When Marleni Santana, a registered nurse at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, saw the coronavirus cases increasing last spring, she and her fiancée, Ezinne Okpo, halted their destination wedding planning in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They knew it would be years, not months, they’d have to postpone a big celebration.
By August, though, the pair couldn’t go another day not being married and decided to elope in true 2020 style. They acquired their marriage license via Zoom, booked a musician and videographer, and tailored their outfits all in a few weeks. They originally sought out a ceremony in Fort Tryon Park, near their home in Harlem. But rainy weather pushed them toward their plan B the night before: borrowing the stunning Brooklyn home of two artists whom the couple greatly admire. All of their guests, including family, watched on Zoom.
“We planned things so quickly that I don’t think either of us realized how magical the intimacy of nuptials with just the two of us would be,” Ezinne says. “Even if things don’t go as planned, things have a way of working themselves out.
Read on for all the details of Ezinne and Marleni’s intimate elopement, planned by the couple and photographed by Chi-Chi Ari of Chi-Chi Ari Love.
“The sleeves were reminiscent of my childhood,” Marleni says of her BHLDN gown. “Growing up, my mother dressed my sisters and me alike in ruffled dresses. Since they wouldn’t be at the wedding, I wanted something that would capture the essence of my family.”
She added another vintage touch to her look: a birdcage veil. “I knew that it would be an unexpected surprise for Ezinne,” Marleni says. “The mystery and the romance of it added to the overall look.”
Adore NYC created Marleni’s green and white bouquet, filled with roses, anemones, and hypericum berries.
“I couldn’t get past the vision of us both wearing white and knew Marleni would be completely surprised,” Ezinne says of donning a white tuxedo with an off-white shawl lapel and a flower lapel pin.
We felt that it would be special to have that moment to stand in awe of each other, and it truly was.
Marleni and Ezinne opted against a first look or any sneak peek of what they’d be wearing. They spent the night before apart, so their inaugural meeting on the wedding day was just before the ceremony. “We felt that it would be special to have that moment to stand in awe of each other, and it truly was,” Ezinne says.
“Within a couple of weeks, we set a date and booked our photographer, videographer, and officiant,” Ezinne says of putting together an elopement with a short timeline. “The other details—the private chef and violinist—came together relatively quickly.”
When the couple saw rain on the forecast for their outdoor ceremony, they rushed to find an indoor plan B in just a few days. Luckily, they connected with Virginie Sommet and Christian Frederick to use their Brooklyn home, one that the artists have lent for photoshoots and music videos in the past. “It is a stunning space, and we feel fortunate to have joined our lives together in such a beautiful setting,” Ezinne says.
Reverend Samora Smith officiated the ceremony by a fireplace as Ezinne and Marleni exchanged personalized vows. An electric violinist, Mylez Gittenz, performed before the ceremony began for the Zoom guests and played the processional songs: Johann Pachebel’s “Canon in D” and Kanye West’s “All of the Lights.”
“Funny enough, we both ended up talking about the day we first met and what an impact each left on us, even though we didn’t reconnect until many months later,” Ezinne says of their vows.
Marleni’s sisters also wrote letters to be read aloud during the ceremony. “To hear them welcome Ezinne into our family and celebrate our love and commitment with their words was truly special,” she says. “It meant even more because they weren’t there in person.”
After saying “I do,” the newlyweds joined their guests on Zoom. “We struggled with the idea of not having our family and friends present,” Ezinne admits. “With Zoom, they could witness our next steps in life together even from afar.”
After a quick spin as spouses, the newlyweds sat down to a five-course lunch prepared by a private chef, featuring butter poached prawns, chipotle-braised short rib, and cherry crème brûlée with chocolate mousse.
We both cherish the level of focus, connection, and intention we had in the moment and throughout the entire day.
In the end, the elopement allowed the couple to truly be present for one another. “We both cherish the level of focus, connection, and intention we had in the moment and throughout the entire day,” Ezinne says.
Officiant Reverend Samora Smith
Marleni’s Attire BHLDN
Marleni’s Veil BHLDN
Marleni’s Shoes Kate Spade
Marleni’s Hair The Key Look
Ezinne’s Attire Bindle and Keep
Ezinne’s Jewelry David Yurman
Ezinne’s Shoes Common Projects
Ezinne’s Hair Harlem Natural Hair Salon
Makeup Brides by Melanie B
Tailoring AMadden Tailoring
Wedding Bands ID Jewelry
Floral Design Adore NYC
Music Mylez Gittenz
Catering Chef’s Dinner Table
Videography Elizabeth Mealey
Photography Chi-Chi Ari Love