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A Kentucky Derby–Themed Rehearsal Dinner Kicked Off This Wedding Weekend in Seattle

By Shayna Seid | Photography by 

Katie Parra

|Planning by 

Valley & Company Events

“I ruined my own surprise,” Clara Chen says of her proposal. After five years together, Matthew Wernert proposed at the Griffith Observatory. When he first insisted they go meet her best friend for a picnic there, even though she was feeling under the weather, she flat out asked him if he was getting down on one knee. Matt tried to deny it, but on the front lawn, while a family friend played “Fly Me To The Moon” on the viola, he asked Clara to marry him. “Even though I knew it was coming, I started crying immediately, and Matt barely got a word out.”

The engaged couple decided on hosting their wedding in Seattle very quickly; it’s their home together. Clara was adamant about wanting an outdoor ceremony and a dreamy tented reception, and there were only a handful of venues in the area that could accommodate their guest list. Once they visited Bella Luna Farms for the first time, it was absolute magic, and the herb garden—the first look location—reminded them of one of their favorite restaurants, Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

They booked their venue for September 4, 2021 and enlisted Valley & Company Events to help plan, design, and execute brilliant florals. And to set the tone for the weekend, Clara collaborated with Inky Press, Libby Tipton, and Clover & Lamb on a beautiful invitation suite.

That night, the rehearsal dinner was Kentucky Derby–themed. Clara was inspired to run with the theme, after she found a particular Sarah Seven dress. “Matt’s entire family is originally from Louisville, and his grandmother—who I never got to meet—treated Derby like Christmas,” Clara says.

When it came to wedding dress shopping, Clara remembers trying on nearly 15 dresses that were all different styles, at one point. “I wanted to give everything a chance!” she exclaims. After three appointments, the bride went to BHLDN with her sister and tried on a modern yet classic dress by Willowby by Watters. “The only sample they had in store was eight sizes too big, and half the dress was clamped, but we both just knew it was the one!”

On the day-of, Clara got ready with Salon Maison, who gave her an elevated beauty look, and paired her gown with Paris Texas shoes and Dorsey earrings.

Arm-in-arm with her parents down the aisle, Clara started crying as soon as she saw Matt. During the rehearsal the day prior, Clara’s grandmother pointed out that an apple tree hovered over the groom’s side. “Apples represent peace and happiness in Chinese culture,” the bride explains. “I was very comforted by the good omen.”

Clara and Matt’s college professor officiated the service on the lawn, and throughout the whole event, the bride felt “nervous but so happy.” After both saying, “I do,” the couple led their guests to cocktail hour around the Grapehouse. Boulevardiers were served as their signature drink, and the Valley & Co. team surprised the newlyweds with a custom brands on the orange peels.

Dinner was served under a sailcloth tent and featured two entree stations: one with Pacific Northwest-inspired cuisine and one filled with tapas. After the delicious food and heartwarming toasts, everyone moved to the barn area for Bell’s Cookie Co. cookies, cake, and dancing. “I asked Brooke from Table Catering Co. to create a wedding cake flavor inspired by one of my favorite childhood treats from a French patisserie—raspberry pistachio with a white chocolate ganache,” Clara says. “It was heavenly; we had to stop ourselves from eating the entire sample cake.”

After the first verse in the couple’s first dance song, “Mango Tree” by Zac Brown Band and Sara Bareilles, Clara and Matt pulled their surprised parents onto the dance floor to join them. “It was effortless fun,” the bride remembers. Then, Blue Wave Band kept loved ones grooving for hours with no end in sight.

As a late-night snack, wood-fired pizzas were handed out in custom boxes that Matt’s father helped to design—inspired by the famous Pike Place Market sign.

And once the reception came to a formal end, the new mister and missus went clubbing in the city with friends. “Then back at the hotel, we slammed a breakfast burrito, left over by the bridesmaids,” Clara remembers.

The next day, Clara and Matt took 40 of their friends out boating on Lake Washington to soak up some sun and say farewell to their wedding weekend.