A Traditional French Wedding (With a Twist!) in Normandy

Talk about a lucky seat: Marine Sward Courvoisier-Clément met Brian Sward on a train trip. “We randomly booked seats next to each other,” she says of the train they shared going from France’s Basque country to Paris on August 1, 2011. Exactly four years, Brian proposed over a sunset picnic on the Dune of Pilat, Europe’s tallest sand dune.

Their storybook romance came to its climax with their June 16, 2016, wedding in Honfleur, Normandy, before 100 guests, with a church ceremony and reception following in the garden of the bride’s parents’ home, which has been in the family generations. “Ever since I was a little girl I dreamed of getting married there,” says Marine. “We chose Sainte Catherine’s Church because it is a historic site—it dates from the 15th century and is the largest church made of wood in France! But more importantly for me was its special sentimental meaning: My grandfather was a carpenter and he helped restore the inside of the church.” And while French weddings are typically quite formal, the couple wanted to reflect who they are as a couple and keep it more DIY, while still holding true to French wedding traditions. In fact, they planned their date around the French Bastille holiday so their guests could enjoy those festivities, too. The theme was built around their interests: namely the ocean and nature, and it was quite evident in what turned out to be a joyous, dancing-filled celebration that stretched until dawn. Keep scrolling to see Jamie English's gorgeous photos!

Marine knew her dress was the one when she spotted it first in the shop Gloria Biarritz. It was only the second she’d ever tried on, and she felt like a ‘60s Hollywood star. The winning gown was by Atelier Pronovias, a mermaid style in silk crepe with a round neckline and plunging V in the back. “The lace wasn’t originally on the dress,” she reveals. “It was handmade in Calais and offered to me by one of my best friends who got married a few months before us and had her dress custom made there.”

Marine designed her flower headband with a silver brooch in the form of a feather and an embedded pearl that she’d found at an antique market next to their house in Bordeaux. She also carried a bouquet of white roses, eucalyptus, protea and leaves.

The couple’s nephews and nieces acted as their flower girl and ring bearers. The girls wore off-white lace dresses and flower crowns Marine crafted herself, inspired by her flower headband. “We love them all so much we decided to have them all walk the rings down the aisle,” she says. “They did a great job!”

It was important to Marine and Brian that their wedding reflect them as a couple so they infused it with DIY touches, as well as elements they’d collected during travels and beach visits. Everything in their wedding had meaning—even the groom accessorized his three-piece navy suit with a bow tie and pineapple ivory cufflinks that belonged to his late grandfather.

Marine’s father walked her down the aisle for the Catholic mass, which was in both French and English and featured a surprise harmonica solo performance by the bride’s father. An acoustic guitarist played songs by Ben Harper and Cat Power, among others, and Marine’s 10-year-old niece, Jeanne, sang a beautiful acapella version of the Ave Maria that made everyone cry.

As a big church with an abundance of permanent decoration, Marine said not much had to be done in addition for the ceremony. Still, their florist incorporated local white gladiolus and eucalyptus, which harked to Marine’s and Brian’s year spent together in Australia.

After the ceremony, as is tradition in France, the guests all left the church and the priest gave his final blessing in private. “Then the church bells rang and the door opened,” says Marine. “Suddenly seeing all these people we love surrounding us was like having an instant flash of my life and journey. It was a powerful and emotional moment for both of us.”

After their grand exit, the couple (and their many guests!) spent time in the streets, snapping photos and basking in their excitement.

Because their reception was in the garden of her parents’ house, Marine said they had to organize it from the grass up. “There was no reception hall, electricity nor facilities, just a cute little river running through the French countryside with green grass,” she says.

The couple got creative, and the bride’s father was able to work with the city to tap into the main line with an industrial-sized plug and cable. The party was on!

The décor was kept natural, including shades of white French lace, sun-bleached driftwood with white accents, and green forest plants. For the seating chart, the couple made a macramé-style hanging piece with driftwood and white rope.

They took a DIY approach to their centerpieces. They collected driftwood on the beach near their home, polished it, and painted white accents on the pieces. Marine and Brian also made place settings using a shell, rock or coral brought back from the beaches they’d traveled to together.

Before dinner, per French tradition, they had a cocktail called the vin d’honneur, with a cocktail menu of 18 varieties of hot and cold canapés and amuse bouche, and two cooking stands—at one a chef prepared gambas flambees with whiskey. A seated French meal followed, along with traditional Normand apple sorbet with Marine’s great grandpa’s Calvados. All the beverages served, save the rosé Champagne and beer, were made by friends of the couple couple know—including wines, Normand cider, and the 40-plus-year-old Calvados made by Marine’s great grandfather.

The evening was not a short one by any means. The bar opened at 5 p.m., and the dance floor closed at 5 a.m. The dancing kicked off to Shwayze’s “Drunk Off Your Love,” and guests had fun throughout the evening with a Polaroid camera and vintage accessories from the flea market. At 6 a.m., after much dancing, Marine, Brian and their friends wound up in the pool—a long-awaited moment she says was a highlight of the night!

The final touch of the night was the croquet en en bouche, which Brian decided they had to have as the "apex of French culture!"

Wedding Team

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