Winter Circus Wedding at the Ringling Museum of Art in Florida

Gia and Navid
Photographed by: Maring Lifestyle PhotographyLocation: Sarasota, Florida, United States

The very first time Navid Ghoreishi met Gia Ventola, he swore to his friend, “I’m going to marry her.” After a second meeting, Gia felt destined to be with him, too, and they soon became inseparable moving from Los Angeles to Boston to be closer to Gia’s family. Navid soon asked Gia for her hand in marriage on Christmas Eve, marking the beginning of a new life together on a new coast. As a fashion designer (and meticulous planner by nature), Gia’s stylish eye and attention to detail fueled her and Navid’s planning process. They wanted every element of the celebration, from location to entertainment, to “wow” their 142 guests in a way rarely experienced at weddings. Some of the bride’s and groom’s friends flew from as far as China to celebrate with them, and Gia and Navid strove to give them an unforgettable weekend.

Gia’s vision for the wedding was an out-of-this-world environment that merged vintage charm with modern sensibility. The location had to be grand, and the couple spent a long time searching for the perfect spot before discovering the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art. The compound includes an art museum, the Ringling’s waterfront mansion and a building occupied by historical paraphernalia from The Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus. With beautiful outdoor areas, Venetian Gothic architecture and a theme in the spirit of the couple’s wild vision, the museum seemed to Gia and Navid the only place special enough to host such a remarkable affair. For as it turned out, the wedding became much more than the celebration of Gia and Navid’s union; It was also the reunion of Navid with his mother and brother after a decade of living apart. Navid fled Iran as a young man in search of a new life in the United States, and to have his family witness him fulfill part of his dream was an experience deserving of a grand commemoration.

There were obstacles to overcome, however, in order for the wedding to take place. After several pipes burst, Gia and Navid’s house sustained significant flood damage, and the repair process took up much of their time and energy. And just days before the event, a mix-up with the décor elements forced Gia to completely re-vamp her design. She was determined to be very hands-on; despite the time crunch, she really believes her best ideas surfaced in those last-minute alterations. It also left her and Navid more confident than ever in their relationship. “People ask me, ‘Is married life hard?’ and I say, ‘Oh, this is easy. It was the before part that was a challenge!’” jokes Gia.

Six layers of nude-colored linens, beaded and embroidered in silver and gold, asymmetrically topped each reception table and were embellished with strands of pearls, crystals and candles. Mirrored paillettes, balls and Venetian glass boxes were also added to fulfill the tradition of Navid’s Persian culture that the groom should see the reflection of his wife-to-be as a symbol of a bright future. In addition, a trio of slender vases filled with white orchids and “icy” branches rounded out the look of each table—like a wintry take on unearthed treasure. After the dramatic ceremony in the covered rotunda of the museum, guests were led to the Ringling’s former home, Cà d’Zan, for cocktails and appetizers. There began the incredible–and fitting–entertainment: a troupe of Cirque du Soleil-type performers walking on stilts, hanging from high wires and ropes, juggling and twirling ribbons. Opera singers, looking very at-home within the location’s Italian architecture (and symbolizing Gia’s Italian-American background) also serenaded the group. The acrobatic show continued throughout dinner, with a different breathtaking performance for each break in the impressive seven-course dinner served in the museum’s courtyard.

Like the rest of the affair, Gia had very a very specific vision of her wedding cake. Instead of having a baker recreate her fantasy, Gia and a talented friend made a clever display-only cake out of Styrofoam, while guests were served from an edible cake kept in the kitchen. This allowed for a precise result in the cake’s appearance without compromising a delicately fresh and delicious dessert. Just a handful of guests were privy to this ingenious trick of the trade.

Her vision realized, Gia feels her wedding truly captured the couple’s strong love and deep appreciation for their friends and family. She credits the event’s success with her inability to compromise on the important details (as well as Navid’s blessing to take the creative reins and her parents, Jack and Diane Ventola’s, unconditional support). Reminiscent of Shakespeare’s verse, “This above all: to thine own self be true,” Gia believes every bride should remain loyal to herself, even when things become complicated during the planning process. Describing herself as energetic, passionate and a fan of dramatic style, Gia therefore regards a comment heard from many a dear friend on the wedding day as the ultimate compliment: “This is so Gia!”

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