Melina and Thomas Chandy's relationship didn't exactly happen overnight, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a more fated love story than theirs. The pair first met briefly as middle schoolers in their hometown of Laguna Beach, California (when Melina's first kiss was with Thomas's best friend!), but parted ways until early adulthood. Melina eventually moved to Aspen, Colorado after college, where she dived into a career as director of events at the Little Nell (and boasting more than 200 weddings under her belt, NBD).
However, in the middle of powering through her dream job, Melina received life-altering news: a multiple sclerosis diagnosis, which left her unable to move her right arm and hand. Hesitant to share her new medical history, she retreated home to heal and be with her family while still working remotely.
And then entered Thomas. A few years after Melina's diagnosis (and a whole 24 years after they had first met), she and her now-groom rekindled on a dating app just before Valentine's Day and met for drinks. On their first date, Thomas, who had recently also moved home, revealed that he sold his medical education tech company and planned to pursue his passion of becoming a physician at the age of 36. And, as fate would so fittingly have it, he mentioned that his father, also a physician, had moved to Singapore for a new job.
But here's the real kicker: One of his dad's drug development projects involved finding a cure for MS. "I suddenly felt comfortable and took a risk I had not taken since my diagnosis and told Thomas I had MS," Melina says.
The risk paid off, and the couple spent the next two years slowly getting to know each another and staying busy with hiking, surfing, and skiing. "Our love grew over time, and we said we loved each other for the first time on our first trip to Aspen together," adds the bride. She also describes MS as "the worst best thing" to happen to her, since it brought her home to reconnect with Thomas, among many other blessings. Eventually, 26 years after first crossing paths, Thomas popped the question in January 2018 at the exact same beach where they had met as children.
"It's a very special place to both of us," Melina explains.
And speaking of special places, no spot could be more meaningful than the Little Nell for the duo's nuptials on June 9, 2018. "The Little Nell has been such an instrumental part of my personal and professional life for so many years," she explains. Unsurprisingly, the bride independently assumed the role of wedding planner to bring her elegant-meets-natural vision to life and mapped out the day with the help of local vendors and fellow colleagues, all well-versed in her style. "My entire Little Nell family went above and beyond to make sure our wedding was a VIP occasion!" adds Melina.
"My heart was so full."
Keep reading to see how Thomas and Melina made the bride's workplace their own in this sentimental ceremony, as captured by James x Schulze.
Meghan Markle's wedding dress may have inspired a wave of look-alikes, but Melina jokes that the royal stole her look, considering she purchased her gown back in January. She actually stumbled upon the long sleeve, boat-neck Badgley Mischka number at Neiman Marcus while on a regular shopping trip with her cousin, who has special needs. "I saw it, tried it on, came out of the dressing room, asked for his opinion and he said I looked pretty," Melina says of the impromptu dress shopping experience.
"This meant everything to me. I smiled and purchased it. It truly was the first wedding dress I tried."
To top off the ensemble, the Little Nell's Dennis Basso boutique lent the bride a sequined belt, and the venue's Betteridge jewelry store surprised Melina with a tray of diamond accessories to pick from. She selected a bracelet to match the crystal drop earrings she'd actually lent to eight of her own friends for their weddings.
Thomas donned a blue suit by his favorite brand, Loro Piana, along with an Hermès tie that Melina gifted him.
The bride kept her bouquet classic, taking to a simple arrangement of white peonies.
The ceremony took place at the Little Nell's picturesque wedding deck, where Melina has helped hundreds of brides say I do. "I feel blessed to have this very spiritual connection to all the amazing couples who have exchanged their vows on the wedding deck," she adds of the sentimental spot.
Given the locale's stunning mountain view, the bride understandably didn't want to block the landscape with an obstructive arch or altar. Instead, a local vendor created low flower boxes—filled with tall, white blooms—to frame the area.
The ring bearer, Melina's godson, loved sporting a special mini suit down the aisle. Her goddaughter flower girl, on the other hand, refused to wear her wedding shoes...instead opting for a pair of flip flops! But Melina rolled with the punches. "She’s a beach baby so there was no way convincing her otherwise," the bride said of the unexpected footwear change.
Escorted by her father, Melina pinpoints creating the ceremony as the hardest planning component. "Having done so many weddings over the years, I feel [the ceremony] is the part that unfortunately always gets overlooked or is an afterthought, and it truly is the reason everyone is coming together," she explains. The bride also admitted that she's had little involvement with this aspect of her clients' nuptials in the past. However, despite the lack of experience, Melina and Thomas still aimed to make theirs as special as possible by writing every word together—a challenging undertaking, no doubt.
"Every single word, prayer, and song was thoroughly thought out," she says. "I also used verses and ideas from past ceremonies of couples I had worked with—with their approval, of course. The couples were deeply touched, and again that made the ceremony even more special for me."
Paying homage to their cultures, the pair also incorporated a few traditions from the Syrian Christians of Kerala in India. Thomas's oldest female relative presented Melina with a Mandrakodi sari, a gift that symbolizes the bride's entrance into the extended family. Thomas then tied the Minnu, a customary necklace, around Melina's neck. Both pieces reflect the couple's mutual love, trust, and commitment.
The bride and groom were surrounded by Melina's cousin, who acted as her matron of honor, and the best man, Thomas's brother.
The reception migrated indoors to the Little Nell's Aspen Mountain Club. Melina changed into a stunning sari, made from gold-dipped thread, that her in-laws had purchased for her in India. She paired the outfit with a matte gold Valentino necklace and large gold studs—another present from Thomas's parents.
Taking the place cards up a notch, Melina created a silver wax seal with the pair's monogram to stamp above each guest's name, hand-written in calligraphy. (The cards also matched an existing piece of artwork inside the space.)
For the rest of the decor, the bride favored a blue and white color scheme, as evidenced by the ceramic chinoiserie vases, floral printed table numbers, and personalized menus on each table. White linen napkins with sterling silver rings, and silver chargers adorned each table as well.
"The Little Nell has hands down the most incredible food and wine program," raved the bride, who knew exactly which cuisine to serve. Thomas and Melina collectively decided on a four-course tasting menu, highlighting their favorite foods from the venue's executive chef. The meal featured a local spring vegetable salad with pea puree and citrus vinaigrette; duck confit strozapretti, pickled ramps, and jumping goat feta; Colorado rack of lamb with asparagus and potato puree; and orange flower water angel food cake with strawberries and cream shortcake.
The bride changed into her final look, a sparkly, long-sleeved minidress, to hit the dance floor. The newlyweds, both fans of oldie songs, chose "How Sweet It Is" to commemorate their first dance.
Now, with her own wedding added to her lengthy planning track record, Melina advises that to-be-weds never lose sight of what's most important: love. "It’s about finding the love you’ve dreamt of and searched for, and can now celebrate," she says. "Celebrate that love and don’t worry about all the details, because as a planner who has done hundreds of weddings, people typically remember very few of the details that you may spend hours agonizing over."
Venue, Catering, and Accomodations: The Little Nell || Bride's Dress: Badgley Mischka || Bride's Belt: Dennis Basso || Bride's Jewelry: Betteridge, Valentino || Bride's Shoes: Badgley Mischka, Stuart Weitzman || Hair & Makeup: Full Circle Aspen || Bridesmaid's Dress: Barneys New York || Mother of the Bride Dress: Rickie Freeman for Teri Jon || Groom's and Groomsman's Attire: Loro Piana || Flower Girl & Ring Bearer Attire: Nordstrom || Floral Design: The Aspen Branch || Invitations & Paper Products: Two Paper Dolls || Music: Georgia Bridgewater Orchastra || Cake: d’Elissious || Rentals: Event Rents || Favors: FAYA || Transportation: Aspen Gondola || Videographer: Elysium Productions || Photographer: James x Schulze