A Parisian Theme and a Chinese Lion Dance Made This NYE Wedding a Night to Remember

The bridesmaids all wore winter white.


Milanee Leong and Amine Benaouadj’s Academy of Music wedding took place on New Year’s Eve 2019. Photography by Emily Wren Photography

New Year’s Eve is going to look a little different this year due to the pandemic. There won’t be any big bashes or gatherings, and we, for our part, will be toasting the welcome end of 2020 in socially distant style, from the comfort of our own home. But that doesn’t mean we can’t pay homage to the NYEs of the past, particularly ones that involved stunning weddings, like the December 31st, 2019, celebration you see here. The Academy of Music wedding had a Parisian theme, Chinese lions to pay homage to the bride’s heritage, loads of Philly-favorite foods, and a midnight kiss to swoon for. Emily Wren Photography captured the soiree on camera, reminding us of the beauty of love — and the great parties of Philly’s past and, someday, future.

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Milanee Leong and Amine Benaouadj’s first date reads like a menu of Philly’s best fare. For each course, they picked a food and a restaurant for the other to try — and discovered how much good taste they had in the process. “I saved every place on my phone,” says Milanee, who was a wedding sales and marketing manager at Garces Events at the time. They had octopus sushi at Reading Terminal Market, tostones at Cuba Libre — where Milanee realized that Amine, a senior client-services manager, could be the one — and Spanish fries at Copabanana to end the eve. That was only the beginning: They were together for six years before getting engaged on their anniversary (after restaurant-hopping). Amine proposed with a ring in a custom gold-lined oyster shell: “I told Milanee that I promise to always be her prosciutto-eating, truffle-loving snack partner in crime.”

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Their wintry Parisian-themed celebration took place 17 months later and ensured that they started 2020 in style. Take their venue, the Academy of Music. “When I brought Amine to see the space, we teared up,” says Milanee. The Academy only hosts about four weddings a year due to its show schedule, making it an exclusive spot. And its Philly location was suited to the couple: “I wanted to get married in the city we live in because it’s our home, and we already have made so many memories here,” she adds. 

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The bride was inspired by European-style weddings and wanted a winter white ambience, so most of the flowers were white roses, in addition to ‘Sandstorm’ and garden roses, hydrangeas, anemones and orchids. She also loved the gold structures throughout the wedding. House of Catherine built a 360-degree seating chart that Amine calls an absolute stunner. And instead of a traditional table for the newlyweds, Kate Boyle of Sara Rea Design repurposed the ceremony decor to create a sweetheart lounge, while Petals Lane designed a structure with 200 white roses above the furniture.

For a sophisticated, eye-catching look, the bridal party wore assorted white dresses and took pictures on Addison Street. And the maid of honor’s speech was particularly poignant. “I had never heard Gabby talk that way about Amine,” says Milanee, who has known her friend since she was seven. “It was extremely touching for her to spill her heart.” There was food aplenty — a paella station from Amada and tomato pies from Marchiano’s (with the Eagles logo in Parmesan cheese). Park Ave Cake baked up a madeleine tower in addition to a croquembouche and macarons. Amine’s mother and aunt also crafted an assortment of traditional Algerian desserts.

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For the first dance, one of the groomsmen created a custom mix of John Legend’s “You and I” and Beyoncé’s “XO.” Milanee is half Chinese and half Italian, and her uncle leads the Philadelphia Suns, so the newlyweds surprised guests with a traditional lion dance by the group. They also donated to the nonprofit for the performance.

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Of course, no NYE wedding is complete without a countdown, and the ritual remains a favorite for the couple. “We started counting down, the music was playing, and we could feel the excitement of everyone in the room,” says Milanee, whose midnight smooch with Amine was captured on camera. “It was the best feeling knowing we were all together in this moment.”

Photographer: Emily Wren Photography | Venue: The Academy of Music | Planning/Design: Sara Rea Design | Day-of Branding: House of Catherine | Florals: Petals Lane | Catering: Di Bruno Bros., Garces Events & Weckerly’s Ice Cream | Bride’s Gown: Woná Concept from Viero Bridal New York | Clutch: Custom by Chick Invitations | Bridesmaids’ Attire: Asos, Lulus & Show Me Your Mumu | Hair: Jamie Waldman | Makeup: Gina Kay Premium by True Beauty Marks | Groom’s Attire: Rudi’s Formal Wear | Entertainment: Blake Boshnack & officiant Sally Chuquimia (ceremony); Philly String Quartet from EastCoast Entertainment (cocktail hour); Justin Moreno of Center Stage Entertainment (reception) | Desserts & Favors: Park Ave Cake | Invitations: Minted | Transportation: Galaxy Limousine | Videography: Wren Films | Photo Booth: Yellow Mirror | Rentals: Party Rental Ltd. & Allaire Rentals (specialty)

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