Erika Redding and Christel Wekon-Kemeni met at the University of Miami.
As Redding, 26, told Insider, the couple first met when she was a freshman and Wekon-Kemeni, 28, was a junior in 2013 at the Florida school.
They started dating in 2014, and they’ve been together ever since.
Today, the couple lives in North Carolina with their dog, Nutmeg. Redding is a PhD student who works in public health, and Wekon-Kemeni is a pediatrician in his residency.
Wekon-Kemeni proposed to Redding the day he graduated from medical school.
After he graduated from medical school in 2019, Wekon-Kemeni got down on one knee in front of his friends and family as a surprise for Redding.
As Wekon-Kemeni told How They Asked, he wanted to propose to Redding on the day he graduated because it felt like he and Redding “were graduating from this stage of our lives together.”
The couple planned their wedding for May 2021, though they eventually postponed it until September 5, 2021, because of the pandemic.
Redding said she “always wanted to wear” her mother’s wedding dress on the day she got married.
Her mom, Kimberly Covington Redding, wore a long-sleeve gown with a high neckline to her 1985 wedding. The dress had shoulder pads, netting on the bodice, and a skirt covered in intricate lace.
Redding’s aunt also wore the dress in the 1980s.
“I always knew I wanted to wear it,” Redding said of her mother’s dress. “But it was very dated.”
“It was just a matter of trying to figure out how to wear it,” she went on to say.
Redding decided to update the dress.
Redding worked with a seamstress to turn the dress into the gown of her dreams.
Redding hired Gizzelle James Couturiere to transform the dress.
The bride said her mom was “excited and touched” that she wanted to wear her dress, and she was supportive of Redding updating it for her own wedding.
Redding had her initial appointment with James in 2020, during which she brought inspiration images for what she hoped the dress would look like. They started truly changing the dress in the summer of 2021.
The original bodice became a form-fitting V neck that featured modern lace.
James removed the sleeves and high neckline from the gown.
Rather than preserving the original lace on the bodice, James used modern lace she had in her shop to better fit with Redding’s vision.
The floral lace sat atop sheer fabric, flowing onto the straps covering Redding’s shoulders.
James also had to dye the additional lace to ensure it matched the original dress.
As Redding told Insider, the original dress was off-white, but the scrap lace James used to create the bodice was stark white.
“She ended up dyeing the lace with tea to make it a bit darker,” Redding said. “She rebuilt the whole bodice.”
The updated dress had a new back, but the original skirt remained intact.
The skirt was covered in lace from the ’80s, and Redding also requested James keep the original scalloped train intact.
The train became her favorite part of the gown.
“The train is what was really gorgeous,” she said. “They don’t make dresses like that anymore. It was really cool to be able to preserve that vintagey part of it.”
She did change the top of the back of the dress though, turning it into a deep V that was surrounded by more see-through fabric and lace. It mirrored the front of the dress.
James charged Redding just $1,800 to transform the gown.
Redding paired the dress with a floor-length veil.
“It was just a plain white veil, because the dress was so intricate that I didn’t want the veil to take away from that,” Redding said.
She bought it from Etsy.
Redding wore her hair in a simple updo, and she had a soft glam makeup look.
“I don’t wear a lot of makeup in my everyday life, so I didn’t want to look completely different from how I normally look,” she said. “I wanted to look like myself.”
K. Lynn Artistry did Redding’s hair and makeup.
The dress wasn’t ready until just two days before Redding said ‘I do.’
Although James was able to create the dress Redding hoped to wear, it wasn’t easy to rebuild the dress.
Originally, James thought Redding and her mother wanted to preserve the original lace all over the dress, but Redding was hoping for a more modern look.
Redding came in for an appointment in August — just a month before her wedding — and the dress didn’t look right.
James told her to come back the next day, and she worked through the night to transform the dress. Overnight, she got the idea to use new, dyed lace on sheer fabric for the bodice, which she showed to Redding the next day.
“She had done all of this magic on the dress, and it looked so good,” Redding said. “So from there, it was just a mad dash. I didn’t see my final dress until two days before the wedding.”
Redding’s mother loved the gown’s transformation.
“She was really excited,” Redding said of her mom’s reaction to the dress. “She was also just relieved that it worked out and it looked good.”
“At the wedding, she was telling everyone, ‘Yeah, that’s my dress,’” Redding said. “She was really proud.”
They said their vows together during their ceremony.
Wekon-Kemeni and Redding were married by their friend Donovan Livingston.
“We wanted some traditional aspects, but we wanted him to modernize it a little bit to make sure that we were equals,” Redding said of her and Wekon-Kemeni’s approach to their vows.
“I definitely wanted to make sure that the religious thread was still there, because those are things that are important to both of us and to our families, but we also wanted to make it our own,” she added.
The couple ended up speaking their vows in unison, sending the message that they were true partners from the moment they said ‘I do.’
Redding said one of her favorite moments of the day was taking photos with her bridesmaids.
The bridal party took photos in front of the Swan House before the ceremony, and Redding said she valued the downtime with her bridesmaids.
“I thought that was really fun,” Redding said, adding that each of her bridesmaids played an integral role in the day, from getting ready with her to toasting her at the reception.
The whole day felt more special because she wore her mom’s dress, as Redding told Insider.
“I couldn’t have imagined wearing anything else,” Redding said of her dress.
“I think it was just so much more meaningful to know that my mom and my aunt wore it,” she went on to say. “I’m very grateful we were able to do that.”
“You can’t buy a dress like that,” she added, especially for the price that James offers.
“She was amazing,” Redding said of the seamstress.
She plans to get her dress preserved so her children can wear it someday if they want.
Redding thinks it’s important to have a clear vision if you’re updating an heirloom dress.
“Know what you want,” she said. “Look at inspiration pictures and have a clear idea that you can present.”
“I think our saving grace was having that picture we kept referring back to,” she added. “Sometimes the way you relay your vision may not be how the designer is receiving it.”
Having an image you can both circle back to can ensure the dress turns out how you want, as Redding told Insider.
Redding also said it’s important to start the alterations process early.
“We started about a year in advance, and honestly we needed every ounce of that year,” Redding said.
“Everyone’s getting married right now,” she added. “Most designers are still super busy. You want to give yourself that time.”
She also encourages brides to be flexible throughout the alterations process.
“It may not be exactly how you envisioned it or exactly the inspiration picture, but having that collaboration with your designer in order to ultimately get what you want” is key, Redding said.
Redding said she loves that she and Wekon-Kemeni are true partners.
“I think our wedding represented that we’re both equals,” she said. “That can sometimes be really hard to find, where you feel valued and you feel like your opinion carries as much weight. You feel like there’s someone that listens to you and considers your perspective in different situations.”
“I think that’s something he’s very good at,” she said of Wekon-Kemeni. “He’s a very good listener and wants our marriage to be very equitable.”
“I didn’t feel like I had to give up my independence to be married,” Redding added.
“He’s just the kindest person ever,” she said of her husband.
“He’s so kind, so smart, so cute,” she said. “He literally plays with kids all day and makes them feel better.”
“I feel like I have someone who’s supporting me in whatever I want to do,” Redding said.
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