for Sakhe's love of chess, afterward.
If there’s such a thing as rustic greenery elegance, I think that would summarize the feel of the reception venue.
Inside the reception space, tables were dressed with eucalyptus and baby’s breath runners, white candles in gold candleholders, taupe linen napkin, and kraft place settings. "If there’s such a thing as rustic greenery elegance, I think that would summarize the feel of the reception venue," Upile says. "It was like a party in our backyard if our backyard was a beautiful French-Industrial style masterpiece covered in greenery."
Upile took on several DIY projects to personalize the wedding day, "I have never used Canva so much in my life! I designed the programs, the seating plan, the kraft place settings, and the messages on the wedding favors," she says. For favors, the couple filled small burlap bags with our favorite teas, coffee, and cookies (in the shape of chess pieces!).
"Once all the Champagne was drunk and most of the guests were gone, it rained heavily," Upile recalls. "It felt like a blessing since the rain waited until the very last minute so we can get the best out of our day."
Venue, Catering & Accommodations Lace on Timber
Coordinator Lushano Brits of Lace on Timber
Officiant Sarai Chisala-Tempelhoff
Bridal Gown Syreeta C Fashion
Jewelry Brass Earrings
Hair Kudakwashe Magora Mhlanga
Makeup Palesa Mkwanazi Artistry
Bridesmaids' Dresses ASOS
Groom and Groomsmen's Attire Fran’s Tailors
Floral Design Pebble and Lace
Paper Products Canva; Tique Design
Guest Book Etsy
Music Loyisa Gijana
Cake The Cake Lady; The Gingerbread Lady
Videography & Photography Picture Me & U