Fifteen years ago, fashion designer Marina Polo and actor Pawel Szajda met as university students in New York. She was interning at Vera Wang that summer, while he was attending Fordham, and the two crossed paths at a party downtown. Even though they both came from very different backgrounds—she’s half Cuban, half Dominican, was raised in Paris, while Pawel is from a Polish family who immigrated to a small town in Connecticut—the attraction was undeniable. “We disagreed about pretty much everything but something hit it off immediately,” she explains. “With the rain pouring down, we took shelter in the back of a yellow cab heading uptown and shared our first kiss.”
For the next fourteen years, the couple’s careers took them all over the world and for the first six years of their relationship they spent several stints separated from each other for months. “Distance, time zones, and busy work schedules,” Marina says. “It’s not something we would wish for anyone.”
Fast forward to last summer, when the two were visiting a friend’s cliff-side vacation home in Mendocino, California. “After a long hike on our second day there, Pawel was adamant that we have a Prosecco sunset aperitif out by the cliffs,” she says. After so many years together, Marina did not suspect he was planning a proposal at all. “When we walked over to the edge of the cliffs (as I nervously kept looking over my shoulder expecting to see a famished mountain lion ready to devour us), surrounded by the beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean and a cool breeze, Pawel dropped to one knee and proposed with a beautiful Edwardian diamond ring that my friend and business partner helped him choose from Erstwhile Jewelry.” After initially being confused, Marina then said “of course” and the two walked hand in hand back to their friend’s home, where they made a magical pasta dinner as the sun was setting.
With their families spread over two continents, the two initially considered tying the knot outside of New York City, but then quickly realized they actually wanted to get married in Europe. “Even though I grew up in Paris, Italy was a much more attractive choice for us—we are Italophiles through and through,” Marina explains. Through their work, the two had spent a significant amount of time there in the past—she would often travel to Milan and Rome, while Pawel lived in Cortona and Rome while he was shooting Under the Tuscan Sun. “We initially focused our search for a venue in Umbria (to avoid Under the Tuscan Sun jokes) but ended up finding the most perfect venue, Castello di Gargonza, a medieval fortified village hidden in the Tuscan hills, the bride adds. “Gargonza has a beautiful, chic simplicity that we loved—it felt as though we were staying at our imaginary Italian family’s country house.” They worked with Super Tuscan Wedding Planners and focused on minimalist decor, using olive branches, potted herbs, and seasonal fruit and foliage as runners on long, convivial tables.
Once the location and the venue was decided, the wedding attire choices came next. For her rehearsal dinner, Marina went with a vintage 1950s Jesurum ivory lace dress that she had owned for years but never worn. As the co-founder of women’s fashion line SVILU, Marina took matters into her own hands and designed her own wedding dress inspired by Botticelli paintings and British Regency period portraits. She chose a lightweight silk seersucker weave chiffon and with the help of Atelier Rogelio Velasco created a dress with a wide open neckline, dramatic sleeves, and a Watteau back.
For her something old, Marina hunted down an orange blossom headpiece (“very in vogue in Victorian times”) on Etsy. For her something borrowed, she wore her late grandmother’s 1940s drop pearl and diamond earrings, while her something blue was a pair of cerulean blue satin shoes from No. 21.
The groom, meanwhile, wore a custom-made blue linen silk blend suit with a fine linen shirt, all made by his family’s local tailor, Melluzo’s in Connecticut, paired with brown oxfords from Paul Evans. Instead of having bridesmaids and groomsmen, the couple chose a group of witnesses from their friends and family and asked the women to wear floral dresses and the men to incorporate floral accessories into their looks. Their young flower girls wore custom-made dresses in dusty pink washed linen from the SVILU collection made by Totsmoda.
The day of the ceremony, the couple tied the knot in the 13th century church of San Francesco in the town of Lucignano. The families and wedding parties processed to a string quartet playing Handel and Bach, while the bride walked down the aisle accompanied by her mother and stepfather. Siblings performed readings from both the Old and New Testament, while Pawel’s cousin, a pastor in California, wrote and shared a beautiful universal prayer. “It’s hard to explain but when we were looking into each other’s eyes and exchanging our vows, the rest of the world melted away,” Marina shares. “A kind of tunnel vision, I guess.” Once they were married, the two stepped out of the church where they were showered with olive leaves while loved ones shouted “finally!”
After the wedding ceremony, guests headed back to Gargonza while Pawel and Marina jumped into a 1950s Fiat Cinquecento. Aperol spritzes and prosecco awaited everyone in the lemon gardens at Gargonza, and guests enjoyed their drinks while basking in the day’s sunshine. There, Pawel’s parents read a bread and salt blessing, a Polish wedding tradition, and then everyone made their way down to dinner in Gargonza’s restaurant, which used to be the hamlet’s coach house. “We had the escort cards placed at the entrance alongside pictures of our grandparents on their wedding days,” the bride explains. “They have all passed so it was a symbolic way to have them be present.”
The reception dinner was held al fresco on the patio and included two types of pasta as starters, Tuscan beef fillet and eggplant parmigiana as the main course, and the traditional millefeuille as dessert. After toasts from family members, a boisterous nine piece wedding band called The Gloves from Frosinone got guests on their feet, starting with the couple, who shared their first dance to Charles Aznavour’s “For Me, Formidable.” “We didn’t feel like taking ourselves too seriously with the first dance song and this felt playful and representative of our mix of cultures and dynamic,” Marina shares. The band continued playing a mix of Italian standards, as well as contemporary pop and rock songs, which kept everyone on the dance floor until 3:00 a.m.
By the end of their wedding, the two held hands and climbed back up to the village along a steep candlelit cobblestoned path to find that their room and bed had been flower bombed by their witnesses. And after a fragrant good night’s sleep, the honeymoon officially kicked off. “We were in Italy so it was easy,” Marina says. “We drove 25 minutes to Castel Monastero near Siena, where we basically slept for two days and recovered!”