Stephanie and Thommy's courtship was one 12 years in the making. The pair met on July 14, 2003 (which Stephanie notes, is a day she'll never forget) in Bordeaux, France while Stephanie was studying abroad in Metz. "One weekend a friend and I ventured to Bordeaux. We were looking for a restaurant and happened upon two very friendly gentlemen. My friend spoke French and asked for directions from one of the guys. The whole time other guy was staring at me. I was like, 'oh Lord, please don’t let him try to speak French to me”! To my relief, the guy who was staring spoke English and introduced himself, his name was Thommy" says Stephanie. Following their meeting, the friendly Frenchmen accompanied the girls to dinner and later invited them to a party. While of course the party blared in the background, Stephanie and Thommy spent their time getting to know one another and immediately the chemistry was undeniable. The pair exchanged email address' and promised to keep in touch.
Once back in Metz, she held her end of the bargain and e-mailed Thommy. He requested that she come back to Bordeaux to visit him before departing for the States. Though, at the time she wasn't single, something lingering in Stephanie told her to go anyway, and luckily she didn't fight the urge. "Being young, fearless, and a tad bit crazy I set off to Bordeaux all alone for a weekend with Thommy. I had a great time as he showed me around Bordeaux! When Thommy put me on the train, as I was leaving, I wasn’t sure if I would ever even see him again and I definitely could not have imagined that this man would one day be my husband" shares Stephanie.
Fast forwarding 8 years through countless e-mails, phone calls, post cards and several life changes - the pair didn't encounter again until 2011 when Stephanie traveled to visit Istanbul, Turkey. From the moment they laid eyes on each other, the two embraced as if no time had passed - the chemistry was undeniable indeed. And for the first time both were single and ready to mingle. However, Thommy was in the process of relocating for business and Stephanie was at a crossroads. While the two continued to chat via phone and e-mail, they wouldn't physically meet again for almost 2 years.
After making some major life and career changes, relocating to Charlotte, NC and gaining a little inspiration from a friend who encouraged her to open her heart to love - Stephanie was armed with a new frame of mind. While she wasn't sure what to expect, she reached out to Thommy saying she wanted to come visit him. And, yet again, from the time the pair locked eyes it was a magical experience. "He treated me better than I’d ever been treated before, showed me more love than I’d ever been shown before. And when I left, I knew that my life would never be the same. It took 12 years but I was finally the woman I needed to be for Thommy, he is the love of my life. We got engaged 4 months later on April 19, 2014. I was so ready to marry the man who has been in my mind and my heart for the past 12 years. I thank God that everything is as it should be" says Stephanie.
Bride: Stephanie Louise Hughes
Groom: Thommy Luc Martial Malela-Sissy
Wedding date: 11/15/2015
Wedding location: Ritz Carlton Charlotte, NC
Tell us about the proposal!
Stephanie: The proposal took place in Paris France in a small apartment which we were staying in for my trip. I was completely clueless that he was going to be proposing as it had only been 4 months since we “officially” got together. I was expecting a “typical” relationship/courtship for an “atypical” kind of love. I thought that we were just having an intimate conversation about our future when Thommy asked me, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life with me?” I paused for a moment because this is a serious question. I responded yes. He then said, “well do you know what that means?” I looked at him confused and he was digging around in his pocket. Still not sure what was going on. He pulled out a little red box, opened it, and held it out to me. I was in shock. Everything was so unexpected! He then put the ring on my finger. Later he told me how nervous he was. He said that he had all these things plan to say and was going to get down on one knee, but due to his nerves none of it happened. I immediately called my parents afterwards, where they were equally shocked. It all worked out the way is should.
Describe your wedding dress! What was wedding shopping like for you?
My wedding dress was a Pronovias mermaid style gown with tulle draping and a fabulous ostrich feather neckline. The dress was form fitting and fared out to a fluffy tulle and nylon bottom. I wore with sparkly silver drop earrings and a large jeweled belt. My veil was floor length with a blusher. It was a lot going on, but I felt that with my height (I’m 5’ 11”) I pulled it off!
I went to many stores and tried on many many dresses, this dress being the last one I tried on. I started looking with the idea that I wanted a ball gown. My approach initially was to invite my mother and bridesmaids to come help me make a decision. However both turned out to be a mistake for me. After a couple shopping trips accompanied by other I felt that their opinions were hindering me to find what I really liked. So I set off on my own and visited multiple places on my own. I found a shop that I like and narrowed it down to two dresses that I loved. I then asked my mom and dad to come to the final dress shopping to help me decide between the two dresses. It was then I knew that my dress was the one.
Did you incorporate any culture into your wedding?
Absolutely! Thommy is half Congolese and half Russian. I am American. We met and developed our relationship in France. So there was a great deal of different cultures coming together for our wedding. Instead of lighting a unity candle during the ceremony Thommy and I did a wine unity ceremony.
We took two different types of wine (white and rose) in carafes brought by the different sides of the family (my mother brought in my carafe and Thommy’s brother Eric brought in his carafe). We then poured them together into 1 glass and each gave the other a drink from the glass. This was representative of the traditional wine exchange ceremony that occurs in Congolese cultures and represents the families coming together. We also utilize French themes in décor and with macaroons as our guest favors. Thommy also did a toast to me where he spoke to me in French. We also made sure to have plenty of African music at the reception which was a big party.
Bridesmaids/Groomsmen gifts: Bridesmaids: Make up bag, assorted cosmetics, J. Crew jewelry. Groomsmen: Personalized bottle openers
Favorite item on the menu: Wild Mushroom Soup
First dance song: "The Beginning" by John Legend
What is your best memory from your wedding?
There were so many great memories but I have to say the best was a moment during the reception. The reception was in full swing, everyone was having a great time, the music was amazing. There was a moment when I looked around and I saw my husband Thommy, my little brother Michael, my dad, Thommy’s brother, best friend, and several of my very best and closest friends all laughing and dancing together. I realized that all the loves of my life had come together in that moment.
My family and friends have always been so important to me. However given the nature of me and Thommy’s super long distance relationship those two parts of my life had been separate until that moment. For the first time all day I broke down and started crying tears of happiness. I felt so blessed. Of course it killed the moment as everyone stopped dancing and panicked to see why I randomly started crying. But once I told them the party continued.
What is the best wedding advice you can give to engaged couples? When it comes to planning the wedding please just keep the focus on each other. What you want. What you like. Other people (family members, friends, wedding party, etc) will think that your wedding is about them, but it’s clearly not. That was one of the most surprising things that happened to me. You must be considerate and polite but ultimately it about celebrating your love and only you and your groom can decide what that looks like.
Wedding Dress Designer: Pronovias
Wedding Dress Salon: Lily Rose Bridal (Cornelius, NC)
Bride’s Shoes: Christian Louboutin, Neiman Marcus
Wedding Planner: Nekia Miller, Posh Affairs
Hair: Erin Wells, Studio Riche Salon
Nails: Kianna Baskerville, De La Casa Salon
Make up: Celeste Kenton (Philadelphia, PA)
Groom’s Attire: Francesco Smalto
Groomsmen Attire: Jos A Banks
Bridesmaids Dresses: JJ House
Ceremony & Reception Location: Ritz Carlton Charlotte
Photography: Love Shutter
Videography: Crown Alley Films
Florist: Springvine Design
DJ: C’leb Entertainment
String Quartet: Charlotte Strings
Wedding Favors: Café Monte (Charlotte, NC)
Cake/Dinner/Cocktail Hour: Ritz Carlton Charlotte
Rings: Diamonds Direct (Charlotte, NC)
Invitations & Save the Dates: Wedding Paper Divas
Wedding Programs: Minted
Officiant: Sonya McAuley-Allen, Better Together for Life
Ceremony Draping: Party Reflections