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An Elevated “Lowcountry Jungle” Summer Wedding on Kiawah Island

By Shayna Seid | Photography by 

Julia Wade Photography

Claire Schmitt, a registered dietitian at Rooted Wellness, and Ian Virga, an energy trader, met at a Christmas party in New York. “I tagged along to this party with a close friend whose boyfriend was there with some of his friends from college. One of those friends was Ian! Ian started talking to me as soon as I walked in the room and made me laugh the entire night. He really hasn’t stopped making me laugh since that day. He got my number and asked me out right away,” Claire says.

The couple dated for two-and-a-half years, before he proposed— “much to the chagrin of my southern, traditional mom (she would have liked it to have happened much sooner!),” Claire says. After a botched surprise proposal at their new West Village apartment, the next day, Ian got down on one knee at the beach before dinner at The Crow’s Neck in Montauk. 

For their #LikeAVirga wedding, they chose Kiawah Island, since Claire’s parents have had a beach house out there since she was little and the couple made many trips out while dating. “My favorite part about Kiawah is how lush, green, and wild it feels. The island’s live oaks and salt marshes are juxtaposed with palm trees and alligators, giving it a ‘Lowcountry jungle’ vibe. I wanted this atmosphere to be reflected in our wedding while also incorporating a lot of traditional southern elements,” the bride says.

To help plan everything, they hired Heather Barrie and Mary Ruth Miller of Gathering Events, who also took care of all the florals and event design for the rehearsal dinner at The Ocean Course Clubhouse. The dinner and welcome party were island-themed with bright pink and orange florals, palm leaves, and rattan touches. The bride wore a white, floral-cutout Rosie Assoulin dress for the “beach chic” occasion. 

Getting married in June in South Carolina, Claire needed a dress that was lightweight and breathable. Her and her mom went shopping in New York, and they found her Mira Zwillinger gown on the first day. “I wanted a classic, elegant dress with a little drama, which is why I fell in love with the long train of my dress. It was embroidered with the same small petals found on the bodice,” the bride says.

For her “something blue,” she wore a sapphire ring that her grandmother had gifted her on her 18th birthday. Her grandfather had given it to her grandmother years ago— “my grandparents met in elementary school and stayed together until my grandfather passed away, so that ring holds a lot of meaning to me.”

On the first Saturday of 2019’s summer, the two were married in the historic Johns Island Presbyterian Church, which was built in 1719. “I have four sisters and one brother and ten nieces and nephews! I wanted each of the families within my immediate family to be included in the service in some way. One of my sisters was my matron of honor and my brother was one of Ian’s groomsmen. Two of my older nieces were junior bridesmaids. Three of my younger nieces were flower girls and two of my nephews were ring bearers,” Claire explains. 

After the ceremony, guests moved to the cocktail hour on the front lawn of The Kiawah Island Club’s River Course, under beautiful live oak trees draped in Spanish moss. Half-way through, a thunderstorm caused everyone to move their drinks inside early, where the reception dinner was.

The space was decorated with candlelight and stunning floral arrangements, creating an indoor garden aesthetic. Once everyone had finished the delicious meal, Big Swing & The Ballroom Blasters took over the evening. The newlyweds had their first dance to  “You Sexy Thing,” by Hot Chocolate. “Not your average wedding song but we wanted something fun and unexpected to get the party started,” Claire says.

To keep partiers energized, late-night Chick-fil-A sandwiches and chocolate-chip cookies were a big hit. Then, the two made their exit in a 1961 Rolls-Royce. “I planned to change into a white Zimmerman dress for our exit but was having so much fun on the dance floor, I didn’t want to bother with an outfit change!”