“I know it’s corny to say I knew he was the ‘the one’ immediately, but I really did,” says Priya Shukla, senior vice president of Global Communications at Vera Wang, when talking about the first time she met her husband, Ralph Totoonchie, a senior vice president at Jefferies, through mutual friends.
After dating for about two years, the couple started discussing a future together, so Priya, who describes herself as a hard person to surprise, was sure a proposal was imminent. “He planned a trip for us to Turks and Caicos and I was convinced he was going to propose,” she says.
Instead, Ralph cunningly arranged several super romantic scenarios during their vacation, the kind involving candles, champagne, roses, and a private beach dinner, but never once popped the question. “When we got back to New York, part of me thought he’d changed his mind. But a few days later, Ralph asked me to meet him at a store uptown to help shop and when I got there, I realized it was a jewelry store. He had the windows cleared and filled with flowers and a sign asking me to marry him; my ring was the only piece of jewelry in the window. He definitely caught me off guard and pulled off an amazing surprise.”
While Priya originally hails from Sydney and Ralph grew up in Maryland, the two agreed on a New York wedding. After all, it was the city where they met and where they saw their future together. “We looked at so many places, but as soon as we walked into the Rainbow Room, we knew we had found our space.” They set the date for April 19, 2008 and today, the two are now celebrating their 11th wedding anniversary. Below, Priya shares her thoughts on her wedding dress, her favorite part of the reception, and the one thing she wished existed back when she tied the knot.
How did you choose what you wore?
“I’d always envisioned myself in a gigantic ball gown, but when I started trying on dresses, I realized a narrow silhouette looked best on me. I’m only 5′ 2″, so a ball gown swallowed me and made me feel like a cream puff! I changed during the reception into an ivory, draped Grecian style dress that was perfectly weightless so I could dance all night. Both gowns were Vera Wang, of course. Granted I am biased because I work for Vera, but I love her designs, and she is truly iconic. I would have worn her even if I didn’t work there.”
Years later, are there any dress regrets?
“I definitely feel like my gowns stand the test of time, Vera gave me a piece of really good advice, she always says to do hair and makeup as “the best version of yourself,” meaning don’t try to pull off a crazy updo you’d never normally do, or a neon eyeshadow you wouldn’t normally wear. When I look back on my photos, I feel like the look is very ‘me.’”
What’s one recent trend that you wish had been around when you got married?
“I really wish Instagram was around when I got married! I know it can often make you less present, sometimes you feel like you are doing more documenting and less living. But I would have loved to have seen everyone’s vantage points and their footage. Seeing the event through the perspective of my guests would have been so interesting.”
Tell us about the ceremony.
“Ralph’s family is Catholic, and my family is Hindu, but neither Ralph or I consider ourselves religious. We opted for a non-denominational ceremony that incorporated some tenets of both of our families faiths but also some cultural elements from both backgrounds. This was important to us as a gesture to our families and to indicate the unity between us. For example, we lit the unity candle, as they often do in the Christian faith, but we also walked around a sacred fire seven times, as is done in Hindu weddings. We had readings that originated from poets and authors from both cultures. We found a wonderful wedding officiant, Reverend Laurie Sue, who met with us several times to formulate a custom ceremony.”
What about the reception?
“To this day, people still talk about the food at our wedding. Back when we got married, Cipriani did all the food for the Rainbow Room and they are outstanding. We had a cocktail hour between our ceremony and reception that was so heavy on the food, some guests assumed it was dinner and didn’t realize a three course meal was about to follow. In the end it kind of worked out because everyone was on the dance floor during the reception anyway, eating just became a formality. DJ Rumor is a friend and former colleague, he spins the most amazing music and he had our guests jamming til the very end. In fact, we had to pay the venue to stay open for an extra hour because nobody wanted to go home.”
What song did you dance your first dance to?
“Our first dance was to ‘At Your Best You Are Love’ by Aaliyah.”
What was your favorite part of the reception?
“My favorite part of the reception was the dancing. It was so fun and one hell of a party (an open bar will always do that). And that Ralph and I had a small table for two set up just for us. We were originally going to sit with the wedding party, but Ralph suggested that we just do a small table for the two of us, and I loved the idea. It was a fabulous way to ensure we had a few moments that were just ours.”
Is there anything you would do differently if you got a do-over?
“If I could do anything over, I’d take more photos and start the picture process earlier in the day. Time gets away from you, weddings are so exciting and emotionally charged, things come up unexpectedly. I thought we allotted enough time for photos but we didn’t.”
What’s one piece of marriage advice you like to give out?
“Marriage advice . . . I feel like a fool dishing out advice when we are still figuring it out as we go. I will say this: treat your marriage like a living organism. It needs time, energy, and nurturing. Make it a point to have a date night once a week, prioritize the relationship even when you have kids, demanding jobs and other commitments.”