Caroline Cuse knew just what her ideal wedding locale looked like, though she wasn’t entirely sure it existed. “I grew up hiking the hills around Los Angeles and dreamed of getting married overlooking the ocean,” says the photographer and floral designer. By her side in the search? Sean Duncan, a financial technology strategist, whom she met in 2009 while both were students at Harvard. Hailing from the UK, Sean had never been to Southern California before he met Caroline, but soon fell in love with its wild landscape too.
In 2016, he proposed on a hike in the Santa Monica Mountains.
The couple looked at venues, but nothing felt quite right until Caroline received a text from her mother that simply read, “I think I found it.” Attached was a photo of a lush, grassy hill in Malibu with views of the Pacific. “It was perfect,” she says, but the remote area had no infrastructure, so everything from electricity to decor had to be imported to Black Sage Mesa, named to reflect the abundance of the aromatic evergreen on the site.
On the afternoon of July 28, 2018, the couple met before the ceremony for an emotional first look (“We both cried!” says the bride). They had chosen the date to say their vows because it coincided with a full red moon. “It’s also called a hay moon and it carries powerful feminine energy,” says the bride.
Keep reading to see how a pair of devoted hikers created their own kind of love summit on quiet on a quiet hillside overlooking the Pacific. Erich McVey was on hand to capture every detail of the stunning day, as planned by Laurel & Rose.
“We wanted the wedding to feel true to the location, a beautiful untouched piece of land,” says Caroline, who describes the look of their Malibu wedding as “elegant, wild, and natural.” The bride scanned flowers to border the invitation, while stationer Lotus & Ash added a handful of real pressed flowers to each suite.
The wedding party got ready at a modern home that Caroline originally found in an architectural newsletter. The couple rented it for the nights before and after the nuptials. The bride gifted her 'maids striped linen dresses to wear as they got ready.
Caroline wore a classic Leanne Marshall dress: “I fell in love with the way it moved.”
“After an overcast morning, we all started cheering when the sun triumphed and the sky broke into blue,” Caroline recalls. Fittingly, her seven ‘maids and five VIP “greeters” wore shades inspired by the site’s mustard flowers, sky, and ocean.
"As a floral designer myself, I was really excited about the flowers and they were a huge priority for me," Caroline says. "I worked really closely with Moon Canyon to design the floral vision. We pulled rose tones from the sunsets I saw there, earth tones from the ground and grasses, golden tones from the evening sunlight, and delicate notes of blue from the ocean." This color palette first inspired the wedding party's attire, as shown above.
The bridal bouquet was made with grasses, garden roses, astilbe, yarrow, cascading vines, and, as Caroline says, "some very pretty delicate delphiniums."
Caroline's cousin, Nora Hart, took her role as flower girl quite seriously. She wore a flower crown of grasses and a sky blue dress (by JJ's House) to match the rest of the bridal party. "She held the back of my veil and was so diligent and adorable," says the bride.
Sean wore a classic Gieves and Hawkes tux that he got while visiting his family in London. "Being British, Sean loves formalwear," Caroline says with laugh.
The couple met on a remote part of the hillside for photos prior to the ceremony. After, they hung out in a tent and watched as guests were bused up the mountain to the ceremony. "It took a while for them to get there," Caroline admits.
Parasols were on hand since the Malibu wedding took place just before sunset.
“We stood on a small wooden platform with the ocean behind us and the mountains beside us,” says the bride of the ceremony scene.
The author and pastor Rob Bell, who is a close family friend, officiated the proceedings, working closely with Caroline and Sean to organize a ceremony focused on the "power and beauty of love." "It wasn’t long and it was really distilled into being all about Sean and me and our love for each other," Caroline explains. "It was about our growth together, the openness of our love, the idea that we’ve been each other’s greatest confidant and greatest supporter in the search for who we are, as we’ve become adults together."
The sun started to set during the ceremony so the newlyweds took advantage, posing for post-ceremony portraits at golden hour.
At cocktail hour, Pimm’s Cups—a nod to Sean’s years in England—were served atop cocktail napkins in shades of the sunset and ocean to create a color-block effect on each serving tray.
At dinner, food stations and open seating allowed guests to mix, mingle, and eat as they pleased. “It was so fun seeing how friends from different parts of our lives connected,” says the bride.
“Each table was full of gorgeous flowers and grasses, and looked wild yet elegant,” says Caroline, who worked with Moon Canyon to achieve that effect. Arrangements included Julia roses in memory of Sean’s sister.
Everyone got along famously, and the night ended with guests surrounding the duo and belting out Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” and “sending all this energy and love our way,” says Caroline. “There was a ton of energy on the dance floor from all the generations,” says Caroline. “Both my 88-year-old grandma and our flower girl were tearing it up!”
The next day all traces of the hoopla were gone, and Black Sage Mesa returned to its natural unassuming state. Since then, the couple has hiked there several times to reminisce. “It feels almost mythical—our fancy party popped up for one night and then vanished,” Caroline says. “Like magic.”
Wedding Venue: Black Sage Mesa || Wedding Planning & Design: Laurel & Rose || Paper Products: Lotus and Ash || Bride's Dress: Leanne Marshall || Bride's Shoes: Prada || Hair & Makeup: Team Hair & Makeup || Groom's Attire: Gieves and Hawke || Officiant: Rob Bell || Floral Design: Moon Canyon || Rentals: Found Rentals, Bright Event Rentals, La Tavola Fine Linen || Catering: Whoa Nelly || Bar: The Whaling Club || Lighting: Lighten Up || Cake: Susie Cakes || Ceremony Music: Atlantic Strings Quartet || Reception Music: Dart Collective || Photography: Erich McVey || Videography: Audrey Alba Films || Photo Booth: Snap Bar Photo Booth || Transportation: Crown Limo