“Half the things I say are going to seem fake, but I swear to you they are true,” Brooke Ridberg says from across a lacquered wooden table at Brixx Pizza on a damp, blustery afternoon. She brushes newly cut mahogany bangs away from her crystal cyan eyes, and a flicker of light flutters from the facets of one of her massive diamond earrings. Her porcelain skin is flushed from both her admitted nervousness and the insufferable wind whipping through the streets of uptown Charlotte. Brooke’s beauty can easily be mistaken for that of a porcelain doll, but do not be fooled by her delicate features. At the relatively young age of 24, this self-proclaimed daddy’s girl lives her life with a kind of independent confidence many women spend lifetimes searching for. Brooke met Chris Ridberg, 31, in January of 2007 when the investment wholesaler put his head in her hands for a haircut at Varji & Varji salon. Chris had just moved to Charlotte from Philadelphia, and the two began flirting about the prospect of Brooke showing him around town. Brooke, however, had a rule about not dating her own clients, which strategically kept Chris at bay. As the flirtation grew more serious, Chris began getting haircuts every two weeks, rather than the recommended six. After five months, Chris’ persistence finally paid off. With pomp and sass, Brooke wrote her number down on a business card and said, “Here’s your chance.”
“He’s a wooer.”
When Chris came to pick up Brooke for their first date, she was anything but ready. She still had to walk her dog, and finish doing her hair and makeup. To give her more time, Chris left to pick up a bottle of wine and came back with Brooke’s favorite bottle. The two headed to Zink, where they sailed past small talk and chatted about Chris’ family in Georgia and Brooke’s love of riding horses. While seated, Brooke noticed a friend of hers having a drink with a client at the bar. The ladies rendezvoused in the bathroom, where Brooke’s friend told her that Chris would be the man Brooke would marry. She agreed. She had known from the minute she saw him dressed up on her doorstep. “It was like a breath of fresh air,” Brooke recalls. As was their relationship. “In my life I can count two – maybe three – true boyfriends, but everyone else I didn’t admire,” she laments. “I respected them as people, but not as someone I wanted to be with.” Chris was different. “I’ve had my heart broken, and I’ve cried, but back then it was more of a blow to my pride than my feelings.” With her feelings guiding her, the couple bought a house in Plaza Midwood after just four months together. At the time, Chris was traveling to Charleston on business four days per week, but he would come home in the evenings to see Brooke. “He would make me dinner, help me make sure the laundry was done and the dogs were taken care of. Then he would get up at six o’clock in the morning and drive to Charleston for a nine o’clock meeting,” she says. “He’s a wooer – I call him that all the time. I think even (photographer) Kristin (Vining) fell in love with him. He’s the nicest guy ever.”
“Do not cry if he doesn’t propose!”
For their first holiday season together, Brooke and Chris planned a trip to Lake Tahoe. Before leaving, a client of Brooke’s warned her not to cry if Chris didn’t propose – although Brooke was not expecting him to. She had already received a special Chanel handbag for Christmas that she had found in their first month of dating. Chris knew she loved the handbag and special ordered it from overseas, as there were only a few left in the United States. As it turned out, the handbag was just a clever decoy to convince Brooke that no other gifts were in store for her that particular holiday. Brooke remembers Chris telling her about buying the expensive handbag: “I almost threw up, but I had to throw you off from getting engaged!” he said. On New Year’s Eve, Brooke and Chris ate dinner at a small, Dutch-owned fondue restaurant after a long day of skiing. During the meal, they drank a bottle of wine and champagne, causing Chris to get up to use the bathroom almost nine times, according to Brooke. They talked for hours about family in a deeply emotional conversation, the likes of which she had never shared with anyone before. After dinner, Chris took Brooke on a serene walk through the snow, and he began telling her how much he loved her. She put her face on his chest to hide her tears, and through the sound of his rapidly beating heart, Brooke began to hear Chris say, “The only thing I know, that’s ever certain in this life, is that I want you to be my wife. And I want to marry you, but I don’t know if you want me to be your husband.” Then he dropped to one knee and asked her to marry him. She began squealing and tackled him into the snow. He said, “See, I told you I’d do it before the end of the year. It’s 11:30.” Weddings and the City meets “Sex and the City” Brooke instantly secured photographer Kristin Vining and her sister business, Weddings and the City, to photograph the wedding and offer some planning assistance. Brooke had one stipulation about her photos – she absolutely did not want to be posed. After seeing the photographs of a friend’s wedding, Brooke knew Kristin’s free-spirited and fashion-forward approach was exactly what she wanted in a photographer. She purchased a dramatically elegant Cymbeline gown from NY Bridal and headed to New York City with Kristin for her bridal portrait session – a birthday gift from Chris. In the streets of the Big Apple, crowds began to form around Brooke – the stunning bride at the center of a seemingly elaborate photo shoot. “I began telling people we were shooting a cover for Vogue!” she jokes. Back home, Brooke began planning every detail of the wedding around her idol, Audrey Hepburn. “I love her eyebrows, and her petite face and her always fabulous hair, and her silk gloves. I like her style, and I like her voice.” she muses. “She always had the most outstanding dress on that was always a little fashion-forward for the time.” Her love of Audrey translated into a rooftop wedding with elaborate pink flowers from The Place for Flowers, and thick, pink-and-brown silk table linens that pooled onto the floor. The crew at Weddings and the City pulled off the Sex-and-the-City-meets-Audrey-Hepburn-style event, with every detail fueled by Brooke’s vision. “Weddings and the City said they’d never seen anyone do so much work knowing that they were going to help,” she boasts.
“I’m marrying you!”
At 5 p.m. on Sept. 20, 2008, a harpist gracefully played “The Wedding March” from the roof of the Mint Museum of Craft + Design, as Brooke walked down the aisle with her father, Bruce. “Daddy, don’t let me fall. Daddy, don’t let me cry,” she whispered as she saw the tear-filled eyes of her soon-to-be-husband. With an exchange of vows and the trading of a single rose, Daddy’s Little Girl joyfully became a wife. The nuptials were followed by heavy hors d’oeuvres by Best Impressions Caterers and a cocktail reception reminiscent of a scene from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” “I wanted it to be a really social setting, where people could mingle and talk, and they could eat and be full, yet have had a lot of fun,” explains Brooke. She and her new husband, however, didn’t have enough time to eat. “Are you kidding?” she laughs. “My minister ran late, we didn’t have enough time to take pictures and we were on a time crunch! I had enough time to throw back a glass of champagne!” After their first dance to “I Finally Found Someone” by Bryan Adams and Barbara Streisand, Brooke jumped into her second dress of the evening and joined about 75 of their guests at Howl at the Moon for a post-reception party that lasted until 2 a.m. Things became more relaxed as the Ridbergs headed to the Greek islands of Crete, Mykonos and Santorini for a 12-day honeymoon. “If you ever go, Mykonos is the best!” exclaims Brooke. While there, they encountered their first setback as a married couple. Eight days into their trip, Chris found out that he would be traveling five days per week for work. “It’s hard, but it’s OK,” says Brooke, who spends her time at the salon, taking care of her dogs, hanging out with girlfriends or riding horses. “I know that if I need him, he would come. I never felt dependent, and I still don’t. I know that I need him in my life, but I’m still an independent person. And he never took that from me, which is the most amazing part.”