Michaela Balderston and Matt Coote first met as freshmen at Colgate University and were “just friends” for the next four years. “Now that we’re married,” Michaela slyly confides, “I’ll finally admit that I’ve always had a little crush on him.” However, after graduation, they lost touch.
Five years later, their paths crossed again. Michaela only recently moved to New York City and was exiting a taxi cab when she opened the door on someone walking down the street. That someone was Matt. Looking back on that day, he laughs, “I know it sounds insane, but that’s what happened!”
Three years later, Matt collaborated with LA-based designer Kirsty Stone from Retrouvai to design an engagement ring with a sourced vintage diamond. Every Christmas Eve, Michaela and her father and sister have a tradition of dressing up for lunch at Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown. Since no one went home for the holidays during COVID-19, the tradition was hosted over Zoom, and everyone was invited to join.
Unbeknownst to Michaela, Matt had been carrying the engagement ring in his winter coat, waiting for the right moment. After a few glasses of champagne, Matt finally found that moment. He proposed at their dining room table in Park Slope, as Michaela’s family in D.C. tried to figure out what was going on through the computer screen.
“I never thought I’d want a public engagement,” Michaela shares, “but after such a tough year and not being home for the holidays, it felt really special to have my family involved. They were so shocked and excited that their reaction ended up being the best part of the whole thing…We have amazing screenshots of them celebrating.”
Planning a wedding during a pandemic was no easy feat. “We had no idea what the world would be like two months from then, let alone a year,” Michaela explains. The couple began to consider a Summer 2022 wedding at Matt’s family’s beautiful home in the South of France right outside of Saint-Tropez, a special place for them both. But by late May 2021, Matt and Michaela heard rumors that France would open up to Americans by July 4th. So, Michaela says, “We woke up and decided that if we could pull off a wedding there in a few weeks with just our immediate family and a few friends, that’s what we wanted to do.”
With five weeks to plan and 18 guests to host, the couple decided to have the events on Matt’s family’s property and to have Michaela’s family rent the property next door. Because of the pandemic, Matt’s family had not visited the house in almost two years and did not know what state it would be in. “We lucked into finding an amazing French event planner on Instagram and reached out to see if she could help. We Skyped once and immediately knew we wanted to work together,” Michaela tells. “There aren’t enough words to describe how amazing Aurelie Rizzo was; she single-handedly made our wedding possible. In less than three weeks, despite the time difference, never meeting in-person, and Covid, Aurelie worked through all the logistics flawlessly and handpicked the best vendors serving as our eyes and ears in France.”
The next obstacle was when Michaela found out her sister would not be able to travel to France. Her doctor recommended she not travel out of the country during her pregnancy. “My sister and I are incredibly close, so we were planning to cancel,” Michaela shares. “But she was adamant that we move forward with our France plans.” Matt and Michaela needed to legally marry in the US anyway, so her sister and her family visited New York City and served as the legal witness.
The weekend before Matt and Michaela left for France, her sister, her husband, and their two sons drove up to Prospect Park and stayed with the couple. “On Saturday morning, we walked across the street into the park and had our civil ceremony next to the lake. We wanted to remember the day, so we had Erin Pearlman join us to take photos, and I’m so glad we did!” Michaela grins. “In the end, it was a perfect way to have my sister by my side and send us off to France.”
“For all the glitz and glamour associated with Saint-Tropez, there is still a rustic countryside charm to the surrounding area,” Michaela explains. The couple wanted to keep their wedding style simple, embracing the natural beauty of the south of France. “The house has a wonderful simplicity and authenticity to it, cultivated out of love for the area over the past 30 years. That aesthetic is exactly what we wanted to capture with our wedding: beautiful, colorful, but genuine and not over the top.”
Matt’s sister and NYC-based artist Sarah Coote graciously offered to draw the invitations, and Matt’s mother created the bespoke Vif Home tablecloths and napkins for the welcome dinner using Sarah’s drawings. She even designed bucket hats and sarongs for the welcome bags.
The most terrifying part of the wedding planning process was waiting for guests to arrive. France only allowed Americans to enter the country a few days before everyone flew over. Matt and Michaela both say, “We held our breath until the last person crossed the border and landed safely in France.” And thankfully, they all did.
For the Friday night welcome dinner, Michaela wore a vintage dress from Deep Blue Vintage in Montauk. The piece was purchased during one of the couple’s first trips together, making it a fitting choice to wear the night before their wedding.
When Michaela thought of her bridal outfit, though, she knew she did not want a traditional dress. She ordered as many white dresses as she could find online and decided upon a white Michael Lo Sordo dress. But two weeks before the wedding, she was browsing online and saw a new satin Max Mara dress. She knew it was the one. “I overnighted it and managed to get it tailored in just enough time to pick up the day before our flight,” she recalls. She ultimately wore the Max Mara dress for the day ceremony and the Michael Lo Sordo dress for the evening. In a nod to St. Tropez, she slid on K. Jacques Sandals.
Because of her dress’s dramatic embellishments and back, Michaela kept her beauty look and accessories simple. She wore her mother’s diamond earrings and her great-grandmother’s watch, which is the same one her mother and sister both wore on their wedding days. The bride’s hair was pulled back into a simple bun, and Roisine Muraire applied her natural, dewy makeup. “I live and die by Gucci Westman’s makeup line!” Michaela confesses. For dinner, she let her hair down and wore gold Mercedes Salazar earrings.
On July 3, 2021, the wedding ceremony began at 11:00 a.m. in the Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, a Renaissance-era church that overlooks the Gulf of Saint-Tropez. The altar was spruced up with greenery, and the local organist and his wife played the ceremony music. The service was in French, so Matt served as the translator for the bride. Needless to say, there were lots of laughs for the many lost-in-translation moments. Thankfully, the couple had a wonderful and very understanding priest.
As they left the church, the newlyweds were showered with olive leaves by their guests and slid into their getaway car, a vintage Mini Moke from the ’70s. Michaela adds, “My favorite part of the day was driving home from the ceremony in the Mini Moke. It was just the two of us winding our way through all these little towns. Everyone would start to honk and wave, when they saw my bouquet and realized we were just married.”
Back at Matt’s family’s home, everyone sipped cocktails and enjoyed appetizers by the pool then ventured into the garden for dinner. Aurelie and the florist Elise transformed the garden using wildflowers from the region. Lights were strung above the table and hung from the olive trees. Chef Carrie Solomon visited from Paris, cooking with local ingredients from a market to serve a refined French four-course meal in her own signature style.
“Since my sister couldn’t be with us in person, she sent a toast that my mom read,” Michaela says. “I was so sad not to have her there, but listening to her toast made me feel like she was with us.” Her dad delivered a welcome toast, followed by Michaela’s best friend and Matt’s best friend who went to Colgate with the couple.
Instead of a traditional wedding cake, the couple decided upon a Tarte Tropezienne. Carrie lit sparklers on the tart and led the party to the pool, which had been transformed into an area for dancing—complete with a disco ball! The live band was one of the best features of the wedding. Sidecar strummed on until 4:00 a.m.
The next day, Mr. and Mrs. Coote joined guests for a post-wedding lunch at Club 55 in Saint-Tropez. Michaela adds, “We won’t name names, but we’re pretty sure some people never went to sleep.” When looking back on their wedding, both Matt and Michaela agree, “After everything we’d all been through over the last year, and realizing we’d actually pulled it off, it felt absolutely surreal to be sitting in a tiny church in France surrounded by our loved ones. We just felt incredibly lucky.”