Imani Kai and Austin Dean’s romance started with a friend request on Facebook. “We met through our mutual friend Shane in 2012 when we were both in college,” Imani, who is now a global PR associate for Tiffany & Co as well as the founder of a jewelry brand called Goude, recalls her first meeting with her photojournalist husband. “I didn’t think much about it when he sent me the friend request, but we exchanged messages and decided to get together the next day.” He was attending Bowie State University and she was at home in Bowie, Maryland for summer vacation. “He pulled up to my house in his 1997 Honda Accord, and I’ll never forget coming out of my garage and seeing him sitting in the trunk of his car in cut-off shorts, mismatched socks and distressed Vans,” says Imani. “I immediately thought, ‘Wow, he’s so cool.'”
At the end of the summer, it seemed that their courtship had also taken place. Imani returned to school in upstate Maryland. The two remained friends but didn’t talk much. “Then one day he called me and we talked for about three hours,” Imani says. “We spoke every day after that and made it official when I came home for vacation.” After graduation, they began to navigate the world of adulthood through their twenties in a long-distance relationship. “We never lived in the same city,” Imani says. “We always had to travel at least two hours to see each other.”
After almost six years together, the distance really started to take its toll. They broke up and didn’t speak or see each other for almost a year. Then, in 2019, Imani moved to New York to work at a fashion brand. Austin reached out and found she had moved to town. “He came to visit us for a weekend and we had a lot of talks, mostly about how we still loved each other and how we could still imagine our life together,” she recalled. “About a month later he told me he was moving to New York, and we did it all over again, but this time as mature, independent adults and not as students. Sometimes it’s good to give things a second chance!
They got engaged in March 2021. “I feel like I always knew Imani was ‘the one,'” Austin says. “There were hellish moments where I stopped and looked at her like, ‘Yes, I’m going to end up marrying this girl.'” He worked with Majee, a bespoke jewelry designer based in New York, to create the perfect ring. . “Imani and I had planned a trip to Miami, and I decided it was the perfect time to propose,” Austin said. “Trying to plan from another state was a lot, so I had an epiphany: ‘Why not propose on the plane?’ That way, the two could treat their trip to Miami like a party as soon as they landed.
“I had the ring in my pocket the whole time we were at the airport, and I was so nervous she would see it,” Austin admits. “I glanced at the flight attendant, and she gave me a thumbs up. The captain made an announcement, then I pulled Imani down the aisle, asked the question and presented the ring to her 30,000 feet in the air. She said yes and the whole plane went wild with applause. We have a picture with the captain and the crew. Imani was speechless. She didn’t literally didn’t say a word until we got to the hotel room, and I turned around and she was on the floor bawling. That’s when I knew I really cut her ass off. breath. I was so happy to be able to give him this special moment. I will cherish flight 1249 forever.
The wedding was scheduled for April 1, 2022 at the VisArts Gallery in the couple’s home state of Maryland. “We wanted to have the wedding in Maryland because that’s where we’re both from and that’s where our relationship started,” Imani explains. “We looked for a place that spoke to our love of art and culture. VisArts was our first and only venue visit, and we liked it because it was neither super big nor super simple. I wanted a very minimalist decor and because of all the amazing art exhibits, it didn’t take much to make the place look like anything.
They tried not to think too much about anything. “We just went with what felt right to us,” says Imani. “We opted for a modern and minimalist theme incorporating only two colors: black and white. We planned all the details ourselves and took care to make sure our families felt involved in the process as well. On the day of the wedding, planner Margie Bennett stepped in to handle production.
All the decor was white, including the flowers, lighting, and table settings. The centerpieces were large orchid flower arrangements designed by mother of the bride, Sylvia Cannon-Treadwell. “My mother has been designing flower arrangements since I was a child, both as a hobby and as a business,” says Imani. “So it was really special to have her as a florist.”
For the wardrobe, the bride wanted to wear something non-traditional. “A friend of mine, the amazing costume designer Dorothy Driggers, called me about a month after my engagement and offered to create a custom wedding dress for me,” Imani explains. “All I had to do was buy the materials. I thought, ‘How lucky am I that an incredibly talented designer wants to create something for me?!’ I knew it would be special.
The two drew inspiration from the haute couture runways of the 90s and early 2000s to create a modern cape-style dress with dramatic high shoulders and a plunging neckline. “Dorothy is incredibly knowledgeable and knows every step of making a bespoke garment,” says Imani. “She was sure to incorporate all the intricate details I asked for. Originally, I wanted the dress to be simple and clean, with no frills, but once we started the process, I thought to myself that “It had to be done! Let’s bring the drama! So we added custom crystal appliqués to the shoulders. Dorothy also hand placed Swarovski crystals to the back of the cape.
Completing the dress took six months of fittings, with Imani traveling to DC over the weekend to meet Dorothy at her studio. “Each time I came back and saw the dress in a different stage, I got more and more excited,” she says. “On my last fitting the day before the wedding, I danced in it. I twirled around. I remember jokingly thinking to myself, ‘If everything else goes crazy, at least I’ll look gorgeous!’
The bride’s hairstyle and makeup were inspired by Josephine Baker. “I imagined my head covered in crystals, so I opted for a custom crystal headpiece from SuReina Bridal that framed my face,” Imani says. “It was the perfect touch to complete my look and it was just dramatic enough to intrigue you and complement my dress.”
On the day of the wedding, the walls of the venue were lined with portraits of the couple with captions depicting the timeline of their nearly 10 years together. The ceremony began with Imani and Austin’s parents entering and honoring their departed loved ones with a lit memorial candle. Then each member of the wedding party walked down the aisle individually. “To be honest, it was a bit like a fashion show,” jokes Imani. “I wanted Austin to have his own special moment, so after his groomsmen, he walked down the aisle to Kanye West’s ‘No Child Left Behind,’ and everyone cheered him on.”
Imani’s father escorted the bride down the aisle as Stevie Wonder’s “As” played in the background. “I was trying so hard not to cry,” Imani recalled. “The ceremony was my favorite part of the night and it was truly like a breath of fresh air, you could feel the love in the room…from Austin, but also from our friends and family. I saw several people wiping away tears, and I realized how lucky we are to have support. All the butterflies I had were quickly gone once I saw Austin at the end of this We concluded the ceremony by carrying on the tradition of our families to jump the broom!”
After the service, the newlyweds had a short photoshoot with their photographer Jay Collier while their guests enjoyed signature cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Once everyone was seated, the couple made a grand entrance which followed a first dance to “You’re All I Need To Get By” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. “We practiced the dance for months so that when it came time to get married, we would know it like the back of our hand, even if the nerves – or the alcohol – kicked in,” says Imani. “Then we literally danced the night away! The best compliment we received was that the whole night was 100% us… our guests really entered our world for the evening and you could tell everyone loved it.