Sarah Kate Sullivan and Juan Uriburu Quintana grew up on different hemispheres, but their lives were, in many ways, mirror images of each other. Sarah Kate was raised in Birmingham, while Juan grew up in Salta, Argentina; similarly rural cities surrounded by natural beauty with similarly conservative values and ways of life. Both Sarah Kate and Juan spent time in their early 20s working in Washington, D.C., Sarah Kate as a press secretary and Juan as an intern for a New York state senator. Their interests in international politics developed into fascinations with and studies of China, which was the ultimate impetus for their crossed paths and resulting international love story.
The happiest bride and groom atop Juan’s hill in Salta. With views this stunning, we can see why Sarah Kate fell in love with Argentina and was so happy to share the country with her loved ones on her wedding day.
Sarah Kate moved to Argentina to earn her Ph.D. in political science at Universidad Torcuato Di Tella. In 2015, while working on her dissertation on Chinese investment in Argentina, she was encouraged to meet with Dr. Uriburu, who works as a Mandarin-speaking attorney on Argentinian infrastructure projects backed by Chinese financing. Their interview lasted more than two hours and continued over dinner, followed by a month of ambiguous dinner meetings that may or may not have been dates. Juan went on a six-week business trip to China and then continued to invite Sarah Kate out after his return to Argentina. By then, she had a good feeling about these dinner meetings. “Within three weeks I was quite sure he was the one,” Sarah Kate says. “I’m sure that sounds so crazy, but that’s how it happened.”
Ten months later, in April 2016, Juan arranged a proposal while Sarah Kate’s parents tuned in via Skype all the way across the world in Mountain Brook. Neither proposals nor engagement rings are Argentinian tradition, but it was important to Juan to honor Sarah Kate’s American customs, so when she returned home from the grocery store one day she found her future groom on the balcony of her apartment, surrounded by flowers and candles with a custom-made engagement ring in hand.
When it came to planning the wedding, Sarah Kate was excited for the opportunity to introduce her family and friends to the country she had fallen in love with, and Juan’s hometown of Salta was the perfect setting for the festivities. Salta is tucked among the rolling hills and verdant valleys of northwest Argentina, and the middle of its sunny summer season is in December, a common month for weddings. They planned the wedding for the week before Christmas, allowing family and friends time to travel to Argentina from around the world — 12 countries represented in total — for Sarah Kate and Juan’s big day.
“The calligraphy was made to imitate the Baroque Spanish-style calligraphy called ‘Dulcinea,’ named after a character in Don Quixote,” Sarah Kate says. “Our calligrapher, Deb Warnat, was able to copy the style by hand on the invitations in a beautiful silver.”
How beautiful are all of these little details? Sarah Kate says that the personalized touches, like the monogrammed stir sticks and matchbooks from Please Reply and custom-made invitations by Mariée Ami absolutely blew their Argentinian guests away!
Lush greenery was an important component of the look of the wedding for Sarah Kate and Juan. The flower girls wore crowns made of olive branches picked from the tree outside of Juan’s childhood home. How dreamy!
Sarah Kate’s engagement ring was custom made, and features emeralds and diamonds from Juan’s mother’s ring in a gold setting, which coordinates perfectly with her mother’s gold wedding band, which she also proudly wears.
A surprise for the bride: Sarah Kate’s mother arranged for the florists to wrap a bit of lace trimmed from her own wedding dress around Sarah Kate’s bridal bouquet. The perfect “something old” to carry for good luck! Her something new was her gown, of course, and Sarah Kate borrowed her cousin’s cathedral-length veil for the ceremony — she was the third bride in the family to wear it! A blue garter completed the tradition.
Sarah Kate and Juan drew inspiration for the aesthetic of the wedding from its location. Sarah Kate says Salta is known for its alpaca silver, so the bride and groom chose soft gray and sparkly silver to perfectly complement the rich greenery representative of the lush hills where Juan was raised. The theme carried over to the attendants’ attire, as the bridesmaids donned floor-length gowns that incorporated soft neutral tones with hints of sparkle as another nod to the silver of Salta, and the groomsmen wore matching morning jackets with silver ties.
The bride and groom looked like the most classic, elegant depiction of a bride and groom — Juan in a family-owned black tailcoat and a gray pinstripe suit, and Sarah Kate was absolutely breathtaking in her Augusta Jones satin ballgown. Though brides in Argentina typically have their dresses custom made, Sarah Kate wanted to have the typical American wedding dress shopping experience and visited Carriage House in Homewood with her mom and best friend while visiting Birmingham. “At my mom’s suggestion, I tried on a very simple satin ballgown,” Sarah Kate says. “I was surprised by how much I loved the simplicity and the ball gown shape.”
The classic satin ballgown with a sweetheart neckline that Sarah Kate chose was nowhere near her original vision for her wedding dress, but it was absolutely the perfect choice for her. “I went in thinking that I wanted a lace dress,” Sarah Kate says. “I wasn’t really sure exactly what I wanted, but I thought that it would be lace. It ended up being a satin ballgown! I really liked the full skirt, I really liked feeling like I was going to a ball.”
An homage to her original vision for her wedding gown, a touch of lace was incorporated into Sarah Kate’s ensemble via the custom-made bolero that she wore for the ceremony and first dance.
The finishing touch on Sarah Kate’s elegant look: a gorgeous handmade cathedral-length mantilla veil, first worn by her cousin 10 years ago and later worn by another bride in the family, making Sarah Kate the third bride to wear it on her wedding day.
The bride and her bridesmaids depart El Castillo de San Lorenzo, the venue that served as their setting for wedding-day preparations and the rehearsal dinner. Fun fact: This castle is owned by John Johnston, a fellow Mountain Brook native, like Sarah Kate, who has called Salta home for many years.
The beautiful bride poses on what she calls Juan’s hill. Three houses that belong to Juan’s family are situated on this stunning hillside in Salta.
What a gorgeous group of bridesmaids! These ladies traveled from near and far to be with their beloved bride on her big day.
For the ceremony, Sarah Kate wore a custom-made off-the-shoulder lace bolero with scalloped edges and a bit of shine incorporated throughout, which she removed for the latter portion of the reception and replaced with a hand beaded crystal belt. “It made sense because we had a very, very formal basilica ceremony and then an elegant ballroom start to the evening, and then the reception transitioned into this fun dance party that lasted until 6 a.m., so I was able to change my look to meet what was happening at that time,” Sarah Kate says.
The ceremony was held at Iglesia y Basilica de San Francisco, a beautiful Catholic church built in the 1600s in the heart of Salta, a fitting location for the wedding as Juan’s parents got married there and Sarah Kate’s parents were wed at another church named for Saint Francis in Birmingham. Rather than having a full Catholic mass in Spanish, Juan and Sarah Kate elected to have an abbreviated bilingual ceremony to best accommodate all of their guests. “I said my vows in English and Juan said his in Spanish,” Sarah Kate says. “It was sweet for our families to be able to hear our vows in their native languages.”
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Following the ceremony, guests made their way to Club 20 de Febrero, Juan’s private social club, for the ballroom reception. Cocktails and appetizers preceded the seated steak dinner. (The groom’s mother even went with the chef to select the cuts of meat to be served at the reception, ensuring that their guests would enjoy the very best!) And then the dancing began. Long receptions are customary in Argentina, and it is considered rude for the bride and groom to leave before their guests. Sarah Kate and Juan danced the night away with their beloved family and friends in the truest sense of the phrase. The party came to an end when the club was legally required to shut it down at 6 a.m. the following morning.
Sarah Kate and her father prepare to walk down the long aisle at Iglesia y Basilica de San Francisco.
Is there a more breathtaking venue than this 17th-century church?
The happiest bride and groom exit the church after exchanging their vows.
In Argentinian weddings, the parents of the bride and groom traditionally sit alongside the altar during the ceremony and serve as the godfathers of the wedding, instead of bridesmaids and groomsmen. Here, Sarah Kate and Juan are pictured with their “godfathers,” which were her parents and Juan’s mother and brother, who filled the seat of honor for Juan’s late father.
We love a good silly groomsmen photo!
Wedding parties are not common in Argentinian weddings. In fact, Sarah Kate’s bridesmaids were the first to ever walk at Iglesia y Basilica de San Francisco! Though there are rumors that there may have been small wedding parties attending to brides from the UK in Salta in the past, Sarah Kate’s bridesmaids are generally considered Salta’s first bridesmaids.
The happy couple steals a quick kiss outside the church after the ceremony.
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Sarah Kate and Juan arrive at their reception, chauffeured by Juan’s Uncle Gerardo in a family-owned vintage Dodge that he kindly restored for the bride and groom. “Originally, he planned to drive us in Juan’s grandfather’s old 1930s Cadillac,” Sarah Kate says. “The car was perfectly restored and ready, but on the big day, it did not start! Fortunately, Gerardo had this other antique Dodge coupe, and it was a lot of fun to be in an antique convertible and, in the end, matched the church and everything else so beautifully!”
Though not everyone was able to make the trip to Argentina, Sarah Kate felt the presence of all of her loved ones throughout the day. “My bridesmaid Ann’s husband Tomy put together a sweet video of well wishes from friends and family around the world who could not travel to South America,” Sarah Kate says. “It was played on the big screen over dinner and made us laugh and cry and really made me feel like I wasn’t missing anyone on our big day.”
Those back at home were able to watch the ceremony via a Facebook Live stream lovingly set up by another of Sarah Kate’s friends, Amanda Peterson Beadle. “Still today, I run into people who say, ‘Oh, I was watching the wedding live!’ and it warms my heart because I didn’t even know that many people were able to participate.”
The traditional first dance in Argentine weddings is a waltz. First the bride dances with her dad (this bride and her father actually did the Texas two-step instead of a waltz!), then the groom asks for permission to break in, and that cycle continues with other family members for two or three songs until everyone in the room is waltzing. Sarah Kate says a friend looked around the ballroom during the waltz and realized that it looked just like a scene from Cinderella. Following the traditional waltz, Sarah Kate and Juan danced to a medley of Elvis tunes: “Love Me Tender,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Unchained Melody.”
The band played a selection of American classics for an hour and half, and then a DJ took over for the remainder of the night, keeping the crowd dancing through the wee hours of the morning. “We literally danced until they shut the club down,” Sarah Kate says. “All of my aunts and many of my mom’s friends were worried about staying up all night, but when the party was over in the morning there were still a good group of people there dancing, and all of my aunts were still there. They didn’t even notice what time it was.”
Sarah Kate and Juan’s guests, representing more than 12 different countries in total, had a blast dancing to a selection of classic American tunes.
As tiered wedding cakes aren’t commonly seen at Argentinian weddings, Sarah Kate had a difficult time finding a vendor in Salta who could create a cake for her. “I really wanted to have that moment of cutting the cake at my wedding,” Sarah Kate says. “My favorite photo of my parents from their wedding is them cutting the cake.” She found a baker who made a gorgeous four-tiered wedding cake featuring chocolate, red velvet and dulce de leche, adorned with lace and blush roses.
The groomsmen lift their groom up in the air during the reception.
Sarah Kate says that one of her favorite memories from her wedding day is seeing her mother, pictured in the background above, lifted up by the groomsmen and some friends of the bride and groom. “At one point they picked up my mom, and she was in the air for five minutes, having the time of her life,” Sarah Kate says. “She had a really good time. She did not expect it, and it was great to see such a big smile on her face.”
Like any true University of Alabama bride, her crimson-and-white Alabama shakers had to make an appearance at some point during the reception!
Instead of a “send-off” photo, the photographer took a photo with everyone left on the dance floor at 4 a.m. before the party ended at 6 a.m. Shortly afterward, breakfast was served!
Nine months later, reflecting on the wedding and the work that went into blending customs and traditions and honoring both Juan’s heritage and her own, Sarah Kate is thrilled she was able to share her love of Argentina with her closest loved ones. “I’m happy that everybody who got to come got to know Juan and who he is and where he’s from,” Sarah Kate says. “I wanted my guests to get to really experience Argentina, and I felt like so many people really were able to understand for the first time why I like living here, why I love the people and why I feel completely at home married to someone from Argentina.”
The newlyweds are returning to America with a move to Washington D.C. While it’s an exciting opportunity for them to further their careers, it’s bittersweet to leave the enchanting country where they fell in love and were wed.
Cheers to you, Sarah Kate and Juan! Thank you for sharing your beautiful day with us!
Photography: Elena Alonso
Wedding planner: Estefanía Niewolski
Wedding gown: Augusta Jones, Carriage House
Groom’s attire: A family owned black “jaquet” (morning jacket) with tails and gray pinstripe pants
Bridesmaids’ dresses: Jenny Yoo and Adrianna Papell, Bella Bridesmaids
Groomsmen’s formalwear: The groomsmen also wore matching “jaquets” (morning jackets)
Cake: Sol Martinez
Flowers and decor: Las Condes Eventos
Flower arrangements at the church: Alicia Saravia de Cornejo
Venue: Club 20 de Febrero
Catering: Club 20 de Febrero
Band: Rock Madness
DJ and lights/video screen: Congress Rental
Hair: Claudia Chuchuy
Makeup: Vanina Villar
Invitations and logo design: Mariée Ami
Merchandise (cups, napkins, matches, stir sticks): Please Reply
Monogram and guest book map: Merci Design (Buenos Aires)
Videography: Antonio Tita Films
Guest accommodations: Design Suites Salta
Rehearsal dinner and bridesmaids’ luncheon: El Castillo de San Lorenzo
Transportation: Silvia Magno Turismo
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