From a Hawaiian Island to a New York Island, and Back

From a Hawaiian Island to a New York Island, and Back

Noa Santos first laid eyes on Ross Matsubara about eight years ago on Halloween. Tired from a long day at his interior-design job, Mr. Santos had decided to forgo his Little Mermaid costume and partying, and stay home and eat Thai food in his pajamas.

He started perusing friends’ photo albums on Facebook and noticed a picture of Mr. Matsubara. “I got so deep in clicking,” Mr. Santos said. “I was definitely stalking hot people. I am not good at going up to someone in a bar, but online I’m like a prowler.”

Mr. Santos was surprised to discover that both he and Mr. Matsubara were from the Hawaiian island of Oahu and were now living in Manhattan. He wrote Mr. Matsubara a Facebook message, asking if he wanted to meet for coffee. Mr. Matsubara responded, “I don’t do coffee, I do drinks.”

Even though the two had many things in common, there was a strong chance they might not get along.

For starters, they attended rival high schools. Mr. Santos, 30, who is the founder and chief executive of Homepolish, an interior design start-up, went to the academically oriented Iolani. He carried so many books, he needed a rolling backpack to prevent injury to his back. Mr. Santos was elected senior class president after promising to get cushions for the concrete benches in the library.

Mr. Matsubara, 33, who is a vice president and style director at Nike Communications and handles accounts for high-profile clients like Moet Champagne and Bombay Sapphire gin, attended Punahou. The school had two famous alumni: former President Barack Obama and Steve Case, the former chief executive of AOL. Mr. Matsubara was a member of the varsity kayak team. “I didn’t get the best grades,” he said. “I threw the parties.”

Even their families were different. Mr. Santos, whose father is Portuguese, grew up in a large compound on the coast. His great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts and uncles all lived on the land along with hundreds of chickens, dogs and chameleons. As a child, he was often barefoot, roasting pigs on the beach for dinner.

Mr. Matsubara, who is Japanese-American, grew up in Honolulu in a more formal household. His father is a prominent lawyer who owns his firm. “He’s very esteemed,” Mr. Santos said. “Let’s just say he’s much more accustomed to formal wear.”

Still, on their first date, in November 2010 at the Rusty Knot, a nautical-themed bar in the West Village of Manhattan, they stayed until closing. Two days later they meandered down Fifth Avenue to take in the holiday lights. Within a month they were using the term “boyfriend”; shortly after, they said, “I love you.”

Mr. Matsubara was so taken with his new beau that he told his parents about him over Christmas, a huge feat considering he hadn’t even revealed he was gay. “I was watching, ‘It’s Complicated’ with Meryl Streep and Steve Martin with my mom, and I was texting on the couch,” he said. “When she asked who I kept texting, I said, ‘It’s my boyfriend.’”

On their next trip home to Hawaii they brought their parents together. Despite the personality differences, they stayed up until the early hours of the morning drinking sake, eating dinner and sharing stories. The two men were amazed by how well their families got along; they attribute it to the fact that both families had been in Hawaii for more than four generations.

Now, even when their sons aren’t visiting, their parents drive more than an hour to each other to drop off gifts of knitted items or avocados and papayas.

Mr. Santos proposed in Paris over Memorial Day weekend in 2016. He had told his boyfriend that they were there on a work trip and shocked him when he knelt down in front of a Dior flagship, Mr. Matsubara’s favorite store, with three rings: two from Tiffany and one from Cartier. What he said summed up their relationship: “Without you I am like a coloring book with no color. I am the structure, but you are the color.”

Mr. Matsubara’s mother, Arlene Matsubara, said the couple complements each other, with Mr. Santos being the focused, responsible one and her son being the playful, social counterpart. She remembered early in their relationship when her son was eating a slice of papaya and announced he was done before it was all gone. Mr. Santos made him finish it. It was a strong example of “mottainai,” a belief with Japanese roots that you should not waste. “It just hit me in my heart,” Ms. Matsubara said.

The couple spent a year planning the wedding of their dreams. They knew it had to be in their home state. “Our New York friends kept saying, We can’t wait to come to Hawaii for your wedding,” Mr. Matsubara said.

They chose the Haiku Mill, a 19th-century sugar cane factory in a jungle on the north shore of Maui. It has 150-year-old ruins, French décor, manicured gardens, even a towering mango tree more than 100 years old that provides a natural canopy.

Kimiko Hosaki, the event organizer (whom the couple calls the love of their lives), said she had never seen clients dive into their wedding with such passion or precision. “Working in places like Hawaii, you often have clients that want to mimic events that you’ve done in the past,” she said. “It was so energizing to be able to work with clients that had no interest in doing anything anyone had done before.”

They styled their ceremony, held on June 8, like a fashion show, facing guests’ chairs toward the aisle in the center and having their wedding party act like models. “Ross wanted us to be bosses, to be powerful and confident,” said Alicianne Rand, Mr. Matsubara’s childhood friend and maid of honor. “None of us are runway models, but we did this for Ross.”

Mr. Matsubara’s high school senior prom date, April Jade Hail, who was ordained by the American Marriage Ministries, served as the officiant. (“She was six months pregnant,” he said. “The epitome of beauty.”)

The reception was inspired by the 1998 movie “Great Expectations,” starring Gwyneth Paltrow. The couple even encouraged female guests to wear green so the party would look like the green shades in the movie. “They all had their gowns approved by Ross,” Mr. Santos said, laughing. “I think they were scared of him.”

There were also local touches. For the welcome cocktail party, Mr. Santos’s father, Alvin Santos, marinated nine pounds of pork brought over on the 40-minute flight from Oahu. Ms. Matsubara and a friend made 90 floral bracelets for guests featuring a rare green flower from the ohia lehua tree. Two of the couple’s friends also performed a traditional Hawaiian hula dance, called Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai, which is often danced at parties.

For these newlyweds, Hawaii is not only their home, but also the place they feel most safe and loved. “The nice part about being from Hawaii is it means we can do anything in life,” Mr. Santos said. “What’s the worst that will happen? My family lives on the edge of the beach. We just move back to the place people dream of retiring.”

Bao Ong contributed reporting from Maui.

ON THIS DAY

When June 8, 2018.

Where Haiku Mill, on the north shore of Maui in Hawaii.

Fashion First Five of the attendants, whom Mr. Matsubara called his “warriors,” were dressed in ivory-colored power suits by Theory. Edward Barsamian, a style editor at Vogue.com and a close friend of the couple, donned a Victoria Beckham jumpsuit. The couple wore tuxedos by David Hart and each had the other’s initials monogrammed in hunter green on the cuffs of their shirts.

Hawaiian Roots Haiku Mill, a former sugar mill, served as the perfect site, in part because it is in Hawaii, where family could easily attend. Mr. Matsubara’s mother made 90 bracelets with liko lehua, a flower from the ohia lehua tree sourced from the Big Island.

Let Them Eat Malasadas The couple is adamant that “we are not cake people.” Instead, desserts included malasadas, a Portuguese-style doughnut popular in Hawaii.

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