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A Forest Wedding With Wigs, Gnomes, and Silliness

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Hannah Pilkes and Greg Nussen are both comedians who met through the legendary improv group the Groundlings. While planning their wedding, whimsy was a high priority. Jim Henson and Labyrinth were both cited. “We wanted that fantasy element and also for it to feel really woodland-y and green,” Pilkes explains. “We love trees. That was what was most important to me—that it had that really magical elements and didn’t feel sterile at all. Nussen adds: “We wanted to have a Jewish wedding that felt recognizably Jewish but within the context of a more fairy tale-y, fantasy vibe. Combining those elements was really fun.”

The couple found what they were looking for at Nestldown, a venue in the California Redwoods that has a campiness to it that they loved. “They had a gnome garden, which is where we signed the ketubah. They had topiaries that the bride and groom, or bride and bride, would stand by. They said for some people that was not a selling point. For us, it was,” Pilkes says.

The couple’s community is filled with comedians, artists, and musicians, and they wanted to embrace creativity with their celebration. As Nussen put it: “I think any weekend has this fun stretching of time and space, and the best weddings are the ones where you feel totally transported.”

a man and woman sitting on a stump in a yard with trees

Sasha Erwitt

The Venue

Nestldown sits on 180 acres in the Santa Cruz mountains and has gardens, ponds, waterfalls, orchards, and a medieval garden that did not go unappreciated. “You look around and there are tiny little benches and sculptures that pop out of nowhere. It feels like you’re entering into another universe in this way that really spoke to us,” Nussen says. The ceremony took place in a clearing surrounded by redwoods overlooking a pond.

a group of people outside

Sasha Erwitt

The Ceremony

“I think one of the most special things, which I was told to do, was looking out at everybody right after I got married. It was so crazy and electric—you’re seeing everybody’s faces,” Pilkes says. “It’s beyond just seeing your friends. They’re the reason that you’re together. Especially with the pandemic, all these people that have gotten you through these really hard years. Everyone outside rejoicing together felt especially wild and emotional.”

All went well until the breaking of the glass, when Nussen mistakenly stepped on Pilkes’ foot. “Right after we got married my foot was throbbing, which I just found so funny,” she says. “It was just so us that he’d stepped on my foot.”

a yellow dress on a door

Sasha Erwitt

The Dress

After a shopping trip in Atlanta, Pilkes thought she’d found her gown. “Then my mom called me and was like, ‘I never pictured you in a white dress,’ and I was really mad at her at the time,” she recalls. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And she replied, ‘Just sit on it for a minute.’ Ultimately, she was right.”

Pilkes decided she didn’t want a white dress and ended up with a gold gown from Teuta Matoshi that she ordered online. Her mother obviously approved of the untraditional choice. “The only color she thought was off limits was red because she felt it was too adulterous.”

The bride found her reception dress in the boutique at Hotel Saint Vincent in New Orleans while on a trip for her 30th birthday.

a bride and groom cutting a wedding cake

Sasha Erwitt

The Menu

Because many of the guests were kosher, vegetarian, or vegan, the menu needed to be “veggie forward.” The couple found Molly Bravo, whose company Wylder Space specializes in vegetarian cooking. “Her style was very colorful, [she had] beautiful plating, and it felt like a garden party,” Pilkes says. “We were all seated outside under the stars at night, and it just was gorgeous and green and lush.”

a group of people posing for a photo

Sasha Erwitt

The Dress Code

The couple wanted a feeling of community and warmth to pervade the weekend, and it was important that nothing, from the dress code to the menu, left people feeling excluded. “We didn’t want this wedding to feel uptight or traditional or uniform,” Nussen explains. “We had an eclectic bridal party and many wedding attendees who are queer—us included—or have different gender identities. So it was important to us that everyone felt free to express themselves and feel their most confident. That made for some magical looks. Everyone knocked it out of the park.”

a man and woman dancing

Sasha Erwitt

The “Small Hat” Hour

“I wanted to have a wig and small hat hour during cocktail hour, so people could choose from a chest of very tiny hats and a variety of different wigs and glasses,” Pilkes explains. “We met over a sense of humor at Groundlings; we’ve always been laughing.”

Nussen loved that the wigs let friends and family members with office jobs partake in the make-believe that comes so freely with the couple’s work. “There’s this built in thing in our lives where we’re constantly allowed to and actually expected to indulge in flights of fancy, so it was nice to give that permission to people who don’t always have that.”

a group of people dancing

Sasha Erwitt

The Party

The couple wanted the songs they remembered playing on the radio when they were in high school. “We wanted a lot of ’90s and Y2K club hits,” Pilkes says. “The first song was by Beyoncé, then we played a lot of big ’90s bops—because we’re millennials!” Pilkes did a sweet dance to Van Morrison with her dad and the group danced until 1 A.M. As she puts it, “Feeling the hottest you’ve ever felt is very fun.”

Hannah Pilkes and Greg Nussen Wedding

a woman in a gold dress sitting in a car

Lettermark

Adrienne Gaffney is a features editor at ELLE and previously worked at WSJ Magazine and Vanity Fair.

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