Callhan Garrett and James Soldavini never planned on marrying the person they met when they were only 18, but that’s what life had planned for them. More than a decade after their initial encounter, James proposed along the Chicago River, on the coldest day on record. “He didn’t even finish asking, ‘Will you marry me?’ before I literally screamed, ‘YES!’” Callhan says.
When they were 19, a university trip throughout Italy to study Italian opera was their first big adventure together, and while they don’t remember much about opera, that experience started a lifetime love affair with all things Italian. Shortly after getting engaged, they announced that they would host their wedding in Ravello on the Amalfi Coast.
“We considered Capri and Positano, but once we saw the quaint charm of Ravello, and the unpretentious beauty of Villa Cimbrone, we knew that was where we would hold our special day and create memories with our loved ones that would last a lifetime,” Callhan says. Plus, she enjoyed Capri with her bridesmaids for her bachelorette, and their welcome dinner was in Positano. To plan a destination wedding from Chicago, the couple relied on Instagram heavily and found their wedding coordinator, My Italy and My Wedding, to help organize everything.
The morning of the wedding, one of the bride’s best friends, Alessandra Gastaldello, organized a yoga session for any ladies wanting to get in a workout. Then, in the bridal suite, the bride put on the blush, long sleeve, layered Spanish tulle Monique Lhuillier gown that she found at Ultimate Bride in Chicago.
Just before the ceremony, the couple stood back to back and read their vows to each other privately and without stealing a single glance. “Once we exchanged vows, I gave up on trying to keep my makeup perfect because I could not stop the tears of joy from rolling down my face, when I heard his words to me,” Callhan admits.
To get down from the top of the hill where Villa Cimbrone is located to the church in the town center, the bride rode a mule named Alfonso Olive, decorated with glitter in his hair and flowers around his neck. “Everyone said he walked like he was proud of his job that day,” Callhan remembers.
Then, the bride walked into the church with her parents flanking her, while her opera singer aunt, Deborah Garrett, sang Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” accompanied by a string quartet. “In that moment, exchanging vows for both a religious and civil ceremony, marrying the man of my dreams with 97 of our loved ones just behind us, I thought I may actually be the luckiest person in the world,” the bride says.
After the ceremony, the newlyweds went with Alfonso Olive to take photos, while the guests stayed in the square for champagne toasts. Everyone rejoined on the Terrace of Infinity at the villa and then took their seats in the crypt room for dinner. “There were ten times as many candles as guests making the room and my dress twinkle all night,” Callhan says. Upon their entrance, they went straight into their first dance to “Kissing You” by Des’ree, which played when Romeo and Juliet first meet in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.
Before dancing the night away, a four-course Michelin star meal was topped off with cutting the cake and cannolis. And then, to conclude the night, guests headed to a nearby local bar until the early hours of the morning. “When James and I got back to our room, I was devastated to take my wedding dress off,” the bride says.