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An All-Female Mariachi Band Played at This Wedding on Catalina Island

By Cathleen Freedman | Photography by 

Ben and Kadin Godwin

|Planning by 

 XOXO Weddings

Before “swiping right” was an integral feature of the dating experience, Alexis Justman and Chase Sampson met each other online. He arranged for their surprise mid-week date at an organ concert in a church, followed by brunch. As the day rolled by, though, neither wanted the date to end, so Chase accompanied Alexis on her errands. It felt less like a first date and more like an outing with an old friend. They reconnected a few months later and before Chase left for a long-term work trip, he took Alexis out for beers and hot dogs to ask her to be his girlfriend.

Eight years later, Alexis and Chase gussied up for the Avalon Ball, an annual fundraising event for the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles. While taking photos on the balcony, the event photographer came over and as he snapped a picture—Chase kneeled down on his knee. Alexis admits, “Everything after that was a blur, and I don’t think he originally intended that moment to be documented, so it was very lucky for us that someone was there to capture it with a camera.”

It was of utmost importance for Alexis and Chase that their venue be special to them and also fun for a weekend getaway. They hoped for a venue replete with history, so naturally, they toured storied hotels, theaters, train stations, ghost towns, and even an artist colony from the 1920s.

The Casino was the first destination that had everything they wanted. Firstly, this is where they were engaged. Secondly, the locale made for a lovely weekend trip for guests. Only 26 miles from Long Beach, The Casino is perched on Catalina Island and retains all of the glamour of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Once the venue was chosen, everything else fell into place. “The Casino itself is a majestic work of art from all angles, so we drew inspiration from the opulent architecture, vibrant history, and the island’s charm and landscape,” Alexis explains. “It didn’t hurt that the venue came with grandiose design elements and sweeping views of the ocean, cascading hillsides, and cobblestone streets of Avalon. The splendor and romance were already there, we just had to scatter gobs of gardenias all over the ballroom, fill the dance floor and the champagne tower, add music, and ta-da—an Art Deco dreamscape was had.”

“As far as the wedding goes, I envisioned more of a ‘concept’ than a theme, as it was more important I achieve how I wanted the day to feel versus how I wanted it to look,” Alexis explains. Instead of indulging in a large wedding party, the couple opted for beach house rentals. “It was so fun to pop my head out the balcony at any given moment and see a friend or cousin zip around the corner on a golf cart, or to run into guests while grabbing a coffee or a sandwich!” Alexis remembers. “It truly felt like we had taken over the town.”

For the bridal gown, Alexis had two requirements: It should be timeless and show-stopping. This was no easy task. She continues, “I collected photos of vintage brides and put together a vision of my dream bridal ensemble, and then flew all over the country, became addicted to Etsy and eBay, and made about a hundred appointments at boutiques, designer salons, and private collection houses to try on dresses.” After nearly a year of seeking and scouring, she grew discouraged. 

Alexis turned to Instagram for one final attempt. She posted her inspiration photo—a 1930s Henri Bendel dress made from bias-cut satin with a Juliet cap veil and dramatic lace-appliqué cathedral train. A few hours later, she received a DM from someone in New England, saying, “I saw your post and nearly fell over. I have the dress.” Alexis’s newfound hero mailed the gown to her parents, a forty-minute drive from Alexis’s house. Alexis took one of her best friends to knock on the door and try on the gown. She exclaims as she recalls, “My heart was pounding!”

The dress featured no closures, snaps, or zippers, so she slipped it over her head. She held her breath until the hem touched the floor. Joyous that it fit and looked like the satin was poured onto her, Alexis screamed, and her friend cried. The family of the woman who sent the dress was already waiting in the foyer with champagne.

She paired the gown with Marie Antoinette-inspired Gucci heels she found on Tradesy and a draped calla lily bouquet by White Sakuras. For Alexis’s second outfit, she chose another vintage dress she found online. “I added a court train from the 1920s and had a millinery artist named Frollein Von Sofa in Germany fashion a giant satin bow to wear on my head,” she notes. “I’ve never worn anything that felt more ‘me.’”

Chase’s fashion experience was entirely different and completely streamlined. He stepped into Suitsupply at the nearest mall and found his dream tuxedo shortly after. Alexis laughs, “That’s pretty much how I expected that to go, though!”

On October 26, 2019, Alexis and Chase’s guests congregated in the Avalon Theatre, which is in the lower level of The Casino. This was the first movie cinema built for “talkies” after the silent film era. “The 50-foot domed ceiling is dotted with stars, so when the lights are down, it’s lit up like a night sky,” Alexis describes.

Alexis walked down the aisle with her father to Santo and Johnny’s dreamy “Sleep Walk.” Alexis and Chase happen to have professional musicians for friends. They comprised an all-star band complete with an accordion, steel guitar, and saxophone and serenaded the guests with vintage-style renditions of the couple’s favorite tunes. The selection ranged from the Disney classic “Someday My Prince Will Come” to Weezer ballads.

The couple’s close friend Kevin officiated, and their other dear friends, Jaylene and Courtney, read several excerpts. “It felt other-worldly and at the same time so casual and intimate,” Alexis shares about the ceremony, and nothing encapsulates that dichotomy like when Chase’s tear-inducing vows were interrupted by someone’s ringtone. This brought levity and laughter to the moment. Once Alexis and Chase were announced as man and wife, the band played “Be My Baby,” which blended in nicely with the all-female mariachi band performing outside the theater doors.

The Mariachi Divas continued strumming throughout the cocktail hour. “It was important I honor my Mexican side of the family, and my husband loves Mariachi music, so they were a hit!” Alexis divulges. Thanks to Amazon Prime and the incredible venue coordinator, the last-minute champagne tower kept libations flowing. The banquet-style dinner catered by Catalina Island Company was simply sensational.

During the reception, a silhouette artist cut live paper portraits of the guests. “The art form goes back hundreds of years, and true silhouette artists are rare to come by these days, so we felt so fortunate to have found Sylhouettes by Sylvia,” Alexis says. “Our guests were so delighted to watch her work and appreciated taking home a personalized souvenir from our special day. She even cut doubles of each one, which her assistant pasted into a guestbook that everyone got to sign for us.”

The newlyweds shared their first dance to “Let It Be Me” by the Everly Brothers, but Alexis’s favorite moment of the reception was the last dance. “We didn’t think too hard about it while making the playlist, but when the time came and ‘Dancing Queen’ performed by Cher played, it was like we were in a movie.”

The party continued at Luau Larry’s, an island dive bar with a tiki theme. Alexis clarifies, “We shut it down, of course!”