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This Couple Entered Their Reception with a Vietnamese Lion Dance

By Shayna Seid | Photography by 

Encor Studio

Thao Ngo and Bonawyn Eison were both drafted on the same flag football team. “This wasn’t just any adult rec. league. This was Nike Football Society 3.0 (2014)!” she says. To keep focused on winning games (although, their ending record was 1-9), he waited until after after the season was over to ask Thao out. Three years of dating later, he proposed during a walk through lavender fields in Furano, Japan. 

The New York City-based couple relied on the internet to plan their Southern California wedding. Since he’s from the Bay Area and her family is in D.C., people were going to be flying regardless, so once they found Hartley Botanica in Ventura County, it was a done deal. An added bonus was that the venue came with its own catering and day-of coordinator, which made the East Coast bride’s life easier.

What Thao found overwhelming was choosing what to wear. For the ceremony, she went with a simple, backless Made With Love gown and found her earrings and veil a week before the wedding at Grace Loves Lace in SoHo. Since this union was also a celebration of cultures blending, she knew she wanted to wear a Vietnamese Ao Dai too. The bride’s mother went all the way to Vietnam to choose the fabric, take measurements, and custom-make the look— it turned out to be the favorite outfit of the day. On Pinterest, Thao came across a bridal pant and blouse ensemble, and her mother found a seamstress to re-create it for the reception party.

The groom wore a custom suit by his cousin’s menswear company, Eison Triple Thread, and an Ao Dai that Thao’s family had ordered for him. Bridesmaids chose their own long dresses with nude heels. “I assigned each of them a color shade and emailed an inspo powerpoint deck. I saw all the girls together for the first time the day of the wedding, and they NAILED the mix-and-match look,” the bride says.

On the day-of, guests walked through hanging silk wisteria to take their seats past the candle-lined aisle. “Bonawyn’s mother passed away in 2007, so we had a framed photo of her with flowers that he held when walking down the aisle and a seat that he placed her photo on at the front of the ceremony,” Thao explains. The couple’s close friend (the team captain who drafted both of them to his flag football team) officiated a light-hearted, personal ceremony. Once the two were announced as husband and wife, everyone moved to the reception space.

A traditional Vietnamese lion dance kicked off the newlywed’s entrance in their Ao Dais. “It was special to share a part of my culture with the family I was marrying into and with all of our friends,” the bride says. 

After the delicious buffet dinner, Bonawyn’s brother and best man gave a speech formatted as a letter from their mother in heaven. “There wasn’t a dry-eye in the entire place after that speech,” Thao says. 

Then, DJ Icy Ice started a great set of ’90s-’00s r&b and hip-hop. The groom had a special dance with his older sister, and the bride and her father went for a karaoke-style song instead. “We’ve never really danced together before, but I grew up signing for fun all the time with my Dad, so this was more of a natural thing for us to do,” she says. The newly married couple had their first dance to “The Point of It All” by Anthony Hamilton.

Once the party died down, the two were picked up in a vintage Rolls-Royce and taken to their hotel to reminisce on the whole day.