Photography by Carlos Baez
In the Cuban culture, tradition is everything. Time-honored rituals color daily life and a strong sense of history binds families. For Melissa Soto, whose family hails from Cuba and emigrated stateside during the Castro revolution, honoring that tradition was paramount to her wedding plans.
“I wanted something very traditional and old fashioned,” she says. “I loved the idea of a Spanish romantic theme, because it reflects my family’s roots.”
The element that started it all was her grandmother’s mantilla, an oversized lace scarf typically worn by Spanish women as a head cover or a shawl. Before Melissa even met David Lester, the man she was going to marry, she knew she would wear this mantilla on her wedding day. “It has been in my grandmother’s family for generations,” she says. “My mother wore it. It’s part of our family heritage.”
The next step was to choose a venue. No setting could have been more appropriate to the theme than Vizcaya Museum & Gardens in Miami, a national historic landmark built in the 1910s by industrialist James Deering. Originally Deering’s winter residence, Vizcaya was designed in grand Mediterranean Revival style with architectural elements inspired by Italian Renaissance and Spanish villas.
The idyllic setting, with its vast outdoor areas overlooking the water and 10 acres of formal gardens, served as a gorgeous backdrop for the event design by Cristina Llorente of Cymbidium Events. After the ceremony, at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Miami, guests arrived at Vizcaya and were greeted by a round table draped in a sheer red, embroidered fabric and decorated with red candles and a “tree” of red orchids and roses. The impact of the red set the stage, but once guests proceeded to the reception outside, the decor dissolved into an ethereal vision of black and white. A tented area on the terrace was draped in white fabric that billowed in the breeze. Dinner tables were draped in black and white cloths with an old-world pattern, and decorated with a profusion of white roses and orchids, and black iron candelabras with cream-colored candles. The backs of the black chairs were tied with sheer white fabric and a single white rose. Black iron and glass candle lanterns lit the path from the terrace down to the bay, where the names of the bride and groom were projected onto a floating barge. The scene was magical, like a sepia-colored vignette from another era.
As David and Melissa entered the reception as husband and wife, Melissa looked radiant with a full red rose at the nape of her neck and the mantilla draped over her Pronovias wedding gown. Though the couple spent the evening greeting guests and reconnecting with friends they hadn’t seen in years, they did not pass up the opportunity for a romantic tête-à-tête.
“The reception was a blur to us,” says Melissa. “We had people in from everywhere, and it was a little overwhelming. At one point I took David by the hand and said, ‘Let’s take a break.’ We went to this gazebo and watched the party from a distance. It was all so beautiful, so perfect.”
And the perfect reflection of their romance. David and Melissa met in film school, as students at Full Sail University in Winter Park. On the first day of classes, when students were introducing themselves to each other, David walked up to Melissa and cut in as she was talking to someone else. They became friends, but he wanted to take it to the next level so he asked her out...
For the complete story of Melissa and David's wedding, please pick up a copy of Weddings Illustrated's Spring/Summer 2011 issue here.