Not a lot of couples can say they first met by crashing another’s date, but that’s exactly what went down the first time James Michalove, a portfolio manager at Varde, saw Christina Mallon, a partner at Open Style Lab, a non-profit that helps design clothes for people with disabilities. “I was on a date with another guy!,” she admits. They were at a restaurant when an old high school friend of hers, who was having dinner with James, spotted them and stopped by the table to say a quick hello. “They ended up staying for the entire date—thank God!” Christina adds. The next day James asked her out to dell’anima, his favorite restaurant in New York, and the two became inseparable ever since.
Five years later, James took Christina back to dell’anima but this time for a proposal. After the surprise had sunken in, they went to the Crosby Hotel, where James had rented out the private bar for their family and close friends to celebrate.
As a person with a disability (Christina developed a motor neuron disease at 22, which left her with paralyzed arms), it was important for the bride to find a venue that was accessible to everyone. “We started to look at parks and historic places as they are usually government-owned and have to abide by the American with Disabilities Act laws,” she explains. They ended up falling in love with the Fairmont Park Horticultural Center in Christina’s hometown of Philadelphia. “We made sure to have all wheelchair-accessible venues and decided on using just one venue for the ceremony and reception to make it less taxing for people,” she adds. Inspired by a trip they once took to Yves Saint Laurent’s Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh, the couple hired friend and florist Kerry Fabrizio of Fabufloras Design to help transform the space into a magical Moroccan garden using burgundy ranunculus and imported Moroccan lamps.
Also at the top of the list was making the entire wedding as inclusive as possible for people with disabilities. Throughout the ceremony and reception there were tons of small details in order to achieve this goal. For example, every piece of wedding stationery, including seating cards and invitations, were offered in script and braille versions. Bags with earplugs were set at each table (in case anyone was sensitive to loud music), and there was a special rest lounge area where guests could relax if they needed a break from the wedding chaos. Christina even made sure that 1/5 of her vendors had a disability in order to properly represent the amount of people in the world that live with one. “Unemployment is extremely high for people with disabilities so I wanted to ensure that the makeup of my vendors reflected the correct makeup of the world,” she says.
Again, as a disabled bride, Christina felt like stylists didn’t totally understand her dressing challenges. “Most stylists assumed that I wanted a long sleeve dress to cover up my deformed arms,” she says. “But I love my arms and always imagined myself in a strapless dress.” Her next challenge was finding a dress that had pockets, since her shoulders hurt when her arms aren’t properly supported. “This was really difficult as most of the dresses with pockets that I tried on made me look like a cupcake,” she says. She eventually found her dream dress at Oscar de la Renta and her team at Open Style Lab were able to add pockets in.
As for her accessories, Christina can only wear slip on shoes, so she settled on two pairs for her wedding. For the ceremony, she donned the same wedding shoes her grandmother wore to her own wedding. She later changed into vintage Chanel white pumps for the reception and wore a cathedral length veil with hand painted flowers on the trim that resembled lace and beading—a standard beaded and lace veil would’ve been too heavy for her neck to support.
On January 5th, 2019, the couple and their loved ones gathered at Philadelphia’s horticultural center for a non-denominational ceremony presided over by the bride’s father. Christina walked down the aisle to a string quartet playing “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve and the couple both exchanged their own vows. “I had my friends at Speech Tank help me with this one,” the bride admits.
The reception immediately followed, where appetizers from the couple’s favorite restaurants in Philadelphia were served. James’s great grandparents owned Four Rose’s bourbon, and Christina’s sister-in-law’s parents own Straw Boys Vodka, so they created their own specialty cocktails using these liquors as a way to honor them. When it came time to the first dance, the newlyweds chose Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” and as avid oldies lovers, enlisted the Eddie Bruce Band to play throughout the night. “To get everyone dancing after dinner, my mom hired performers from the Philadelphia Mummers, who were the first folk group in the United Stated,” Christina adds.
After a three-course dinner served family style, toasts and speeches are delivered, one of Christina’s favorite moments from the entire evening. “James’s best man, John, knows him better than anyone else and he’s become like another brother to me, so it was personal and funny,” she adds. Once the reception came to an end, it was time for the sparkler send off, but that didn’t mean the dancing stopped. In fact, it continued well into the night at the couple’s pizza after-party—the perfect fuel to a rowdy night on the dance floor, if you ask us!