Back in 2007, Zim Ugochukwu and Jason Flores were just two curious college kids eager to see and experience the world. Early in her sophomore year, Zim and a few friends were checking Facebook to preview the incoming freshmen class and hone in on who they thought were the cutest of them all. Jason was on that short list.
After meeting, Zim and Jason bonded over a shared love of piano; but as they evolved into young adults, so did their relationship. Zim moved to India, and eventually Jason moved to Brazil. Their time around the world taught them plenty, including more about themselves and how they saw one another. One day, after communicating from across the world, Jason asked Zim to be his girlfriend.
The couple dated long-distance for five years, almost always a two-plus-hour flight apart from one another, before Jason proposed in one of their favorite parks along the river in Naperville, Illinois. Jason presented a custom Baskin and Braw engagement ring with a round-cut diamond, surrounded by 52 smaller stones in the band. “We grew up together over time (we have been friends since early 2008) and Zim became indispensable to me. She was everything I wanted and needed in a wife,” the groom tells BAZAAR Bride.
Adds Zim, “We built our relationship with God as our foundation. We have so many different strengths that our weaknesses are made stronger because of our union. I’m an extreme risk-taker, while Jason takes his time. He has such a gentle, discerning spirit—I knew that I could follow him and be safe.”
Zim, who has been named a leader by Oprah Winfrey for using her voice and talent to elevate humanity, is the founder of Italicist, an online styling service that helps women discover modest clothing they love. She is also the host of The Bloom Podcast, a "column-style faith podcast for every season of a woman’s journey." Jason, a consultant at a Big Four accounting firm, had traveled extensively by the time they got engaged. A serial entrepreneur, Zim had founded a boutique travel company earlier in her career, Travel Noire, earlier in her career, and the duo had gone on mission trips to two different continents, and ventured to countless other destinations on their own, and as a couple.
But despite all their travels and lists of their favorite places, the couple were “destination agnostic” when it came to planning their wedding. The two were simply on the hunt for a venue that was large and could fit a good amount of their family and friends. “I’d told my friends and family for years that when I got married, it was going to be a destination wedding,” Zim recalls, knowing travel would be involved from the start. “We had less than five months to pull off a wedding abroad‚ so I started with the location first,” she adds.
When contemplating possibilities, which included everything from the Caribbean to Asia, an initial contender was Italy. But Zim couldn’t find a venue that had space to host the 75 guests who were flying in from around the world. A place in Spain was considered, but also ended up being too small. In Brazil, visas were an issue. Luckily, Zim had created a folder of saved properties on her Airbnb profile, with lots of houses set on amazing grounds. One property in France, on which she’d seen another wedding take place, stood out.
Chateau Le Mont Epinguet, a small family home in Normandy, France, checked all the boxes. “As lovers of travel, we wanted to craft an experience for family and friends that would embody all that we love and hold dear," says the bride. "Over the weekend, we cooked great food, explored Normandy, and lounged around the château.” With help from a planner friend in Chicago to help Zim domestically and wedding stylist Coralie Prats of Loli Events in Paris, a superbly talented team was assembled for their four-day destination wedding weekend in early November.
The festivities began with a candlelit welcome dinner and movie night. The evening started in the barn, where guests dined on a meal prepared entirely by the bride's and groom’s parents, before heading into the château for a screening of one of the couple’s favorite movies, Home Alone. Roasting marshmallows and making s’mores by the fireplace capped off the evening, for which Zim sported a baby blue gown she’d picked up at a small boutique in St. Louis. Jason's ensemble complemented her look; he donned a crisp navy Bonobos suit paired with a Goorin Bros. hat that Zim had gifted him a few years prior.
The following day, a morning prayer and worship preceded a competitive breakfast cook-off inspired by the TV show Chopped, yet another way to bring guests from various corners of the couple’s lives together. “We really wanted to make our wedding weekend an unforgettable experience,” Zim says of incorporating family-style experiences into the schedule. That afternoon, guests chose from a trio of tours that highlighted the region’s history: a coastal hike of Nez de Jobourg; a tour of the Cliffs at Étretat, which inspired many Impressionist painters; or a visit to the island of Mont Saint-Michel.
Come Monday (yes, Monday), it was time for the main event—an unplugged ceremony inside an abandoned old building that previously served as the communication post for both German and then-Allied forces during the Second World War. “We chose an 18th century ruin to wed because it seemed like an apt testament to the covenant of marriage—tested yet fortified,” says the bride.
For the ceremony, the couple was inspired by the distressed patina of the château. “Since the home is in the countryside, the décor speaks to old country living, which we loved. [With that vibe in mind,] we went with a casual and laid-back approach to the décor.” The couple tapped Freya Joy Garden Flowers to add her wild yet delicately understated touch with an installation along the wall, and worked with Vaisselle Vintage to add a few vintage accoutrements to the ceremony and reception for added character.
With modesty ranking high as a sartorial priority for Zim, it was paramount that she find pieces that allowed her to showcase her personal style while still upholding her values. She chose a simple Tadashi Shoji dress and enlisted Nigerian designer Andrea Iyamah, who had designed a friend’s wedding dress, to create a delicate tulle cape to wear over it. The custom piece took four months to produce and featured intricate lace and bugle bead embellishments. The ensemble was dramatic on its own, so the bride skipped any additional accessories, save for a crystal hair comb, for the ceremony. As a testament to loving her own skin, Zim also chose to forgo wearing makeup for the ceremony; her hair was kept just as effortless, working with Chia V to style her hair in long, cascading waves.
For the formal daytime affair, Jason donned a hunter-green jacket and black tuxedo pants from The Black Tux. Though navy blue is his favorite color and was the initial choice for his wedding day ensemble, he spotted a swatch of the green fabric during his initial fitting. “I felt like that forest green would fit really nicely with the photos I had seen of the place where we’d perform our nuptials,” Jason explains. “I thought it would stick out but at the same time really fit in with the environment. It worked out really well.”
Following the ceremony, the newlyweds topped things off—quite literally, with Zim slipping on a floral headpiece that complemented her organically-constructed bouquet. “It was the star of the show,” Zim says of the headpiece she wore for the duration of the celebration. Jason added an accessory as well: another Goorin Bros. hat. Guests looked just as sharp, and cohesive, thanks to a Pinterest board of suggested attire within a color palette of muted tones that Zim assembled and shared along with all the wedding weekend details.
Stephen Liberge was chosen to document the day. The couple wanted someone who specialized in natural light photography, who could provide direction when needed but also understand when it was best to blend into the background. “Stephen was so thoughtful in his approach and with everything going on around us, and yet he still managed to capture our images like fine art,” Zim says. Yacouba Traore, a lifestyle photographer based in Paris, documented the weekend’s other festivities, and videographer Tu Nguyen, who had previously worked at the 18th-century estate, oversaw the cinematography.
Jonathan Vouteau, a guitarist from Paris who played throughout the ceremony, continued during the social hour that followed. Rather than a traditional cocktail hour, the couple enlisted friends to create flights of tea from around the world—Indian chai, Thai iced tea, Moroccan mint, matcha, and hibiscus—as a nod to Zim and Jason's extensive world travels and epicurean proclivities.
The celebration continued in the property's barn, where long tables were set with cut glass, mustard-colored taper candles, and petite ceramic vessels holding flowers in shades of deep pink, ivory, and ochre which had been picked from their florist’s own garden.
The reception was a mezze-style lunch, prepared by La Ferme des Mares, and felt both familial and convivial. And like the iced teas and small bites enjoyed prior to sitting down, the vegetarian meal had a global angle, including Italian focaccia, Lebanese tabbouleh, matured Normandy cheeses, and grenaille potatoes in a French ravigote sauce. There wasn’t any dancing, but heartfelt toasts were given and words of wisdom shared. For dessert, the couple cut into a petite Chantilly-style cake before exiting the château surrounded by petal-tossing loved ones.
“It was the most wild journey we’ve embarked on, and it was such an honor to have our friends and family travel so far to celebrate with us,” Zim says.
As they left the venue, Jason had no idea what their honeymoon entailed. Little did he know, Zim was about to surprise him with an eight-week trip to 10 countries: France, Morocco, the United Kingdom, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Jordan, Israel, Turkey, and Greece. “He never knew what country we’d visit next until the day we left for each new place,” Zim explains of the one-of-a-kind adventure that began in Nice, France.
Zim's first company, Travel Noire, specialized in "experience design," planning unique trips (about 60 per year) across five continents. She knew that if she was going to do something akin to a world tour for her honeymoon, "it had to be really good." She spent six months plotting out the itinerary, more time than she spent wedding planning, which began with firm plans in one country but left plenty of room to wing it. Most of the countries they visited were either places she had gone to before or that the couple had a shared affinity for.
The length of time they spent in each country varied, with Japan being where they stayed the longest, and where Jason had one of his most memorable experiences. “We rented motorized bikes in Bessho Onsen. Not only did we get some incredible video, but as we were riding these bikes the sun was setting ... and it’s autumn in the Japanese countryside, so you have all the different colors and little kids waving at us. All we needed was some music and it would have been the coolest music video,” he says.
Two of their favorite culinary moments also transpired in Japan—specifically, Tokyo. For her, it was dining at Madai Ramen Mengyo (she went there as often as she could). And for him, it was a ramen tour they went on where they tried countless varieties of noodles over the course of one evening, learning about the history of the dish along the way. “I would do that night any weekend,” Jason says of the experience.
In addition to their time in Japan, they both count Sri Lanka as a highlight, with Jason praising their time at Jetwing Warwick Gardens and Thotalagala in particular. “It was my first time in Sri Lanka. That’s the place where you go to have a vacation. The environment creates this aura of self-reflection, and I absolutely loved it,” he says. Zim agrees about the peaceful settings, adding that it’s also a great place to meet other adventurous people, given that it’s so remote.
Upon reflection, Zim recounts her time in India as a highpoint. It's actually where her romance with Jason had blossomed. Not having returned since being stationed there, going back was extra special. They ventured to the small town where she had previously called home, Dharamshala, and were there almost their entire time in India, enjoying hikes and exploring the villages. Then, they headed south to get pampered with a stay at the Soho House Mumbai, capped off by a delicious meal at Cecconi’s.
History-rich Israel also ranks high on Zim’s list; it's where they celebrated the year-end holidays and rang in the New Year as newlyweds. Turkey is another top spot for the groom, who'd had the country on his bucket list since he'd studied Turkish in college. It was a memorable final destination before the couple ventured to perhaps their most exciting destination: their first home together in Chicago.
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