It’s not often that Strictly Weddings stumbles upon a wedding that takes our breath away quite like the Bora Bora destination wedding we share today. The photographs, captured by the inimitable Helene Havard, transport us to a world of rare and exotic beauty; a secluded island wedding that will have you dreaming for days upon days.
The beauty of these perfectly pristine polynesian beaches, however, is but one of the many special surprises this wedding story holds. Prepare yourself to fall in-love with Irina (bride) and Raivis (groom) whose free spirit and gaiety of heart read so sweetly in their words. Also, get ready to gaze upon one of the most original and fairytale-esque wedding gowns (designed by the bride!) that we’ve ever seen.
Completely blown away by their wedding photos, we reached out to Irina and Raivis and asked if they’d share their love story with us and how they chose Bora Bora for their incredibly intimate island wedding. We’re certain their heartfelt responses will have you smiling (like us) the whole way through.
How did the two of you meet?
In late 2001, Irina worked as a program consultant in an international recruitment agency in Riga, Latvia. Raivis was studying geography and was dreaming about adventures in Alaska. One fine snowy December day, Raivis came to the agency with two of his friends to apply for the “Camp America” program.
Raivis: “At first glance, Irina seemed to me like the girl who lived in a mansion with a butler and spent long winter evenings reading smart books near the fireplace.”
Irina: “Raivis seemed like he was from another planet. I had never met this kind of guy before – he was so open, friendly, smart and funny. We spoke for only 10 minutes but he left a strong impression. I would continue to think of him for days.”
Raivis: “At the time, to complete enrollment in the program, we had to wait several months and additional tests had to be passed to be approved by the US Consulate for a visa application. So I always found a reason to come to the agency to see Irina.”
Irina: “December turned into May, and by that time I ended my previous relationship. Raivis and I started to spend more time together as friends. But given that he was leaving for the US soon, I was not thinking of a serious relationship. Raivis tried to convince me to join him for his US adventure, but I had studies to finish. Raivis asked me to wait for him. We exchanged letters (real ones! I still have all of them) while he was in the US, every week. He was supposed to go for 4 years, but was back after 4 months.”
How did Raivis propose?
Raivis: “We always had our special anniversary date – the 16th. So, I decided to propose on the 16th of our 115 month anniversary and one day before our upcoming trip to Mexico and Cuba. At the time, we worked in Arctic Canada where polar bears are not rare guests, so I borrowed a polar bear costume. (It was -30 degrees outside and quite warm and cozy in this costume!) My boss was honored to drive me to Irina’s office. When I arrived wearing the bear costume, everyone in the office was speechless. Suddenly it became so quiet. When I approached Irina and started to speak, she didn’t even recognize my voice. When I took off my mask, got down on my knee holding an engagement ring and popped the question, she quietly said “yes!”. She barely could say a word and was hiding her face (in the polar bear’s chest) from her colleagues who were applauding and congratulating us. When I took her home and treated her to champagne, finally she was able to smile. The next morning we flew to Mexico to celebrate our engagement.”
Irina: “At the moment when the Polar Bear stepped into my office, I was thinking that it was a kind of pre-Christmas activity that our company had prepared for the staff, so I was quickly trying to remember some poem or song I could perform in order to get a present from Santa. It turned out I got marriage proposal instead. When I think back, what I loved about it the most was that it was absolutely unexpected! That evening my husband-to be promised that he would take me to Bora Bora!”
What inspired you both to select Bora Bora for your destination wedding?
Irina: “Since childhood, my vision of the perfect wedding was clear to me: a great ball in a baroque style palace with 200+ people for the wedding ceremony and reception and the most exotic island in the world for a honeymoon escape. A long time ago, I saw a French Polynesia tourism promo video. The journalist shared about its pearl – Bora Bora island. I decided one day I will visit it for a very special occasion. Maybe my honeymoon.”
Raivis: “I always wanted to get married on an exotic beach with relaxed atmosphere – standing on the white sand and blue lagoon water in the background. Taking into consideration our travel-oriented life style and jobs, where we are only in our home country a few months a year, we realized that it would be really challenging to set the wedding date, to organize and to notify guests in advance. Also we had to consider that we have to be able to manage this important event’s logistics from any possible place on earth. So we decided that an elopement wedding was an option. As we are travel-spoiled and have been to a lot of beautiful places, we didn’t consider the Carribean or even the Maldives for our destination wedding. We wanted to find an island that could still surprise us by its beauty; it had to be paradise on Earth. Bora Bora had it all – what could be better than to exchange vows in a small Polynesian chapel and enjoy your honeymoon right away after the wedding – this is everything you can dream about!”
Irina, you mentioned you created your wedding dress? Did you sketch it and work with a dressmaker or actually MAKE the dress yourself?
Irina: “I believe that the wedding starts with the dress (after the fiancé, of course). After Raivis proposed I started to look for a dress. In my travels to different countries, I probably saw around 2000 dresses and tried on about 200 of them – and none were even close to perfect. I wanted my dress to be a show-stopper. After months of unsuccessful searching I almost gave up, until one day I realized that a long time ago in some magazine I had seen THE DRESS. I remember my thoughts back then very well: “That this is the most beautiful, unusual, breathtaking, speechless dress I had ever seen – this is perfection!” Of course I didn’t remember which magazine it was and I didn’t have a clue even where to look for it, but I had a very good memory of the details. So, I drew a sketch of the dress with every detail I could remember. I got inspired by Venetian carnivals and history-type movies with costumes of late renaissance and the époque of Catherine the Great’s reign. Also, I decided that the color of the dress has to be very special, but still bridal – not diamond-white, not ivory or champagne. Thinking about French Polynesia as our wedding destination, I thought of Tahiti (the biggest island in French Polynesia) which is famous for its pearls. Finally, the missing piece of the puzzle was found and I saw the whole picture – the color of my dress should be pearl grey! I found a seamstress in California who agreed to implement my crazy idea. The dress was delivered to Latvia and needed to be adjusted as I lost weight. Also, the dress required hand-beading and embroidery so I found a beading master. Considering, all that was entailed, I can tell you that my wedding dress is a true masterpiece created by a team of skilled artisans. Each made their priceless contribution and I’m so endlessly grateful.
For me, as an image designer, it was important to match our wedding outfits with both the venue entourage and location of the wedding. It was a challenge to fit a richly decorated baroque/rococo epoque gown – associated with royalty, glamour, splendor and theatricality – into an exotic, lush, relaxed and picturesque island in the middle of Pacific Ocean (which would perfectly match with Polynesian style quilts, shells and flower leys). A barefoot beach wedding wasn’t an option for the dress, so we decided we needed a chapel and a priest. Luckily, the Four Seasons has a very beautiful small chapel, which could be decorated with flower petals.”
What was the most special part of your wedding day? What other details will remain treasured memories?
Raivis: “Our entire Big Day was like a celebration of joy made only for the two of us. We felt absolutely no stress on our wedding day! At all! Can you imagine that? After very intense, long-distance planning, wedding outfit logistics, the time difference and 5 flights one-way to reach Bora Bora, we felt like we got to heaven. Waking up in your overwater luxury bungalow suite and dipping into the lagoon clear blue water straight from bed, delicious food even for the pickiest ones; every single thing you can imagine was exceptional! People around us were smiling all the time – staff, other guests and I noticed that I couldn’t stop smiling myself! As all wedding issues were solved and everything was confirmed with our wedding planner Aurelie beforehand, there was nothing to be worried about. Our only concern was the weather on our wedding day. But like a true magician, Aurelie took care even of the weather on our Big Day as she promised! When I woke up in the morning and saw a clear blue sky I knew that everything was going to be perfect!”
Irina: “The entire wedding ceremony was fun for both of us! We even enjoyed the photo shoot, which can be stressful for newlyweds. When we got changed into our after-ceremony outfits, we took photos balancing on the stand-up paddle boards while still wearing my cathedral long veil. The most acrobatic trick was when we had to balance on the boards kissing each other, holding hands and holding oars in another hand. It was so funny; I felt like a real Cirque du Soleil performer!”
Raivis: “Also we have a funny story with the balloons. We had the idea of color balloons filled with helium for a photo shoot, which at first might seemed to us like very ordinary equipment. But for those who know what it means to live on an exotic island, they’re well aware that you can’t get certain things that are easy to access in a big city. Even helium gas for the balloons! Nobody had done it before us in Bora Bora. Our wedding planner Aurelia turned all of French Polynesia upside down but she managed to find several liters of helium gas to fill the balloons. We had to promise her we won’t let them fly away as they could be a threat for the inter-island aviation. We kept our promise.”
We hope you’re as enchanted as we are with the lovely, Irina and Raivis and their exceptionally stunning Bora Bora destination wedding. To our brides-to-be and honeymooners who are now dreaming of a Polynesian island wedding or exotic get-away, we encourage you to consider Helene Harvard for your photographic needs. As you have seen, she creates magic.