Charles Kokougan and Jessamy Holland are like a Parisian version of Friday Night Lights’ Coach T and Tammy Taylor—a gorgeous couple with chemistry to spare who work side-by-side every day at school. Charles is a former professional soccer player who owns a beer distribution company that imports craft beer to France—but his day job is coaching varsity soccer at the American School of Paris. There, he met Jessamy, the girls’ varsity volleyball coach who also works as a health teacher at Marymount International School and as a part-time relationship therapist.
The couple dated for four years before Charles proposed on their anniversary. “We were on a sports trip with our respective teams in the Netherlands, playing against the American School of the Hague,” remembers Jessamy. “It was four years prior, in The Hague, on a sports trip when we first kissed. The trips with the teams are a lot of fun—after the games are over, the coaches always go out for dinner and a few drinks. The ‘proposal trip’ started out like any other one, but when we got back to the hotel room, Charles got down on one knee!”
The two selected August 4th as their wedding date because it coincided with France’s national vacation season—“essentially everyone is ‘off’ for the month of August,” says Jessamy. “And we wanted as many people from France to be able to attend our wedding in Hawaii as possible. Also, Charles’s five-year-old son Basile would be on school holiday then too.”
Jessamy always new she wanted to get married in her home state of Hawaii, but had her heart set on taking the path less traveled when it came to pick a venue. “There are a lot of amazingly beautiful outdoor spaces where I’m from,” she explains. “However many locations on Oahu are well-known and well-used. I wanted somewhere different, somewhere not everyone had been before. Sunset Ranch was the perfect venue because it is spacious, elegant, and just rustic enough for us.” Hidden in the back of Pupukea Valley on the North Shore of Oahu, it’s a private working ranch that hasn’t exploded onto the Hawaiian wedding radar yet. After deciding on the venue, the wedding aesthetic was kind of pre-determined—rustic, elegant, and outdoors.
“Surprisingly, choosing my dress was probably the least-fun part of the wedding planning,” admits Jessamy. “There were so many options, and so many different variables to consider. I went to London, looked all over in Paris, and finally found the dress in a random little mom-and-pop place in Hawaii on the very last day I was home for vacation in December!”
The main requirements for Jessamy were: She needed to be able to dance the hula in it, which meant that her arms had to be relatively free. “I also wanted it to have sleeves, because my upper-body and shoulder area can be impressively un-feminine in the wrong cut,” she jokes. “Strapless was out!” Lastly, having the wedding at the ranch dictated that the dress couldn’t be too fanciful, over the top, or poofy. “I wanted something that fit into the rustic aesthetic.”
Jessamy really wanted to have a flower crown or in Hawaiian, a haku lei. “I wanted my bridesmaids to have them as well,” explains the bride. “Tropical flowers are such a part of Hawaii, and I wanted to play that up in the accessories. Passion Roots did an incredible job with the reception and floral accessories. But when my headdress came out of the box on the day of the wedding, I was a little shocked. It was so much bigger than I was expecting it to be! The first time I put it on my head, I was worried about the weight, but with the excitement and adrenaline of the day, I couldn’t even feel it after a few minutes!”
The bride entrusted her beauty look to good family friend and professional makeup artist, Stephanie Lau. She and her team of hair and makeup artists did the entire bridal party. “She did an amazing job,” says Jessamy.
Jessamy commissioned her friend, Justine Jones, who owns a popular jewelry company in Hawaii : J by J, to create gold necklaces for all of the bridesmaids. “I used to be really into making jewelry,” says Jessamy. “I started when I was 10 and worked at a bead store with Justine from the age of 16. I thought of Justine immediately when commissioning the jewelry. She engraved the traditional Hawaiian shields with my bridesmaids initials and ‘Aloha 8.4.16’ on the back. They were presents for the bridesmaids, and were worn on the day of the wedding. I wore diamond studs, along with a delicate gold bracelet from a designer in Paris, Pierre Caron, that a friend gave me at my bridal shower.”
Before the ceremony, the bride and the groom decided to do a first look. “It was a very special moment, as we met on top of a bridge near the pond of the ranch,” explains Jessamy. “It was symbolic—meeting half way, bridging our two lives together. We decided to do this for timing purposes—we wanted to spend as much time with our guests during the cocktail hour post-ceremony, so we did the majority of the photographs before the ceremony began.”
It was sunny all day until about two hours before the guests were set to arrive. The couple had to postpone their first look to wait for the rain to subside. “Luckily, it stopped thirty minutes before the ceremony was to begin, so we did the pre-reveal and the photos with beautiful glistening, fresh grounds, and sun around us,” remembers Jessamy.
The ceremony took place in a meadow of Sunset Ranch in the shade of an old Eucalyptus tree. Charles and the groomsmen were standing beneath the tree, and the bridesmaids walked from the main house to the tree one by one. There were two ring-bearers: Charle’s son, Basile, and his godson,Liam. “I came out after them, and both of my parents walked me down the aisle,” says Jessamy.
The bride’s friend from high school, Wil Tafolo, a professional bass player with the group Mango Season, played beautiful Hawaiian music for the processional and then the group continued to play throughout the cocktail hour and reception.
Charles and Jessamy wrote and performed their own vows. “For part of his vows, Charles sang ‘Let’s Stay Together’ by Al Greene,” says Jessamy. “It was epic—everyone started snapping.”
The reception was held in front of the main house of the ranch. There was banquet-style seating with three long rows. “We sat in the front with Basile, our best man, and maid of honor,” says Jessamy. “For the first course, we served fresh yellowfin and big-eye Ahi sashimi. My godfather owns the Fishmarket in Honolulu, so he brought the sashimi.” The rest of the meal was made by Camille on Wheels—very fresh, local ingredients from Hawaii, inspired by Pacific/Hawaiian fusion. Dessert was cupcakes: chocolate haupia (coconut cream), black and white, lilikoi (passion fruit), and buttercream.
After dessert, the newlyweds danced to “A Change Is Going to Come” by Otis Redding. Then, Jessamy danced the hula. She created the dance with her kumu hula (hula teacher). “My teacher started the very first hula halau (hula school) in Paris!” says Jessamy. “She is from Hawaii, but had lived in Paris for thirty years and began the hula halau that I am a part of called Halau Hula o Manoa. My dance is based off of the song ‘Ka Makani Ka’ili Aloha’ by Gabby Pahinui. Our band Mango Season made a live demo for me to work with, and they performed it live on the day of the wedding. It was wonderful . . . one of the highlights of the night.”
In Hawaii, rain on one’s wedding day is seen as a blessing. “It was impressive—and all of the guests made note—how the rain accompanied us throughout the wedding: It didn’t rain throughout the pre-reveal, ceremony, and cocktail hour. Then, the minute that the guests sat down for the reception, it poured. It stopped for the first dance, father-daughter dance, and my hula dance . . . and then the minute we came back under the tent again, it rained again! People were saying that my dance brought the rain, as it literally started right after I finished.”
Following the reception, there was a “kanikapila”—which in Hawaiian means jam session. “We invited all of the guests to bring instruments, or just sing along,” says Jessamy. “It was held underneath a café-light strung tree in the Fern Garden, where we had the cocktail hour. People danced, played, performed the hula, and generally made merry. It was great—a wonderful ‘extra’ to finish the wedding.”