Aysha Louise Preston and her husband, Jamil, always knew that when that got married, they wanted a destination wedding that centered around delicious cuisine. And, what better place than Italy. It was also the place that Aysha studied abroad, so she was drawn to the country's beauty and food.
"The Amalfi Coast is on nearly every list for a destination wedding because of its unique landscape and beautiful hills and sea views, but we noticed that it was not a typical destination for Black or specifically Black American weddings," says Aysha . "We wanted to disrupt that and take up space in a place that was so glamorous, and mix a bit of our culture with the destination. When we decided on Italy as our destination, our families—who have varied experiences in international travel—wondered why we wanted to go so far, but that thought was quickly retracted upon arrival after seeing all that Italy had to offer."
The Bonnicks took EBONY inside their gorgeous wedding, which also featured a beautiful serenade from Sheryl Lee Ralph—Aysha's aunt. The couple share everything from the details of the wedding to what it took to pull off the multi-week spectacle that took them all around Europe.
EBONY: Walk us through what you had to consider for planning your stunning destination ceremony?
Aysha Louise Preston: Initially, our biggest consideration was if our elderly family members would travel that far to witness our union. Then, COVID hit and our concern became whether the wedding would happen at all. Our wedding was initially planned for September 2020, but after three date changes, it ended up being May 2022 (we secretly eloped in Carmel, CA on New Year's Eve 2020 and never told anyone).
At some point, the wedding became much bigger than a ceremony and instead was a celebration of life post-COVID, an opportunity for fellowship with our closest family and friends, and just a good time to have fun and take a much-needed break from the everyday stresses of life. We had to consider accommodations, so we rented multiple Italian villas for our guests to stay in during the trip. We also considered the variety of travel literacy for our group, so we created a customized website with personalized web pages for each wedding guest which included style guides, menus to select and details of what to expect in Italy and during the wedding weekend.
Pro tip: Over-communicate with digital and print resources to keep all guests informed of key wedding details.
What did the wedding entail? Were there also ancillary events?
It was a five-day wedding weekend, but really in total, it was a two-week affair. We began our pre-wedding events in Paris, where 20 wedding guests joined us for a pre-wedding dinner at Villa Maasai. Our 50 wedding guests arrived in Sorrento on Thursday and were greeted with an authentic pizza party in one of our villas, where "pizzaiolos" prepared and served fresh pizza out of the on-site brick oven. On Friday, we took a day trip to picturesque Positano for time to enjoy the beaches, explore the winding cobblestone streets and to shop.
That Saturday, we rented five yachts to the island of Capri. There we enjoyed a group lunch and had free time to wander the island (and do lots of shopping). Sunday was "Sunday Funday" and guests could choose their own adventure of exploring the ruins of Pompeii and/or joining Jamil and me for an Italian cooking class at one of the local farm and cooking schools in the area. Finally, that Monday, U.S. Memorial Day, we had our wedding ceremony at Villa Eliana in Sorrento. We had great food, music, and were serenaded by my aunt, Sheryl Lee Ralph, who sang Frank Sinatra's "LOVE" at our cake-cutting. We ended the wedding festivities with a smaller group of 16 joining us in Mykonos, Greece for what we dubbed "the after party."
If you had to go back and do it all over again, would you still choose a destination wedding?
Absolutely! Everything about the wedding weekend was perfect. It allowed many in our families to step outside their comfort zone and see some new places, and we are so grateful for being able to create that experience for them. We love to travel and are often asked how and why we do it. The wedding taught us that many will travel, but may need a "reason" to do so. Our wedding became that reason. Of course, on the flip side, because of the international destination, some really important people in our lives were not able to make it and that is something we wish could have been different. Since the wedding and its success, I've started a travel and planning agency because so many of our guests want to see more of the world, and we love that. Italy was the perfect blend of something really new, yet familiar. It captured our bespoke nature, attention to detail, and affinity for design perfectly.
How did you and your husband meet?
We met at a MoCADA (Museum of the Contemporary African Diasporan Arts) event during the 2015 Art Basel in Miami. I was working in the museum field at the time and pursuing my doctoral degree at Florida International University, and Jamil was visiting Miami with his business partner for the weekend to enjoy Art Basel and meet with clients for their graphic design and marketing agency. During this Basel weekend, I offered to host a friend of a friend who was in Miami from Paris. I made it my duty to show her all the best Black art events and take her around town. When Jamil approached me at the MoCADA party, the friend thought Jamil and I had known each other forever. But really, it was the start of something new. He changed his return flight to Atlanta to stay in Miami so we could spend more time together, and we've been inseparable ever since. And, that friend from Paris has become one of our closest friends and even officiated our wedding.