Bowie State University graduate Austin Dean wed his longtime love Imani Kai in a unique art gallery wedding for the ages. Her hair and makeup, for example, were inspired by the legendary Josephine Baker! Learn more about their beautiful story in the Vogue article by Alexandra Macon below.
Imani Kai and Austin Dean’s romance began with a Facebook friend request. “We met through our mutual friend Shane back 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, remembers of her first encounter with her photojournalist husband. “I didn’t think much of it when he sent me the friend request, but we messaged back and forth and decided to get together the following day.” He was attending Bowie State University and she was home in Bowie, Maryland, for summer break. “He pulled up to my house in his 1997 Honda Accord, and I’ll never forget walking out of my garage and seeing him sitting on the trunk of his car in cut off shorts, mismatched socks, and distressed Vans,” Imani says. “I instantly thought, ‘Wow, he’s so cool.’”
When the summer came to an end, it seemed as though their courtship had as well. 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 like three hours,” Imani says. “We spoke every day after that and made it official when I came home for holiday break.” Once they graduated, they began navigating the world of adulthood as 20-somethings in a long distance relationship. “We never lived in the same city,” Imani says. “We were always having 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 take a job at a fashion brand. Austin reached out and discovered she’d moved to the city. “He came up to visit for a weekend, and we had a lot of talks, mainly about how we still loved each other and how we could still envision our life together,” she recalls. “About a month later, he told me he was moving to New York, and we started all over again, but this time as mature, independent adults and not college kids. Sometimes it’s good to give things a second chance!”
They got engaged in March of 2021. “I feel like I always knew Imani was ‘the one,’” Austin says. “There were hella times when I just stopped and looked at her like ‘Yea, I’m going to end up marrying this girl.’” He worked with Majee, a New York City-based custom jewelry designer, to create the perfect ring. “Imani and I had a trip planned to Miami, and I decided that was the perfect moment to actually propose,” Austin says. “Trying to plan from another state was a lot though, so I had an epiphany: ‘Why not propose on the plane?’” This way the two could treat their trip to Miami as a celebration as soon as they touched down.
“I had the ring in my pocket the whole time we were at the airport, and was so nervous she would see it,” Austin admits. “I gave the stewardess a look, and she gave me the thumbs up. The captain made an announcement, and then I pulled Imani into the aisle, popped the question, and presented her with the ring at 30,000 feet in the air. She said yes and the whole plane went crazy with applause. We got a picture with the captain and crew. Imani was speechless. She literally didn’t say two words until we got to the hotel room, and I turned around and she was on the floor bawling. That’s when I knew I had really taken her breath away. I was just so happy I could give her that special moment. I’ll cherish flight 1249 forever.”
The wedding was planned 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 it’s where we’re both from, and it’s where our relationship began,” Imani says. “We searched for a venue that spoke to our love of art and culture. VisArts was our first and only venue visit, and we liked it because it wasn’t super grand, nor super plain. I wanted very minimalist decor and because of all the amazing art exhibits, it didn’t take much to make the venue look like something.”
They tried not to overthink anything. “We just went with what felt right to us,” Imani explains. “We went for a modern, minimalist theme incorporating only two colors: black and white. We planned all of the details ourselves, and we were thoughtful about making 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 of the decor was white, including the florals, the lighting, and table settings. Centerpieces were large orchid floral arrangements designed by the bride’s mother, Sylvia Cannon-Treadwell. “My mom has been designing floral arrangements since I was a child both as a hobby and as a business endeavor,” Imani says. “So it was really special to have her as our florist.”
For wardrobe, the bride wanted to wear something non-traditional. “A friend of mine—the incredible costume designer, Dorothy Driggers—called me a month or so after I got engaged and offered to create a custom wedding gown for me,” Imani says. “All I had to do was buy the materials. I thought, ‘How lucky am I that an amazingly talented designer wants to create something for me?!’ I knew it would be special.”
The two took inspiration from haute couture runways of the ’90s and early ’00s to create a modern cape-style gown with dramatic high shoulders and a plunging neckline. “Dorothy is incredibly skilled and knowledgeable about every part of building a bespoke garment,” Imani explains. “She was sure to incorporate every intricate detail I asked for. Originally, I wanted the dress to be simple and clean, with no embellishments—but once we started the process, I figured let’s just go all out! Let’s bring the drama! So, we added custom crystal appliqués to the shoulders.” Dorothy also hand-placed Swarovski crystals down the back of the cape.
Completion of the dress took six months of fittings, with Imani traveling to DC on weekends to meet Dorothy at her studio. “Each time I came back and saw the dress at a different stage I would get more and more excited,” she says. “At my final fitting the night before the wedding, I danced in it. I twirled. I remember jokingly thinking to myself, ‘If everything else goes crazy at least I will look amazing!’”
The bride’s hair and makeup was inspired by Jospehine Baker. “I envisioned my head covered in crystals, so I went with a custom crystal headpiece from SuReina Bridal that framed my face,” Imani says. “It was the perfect touch to complete my look and was just dramatic enough to intrigue you and complement my dress.”
On the day of the wedding, the venue’s walls were lined with portraits of the couple featuring captions that illustrated the timeline of their nearly 10 years together. The ceremony began with Imani and Austin’s parents entering and honoring their lost relatives with a memorial candle lighting. Then each member of the wedding party walked down the aisle individually. “To be honest, it was kind of like a fashion show,” Imani jokes. “I wanted Austin to have his own special moment, so following 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 while Stevie Wonder’s “As” played in the background. “I was just trying so hard not to cry,” Imani remembers. “The ceremony was my favorite part of the night and truly felt 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 multiple people wiping away tears, and it dawned on me just the amount of support we are so blessed to have. All the butterflies that I had quickly went away once I saw Austin at the end of that aisle. We concluded the ceremony by carrying on our families’ tradition of jumping the broom!”
After the service, the newlyweds did a quick photo session with their photographer Jay Collier while their guests enjoyed signature cocktails and hor d’oeuvres. Once everyone was seated, the couple made a grand entrance that segued into a first dance to Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “You’re All I Need To Get By.” “We practiced the dance for months so that by the time the wedding came we would know it like the back of our hand even if nerves—or alcohol—kicked in,” Imani says. “Then, we literally danced all night! The best compliment we received was that the entire night was 100% us…our guests really came into our world for the evening and you could tell everyone loved it.”
- Photo: Jay Collier
I was really inspired by Josephine Baker for my hair. Maurice Benjamin incorporated swirls and waves to achieve a super feminine clean look that paired well with my headpiece.