“Our relationship really started on my birthday when my best friend, who was in town from Paris, dragged me out dancing after my Monday night birthday drinks had ended tragically early,” says jewelry designer Michelle Campbell Mason of her courtship with real estate developer Zach Vella. “We went to a bar and Zach happened to be there. He likes to say he never let me leave his side after that night, which is pretty accurate. That was over four years ago.”
The couple had been dating for two and a half years when Zach proposed. “It was Christmas Eve in New York, and we were planning a date night out at the Italian restaurant Marea,” remembers Michelle. “As I was getting ready, Zach asked me to meet him in the living room of our apartment for a drink at 7:00 p.m. sharp, which was a bit fishy, as neither of us are punctual people. As I walked downstairs, I heard Frank Sinatra playing, and then I saw a lot of beautiful lit candles and some amazing champagne chilling. He suggested we each open one gift before dinner. I had him go first. I had gotten him an antique valet, which was in a wooden crate. After he pried that open, it was my turn. I picked a bag, and he said, ‘Not that one!’ and handed me a beautiful and rather large box. I unwrapped the paper and found a Belstaff box. I assumed leather would be inside, but instead it was filled with tissue. I felt around and found a smaller box. In that box was another box, and in my head I was really hoping it wasn’t earrings. He took the box from me, got down on his knee, and asked if I would marry him. I was crying so hard, it was difficult to get out my answer.” The couple then went on to dinner and celebratory drinks at The Carlyle. “It was the most memorable New York winter night,” says Michelle.
Originally, Michelle and Zach had hoped to get married on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands but ran into issues when faced with their guest list of 150, so they set out to explore larger venues in Europe. Michelle studies medieval and Renaissance history and wanted to find a place with ruins and a beautiful story. They started with Ashford Castle in Ireland, which was once owned by the Guinness family. “We brought our amazing wedding planner, Colin Cowie, and toured the property together,” explains Michelle. “Ashford is just a breathtaking place. During our tour, we walked through the woods and came across Cong Abbey, the ruins of a 13th-century monastery. We fell in love with it, and that location was where we had the ceremony.”
Michelle and Zach wanted the aesthetic of their wedding to be comfortable and understated. “When you get married in a castle, you don’t need to add much,” jokes Michelle. “We went for really organic elements to highlight the natural beauty of the space—lots of wildflowers, candles, moss, and unfinished wood.” The weekend kicked off with a high tea for the ladies—all of the women wore hats. Meanwhile, the men took part in a whiskey tasting. Afterward, everyone met on the lawn to practice archery and falconry lessons. On day two, the couple hosted a Moroccan-themed picnic in one of the gardens. “We were very fortunate, as Irish weather is generally gray and rainy. The morning of our first event, the clouds broke and the sun was shining, and we had warm, clear skies until about 4:00 a.m. after the ceremony when a downpour started and didn’t stop for over a week!” Overall, Michelle had six events to dress for, so she had to plan her wardrobe carefully. The first night, she opted for a Cushnie et Ochs dress. “I have done the jewelry for their shows the last two seasons, so they loaned me a killer Resort piece,” says Michelle. She had found her welcome dinner dress months earlier. “Zach owns the Oscar de la Renta building on Melrose Place, so I spend a lot of time there,” she says. “I found a two-piece Oscar gown from the runway that was absolutely stunning—and from his very last collection. With the help of the Melrose team, I tracked down the sample and did a custom order. I was the only one to get this dress!”
For the picnic, she wore Zimmermann paired with Chanel high-tops. And for her wedding, she had three custom pieces made by Maiyet. Its cofounder Kristy Caylor is one of Michelle’s closest friends and offered to help her with the dress. “I worked with them to create a simple fitted silk gown for the ceremony, with a low back and small train—a sort of homage to Carolyn Bessette Kennedy’s dress,” she explains. “We also made a hooded cape that I wore as an unorthodox veil. It was perfect for the walk through the woods to the ruins. The grounds looked like a dream at dusk with white light twinkling throughout the woods. Maiyet and I also made a dress for the reception from a nude tulle that matched my skin and was covered with beading that Declan Kearney and I picked out. I was so involved in the making of my dresses that I didn’t think about shoes until the last minute. I was lucky enough to meet Brian Atwood at my friend’s wedding a few weeks prior. He is so kind and offered to make me custom wedding shoes in record time. We made two pairs, one nude with a snake motif and the other, a matte gold pair that matched the Oscar de la Renta dress perfectly.” She designed all of her jewelry and both wedding bands. “I created trillion diamond earrings that have a moving back and catch the light beautifully,” she says. “I paired them with a back necklace that draped into the opening of my dress, and my wedding band is a set of baguettes that hugs my engagement ring perfectly.”
When the Guinness family acquired Ashford Castle in the 1800s, they planted an amazing forest to hunt woodcock. “We created a pathway illuminated with lanterns and candles, filled with fun surprises along the way: two bars, a fairy on a swing, a fairy playing a lute, and a monk fishing in the ruins of a hut where the monks from Cong Abbey fished,” says Michelle. “The walk ended with the guests crossing the river and walking to the abbey, which was covered with candles and wildflowers.” Michelle’s father walked her down the aisle while a violinist and cellist played “Yellow” by Coldplay. Then Zach’s brother, Zane Vella, married the couple at dusk.
The reception took place in front of the castle on the lake, Lough Corrib. Lights illuminated the water, and the tent was turned into a bohemian forest with branches and candles hanging all over. There were two long tables side by side, and the guests dined on: cauliflower soup topped with caviar and prawns on a pastry spoon, grilled turbot, and roasted Connemara lamb chops.
After dinner, Zach shot an arrow into a target that set off a display of fireworks over the lake. They were all variations of white and amber. This went on for about 10 minutes, and then afterward, everyone went back into the tent to listen to Zach and Michelle’s father give speeches. “My dad brought everyone to tears with a very sentimental speech,” recalls Michelle. Afterward, everyone moved into the castle for dancing. The couple’s first dance was to Frank Sinatra’s “It Had to Be You,” and the Soul Jets from London proceeded to bring down the house.
Post-reception, the party kept going. “We turned the Dungeon at Ashford—which is usually a bar—into a nightclub, and the DJ Coleman, who flew in from New York, played the most epic mixes until the sun came up,” says Michelle. “The majority of the guests danced till at least 5:30 a.m. Someone with an Apple Watch clocked that they danced 10 miles of steps! Sadly, most people flew out the next day. Everyone was exhausted, though, and missed flights right and left!”