Carleton Rafield and Gael Gremaud first met at a “Havana Nights” themed party in New York City. “A friend introduced us on the dance floor, but the music was so loud I couldn’t hear him,” she remembers. “I thought his name was Bill and he told me he was from Paris, which became apparent quickly with his no-BS, persistent approach to getting my phone number and taking me on a date.” Needless to say, she later learned his real name and the two became inseparable ever since that night.
Fast forward three years, when the couple was in Paris to see Gael’s father perform in a jazz concert. “I knew it was a big weekend for his dad and Gael wanted us to be there, so I didn’t think much of it,” she says. On a Sunday morning, they got up early to supposedly meet his dad for breakfast, and walked from St. Germain across the Pont Du Carrousel. “I was soaking up the beauty of Paris on a Sunday morning; it felt like we had the city to ourselves and were the only people on the streets,” she says. Little did she know, one of Gael’s friends had placed a bouquet of roses on the side of the bridge, shortly before they walked over it. “I didn’t notice them until Gael called my attention to them,” she says. “I was still totally oblivious until I got closer to the flowers and saw there was a note with my name on it and he pulled out the ring.”
Carleton had always loved weddings at home, so naturally her first choice was to get married in the house where she grew up in Alabama. “Also over the course of our relationship, I had come to learn that many of Gael’s French friends had a bizarre fascination with Alabama,” she explains. “I think it had something to do with the popularity of the Lynyrd Skynyrd song ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ Forrest Gump, and other Southern intricacies like BBQ and the heavy use of words like y’all. It felt like a no brainer to show the foreigners some Southern hospitality.” (No wonder they settled on the hashtag #ouiouiyall.) In college, Carleton had interned with Charleston-based planner Tara Guerard, so she knew first hand she would be brilliant at pulling off the design and flow within the tricky confines of her Birmingham home. “After she said we could make it work, I knew I wanted the aesthetic to be that of a chic but natural garden wedding with special touches that would tie in both Southern and French culture,” she adds.
When looking for her wedding dress, Carleton wanted something timeless that would also match the garden setting. “The Greenhouse dress by Lela Rose ended up being the perfect mix of ‘classic with a modern twist’ that I was looking for,” she says. “We made some alterations to open the back up, which balanced out the whole look.” She accessorized with her mother’s diamond earrings, a simple low bun, and natural makeup. Meanwhile Gael paid tribute to his bride’s roots by choosing a suit by Alabama-based designer Billy Reid for their welcome party, and then he wore a Ralph Lauren custom tuxedo made in New York for their wedding day.
A month before the wedding, the couple buried a bottle of bourbon upside down in Carleton’s family’s garden, where the ceremony would take place. “It’s an old Southern tradition that is said to ward off the rain on your wedding day,” she explains. “Not only did it work, it truly ended up being the most beautiful spring day we could have asked for.”
The weekend kicked off with a Thursday night garden party at Carleton’s aunt house to welcome all of the out of town guests. “This was the perfect opportunity to wear something fun and feminine, so I chose a Zimmerman lace dress paired with one of my mom’s straw purses and simple hoop earrings,” Carleton adds. For their Friday night rehearsal dinner, she wanted to wear something a little more refined and went with Brandon Maxwell wide leg pants with a silk Ramy Brook top, Tabitha Simmons platforms, and statement earrings her cousin had gifted her from Bogota.
The day of the ceremony, guests gathered at the bride’s childhood home, where Tara Guerard’s team had created a beautiful rose petal strewn aisle and altar. A string quartet played traditional songs throughout the ceremony and a gospel singer later sang “Ave Maria.” The bride and groom were married by her Uncle Gates, and were accompanied at the altar by her cousin, who was the maid of honor, and his brother, who served as best man. “Instead of having readers come speak at the front, members of the wedding party took turns standing up where they were and reading parts of the readings we chose,” Carleton explains. “It was a beautiful way to have multiple people involved in our ceremony.” After they were declared husband and wife, the couple processed down the aisle while the string quartet played “Paradise” by Coldplay.
From there, a cocktail reception awaited in a side garden and later guests were treated to a seated dinner out in the front lawn. Their caterer, Shindigs, prepared a few small courses of Southern food with a twist, including tomato and watermelon salt with fried okra, shrimp and grits, and pulled pork with spring vegetables. Since most of the speeches had taken place the night before at the rehearsal dinner, only the father of the bride gave a toast before dinner was served.
For dessert, wedding cake was served inside the home’s dining room in petit comité. “While everyone was finishing dinner, we gathered our families in the dining room and cut the cake while a pianist played “La Vie en Rose,” she says. “This was such a beautiful and intimate moment with both of our families gathered together momentarily, away from the craziness of the reception.” Following the cake cutting, a horn section came in a line and walked out of the French doors of the dining room into the lawn around the dinner party, in order to get guests up and ready for the reception. As they looped around the backyard, a tented dance floor over the pool and a lounge area within the garden awaited.
The couple chose Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” for their first dance, and as the tempo picked up throughout the song, the wedding party got so excited they eventually crashed the dance floor. “We wanted it to be pretty upbeat, but this exceeded our expectations!” she says.
Aside from the collaborative first dance, Carleton’s favorite moment of the whole day happened when her husband surprised her with a mini-family concert on stage. “Music was a very important piece of the wedding because it was a big part of both Gael and I’s upbringing,” she explains. “Little did I know, Gael was plotting and planning for months to get up on stage for a surprise concert.”
After the first dances, Gael, his dad, Carleton’s dad, and her brother all got up on stage—Gael’s dad on the drums, Carleton’s dad on guitar, her brother on bass, and Gael on vocals—and he serenaded his new wife with one of their favorite songs, “River” by Leon Bridges. “Then the family band quickly broke out into a more upbeat and familiar tune, ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ and the French people went nuts!” she laughs. “This was probably my favorite part, bringing our families together over our shared love of music, and celebrating with so much fun energy from all the people we love the most!”