New York deserves its reputation as a melting pot of international cultures. Columbia native Lauren McFadden met Frenchman Alexandre Garenne in 2016 while both were living and working in Manhattan: Lauren for the British law firm Linklaters, and Alex for the French global audit, accounting and consulting group Mazars. The two realized that they both lived on Amsterdam Avenue, on the Upper West Side, and worked near Rockefeller Center, and it wasn’t long before Alex convinced Lauren the best way to commute was a picturesque bike ride through Central Park.
When Alex proposed on the last day of July 2018, he and Lauren were in Europe, partly on business in Paris, France, but for a family visit as well; the couple had planned the trip to meet Alex’s newborn nephew in Brussels, Belgium before Alex then arranged a quick trip to Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, for just the two of them. Wanting to avoid a Parisian proposal, something Alex thought Lauren might suspect, Alex waited until the last day of their time in Europe, hiding a vintage diamond ring from Paris in a tin of Lauren’s favorite cookies from La Mère Poulard after toting it around Amsterdam for hours while waiting for the right moment.
“We spent the day biking around Amsterdam and taking a boat through the canals,” Alex says. “I kept asking her to stop, trying to find a place for us to pause for a moment, but as always, she was eager to explore. She said, ‘Let’s go and see stuff now. We only have one day.’ I had a hard time making her sit still.”
But finally Alex did find a perfect bench, resting on the bank of one of the many iconic canals weaving through the beautiful Dutch city. Lauren smiles as she nods her head. “He prefaced the proposal by stating, ‘You know, Amsterdam’s a really important place for us,’ and I replied, ‘We’ve never been here before. What are you talking about?’” Then she realized what was happening — the first place the two had ever met was on Amsterdam Avenue. “We gave ourselves a few hours in Amsterdam just to enjoy and soak it in a little bit, then we called family.”
Alex had previously asked Lauren’s father, Columbia orthopedist Mac McFadden, for permission to marry her, so Mac and Lauren’s mother, Mary, were waiting expectantly.
The couple decided to set up household in Charleston and each were pleased to find new jobs, Alex now practicing with Elliott Davis and Lauren with K&L Gates. Lauren’s older sister, Mary Mac Wilson, who lives in Charleston as well, helped them find a 100-year-old house just around the corner from her own.
“When we were planning the wedding,” Lauren says, “I wondered whether we should do it in France, and then Alex said, ‘I really want people to see where I’m living and why I’m choosing to live here,’ so a lot of our choices were meant to show what is unique and special about South Carolina to people who were visiting, and that was a neat aspect of what we got to do.” They felt it would be ideal to be able to share springtime in the Lowcountry with their guests.
A number of factors went into selecting a wedding date. The couple of course, needed to allow time for those wedding guests traveling from afar to plan their trips. Also affecting the wedding date was the fact that both Mary Mac and Lauren’s sister-in-law, Christine, were each expecting their second children in April, and, if at all possible, the couple was hoping to have Zach, Lauren’s younger brother, join them prior to his deployment. Unfortunately, he ultimately had to watch the ceremony from afar since his deployment to the Middle East with the U.S. Marine Corps was bumped up, but the family took time to pay tribute to Zach and to pray for him, as well as Alex’s aunt Joelle, who was ill and unable to attend the ceremony. Family members sent video images to Zach throughout the day.
The venue for the wedding was the Avenue of Oaks at Charles Towne Landing’s Legare Waring House. In the picturesque environment of live oaks, Spanish moss, and lush greenery, the weather was perfect after a week of rain and before the unseasonably hot Memorial Day weekend. The Rev. Jason Blackwell of Young Life conducted the ceremony with traditional vows in both French and English, with a portion of the ceremony read from the Bible belonging to Lauren’s grandmother, the late Mary Lide McArthur of Columbia. The Bob Williams Duo played the same processionals that Lauren’s parents had chosen for their own wedding, and the Plantation Singers rounded out the ceremony by singing How Great Thou Art before leading everyone from the ceremony to the cocktail hour with a mix of gospel music and traditional Lowcountry songs.
Guests, some of whom were visiting the United States for the first time, were treated to an elegant repast of French and Southern cuisine, topped off at the end of the evening with chicken and waffles. “My family jokes, and I say this as lovingly as possible, that although Alex is French, he is a redneck at heart, in the best way,” Lauren says with a laugh. She also shares that her father, Mac, thinks it is great that Alex likes to work on cars, loves big dogs, and prefers craft beer to French wine. A craft beer truck served Alex’s favorite IPA at the reception as a nod to his preferences.
A perfectly low-key rehearsal dinner on Bowen’s Island the night before the wedding was thoughtfully hosted by Alex’s parents, Gérard and Annick Garenne, and featured a Lowcountry boil, with dolphins rolling across the top of the water at sunset; it was picture perfect. Guests visiting South Carolina for the first time asked if it was really like this all the time, and Alex and Lauren assured them, with a laugh and a smile, that yes, actually, most of the time it really is. “We had some really wonderful toasts in French and English, and we had all the babies there, both from my family and Alex’s. It was a laid-back, good family celebration before all the fun chaos of the next day,” Lauren says.
To manage all of that fun chaos, Cricket Newman Designs was a natural choice, as Lauren has known Cricket her whole life. Cricket and her associate, Sara Eaves, did all of the wedding planning and the floral design. Sara particularly enjoyed Lauren’s color choices of eucalyptus and French blue and her preference for abundant greenery. Together they came up with floral combinations that would play up the various botanicals, adding textural elements like pampas grass and blue thistle.
Sara brought samples down to Charleston and brainstormed ideas with Lauren. Having Cricket and Sara handle details in Columbia helped especially while Lauren was still based in New York, and of course, Lauren notes, she was infinitely grateful for the great amount of time and effort that her mother, Mary McFadden, put into helping with every detail and idea.
Lauren’s parents gifted the couple with a set of china that Lauren’s maternal grandparents, Mary Lide and Palmer McArthur, had received when they got married, so when it came time to register, Lauren and Alex selected complementary chargers and salad plates from non(e)such.
Mary Mac, who studied graphic design at Parsons School of Design in New York, designed all of her sister’s paper products with an eye toward Lauren’s preference for vintage and Southern themes, all, as Lauren points out, while she and her husband were expecting their daughter, Mary Oliver.
“The invitations were like a work of art,” Lauren says. “We had a lovely calligrapher who designed a typeface for us, with our names in her handwriting; it was letter-pressed with gold foil and gold edges.” Printed on heavy cardstock, the invitation and handmade reply card were wrapped in vellum.
“We hand-tore paper so it would have an organic edge and dipped it in gold paint,” Lauren says. “Mom and Mary Mac get a gold star for helping, a lot! And then we ordered some really beautiful vintage stamps in various styles special to us which truly rounded out the presentation.” Together the sisters also stitched the wedding bulletins, that Mary Mac designed, with their grandmother’s old sewing machine.
While brainstorming further ways to incorporate French touches, Mary Mac suggested using blue porcelain house numbers from French apartments as table numbers. And for the place settings for the bridal table, beautiful French macarons were artfully personalized with calligraphy.
Lauren shopped for her bridal gown in Charleston so that Mary Mac and their mother could be present. “It was from this lovely little atelier, one of the last real ateliers in the country,” Lauren says. “Basically, they help you build a dress. You try on one top, one bottom, and one overlay and different things, and you come up with your own creation.” Lauren wanted her dress to feel ethereal and modern. The final result featured beautifully detailed lace on the bodice, which organically trickled down the skirt of the gown. Called Modern Trousseau, the dressmakers’ shop has a location in New York City, and Lauren was able to take the train to their production house in Connecticut to watch the dress take shape.
“My favorite part of what I wore was a beautiful headpiece,” Lauren notes. It was made in France by an American expat, who crafts the pieces from American-made copper. The bride also wore a sapphire ring of her mother’s and an antique ring wrap that belonged to her maternal grandmother. A great-aunt had given Mary Mac a sixpence to put in her shoe when she got married, and the sisters moved it from Mary Mac’s shoe to Lauren’s the morning of the wedding. Lauren also wore her mother’s veil and her grandmother’s going-away dress, circa 1953, which Lauren describes as a lovely, pale pink, classic design.
Mary Mac carried Lauren’s veil during the wedding with nephews, Harry and Bennett, lending a helping hand, following the bride and their grandfather down the aisle. Harry also served as the official cake tester for a wedding cake featuring lemon curd, raspberry filling, and buttercream frosting.
Alex’s favorite suit shop in Paris opened a store in Brooklyn just in time for the wedding. He paired a dark navy suit with a eucalyptus-hued tie. His groomsmen wore medium gray suits with the same tie, and all the men sported white pocket squares with a green edge and fresh eucalyptus boutonnieres on their lapels. Alex and Lauren teased that they cleaned up nicely after enjoying a week spent on Folly Beach, soaking up the sun and enjoying island life.
At the outdoor reception, guests danced all night long to favorite songs played by the band Mr. Potato Head, and the bride and groom enjoyed their first dance to Louis Armstrong’s version of La Vie en Rose. Lauren changed into her grandmother’s dress for the couple’s exit and a casual after-party at The Blind Tiger on Broad Street. “One thing I’ve learned about French people,” says Lauren, “and Alex is going to laugh at this, is that they party all night long. We would have partied until 6 a.m. if the bar had let us.” Guests left the reception for the after-party on a vintage bus, and each one chose a French or American flag to take along for the ride. The French and American national anthems could be heard streaming out the windows as the partygoers enthusiastically continued the festivities and sported their national pride on the rowdy ride downtown.
Alex’s favorite detail about the wedding was getting to drive away with Lauren in his 1987 Mercedes 560 SL, a pearl-gray roadster convertible that he bought just before the wedding. “Maybe because the biggest racing event in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, takes place in my hometown,” Alex says, “I have always loved cars since I was young.” Living in New York and Paris for eight years meant he had not owned a car for a long time, and he was excited about the opportunity to finally have space to have a car, especially a vintage one, to work on. “We found it in the middle of nowhere, Georgia, where it had been sitting in a barn for years,” he says. As of late, the newlyweds have another addition to their household that might have been impractical in New York: a recently adopted puppy named Miles, who is growing bigger by the day.
The couple postponed their honeymoon to Costa Rica so Lauren could study for the South Carolina Bar (which, happily, she passed). They chose instead to spend the day after the wedding on the beach with dozens of friends and family members. Lauren and Alex were able to get away for a weekend to the Cuthbert House Inn in Beaufort after the wedding. As it turns out, they had a lot in common with the proprietors, Connie and Ed Binot — also a French-Southern couple. “This could be us in 30 years,” quips Lauren.