Nice night for a white wedding
On New Year's Eve, one ambitious couple and 101 international guests met in the middle of the North Atlantic for an epic party. Nathalie Atkinson reports on getting hitched, Icelandic-style.
When you grow up with a love of the tundra, these days finding a guaranteed winter wonderland for a wedding means heading further north, to Iceland. That's what Mosha Lundström Halbert, 27, Canadian fashion director of Footwear News, and British-born Internet entrepreneur Aidan Butler, 37, opted to do for their recent New Year's Eve nuptials.
The couple live in New York and had been engaged for several years, unable to settle on the right locale for the ceremony. The decision to tie the knot in Reykjavik was sparked by a friend's joking suggestion, not because of the country's dramatic landscape, or because the bride had lived there on a work-study stint during university. The choice, initially, was purely geographic – a meeting point where their friends around the world (guests came from six continents) could gather for a three-day excursion, culminating in a killer New Year's Eve party that just happened to feature their vows. As it turned out, the location suited the tastes of both bride and groom. His: madcap mischief, preferably while in theatrical costume. Hers: snowy outdoor adventure by day, elegant black tie at night.
"In some ways it was about Aidan and I being polar opposites, but it was also the best of both worlds," Lundström Halbert explains. "He put a lot of faith in me in terms of trusting me that it was the right place, considering he had never been there!" It seemed meant to be as details fell into place with long-distance planning, after just one quick scouting visit last August and an invaluable assist from Reykjavik photographer Hildur Erla (found via Instagram, naturally) and the on-site staff at Iceland Travel.
In lieu of a stuffy rehearsal dinner, planners suggested a theme party on historic Videy island, a short ferry ride off Reykjavik's coastline. "It felt like medieval times or Game of Thrones," Lundström Halbert says, knowing it would be catnip for Butler's costume proclivities. "He is obsessed with fancy dress," she says. "The night we met was at Buy Design, a charity party in Toronto that had a 1960s space-age theme, so we even met at a fancy-dress party."
And as anyone who's ever hammed it up in an event photo booth can attest, "costumes and hats are immediate icebreakers," says Lundström Halbert. Early on, guests were given tear sheets (of traditional Nordic braids and the like) and were urged to pack theme-related dress, finding inspiration in Norse royalty, saga mythology or the rugged pelts and layered garb of Winterfell; Butler himself wore a legit reproduction Viking costume, a tweed cloak and fur stole usually reserved for GoT (it apparently took much charm for the cinematographer proprietor of Mink photography studio to allow it off the premises).
Horns and Viking helmets topped the guests tucking into the medieval-style lamb roast. "Icelanders sometimes don't appreciate how unique, special and delicious their own food is," says Lundström Halbert. Even at the welcome-night pizza party (to which guests were asked to wear typical folkloric Scandi sweaters or chunky knits) at chef Gunnar Karl Gislason's restaurant H-12, the focus was on unusual toppings and flavour combinations with a local twist, like pickled onions or truffled fish. "We live in such a multicultural world, so sometimes it's nice to have something just from the place that you're in," she says.
To get people in the spirit even before the costume party, Reykjavik-born celebrity fitness trainer Svava Sigbertsdottir (founder of the now-famous Viking Method favoured by Suki Waterhouse, et al.) put friends through their paces with a gruelling high-intensity warrior workout; they were revived afterwards with the hot-cold plunge circuit at the Laugar Spa's saunas and outdoor thermal pools.
The Imagine Peace Tower on the island happened to be lit that night, and trekking from the medieval building's raucous Viking-themed entertainment in the dark through extreme elements of wild wind, hail and snow created a memorable, moving moment. "People are jaded and have seen it all, and it brought out childlike wonderment, going to an off-the-beatenpath place and being surprised by an experience," Lundström Halbert says. "Iceland is such an incredible place to go with a loved one because it opens your eyes and forces you to pay attention to how beautiful the world is, and how lucky we are."
Later, on the ferry back from the faux-Viking invasion of Videy, guests received tote bags printed with the Icelandic expression " petta reddast" ("It's what the planner would always say to me, and it's become a motto for us: "It'll work out!" she laughs) and an ancient runic symbol of protection customized by the bride's graphic designer sister Sophie Lundström Halbert, who also created the culture-filled website and its witty what-to-pack pie graph explaining how to plan outfits proportionate to outdoor exposure. Inside were wedding survival provisions chosen on a Scandi theme: vitamin seltzer tablets from Swedish Nutra, "the best thing for hangovers and jet lag," says Lundström Halbert; the Reyjavik Grapevine, a free newspaper with good local tips, and the country's edition of Glamour magazine (yes, they have their own edition); a supply of Icelandic candy like chocolate-covered liquorice balls; and balms from local Soley Organics, the natural skincare line based on wild Icelandic herbs.
"I like Nordica generally," Lundström Halbert explains, adding that what was so special about Gamla Bio as a venue is that while grand (it was the first cinema in the country, now an opera house), "it's not fussy or overdone. Scandinavians have a real way of paring things down so that you really remember details; it's not so clouded with junk." Peterson's rooftop lounge, the building's former penthouse apartment, now named for the original owner, had recently been redecorated in glamorous antique gold and black velvet, so mother-of-the– bride Linda Lundström chose simple but dramatic decor touches for a theme of fire and ice.
Each bridesmaid carried a lantern with a birch branch, gathered in Iceland but a nod to Canada, and there were mini glaciers all around the space with a single rose frozen inside each. "Our version of floral arrangements," says the bride. Berry and leather Bibliothèque scented candles from Byredo, the Swedish fragrance company founded by Canadian Ben Gorham, were placed throughout the room for memorable ambiance. The couple even restricted the party playlist to Nordic music –Of Monsters & Men, Abba, Robyn, Sigur Ros, Miike Snow, The Hives. "Thank god for Sweden," Lundström Halbert jokes, "because there's not a lot of dancey Iceland music!"
In her wedding gown, Lundström Halbert wanted to feel at ease the way she does at dance class: "Comfortable and warm – so right away I thought fur and not locked into some kind of structured dress where the maidens have to come to the ladies room with me to help navigate. After the visit in August we got off the plane and went straight to the Wolford store for ivory bodysuits," she says. And when mom is a known Canadian designer, whose most famous creation is the Inuit-inspired LaParka coat, any outfit she makes will be special.
Over the bodysuit went a collar trimmed in Canadian silver fox, "ivory tips with an undertone of soft dove grey, which gave the fur a lot more richness and texture," the mother of the bride explains, and interchangeable skirts – short and sequinned for ringing in the new year, after the more formal intermission length (inspired by 1950s Balenciaga) with a long train for the ceremony and a cutaway that spotlighted the bride's dramatic fawn suede Paul Andrew boots. "Because Mosha's skirt was such a wide piece of fabric, a delicate triple organza, I wanted to get it there pristine without wrinkling, so I rolled it on a tube," Lundström says. "An Icelandic Air flight attendant came to my rescue to let me stow it on board in the cabin!"
If Lundström doesn't know how to dress for a chic winter occasion, nobody does: "My mom does statement outerwear better than anyone else," says Lundström Halbert. In this case, she designed a furtrimmed ivory bridal parka that zipped off at the waist to convert to a short jacket. Far-flung bridesmaids (a.k.a. Icelandic maidens) from Brazil, England and Kenya, meant fittings would be impossible, so simplicity was key – the silhouette was similarly balletic, with a leotard, full taffeta skirt and a Canadian fox-fur shrug, all in deep midnight blue. "I just bought navy bodysuits in their size and provided my mother with waist and inseam measurements," says Lundström Halbert. With the wedding party in shoes and ankle boots from L.K. Bennett (the founder of the very English footwear brand, a favourite of the Duchess of Cambridge, is by coincidence Icelandic), Butler opted to wear custom John Lobbs with his bespoke retro three-piece tuxedo, made by tailor Sox at Toronto's The Dirty Inc. and lined in Butler's signature skull and crossbones.
Along with embracing her love of the wintry outdoors and her mother's family roots in Lapland, Lundström Halbert honoured her Jewish heritage with a chuppah made from ribbons woven and wound on birch branches that Lundström found around Reykjavik. "It might have been the first chuppah Iceland has ever seen! I joked that all six of us were probably the largest gathering of Jews in the country," says the bride.
"And you'd think that Jewish and Icelandic, there are no similarities there, but the love of smoked fish is something I think brings the two cultures together," she adds. Dinner included smoked salmon, mini caviar blinis (plus roast beef and gravy for the groom), all served family style so guests could mingle between tables. Vinarterta, the layered prune torte typical of the festive season, served as the wedding cake.
"It felt so 'Lundström' to be getting married in winter," the newlywed says. Her mother chimes in: "Unlike Mosha, I did have images of being a bride one day. I got married at the end of July, but in my imagination when I was a little girl, it was the middle of winter, with snow falling, and I was wearing fur. You can imagine when I saw her, with the fur and then snow falling on the roof at midnight, what a huge déjà vu that was."
Because it was a New Year's party, not just a wedding, at midnight they brought out a crate of inexpensive party hats from the local branch of kitschy Danish chain Tiger. The wedding guests danced into the wee hours in gold Aladdin hats, glitter masks and hats adorned with hot-pink flamingos, the last a deliberately tongue-in-cheek stand-in for the infamous swan of the country's most famous daughter, Björk. Because when in Iceland, who could resist?