A Venetian Affair
Two globe-trotters tie the knot during a three-day extravaganza in Italy. Diane Solway bears witness.
When your first experience as best man happened to be in a Burberry ad campaign starring Kate Moss as the bride and the last big wedding you attended was that of another famous Kate and her Prince William, you might think of those nuptials as tough acts to follow. But if you’re 33-year-old Alexander Gilkes—the sartorially snappy cofounder of Paddle8, a buzzy online art fair—you simply go for broke. And so this past May, one year after he launched Paddle8 and converted to Judaism to marry fellow Briton Misha Nonoo, 25, a rising fashion designer, Gilkes wed in grand style in Venice. Starting with a welcome supper in the Rialto Fish Market and ending with a garden party on the roof of Peggy Guggenheim’s storied museum, the three-day affair was equal parts James Bond, Great Gatsby, and English-schoolboy high jinks.
The couple, who started dating in 2003 in London, entertain regularly in their downtown–New York apartment, where after-dinner games and dressing up in hats are de rigueur. “They both ooze charm and have this kind of appeal that goes across sexes and strata,” said Philips de Pury & Company chairman Simon de Pury, a wedding guest. (Gilkes, also an auctioneer at Philips, recently served as Philips’s marketing director.) “When they’re around, you play and have fun.”
Their sense of play ran through the festivities. For the Rialto soiree following the family-only ceremony in a private garden, the market was transformed into a makeshift sultan’s cave, with waiters shucking oysters and doling out gelato to the 300 guests, among them, Princess Eugenie of York and her older sister, Beatrice (who set off an online frenzy with the hat she wore to her cousin William’s wedding). Also in attendance were James Middleton, Kate and Pippa’s younger brother; and the groom’s brother and best man, Charlie Gilkes, an Etonian classmate of Prince William’s who once dated Pippa and now owns three trendy London bars. Filling out the list were the bride’s cousin Houda Nonoo, the Bahraini ambassador to the U.S.; Matthew Mellon; Helen Rockefeller; Zani Gugelmann; and John Kluge Jr. Perhaps the most unlikely boldface attendee was the actor Peter Coyote, a friend of the couple’s and an ordained Buddhist priest, who wore his robes to officiate the next evening at a black-tie secular ceremony in the ninth-century Cloister of San Gregorio. As musicians from La Fenice orchestra played, the bride made a showstopping entrance wearing a layered lace dress she had designed and that was hand-embroidered by Oscar de la Renta’s couturier.
If Nonoo appeared unduly calm, her ease owed something to the finesse of the couple’s wedding planner, Count Riccardo Lanza. As a cofounder of Lanza & Baucina, he had produced Salma Hayek and François-Henri Pinault’s marriage in Venice in 2009 and transported Ferran Adrià, el Bulli’s chef, to the Qatari desert for another fete. This time around, his coup was to secure the Forte di Sant’Andrea, a 16th-century island fort that had once guarded Venice and had never been used for a private event. “We had to get permission from the mayor of Venice,” explained Nonoo, who was born in Bahrain and moved to London at age 10. “We wanted it to feel like Miss Havisham’s garden: a grand old place that’s kind of falling apart.” To get there, guests headed up the Grand Canal in a flotilla of water taxis whose choreographed precision Esther Williams might have envied. Accompanied by a rowdy retro-jazz combo on a barge, the taxis slowed to let passengers take in tunes like “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and then raced one another just as the sun was setting. “The boats to the island,” said Princess Beatrice, who knows a thing or two about pageantry, “were the most spectacular thing.”
Not that the glass house erected at Forte di Sant’Andrea for the occasion didn’t exert its own magical pull. Framed by oak trees and lit only by candles, the pavilion was filled with long tables decorated with silver candelabra and pale roses. Toasting the bride in his speech (“Misha, l’chaim”), Gilkes made sure to lampoon himself by showing a video of his bachelor weekend in Seville, Spain, where his chums had surprised him with a matador’s outfit and a rendezvous in the ring with a bull. Moments later, the screen went up to reveal indie sensation Lana Del Rey, who arrived direct from the Cannes Film Festival to perform a six-song set.
As in marriage, not everything went as planned. Late into the night, several guests dove headfirst into the freshly-spun-cream wedding cake, then, covered in icing, slid around the dance floor; moments later, at 4 a.m., an earthquake shook Venice—the region’s first since the 14th century. By then, however, the revelers were more than ready to tumble into bed.