Entrepreneur Gwendolyn R. von Rahn and financier Ron Ongaro Jr. are New Yorkers through and through. And as such, hers is a “quintessential New York love story,” says Gwendolyn. They met at an East Village bar in 2014, where they both planned to drop by a mutual friend’s happy hour just for a drink. “But it turned into a classic NYC night of pubs, cheap beers and crif dogs all night in St. Marks Place,” recalls Gwendolyn, founder of custom hat company Heads of State. “I was drawn to Ron’s laugh and his friendliness – not to mention how handsome he looked in a suit, with his perfectly coiffed blonde hair and cute glasses.” Ron adds, “Gwen’s personality filled the room. You couldn’t miss her from a mile away.”
The couple started dating and moved into a condo in Brooklyn, where they eventually got engaged — a special moment just for the two of them. After Gwendolyn said yes and they enjoyed a romantic dinner at the Gramercy Tavern — another iconic New York spot — they made their way to the Arlo SoHo Hotel for a final champagne toast. “When I arrived, both of our families and 30 of our closest friends were waiting for us,” Gwendolyn recalls. “Ron had secretly flown in my family and friends from Atlanta, Florida and California for a weekend celebration. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.”
This was in the middle of the pandemic, so the duo first said “I do” at a micro-wedding in Montauk, a popular COVID escape for New Yorkers. Finally, after two cancellations, they got their dream destination wedding. And instead of just having friends and family over for a day, Gwendolyn and Ron made it a whole week and partied all over the Amalfi Coast. “We both knew we didn’t want a big traditional wedding, and since we’re both so passionate about travel, we wanted to do something more intimate abroad,” says Gwendolyn. “When we combined our love of the beach with Ron’s Italian family roots, the Amalfi Coast was the perfect choice.”
40 guests traveled to the five-day celebration, which began with a hen party in Positano. Next, there was a food and wine tour in Sorrento at Agriturismo Fattoria Terranova, followed by a sunset cruise to Ravello, a town “hanging in the clouds at the top of the mountain above the Italian coast,” says Gwendolyn. There was also a welcome party at Scala, the wedding anniversary of course, and a relaxing day at the beach.
To bring it all together, “it was important for us to work with local suppliers across the board, from florists to photographers and hair and makeup to musicians,” says Gwendolyn. “We didn’t feel the need to outsource suppliers as there was so much beautiful, soulful talent in the Amalfi Coast and surrounding areas. It would have felt like we were sacrificing local character.”
They worked with Italian planner Laura Frappa from the start. “She was patient with us through two and a half years of planning, two postponed weddings and the uncertainty of COVID as we decided to ‘just get going’ during our wedding week in September 2021,” says Gwendolyn. “She was a miracle worker and has a brilliant eye for design.”
It all paid off in the end: their wedding even went viral on TikTok with more than 8 million views on the bride’s posts. Read on to see all the incredible, intimate details as planned by Laura Frappa at Exclusive Italy Weddings and photographed by Gianna di Natale Photographers.
Italy has become a top wedding destination, but Gwendolyn and Ron wanted to make sure theirs was “a big departure from your stereotypical lemons and greens,” she says. Instead, they opted for an “autumnal Victorian romance” aesthetic with a palette of soft fall colors. “Our vision for the wedding week and especially the wedding day was not to overdo it and play with the natural elements of the Amalfi Coast,” says Gwendolyn. “We didn’t want to shy away from color either. After postponing our wedding to September, we knew we wanted to ditch white and green and opt for autumnal elegance that perfectly complements Villa Cimbrone’s history and Gothic architecture. It was absolutely romantic.”
For her welcome party at Trattoria da Lorenzo in Scala, Italy, Gwendolyn wore a tailored vintage lace dress by Christian Dior. “We danced the night away with a five-piece Neapolitan band and were surrounded by candlelight as friends and family toasted with good wishes,” Gwendolyn recalls.
I’ve tried on hundreds of dresses and nothing seemed to make sense until I found Galia Lahav.
“I tried on hundreds of dresses and nothing seemed to make sense or fit me right until I found Galia Lahav,” says Gwendolyn. “It just has something to do with how she knows how to flatter a woman’s body.” She found the heavenly dress of her dreams and then worked with the designer on bespoke cape sleeves to add them.
For beauty, Gwendolyn envisioned something “classic, timeless and sexy,” she says. “So I went for an old Hollywood glam look and my signature bright red lip.”
Ron wore a navy blue tuxedo by Enzo Custom – but it was his shoes that stole the show. “Del Toro made a custom pair of black velvet loafers for Ron, each featuring an American flag and an Italian flag on both shoes,” Gwendolyn describes. “Del Toro made them right in their studio in Naples, Italy and shipped them straight to our venue. The shoes were a huge hit.”
For the guests, the experience began on the wedding day before they even arrived at the venue. “Villa Cimbrone is only accessible on foot – you cannot reach it by car – so our guests met in the Ravello piazza, the town square, for welcome Aperol Spritz cocktails and were accompanied by a Neapolitan band when they went up to the gardens of the Villa Cimbrone,” shares Gwendolyn. “Our ceremony took place in the picturesque garden called The Tea Room, set against a backdrop of a magnificent Gothic column structure and the sun peeking out from hundreds of trees.” Hand-painted fans awaited each guest seat, along with flower petals in linen pouches bearing the wedding crest were locked.
“We had a live string quartet for the ceremony, and my dad walked me down the aisle to an instrumental rendition of Coldplay’s ‘Yellow,'” says Gwendolyn. One of the couple’s best friends acted as the officiant.
We wrote our own vows and shared them privately on the morning of our wedding in a sweet, intimate moment on the balcony of Villa Cimbrone.” “We were able to get the ugly crying out of the way and actually make it through our vows once the ceremony rolled around. I will forever cherish this private moment and it is some of the best advice I can give to couples.”
Gwendolyn’s other best advice? “Throw the wedding rule book out the window,” she says. “There’s nothing that says you have to plan your day a certain way. Make it your own and try to keep third-party opinions to a minimum. At the end of the day, the people you really care about will be there with the bells on.” Planning her destination wedding, she adds, “We really celebrated our love and marriage in a way that which was authentic for us.”
The string quartet continued during a romantic cocktail hour overlooking the mountains of the Amalfi Coast. Guests sipped limoncello spritzes and espresso martinis.
Our reception decor was something out of a fairy tale.
“Our reception decor was straight out of a fairy tale,” says Gwendolyn. The room – the crypt of Villa Cimbrone – was decorated with autumnal flowers in a palette of rust, yellow, gold and dark coral. Flower Addicted created a hanging installation above the long table of dried leaves and fresh flowers.
“We wanted to support local artists in any way we could, especially given the respect for ceramics in the area,” shares the bride. “We worked with a local artist who hand-blocked our custom tablecloths and hand-painted our dinnerware, and even had another artist paint our initials on ceramic limoncello bottles and shot glasses for our guests to take home.” The finishing touch? A custom tambourine hand painted by Shhh My Darling with each guest’s portrait in their place. “I’m still in awe of the creativity that all the vendors have brought to the table.”
Dinner was an authentic menu featuring local seafood and fresh, homemade pasta. “As a present for our parents, we surprised our guests at dinner with an Italian opera singer,” the bride recalls. “We will never forget the look on our guests’ faces when the tenor began to sing.”
The duo danced to The Lumineers’ “Flowers in Your Hair.” “When Ron and I first started dating, we would often play this song on my record player in the early hours of the morning and dance around my tiny East Village apartment,” says Gwendolyn. “It’s a special song for us, so choosing it as our first dance song was a no-brainer.”
They chose a classic Italian millefoglie as their wedding cake. “We never thought of making our cake-cutting moment a focal point, but when we walked over to cut the millefoglie, our DJ played Dean Martin’s ‘That’s Amore’ and the entire wedding erupted in song and dance,” he says Gwendolyn. “It was a moment I will remember forever.”
Then the party started. We danced the night away to a DJ who rocked the house,” says Gwendolyn. But their perfect wedding week didn’t end there. The next day, they chartered a boat to take their 40 guests from Amalfi to Praiano, where they hosted a recovery day beach party at Il Pirata. “We had our own Aperol Spritz bar set up when guests arrived and they were enjoying lunch after jumping off the cliffs into the Mediterranean,” says the bride.
After their five-day celebration, they brought 20 of their closest friends to Capri for a three-day “buddymoon” — filled with private chef dinners and yacht dinners — before finally escaping to the island of Ischia for their honeymoon.