by Pamela Rothbard, Editor
When two event professionals marry, you know the celebration is bound to be epic. We love this Palm Beach wedding between Chicago-based event photographer, Collin Pierson, and event planner, Michelle Durpetti. The affair boasted surprising entertainment and personal and cultural history woven into an unforgettable evening. We spoke with Durpetti about her experience of being on the other side of the planning process and how she infused depth and meaning into everything from the welcome bags to the after-party.
When the date is fate.
Durpetti’s family is of Italian descent and, naturally, she wanted to marry in Italy. “But I wasn’t sure if a trans-Atlantic flight would be possible for my father,” she says. Instead she opted for the gorgeous Italian-inspired ballroom at The Breakers Palm Beach. The spot originally opened in 1896, but a remodel almost a century ago employed 75 artisans from Italy to remake the space after the magnificent Villa Medici in Rome.
However, there weren’t dates available at the spot for a year and a half — too long for the newlyweds to wait. When January 6th suddenly opened — only a few months out, and a mere six months from their June engagement — the pair snatched it up and began assembling their team. Durpetti credits their ability to quickly plan such a stunning affair to the “sheer strength of the collaborative effort” of those professionals.
Choosing a team when you’re usually the team.
Durpetti and Pierson decided up front that they were going to hire professionals to produce their wedding so they could fully enjoy it. “I wanted to be creative,” says Durpetti, “but without doing all of the work.” The pair’s network is wide and deep so the selection process was a delicate matter.
“I had a conversation with each of my industry friends and said, ‘I respect you and love your work but I want you to be a guest at my wedding. Come cry and dance with me. Dress up and live the experience,” says Durpetti. Since January is a slow month in the events industry, the timing also presented the opportunity for their guests to really let down and enjoy. “I felt like I was getting the best of both worlds — to work with super-talented people and also be with my friends,” says Durpetti.
Infusing meaning through décor and entertainment.
The couple worked with Birch to realize their vision of a weekend that felt “old-world in a timeless way.” That meant welcome bags from Smitten Boutique with Italian candy that Durpetti grew up enjoying and invitations from HH Design, lined with a design from traditional Florentine stationery found at the open-air market in Florence that Durpetti once lived near. The design was repeated throughout the celebration, including the ribbon on the cake designed by Birch.
“What makes an event is how people remember feeling,” says Durpetti. For example, when the couple were pronounced husband and wife, she wanted there to be a “joy bomb.” To that end, Becca Kaufman, the lead singer of Chicago band BKO and founder of BeatMix Music, engaged Tina Jenkins Crawley and her group of gospel singers to break into the song “Oh Happy Day” at the conclusion of the ceremony. They sang the newly-married couple out as guests tossed sprigs of lavender, an Italian symbol of luck. Then later, as friends and family walked from cocktails to the reception, there was a nod to Durpetti’s grandparents who hailed from Lucca, Italy — a pair of opera singers and half a dozen violinists performed three arias from Puccini, who was also from Lucca.
The reception presented more surprises. Once the opera music ended, the space faded to black for the bridal party introduction. An 18-piece band, Rhythm Collective of Elan Artists, fired up an Avicii anthem as servers holding bottles of champagne sporting sparklers marched into the room ahead of the party. Durpetti says, “It was the best bottle service ever!”
The ballroom was transformed into a magical forest for the event, conjured by the skilled design team at Renny & Reed. They made intentional floral choices — lemon and magnolia leaves, cypress greens — and built trees, branch by branch, into centerpieces (actual trees would have been too heavy). Each setting displayed custom monogrammed BBJ Linen hemstitch linen napkins that the bride and groom took home to enjoy afterwards. Their monogram was also on the cake and the chocolate hearts festooning dessert.
Speaking of dessert, even that held meaning. Durpetti’s parents, who will celebrate their 50th anniversary this year, served Baked Alaska at their own wedding and the new bride and groom followed suit. In yet another special touch, Kaufman arranged for The Four C Notes — a Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons tribute band — to travel from Chicago for a 25-minute set. “It was a complete surprise for my mom, that Collin and I planned as a thank you for all that both she and my dad did for us with this wedding — and every day. They are incredibly special parents and my mom is a huge Frankie Valli fan!!” says Durpetti.
Choosing fare for a culinary family.
Durpetti’s family owns the historic and iconic Chicago steakhouse, Gene and Georgetti’s, and Pierson is a “cellular level” foodie (according to his bride) — meaning the food being served had to be top-notch. “Obviously the quality of the meat is important and the steak was unreal,” says Durpetti. She adds that Jeff from The Breakers worked with Pierson to create a menu that allowed guests to order their entrées tableside.
“My mom loves a great raw bar and and this one was phenomenal. If we mentioned something like that, Jeff would make it a reality a moment later,” she says. The couple imagined a meal that was fancy and beautiful without being stuffy or exclusive. Durpetti says that more than a food legacy, she has inherited a tradition of hospitality from her family. “I wanted our wedding to be warm and inviting and for guest to feel comfortable.”
And after the party is the…
In the movie “XXX” starring Vin Diesel, there’s a scene in a Russian nightclub which Durpetti describes as having “sick lighting and jewel-toned velvets” — that was Pierson’s wedding after-party inspiration. The couple served saganaki (flaming Greek cheese) in honor of her biological heritage and boozy milkshakes to late nighters. DJ Cat Shell from Elan Artists filled the dance floor with guests wearing “rescue flats” to save their feet after the long, fun day.
It’s been a year and the still party isn’t over — the happily married pair celebrated Durpetti’s 40th birthday and their first anniversary this January by recreating their afterparty, complete with DJ Cat on the turntable.
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