Leslie Ramos, a senior patrons manager at the Royal Academy of Arts, had just moved to London a few years ago for her master’s degree and was looking for an opera pal. “I was new to the city, and in the first week of the course, I asked if there were any opera fans because I wanted to see the new production of Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House,” she says. Lucky for her, Thomas Forwood, a business developer and art advisor, raised his hand. “We slowly went from study pals to good friends and eventually started dating nearly a year later!”
Three short years after that, Tom was busy planning to propose. “I had done my best to ask her family’s permission,” he says. “The problem was that they don’t speak English, so I had to be very careful to say the right thing!” With a custom-made three emerald-cut diamond ring, a bottle of champagne, and “Casta Diva” (“From Bellini’s Norma; Leslie’s favorite aria,” he explains), Tom surprised Leslie at home and asked her to marry him.
When it came time to decide where to tie the knot, Leslie admits the only possible place from the start was Venice. “I wasn’t born in Venice, but la Serenissima is the place I love the most on this planet. I wouldn’t be the person that I am today if the city hadn’t been in my life,” she says. “Despite being overrun with tourists, we wanted to make it work,” Tom adds. They found the perfect venue in the Palazzo Contarini Polignac. “We had seen it a hundred times—the beautiful facade, the balcony overlooking the adjacent garden. The fact that Monet had painted its facade three times during his stay in the city in 1908 added that extra art historical spark we love.”
In terms of aesthetic, they wanted to keep things simple, classic, and as a celebration of Italy. They picked a blue and yellow color palette and incorporated a wealth of Venetian motifs and tiles into their decorations. “One of our best decisions was to get an amazing calligrapher, Judy Broad, to do all of our paper, from addressing invitations, to menus, to place cards, as it gave the whole aesthetic some uniformity,” Tom says.
The couple bravely forwent the help of a planner and instead coordinated all logistics themselves. “Leslie knows Venice like the palm of her hand and basically everyone she knows in the city came to the rescue,” the groom admits.
As for the wedding dress, Leslie knew from the very beginning that she wanted a Carolina Herrera gown. “Mrs. Herrera, like myself, was born in Venezuela,” she says. “I’ve always been a huge fan of the house and her clean, sophisticated style.” She flew to New York on her own in order to find the perfect dress and to her surprise ended up falling in love with a midi dress. “My mother and the very few people who knew it wasn’t a long dress were all a bit shocked,” she shares. “I did have to do some research and look back to iconic brides like Audrey Hepburn and even Carolina Herrera herself, who got married in short dresses, to convince my mom that everything was going to be ok and that not wearing a monumental veil and long dress didn’t mean it wouldn’t be formal.” She completed her look with a Carolina Herrera veil, Jimmy Choo shoes, and earrings by her best friend and maid of honor, Paola Votta, who had them made with a traditional Spanish jeweler in Valencia. For hair and makeup, she used Tula Charles and Annie Botta, both of whom traveled with Leslie to Venice for her wedding weekend.
The groom, meanwhile, wore his father’s going away suit from 50 years ago that was re-cut for his specifications. “The color is a blue green that isn’t really seen these days, but I love it” he explains. All of his wedding weekend shirts were Turnbull & Asser and ties were Hermès. Flower girls and page boys all wore custom made linen dresses, shirts, and shorts by Spanish brand Teresa y Leticia and Venetian slippers by Helloborum in yellow velvet.
The wedding festivities kicked off with a welcome cocktail at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, where Leslie once worked many years ago. “My mom gave a lovely welcoming speech in Spanish, translated by my best friend and man of honor, Fabrizio Montanari,” Leslie remembers. “It was followed by Tom’s father’s speech, where he spoke, to our surprise, in Italian and Spanish as well as in English. It got me in tears!”
The next afternoon, Leslie and Tom headed to the Chiesa di Santa Maria Dei Miracoli, a small church with steps leading up to a raised altar. Music was performed by a quartet of musicians from La Fenice, Venice Opera House, where Leslie also once worked. For her big walk down the aisle, the bride chose an instrumental version of “Casta Diva” by Bellini.
Once the ceremony wrapped up, guests were shuttled by water taxi from the church to the garden of Palazzo Balbi Valier, where a champagne reception with a jazz band and a huge selection of Venetian antipasti awaited. After cocktail hour was over, people were later ushered into the adjacent Palazzo Contarini Polignac for dinner on the Piano Nobile. The room featured blue hydrangeas (Leslie’s favorite) running the length of the long table, which were also interspersed with tall candelabras.
Food was handled by friend Jacopo Sinibaldi of Trattoria Do Forni, and a traditional Italian meal featured paccheri with tomato, olive taggiasche and tuna, champagne risotto with scampi and branzino baked in salt was served. “Jacopo even agreed to serve a Venezuelan snack, tequeños, during the party, which are an unmissable canapé in any Venezuelan party!”
After speeches, everyone headed back to the ground floor courtyard where the couple cut a wild strawberry tart that had been assembled in front of guests. Then it was time for dancing. “Our first dance song was one of the decisions that took the longest, but in the end we decided on ‘Unforgettable’ by Nat King Cole,” the bride says. “I hate being the center of attention for more than a minute so pretty quickly we started Latin dancing!” DJ Leonel Rojas provided lively music that kept everyone on the dance floor.
Once the reception was over, the stray guests that were left took bottles of champagne over to the steps of Santa Maria della Salute, a church overlooking the Grand Canal. “It was the perfect end of the night, sitting on the steps, looking over the water towards St. Marks, surrounded by friends until 5:00 a.m.” says Tom. “Some, whom shall not be named, even ended up going for a swim in the Grand Canal!”