Gwen Whiting and James Dale’s meet-cute could have been pulled from the pages of a novel set in the 1920s. It was the start of the summer and the two were waiting on the platform at Penn Station to board a train headed to Long Island for the weekend. James had just left London eight days earlier to move to New York for work. When an announcement came over the loudspeaker instructing travelers that a transfer in Jamaica would be required in order to arrive at the destination, he got nervous. “The only Jamaica I knew was in the Caribbean,” he told The New York Times. He saw Gwen standing nearby and asked her for help. Gwen remembers telling him: “I hope you have sharp elbows, because if you don’t get a seat, you’ll be standing for two-and-a-half-hours. Stick with me.”
Luckily, the two were able to find spots together and conversation came easily. Gwen talked about her work as the co-founder of the Laundress, a company that creates eco-friendly laundry detergent, fabric-care, and home-cleaning products, and James explained that he had just relocated to New York for his job as an account executive at Aon Hewitt, which specializes in human-resources and consulting services. When the train pulled into Southampton—Gwen’s final stop—they exchanged business cards.
The two reconnected the following Monday and started seeing each other soon after. Five years later, they became engaged. “We had been together for a while, so it was more of a logistical decision. We were already intertwined as spousal partners,” says Gwen. “We knew it would likely be the only time our families would ever meet which ultimately was very important to us to complete our relationship. We also decided that it would be a great way to celebrate my 40th birthday. My mantra was: If I’m going to turn 40, I might as well get married too!”
For a while, it was their little secret. “We didn’t really tell anyone—we just sent out save the dates!” says Gwen. “We worked a while on the rings, and then they just sat in the box, which I realize isn’t your typical bridal story.”
The couple got married at City Hall in New York City on a Wednesday, and the “grand event,” which to these newlyweds meant a party—was the following Saturday. “We had a series of things to do for family and friends during the course of a weekend, which included a Friday night dinner for forty at The Waverly Inn,” says Gwen. “I didn’t want anything wedding-esque, so it really was just about planning a dream party.”
Unfortunately, party planning wasn’t as easy as Gwen had anticipated. She thought she could just call The Boathouse in Central Park and that would be it, but unfortunately, their party turned out to be too small for that space. “James was then put in charge of vetting all of our options,” laughs Gwen. “We struggled with finding a place that was suitable for under a hundred people. In the end, it was down to two places, and nothing could compare to The National Arts Club, where I happened to be a member—it was the perfect space for my vision of the event.”
Before the majority of the out of town family members arrived for the weekend’s festivities, Gwen and James went to City Hall to make it official. “James, my mom, my friend Philip Cole from London, and our photographer Lindseybelle were all there,” says Gwen. “Our florist/event decorator Emily Thompson met us with a bouquet in hand. She insisted I have a bouquet even though I didn’t think I needed one. And of course, she made a gorgeous—albeit untraditional one—for me.” Gwen wore a black lace Dolce & Gabbana dress, and the ceremony was quick. “It was crazy, but we had a lot of fun,” says Gwen. “And Lindseybelle captured it all perfectly. I had bubbleguns for our building exit.” The foursome then went for drinks at The Standard’s Boom Boom Room to celebrate. “Before we got there, we stopped at my store on Prince Street so I could toss the bouquet to the girls,” remembers Gwen. “No one knew I was getting married so it was a big surprise when we rolled up there.” After drinks, the couple headed uptown for a wedding night on the Upper East Side. “We went to the Lowell Hotel and had dinner out and then came back to a fire roaring in the room,” says Gwen. “It felt like such an adventure from our life in Greenwich Village”
Later that weekend, the bride broke out an Oscar de la Renta dress that she bought at a sample sale a year prior for the big party. “I grabbed it out of my attic in Bridgehampton, tried it on, and that was it,” she admits. “Apparently, I waited too long to buy the shoes, and the black Manolos I wanted were low in stock after the holidays, so I unfortunately ended up with a much higher heel height than I would have liked, and it took me a month to regain feeling in my toe! They now sit on my shelf as bookends.” She bought her diamond necklace at a vintage jewelry show at the Metropolitan Pavilion—on her lunch break no less! She complemented the look with a satin beaded clutch that’s been in her family since the 1920s and a black mink short jacket that she’d purchased at Saks Fifth Avenue.
For beauty, Gwen used Maurcio Bermudez of Suite Caroline, who has been her stylist and friend for many years, for hair and Brenda Colon (who she had met with Glamsquad one time and kept her name on hand) for makeup. The couple turned to the bride’s former employer Ralph Lauren for James’s look. “He wore Ralph Lauren black tie for the party and a Ralph Lauren suit for City Hall,” says Gwen. “He accented the black tie look with red cardinal clergy socks from Rome, and a tie I got him in Naples.”
A big believer in cocktail hour, Gwen made sure the one at her reception was memorable. Guests arrived to tunes by New York singer Hilary Gardner and her group. The music throughout the night was classic—they played Bossa Nova and French classics during cocktails, classic piano and base during dinner, and an elegant thirties and forties jazz set for after-dinner drinks. “There were passed items before dinner, but the piece de resistance was the vegetable crudité tower,” says the bride. She wanted long tables that evoked Downton Abbey-style dining. Silver, opulence, candelabras, and a black tie dress code were all part of the plan. Gwen worked with Emily on every aspect of the event. “We collaborated on every detail, from linens and runners to menu . . . we even went back and forth on the colors for the jello mold!” The dinner of beef fillet mignon and fish was served Russian style, and the vegetable sides were in silver serving pieces that were shared family style. “We had a plated salad course to start while everyone settled in, but we liked the interaction of people sharing and passing plates at a long table for the main course—and the freshness of the food not pre-plated,” says Gwen. Good friend Jeff Williams gave a speech, blessing, and toast all in one, and the newlyweds spoke towards the end of the meal. Everyone then left the main dining room and went into the members’ dining room which was set up for dessert and coffee and connected back to the bar and front parlors.
There was no wedding cake, per se—instead Gwen’s favorite “birthday cake” from Billy’s was part of the dessert installation which also included fruit, sweets, and colorful Jell-O molds that were meant to be decorative . . . “But people ate them anyway!” smiles Gwen. Sherry and Port was served at the bar for after-dinner dessert cocktails. Late night, those still partying—including the bride and groom—relocated at Pete’s Tavern around the corner for one final nightcap and to bid the newlyweds good-bye.
Flowers and Event Design: Emily Thompson Flowers
Music: Hilary Gardner and her assembled musicians
Event Coordinator: The Wedding Library, Claudia Hanlin
Photo booth: Photo Booth Live
Dessert: Birthday cakes from Billy’s Bakery
Custom fragranced candles: Joya
Hair: Maurcio Bermudez of Suite Caroline
Makeup: Brenda Colon