Makeda Saggau-Sackey’s Wedding Festivities Brought Ghanaian Traditions to a Chateau in France
“I’ve never been shy about making the first move,” says Makeda Saggau-Sackey, the founder of the lifestyle blog Glamazon Diaries. “After a long afternoon of shopping on Fifth Avenue, I decided to treat myself to a gin martini at the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis,” she remembers. That’s when she saw Thomas Rabioux, a senior manager at Louis Vuitton, sitting at the end of the bar having what looked like a martini all by himself. “I must have felt incredibly lucky that day because I shot my shot and asked the bartender to send over another round to him from me,” Makeda recalls. “It was the best $26 I’ve ever spent. He walked over to me with his martini, and we chatted the rest of the early evening.” They went on their official first date—a Sunday martini date night—three days later and have been inseparable ever since.
The two talked about getting married in 2020, but that didn’t come to fruition because Makeda’s father sadly passed away in June of 2019. “We knew the timing wasn’t right,” she says. “Was I frustrated at not being engaged? Of course! But I am also a firm believer in god having the right plans for me, so I bided my time and practiced patience.”
Then the pandemic happened and all of their plans went down the drain. “Thomas had ordered my custom ring back in March—which I didn’t know about—but then things shut down, so there was no ring in sight until mid-July. He later told me about the whole drama with the ring, which was ultimately delivered an hour before we were to set leave for a family visit in Virginia.”
The couple arrived in Virginia just before sunset. Later that evening, Makeda’s brother asked her to come outside. Makeda’s mom and two little brothers were standing on the balcony holding their phones while “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” by Frank Sinatra played in the background. “I was still clueless at this point because my mom was on FaceTime with my uncle, and my brother was on his phone with my cousin Kwamena,” Makeda remembers. Her brother asked her to look down in the backyard. “Standing there was Thomas and my other niece Kaira holding up signs that spelled out ‘Will you marry me?’”
Thomas’s entire family lives in France and most of Makeda’s is in Ghana and Europe, so after the engagement, the two decided to have a destination wedding in his hometown of Poitiers, France.
They decided to hold their wedding on September 4, 2021. It was Labor Day weekend in the United States, meaning the Americans invited could take off work and attend and Europeans would be returning home from summer vacations. “We decided to host our American friends for 10 days in France since most of them had not taken a vacation since 2020,” Makeda says. “We had to reduce our guest count because of the pandemic and only allowed vaccinated friends and family to attend the wedding. These were some of the toughest conversations we had to have, but it was necessary to protect our parents and older family members as well as the children attending who were not eligible for a vaccine. Sadly, most of my family members that reside in Ghana could not attend because France was not allowing Ghanaian citizens to travel to France.”
The wedding festivities kicked off with four nights in Paris. Everyone stayed at the Hotel Splendide Étoile and the group embarked on experiences that included a trip to the newly opened Samaritaine for shopping and champagne, a sunset boat cruise, nightly private happy hours at the hotel bar, dinners at Loulou Paris, Girafe Paris, and Bambini, and a bridal brunch at Flora Danica on the Champs-Élysées.
Then a bus transported guests from Paris to Poitiers for a week in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of France. “We wanted to give our guests a taste of Southwestern France with private chartered tours of Cognac, where they could choose between an afternoon spent at Maison Hennessy followed by a cognac tasting, or Remy Martin,” Makeda says. “We skipped Bordeaux and instead took guests to Saint-Émilion for an afternoon of wine, bike rides, and a gorgeous picnic at Château Soutard.”
Makeda and Thomas had originally discussed planning the wedding themselves, but since they couldn’t travel to France for venue and vendor visits, they decided to alleviate that stress and hire Madame Wedding Design. “This was especially helpful since France still required residents to have the Attestation de déplacement dérogatoire form in order to venture out,” Makeda says. “It was extremely important to observe and respect all of our cultures so we made the decision to make sure all communication was in both English and French. This meant two separate invitation suites, menus, wedding websites, and even ceremony scripts. It was also important for us to work with people of color, women, and local vendors to support the events professionals affected by the year long quarantine.” Estelle Bogaert of Madame Wedding Design was up to task and lined up all of the right vendors for them to choose between.
“Thomas and I joked that our wedding was a trust exercise because we were relying so much on his family and friends in France,” Makeda says. “His childhood friend Jean-Charles Auzanneau, who also happens to be the mayor of the town of Vouneuil-sous-Biard, recommended the Château le Clos de la Ribaudière and connected us with the owner and his venue coordinator Monica to facilitate site visits, countless Zoom and FaceTime calls, and emails to ensure we felt comfortable hosting the wedding there.”
“It was very important to me that we kept my Ghanaian traditions as part of our wedding because in my culture, that is the official marriage ceremony,” Makeda explains. “The white wedding, which was on Saturday, was the icing on the cake. We rented another venue, Château de Baillant, to host the Ghanaian Traditional Ceremony. All in all, we had two big weddings, one on Thursday and the other on Saturday.”
Makeda wanted the Ghanaian traditional ceremony and the white wedding to feel completely different but still part of the same story. “From the get-go, I knew I didn’t want the beautifully ornate body-con gowns worn by most West African brides on the wedding day,” she says. “I wanted my Ghanaian dress to still be authentically me, while still keeping with tradition. The first thing we needed to do was commission hand woven Kente cloth to be worn by Thomas and me as well as different Kente designs for the rest of the family. I chose white, purple, and gold as our primary colors for the Kente weaving.”
The bridal party stayed at Château Baillant the night before the ceremony, which allowed Thomas’ groomsmen—all French—to get to know the bridesmaids, who were all Americans. The next day started early: “My mom and aunties arrived at the château and commenced cooking a Ghanaian feast to be served later in the day to our guests,” Makeda says. “My aunt Ekua Jameswa Mensah, who was officiating the Ghanaian ceremony in both French and English, walked us through the entire ceremony so that everyone would feel comfortable in their roles.”
Prior to the ceremony, Makeda’s family gave Thomas a list of items he was required to provide in the form of a dowry in order to have her hand in marriage, and the bride’s friends and aunties helped him put everything in the custom woven Ghanaian baskets to be presented during the ceremony. “According to custom, the families of the bride and groom negotiate and have friendly banter before the couple is introduced,” Makeda explains. “So Thomas and I missed most of the ceremony. My friend Ettie Philitas served as representative for Thomas’ family since he speaks both French and English. He and my Aunt Ekua had the most hilarious banter during the ceremony as they traded stories of why Thomas and I were such a blessing to each other.”
Makeda was perched upstairs inside the castle, secretly watching the ceremony below. For this first portion of the day, she was adorned with gold jewelry with Adinkra symbols and Krobo beads, and then draped in a rich marigold Kente. Thomas wore shorts and was then draped in yards and yards of the same fabric. “Our family seamstress Ewura Akua Sasu Domfeh of E.A.D Clothing Maven in Accra sewed a beautiful white and silver thread Kente knee length dress, which she embellished with crystals,” Makeda says. “I will be wearing this dress again for different occasions.”
For the second look of the day, Makeda wanted a Kente cape as her pièce de résistance so she had Ewura Akua line the inside of white satin fabric with the woven Kente cloth. She then created a matching hat and clutch using the same Kente fabric and sewed a simple sheath gown with a crystal belt to go under the cape. “My aunt Emma dubbed the cape ‘The Almighty’ because it weighs over ten pounds,” Makeda laughs. Her third look of the night was a simple red midi dress made of red and white Kente.
The most intense part of the getting ready process for Makeda was for the traditional ceremony. She wanted a specific head dress called a Tekua, worn on special occasions for generations by the women of the Akan people of Ghana, specifically Fante women. “It resembles an elaborate hair ‘hat’,” she says. “The hair is made to shimmer and is adorned with golden pieces and ornaments. Matching gold jewelry often accompanies the style. The Tekua was worn during important and public occasions such as weddings and funerals. I remember having one made specifically for me as a child during my grandmother Gladys’ coronation in Elmina, Ghana. It’s one of my fondest memories.”
Makeda’s friend and hairstylist Seto McCoy, who has worked with stars like Daniel Kaluuya and Saweetie, stepped up to the task and re-imagined the Tekua hairstyle for her since a Ghanaian artisan wasn’t able to come to France for the occasion. “The result was a regal look that was worth the time spent in the chair,” Makeda says.
“My uncle Thaddeus Ulzen commenced the ceremony with a very powerful and emotional moment of silence for my dad, Ebenezer, who passed away two years ago, and other family members who had passed away,” Makeda remembers. “He then performed the customary pouring of libation for our ancestors with the bourbon Thomas was required to provide.”
After the families arrived, Makeda’s Aunt Ekua called for Thomas, who was then introduced to the crowd. Then came Makeda’s bridesmaids in their custom made blue gowns followed by her akwaaba (welcome) girls. “They then presented Thomas with two decoy brides for him to identify,” Makeda says. “My friends Keren Johnson and Michelle Okeke served as decoys. My bridesmaids, in formation, then came back to get me. We sauntered down the aisle to a choreographed dance, which was such a delight for the crowd. It was my official introduction to Thomas and his family.”
Makeda’s Uncle Thaddeus then asked her three times if the dowry should be accepted. The bride had to respond three times. “After I accepted, Thomas was invited to place the ring on my finger,” she remembers. “Then in accordance with custom, his mom and dad welcomed me into their family by seating me on the chair three times. The fun part was Thomas and I having our first dance as guests showered us with money, which is customary. We ended the ceremony with a prayer and followed with a procession.”
A reception followed the ceremony and featured a barbecue and Ghanaian food. “My mom and aunties cooked traditional Ghanaian foods like waakye (rice & black-eyed beans), shito (spiced pepper sauce), kelewele (fried spicy ripe plantain), and jollof rice—and our friend Chris Sainsbury threw down on the grill and made Texas style barbecue for the French and American guests,” Makeda says.
On Saturday, the bride again had a birds-eye view. “The venue gave me the most amazing suite with a balcony overlooking the pond where we got married, and the entire grounds,” she says. “It was my Lady Diana moment. I watched as our florist Chloe of Les Éphémères and her team put together the floral arch and arranged all the flowers for the ceremony.”
The ceremony itself was short but filled with love. It opened with a prayer by my auntie Rev. Elizabeth Thompson,” Makeda says. “Jean-Charles Auzanneau, the mayor, married us. After reciting our own written vows, it was time to exchange rings, which was done in both French and English.”
Makeda’s main ceremony dress was by Pronovias, with a plunging neckline and delicate lace cutouts in the back and sleeves. “I wanted to feel like a modern day princess and the mikado ball gown with the daintiest lace and silk details on the skirt fit the bill,” she says. “It was my ugly cry moment when I tried it on, especially after I tried on the mantilla veil with it.”
Parisian based makeup artist Maeva John gave Makeda a natural bronzy glow for the morning church service. “I loved it so much that we kept it for the entire day with a few touch ups and a change of gloss for the reception,” she says. Seto created a very sleek low braided bun for a no fuss yet elegant look. For dinner and dancing, Makeda wanted something more dramatic, so he added some kinky curly clip-ins from Heat Free Hair to the bun to create a fabulous disco inspired ponytail.
“We really made sure to take it all in during the ceremony,” Thomas says. “The setting around the pond gave me the opportunity to look everyone in the eye with a big smile. Seeing all of our friends and family who had traveled far and wide to celebrate us was such a special feeling. Then Makeda walked down the path, flanked by her two brothers Kofi and Kweku, who stepped in to give her away. Even though we had a first look, seeing her cloaked in her elegance was a vision to behold. Marrying Makeda was the sweetest moment of my life and an official commitment in front of so many witnesses that we both love.”
After the ceremony, the groom, bridesmaids, and groomsmen mingled with guests while the bride changed her dress to make her grand entrance for dinner. Friends Vincent Coutouly and Michelle Okeke performed a rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” for the couple’s first dance as husband and wife. “The château owner surprised us with a champagne tower during our cake cutting, complete with sparklers and all,” Thomas remembers. Late night, Makeda changed into a fun silver ASOS dress made of hundreds of collar stays to dance the night away. “A few guests told us they stumbled into their rooms around 7:30 a.m. because of late night parties,” Thomas says. “It’s a miracle everyone showed up for the 11 a.m. brunch the next day!”
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