Congresswoman Elise Stefanik is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, and as the representative for New York’s 21st Congressional District, she has a more-than-loaded schedule. That means that when Matthew Manda wanted to propose to her in August of 2016, he had a pretty small window of time and had to make the most of it. “Congress is out of session in August, so I use that time to visit my district and connect with my constituents,” she explains. After a whirlwind of farm tours, veteran roundtables, coffee chats, and county fairs, Matthew insisted they take an evening off to unwind. They checked into the Mirror Lake Inn in the Adirondacks, and on the inn’s private porch, he got down on one knee. “After I said yes and Matt slipped the ring on my finger, I finally asked him why there was dental floss tied to it,” Elise says, with a laugh. “It turns out he’d read so many horror stories about rings lost during outdoor proposals that he’d tied dental floss to the band just in case he dropped it!”
Elise was born and raised in upstate New York, and has many fond memories of trips to see the New York City Ballet at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs. “Matt and I wanted our wedding venue to highlight the beauty and history of the area, but also wanted it to be situated in a vibrant downtown area with plenty of activities for our guests,” she explains. The Hall of Springs, a sprawling space built in the early 1930s and accented with marble columns and manicured lawns, fit all their criteria.
With a demanding Congressional schedule that brought her back-and-forth between Washington and New York, Elise turned to Experience and Creative Design to create the florals and plan all the details of their August 19, 2017 wedding. “They really understood that my constituents are my priority, so I wouldn’t always be available to take calls or make decisions," she says. "Their flexibility, creativity, and professionalism made them such a joy to work with.” The bride's mother also stepped in to help, adding little surprises for her daughter to discover once the wedding day arrived. “She collected antiques for our lounge area, she and my dad repurposed antique urns for our floral arrangements, and they even repainted a wrought iron table for our cake display,” Elise explains. From there, the team executed the bride’s vision (somewhere between A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Ascot scene from My Fair Lady) to create a romantic celebration full of lush flowers and twinkling lights. Shawn Connell of Christian Oth Studio was on hand to capture all the creative details, plus the beauty of Elise’s district, so keep reading for more!
It was the skirt of this Monique Lhuillier ballgown that first caught Elise's eye. "The flowers are hand-painted on sheer layers,” she explains. Plus, the gown's beaded bodice, classic silhouette, and antique cream color only added to her love. “After my final fitting, I walked out of Mark Ingram Atelier with my gown and ran into Elizabeth Moss, who played Peggy on Mad Men," she says. "I was so excited about my wedding that I ran down the street after her, told her all about my gown, and then her mom took a picture of us together. It was so funny and a little embarrassing, but such a wild way to cap off that experience!”
To match the intricate details on her gown, Elise donned pearl and crystal-embellished René Caovilla slingback pumps. Antique Art Deco earrings were a shimmering nod to the Hall of Springs’ history.
The flowers were all about vibrant color, starting with the bride's fuchsia bridal bouquet, which featured a cascade of orchids surrounded by cream, blush, pink, and red roses.
Each bridesmaid chose her own blush, floor-length dress. “I wanted the shopping process to be as easy and stress-free as possible for them,” the bride explains.
The maid of honor’s daughter acted as the flower girl and looked adorable in a custom Colette Komm dress, finished with pink French lace and a matching bow. “She practiced her flower toss so much before the wedding and did perfectly," Elise says. "Her mother followed her down the aisle and was in tears over how proud she was!”
The ceremony took place in front of a lush arch of ferns, roses, and hydrangeas. A friend of the bride served as the master of ceremonies, while the retired New York Supreme Court Justice Jan Plumadore officiated. “After our first kiss, guests tossed hot pink rose petals, which was one of my favorite moments!” says the bride.
Following the ceremony, the newlyweds hopped into a vintage Corvette while guests made their way to cocktail hour. “Matt and I took a few moments alone to take in the venue, which was absolutely magical,” Elise recalls.
At cocktail hour, guests found their escort cards tucked into boxes of green grass arranged on a white garden cart. Meanwhile, they also sipped on two signature cocktails created by a local mixologist. The first, the Saratoga Patriot, combined bourbon, lime, mint, and Angostura bitters. The second, Balanchine’s Ballerina, was a nod to the bride’s love of dance as a child and mixed vodka with elderflower, lemon, and lavender bitters.
To create a breezy, magical feeling, the reception was set beneath a sailcloth tent with no sides. Inside, bare farm tables were decorated with gilded crystal plates, gold flatware, and pink-edged napkins. The organic centerpieces combined dahlias, roses, and hydrangeas in shades of pink and white.
The night's menu included filet mignon with lump crab and sweet potato hash, cauliflower française with caper berries and a beet-and-goat cheese stack, and cavatelli pasta with crushed tomatoes and roasted garlic (served family style, in honor of Elise’s Italian heritage). “For dessert, we had a ‘Create Your Own Cannoli’ bar with a variety of fillings and toppings,” she adds.
Elise and Matthew opted for classic tunes during the reception, and their band, To The Max, delivered. After their first dance, they cut into their spectacular wedding cake by Maggie Austin. “I had saved a newspaper clipping about her for years because I loved that she was a professional ballerina before she became a baker,” the bride explains. The cake's dramatic design featured layers of white cake with coconut and lime buttercream, pear cake with blackberry and white chocolate buttercream, and chocolate and cinnamon cake with hazelnut praline and cappuccino buttercream.
With so much on her plate as a Congresswoman, the bride says she learned that the best way to plan a wedding is to stay calm and trust the professionals. “Prioritize what really matters to you and your spouse, and find vendors who will really work with you," she says. "My work schedule went right up until our out-of-town guests started to arrive for the weekend, and that was only possible because of our team!”
Wedding Planning & Floral Design: Experience and Creative Design
Venue: Saratoga Hall of Springs
Officiant: New York State Supreme Court Justice Jan Plumadore
Bride's Veil: Colette Komm Couture
Bride's Shoes: René Caovilla
Hair: Christine Pettograsso
Makeup: Vivian Infantino
Flower Girl Attire: Colette Komm Couture
Engagement Ring & Wedding Bands: Kizer Cummings Jewelers
Paper Products: Ink Revival
Catering: Mazzone Catering
Cake: Maggie Austin Cake
Ceremony Music: Bel Canto Chamber Players
Reception Music: To The Max
Rentals: Petunia Rose
Transportation: Premiere Transportation
Accommodations: Batcheller Mansion
Photography: Shawn Connell for Christian Oth Studio