Hosting a destination wedding with the picturesque landscapes of France as a backdrop is a dream for many, but for the real bride featured in this post, it was her reality. In this inspiring Q&A, Leah unveils the intricacies of planning a destination wedding in France, as well as designing a custom gown with a famed bridal designer to create her dream wedding look.
From the initial inspiration to the unforgettable moments leading up to the final fitting and the fête itself, we’re sharing her enchanting experience – both the highs and the challenges – of saying “I do” in a one-of-a-kind wedding dress in the beautiful Dordogne region of France.
Whether you’re dreaming of a French destination wedding or considering a custom-designed wedding gown, read on to discover insights, inspiration, and advice for your own fairy-tale wedding day.
Inside Weddings: A destination wedding in France sounds enchanting! What drew you to this location and made you decide on a destination wedding?
Leah Davis: I was drawn to France because I have relatives on my father’s side that live in the Bordeaux region, and my parents and I visited twice when I was younger. I just remember how amazing and enchanting France was, between the lush green valleys of the countryside and the historic architecture in the cities.
I never in a million years thought that an international wedding would be possible, but after doing extensive research of local venues, I was shocked to find that we could rent out a whole château with 20 of our loved ones for a week for cheaper than we could rent a venue in Southern California for just one night.
We knew that we wanted to create memories with our loved ones – not just a few hours for only the wedding – so this would be perfect for what we were looking for. I found Château du Raysse on VRBO, then went to their website to reach out. It’s in the beautiful Dordogne region of France and accessible through the train systems. We booked the venue without having seen it in person!
IW: What were some practical tips that helped you navigate the unique challenges of planning a wedding abroad?
LD: Figure out first what area you want to get married in, then find the venue – making sure it is easily accessible, has a history of hosting weddings, and already has a recommended supplier list that you can view prior to booking. I also think it’s helpful if your venue at least has a room for you and your partner, so that you don’t have to worry about traveling to your venue for the big day.
Your venue and your photographer (as well as your planner, if you have one) are going to absolutely be your best allies since they’ll be a great resource. I found all my vendors through either the venue’s recommended supplier list, mariages.net, or Instagram.
It’s also great to hire vendors that have worked together before, as well as worked events at the venue. Our photographer, videographer, makeup artist / hairstylist, and florist / rentals provider had all previously worked together, which makes everything flow so much nicer. They were also all fluent in English and French, as you’ll find a lot of vendors in European countries are, so it was easier to communicate with all of them.
IW: Planning a wedding from afar can be a challenge. How did you manage the logistics and coordination for a wedding in a different country?
LD: It does pose a challenge, but it’s also achievable. We were lucky that Kevin’s mom used to be a travel agent, so she took care of the traveling logistics for all our guests and for us as well. In most of the European countries, it’s easy getting around with their train systems that connect the big cities to the smaller countryside towns.
Logistically, we made sure that there was a good way to contact all our vendors, whether it was email or WhatsApp for a quicker response. The only thing that was a little different is that we would always need to contact our vendors in the early morning, since it was evening for them.
Our photographer helped us tremendously with the day-of timeline since he knew the area well, and he reminded us that in June, the sun won’t set until around 10pm – something that we almost completely overlooked. I didn’t want us to miss golden hour for some great, romantic pictures in the château’s gardens. We also had an on-day coordinator to help us with the big day and making sure vendors were on time and set up, so that we could fully enjoy the moment.
IW: Can you describe the overall ambience and style you envisioned for your French wedding?
LD: Our wedding was inspired by a famous art nouveau artist, Alphonse Mucha. We picked our wedding colors from his painting Primrose that has these beautiful green, peach, and gold accents. We both wanted it to feel timeless, like you were stepping into that art-nouveau era at a château, but still wanted it to feel cozy and inviting for everyone.
I painted the watercolor for our invites based on Mucha’s Flirt piece of a very debonair-looking couple but with our faces instead. I’ve always loved the allure of the vintage era, and Kevin and I love going to Dapper Day at Disneyland and friends’ burlesque shows in LA.
Kevin has a musical background, so we used records for guests to sign instead of the traditional guest book and had our wedding DJ start off with 1920s music for the ceremony and then gradually go through the years all the way to current songs by the time we were sweaty dancing at night.
IW: Destination weddings often involve a smaller guest list. How did you ensure your close friends and family felt connected and cherished during this intimate celebration?
LD: We invited about 130 people to the wedding, but only 46 were able to attend. We knew that would happen and made it clear on the invite that we understood that not everyone is in the place in their lives to make that trip and that’s okay.
For those that were able to make it, we had events two days prior to the wedding – one day we went to the Gouffre de Padirac caves and the medieval city of Rocamadour and the second day at the Gardens of Eyrignac and the Château de Beynac – and also a brunch the day after in order to spend as much time as we could with those who traveled so far to be with us.
For those who couldn’t make the trip, we had a mini celebration in California at my parent-in-law’s house about a month after we got back from our trip. Thanks to our amazing videographer Sandy and our photographer Tristan, we were able to share moments from our wedding at the party and make them still feel part of the celebration.
IW: Your wedding dress was a true masterpiece by Claire Pettibone. What inspired you to choose a custom-designed gown, and how did you decide on Claire Pettibone?
LD: About a year before my wedding, I was working part-time for a photographer, Rhiannon from Alloria Winter, and prior to that, I managed a bridal shop in San Diego for five years. Rhiannon and I were talking about bridal gowns, and she mentioned that I should go visit Claire Pettibone, where she got her wedding dress. Claire’s shop happened to be within walking distance of my place, so I set up an appointment.
I had such a lovely experience at the shop and fell in love with a dress called “Ophelia.” At the end of the appointment, Claire came out to introduce herself and we started chatting. I jokingly (but also seriously) mentioned to her that if she ever needed a seamstress, I would love to work for her. She responded with, “Can you come in this week for an interview?” I was shocked but so excited, and by the end of that week, I was working at Claire Pettibone Design Atelier and am now her assistant designer!
Of course, I got so busy taking care of all our other brides, I almost completely forgot to figure out my own bridal gown, but I was always still thinking about that “Ophelia” gown. I just loved the multicolored fabric, the gold lace underneath, and the eyelash-lace trim detail, but I wanted an off-the-shoulder sleeve instead of the strapless that it was. I sketched up a design and showed it to Claire, put the dress on, and we discussed how we would pattern it and what details to add.
We ended up taking three different patterns and putting them together for the bodice, keeping the skirt as is. I decided to make a reception dress as well, one that would be a surprise to everyone and one that I wanted to do a surprise feather-fan dance in for Kevin. I drew up another sketch and Claire and I pieced together the pattern by using the top of our “Grace” gown and a custom skirt derived from our new “Morganite” gown.
IW: Working with Claire Pettibone must have been an incredible experience. Could you share some insights into the design process and the emotions tied to creating a one-of-a-kind dress?
LD: Claire is absolutely the kindest soul and extremely talented (and no, I’m not saying this just because she’s my boss). She’s super unique in the fact that she works with every bride that steps into her flagship doors, and she is the only U.S. bridal brand that still makes everything in-house.
Unfortunately, the art of couture wear and custom patternmaking is becoming more and more rare, and we’re seeing less and less of the younger generation wanting to pursue these trades. Choosing a made-to-order wedding dress is so exciting, but it can also be a little nerve-wracking, as you have to trust the process – and trust your designer.
Even if you want a one-of-a-kind gown, you should still try on different dresses from the designer you plan to go with to get a sense of what you like. Usually, our brides will narrow it down to one or two (or three!) dresses that they love, and then Claire will offer suggestions that fit the bride’s vision.
If we’re making a totally custom gown, we’ll first do a sketch, choose fabrics, and then we’ll make a muslin, which is a cotton and tulle mock-up of the gown, to the bride’s measurements. It gives us a chance to adjust the silhouette and check the fit before cutting the real fabric. This stage only gives a partial vision of what will come but is so important for us to see what we need to adjust in our patterning.
A lot of brides are super nervous for that first actual fabric fitting, but it’s always truly magical every time. Even at my own fitting, it was so incredible! Seeing that sketch and the idea that was in my head come to life was an amazing feeling. The emotions and joy that light up a bride’s face when she finally sees herself in her dream-come-true dress is why Claire (and I) have been in this industry for so long.
IW: Brides often struggle to find a dress that perfectly aligns with their vision. How did you collaborate with Claire to ensure the dress captured your dream wedding look?
LD: I think that in a world of constant scrolling, ever-changing trends, and unrealistic body expectations, it’s so hard for a bride to even find a vision of what she wants to look like. For me, I struggle with that as well, so to help my confidence, I wanted to accentuate my favorite parts of myself. I wanted to feel timeless, like I had stepped out of an Alphonse Mucha painting.
Claire and I wanted to focus on my waist in both dresses, which is why each has a defined waist seam. For my ceremony dress, I wanted to customize that strapless bodice with sleeves and an off-the-shoulder illusion instead to draw the eye up to my clavicles and face. Then for my reception dress, I wanted to show off my long legs but also be classy, so I decided to go with the high-neck but also high-slit to balance it. For both dresses, I love my back tattoo and it’s rare I show it off, but we created both backs to “frame” it in a way that was elegant.
It’s all about playing tricks on the eye, to accentuate your favorite parts of yourself and keep to your style. Don’t go with the trends – they pass so quickly. Go with what you love!
IW: If you could offer one piece of advice to couples considering a destination wedding, what would it be?
LD: Take the leap and do it! You will create such amazing memories with not only your partner, but all your guests and loved ones as well. Of course, not everyone is going to be able to come, and some might get upset, but at the end of the day, it’s about celebrating your love no matter where you want to.
We found that there were so many opportunities to plan fun events around the wedding, so you get even more time with everyone who can come, instead of just a few hours for the big day. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you absolutely will not regret.
IW: The process of designing a custom dress might seem daunting to some brides. What advice would you give to those who are considering going down the custom dress route?
LD: Make sure that you pick a designer you can connect with – not only them, but their style as well. You’ll first want to ask them if they do customizations to their gowns and/or totally custom gowns and if they have an in-house seamstress they work with. If they do, set up an appointment to come meet with them and try on gowns.
You need to have the utmost trust that your designer will know what will work best with the pattern and fabric and that will complement your vision and body. The best idea is to find a gown, like I did, that mostly works for what you want, then customize it to your style. Even slightly changing a gown – like choosing a different color lining, adding sleeves, or lowering a back – makes such a difference. It doesn’t always have to be creating a completely custom gown (and it will be more affordable as well). Your dream dress can be created, I promise you!
IW: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers, whether it’s a treasured memory, a lesson learned, or any inspiration you’d like to pass on?
LD: I think that as cheesy as this may sound, everyone deserves to have their dream wedding come true, and it may be more achievable than most people think.
Start with creating a mood/vision board for what you and your partner want: the details you’d both like to have, the colors you want to incorporate, and of course, what you envision for your wedding attire. Then, use the great resources that we have nowadays, like blogs from Inside Weddings, buying custom details from Etsy, finding DIY videos, and utilizing any creative family and friends that are willing to help. You’ll be amazed at how you’ll see your vision come to life, one step at a time.
Photos by Tristan Perrier; Beauty: Widnie Alexis; Bridal Gowns: Claire Pettibone; Cake: Cakes by Betty; Catering: Toast Catering; Day-of Coordination: Peaches & Cream Weddings; Floral Design: Jenny Fairbanks; Rentals: Our Fabulous Things; Venue: Château du Raysse; Videography: Sandy Cluzaud
Some of the links included may be affiliate; however, everything we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. When you make a purchase, we may receive revenue. Thank you for your support!