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Young Love: How One Cool California Couple Went From UC Santa Barbara Study Buddies to Bride and Groom

By Cathleen Freedman | Photography by 

Emily Loeppke

|Planning by 

Wild Heart Events

Gabrielle Martin and Tim Shen first met on freshman move-in day at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Their nearby dorms meant they quite literally ran into each other often, but it wasn’t until their junior year that their encounters became more substantial. They ended up in the same computer science class and partnered together for labs. Suddenly, they took every possible opportunity to study just because it meant spending more time with each other. Finally, Tim asked Gabrielle out on a sushi date—no books allowed.

After seven years of dating, Tim knew he wanted to propose in Santa Barbara, where their love story began. During a day trip stroll along East Beach, Gabrielle immediately noticed Tim was acting…strange. “He was speeding up and slowing down erratically. Sometimes stopping to ‘fix his sandal buckles,’” she recalls. What she didn’t know is that this was because he needed to shepherd her to a specific spot for the photographer waiting in the brush. Eventually, he found the place and got down on one knee. He forgot his entire speech, but he remembered the important part and asked her to marry him.

Santa Barbara was the natural venue choice for the wedding. Food, wine, architecture, oceanside, and mountain views—the town has it all. “We also wanted our guests to experience different neighborhoods, so we kicked off the wedding with an intimate tea ceremony in nearby Montecito, hosted wine tasting in the historic neighborhood of Santa Barbara, and had a welcome reception in the Funk Zone, the city’s Arts District,” Gabrielle notes. “We wanted our venue to feel private and romantic, yet in the heart of the city and close to all the action.” The Santa Barbara Historic Museum was everything they were looking for. They secured it for August 20, 2022—the same date as Gabrielle’s parents’ 32nd wedding anniversary.  They enlisted Wild Heart Events to plan the week-long wedding and turned to Emily Loeppke to photograph the many magical moments.

Gabrielle had a very specific vision for her outfits. For the Chinese tea ceremony, Gabrielle and Tim decided to pay homage to each other’s heritage with traditional attire. She donned a cheongsam to pay homage to Tim’s Chinese heritage; he sported a Barong to honor her Filipino heritage. Gabrielle’s cheongsam was from East Meets Dress. “I love their modern take on the dresses, the deep wine red color, and the fitted sheath silhouette,” she dishes. She paired the outfit with Vince Camuto heels and her mother’s jade necklace and gold bracelet and earrings. “My mother passed away when I was in college, so I wanted to honor her by wearing a lot of her jewelry throughout the weekend,” Gabrielle shares. She changed into Self-Portrait’s blue-tiered guipure lace dress. With Kamperett’s Barre silk dress, Cult Gaia earrings, Jeffrey Campbell heels, and a JW Pei moon bag, Gabrielle looked like a contemporary reinterpretation of mod-sixties fashion at the rehearsal dinner and welcome reception.

She had no doubt she would wear a Monique Lhuillier dress to the ceremony. “I love that her silhouettes are feminine and many of her designs feature color, prints, embroidery, flowers, and 3-dimensional details,” she says. “Monique’s Freesia dress felt like wearing a piece of art.” Her golden Epona Valley hair clips were molded like side-by-side birds in a sleek bun, representing her and her mother. “Birds were her favorite.”

Page Beauty applied the bride’s natural, glowing, and sunkissed makeup. Gabrielle slid on her mother’s pearl earrings and a David Yurman ring Tim gave her for Christmas. Her brother’s girlfriend gifted her a Tiffany & Co. perfume. With a few spritzes, this was Gabrielle’s “something blue.”

Tim’s groom’s look was smart and handsome with a custom Suitsupply tuxedo and Magnanni loafers. The groomsmen and bridesman put on tuxedos from the Black Tux. The bridesmaids all beguiled in green shades of Jenny Yoo satin and chiffon.

Guests gathered around the museum’s lower courtyard pergola for the garden party ceremony. As the family and wedding party walked down the aisle,  Vivaldi’s “Spring” composed by Max Richter played. Then, “Wildest Dreams” began, and the father of the bride escorted her to the altar. Tim’s cousin, Martin, officiated brilliantly. Once he declared the newlyweds officially married, Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” started.

The reception followed in the upper courtyard. “We wanted the reception to feel like an intimate dinner and private concert to highlight our love for music,” Gabrielle mentions. The tables congregated on one side of the blue-green dance floor, facing the stage. The space was filled with disco balls and lanterns, which stood out against the museum’s organic and earthy tones. Wild Muse Floral interspersed greenery with the string lights, enhancing the intimate magical garden aesthetic Gabrielle and Tim sought.

Cocktail hour had the musical stylings of an acoustic guitarist before the 11-piece band came in for the reception. Their ambitious setlist featured a range of genres from reggae to jazz. “I recall hearing them perform a sound check before guests arrived for the ceremony, and I got chills because it felt like the beginning of a concert. From the moment we sat down for dinner until the last song of the night, myself, Tim, and our guests were in constant awe of how amazing the band was,” she shares about the Downbeat Agency band. They played Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” for the couple’s swinging debut as newlyweds.

Field to Table created the custom menu for the night. The Wild Posy served the couple’s favorite flavors of McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams, a Santa Barbara staple, along with an assortment of cookies. Beloved family and friends shared heartfelt and special toasts, and Gabrielle took this time to dedicate a song to her mother. Growing up, her mother always sang Aretha Franklin’s “I Say a Litte Prayer for You” while getting ready in the morning. Gabrielle’s father was understandably overcome with emotion, and the number ended with him and Gabrielle embracing in a big hug.

The rest of the night felt like a true concert, especially when the bride and groom jumped onstage to jam alongside the band to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” The after-party kicked off at a local bar, the Good Lion.

Gabrielle & Tim | Hotel Californian, Santa Barbara, CA from arina balerina