Celebrity wedding planner Colin Cowie’s extravagant South African safari proposal to Danny Peuscovich
Colin Cowie’s New York office in the Garment District is swank and sophisticated but welcoming and comfortable, all in the same breath—just like the man himself. The famous wedding planner arrives for our interview as polished and handsome as ever, dressed in jeans and a tweed jacket. We take a seat in his office’s lounge where a cart of liquor brims of lively after-hours entertaining.
Cowie and I have a history. He wrote a blurb for my LGBTQ+ wedding planning book, and I’ve covered his multiple tomes (he’s working on his eleventh book right now—more on that below). I’ve been following Cowie’s 30-year career ever since I entered the wedding media scene 10 years ago, and we recount those encounters for a brief moment before getting down to the business at hand: Colin Cowie is recently engaged to Danny Peuscovich, and I want the scoop straight from the celebrity LGBTQ+ wedding planner himself. He’s more than happy to oblige.
In early 2018, Cowie and Peuscovich decided that they would become engaged. They didn’t set a date or decide when, where or how it would happen. As the months went by, “to throw him off,” Cowie told his beau, “Let’s wait until January sometime. We’ll figure it out then. No rush. You can meet my family, and I can meet yours.”
Cowie’s family lives in South Africa, while Peuscovich’s family lives in Argentina. The couple went to Argentina, where Cowie met Peuscovich’s family, all the while Cowie was planning his proposal, which took him six months to plan.
“Being the planner that I am, I like drama, theater, a sense of timing and surprise elements,” says Cowie, who was born in Zambia and raised in South Africa. “I am an old-school romantic. So I came across this lodge called Kubili House in Thorny Bush, which is a game resort area. Part of the Greater Kruger National Park. And it looked like the chicest lodge that I’ve seen. Now I go to safaris three or four times a year and I’ve done them my entire life. It’s the greatest thing that I’ve – it’s my favorite thing in the whole world to do. Danny went with me to South Africa many, many times. He does business there. He’s a commodities trader. But he’d never been to a safari.”
In late December, Cowie took over the whole camp for privacy. They had the whole lodge to themselves. After their game ride on the second day, Dec. 21, 2018, Cowie tells Peuscovich: “Danny, I’ve arranged for us to go on a helicopter safari,” which he tells me, “is a very different experience of viewing animals.”
“We were flying through the bush belt and approaching this mountain range, which is called God’s window. Which is the greenest canyon in the world—it’s beautiful. Waterfalls, mountains and pools.” And Peuscovich said to Cowie, ‘Why are we flying high? I thought we were supposed to be looking at the animals?’” Far below, there was a printed message for Peuscovich which read, “Will you marry me?”
“I land the helicopter, and I had set this whole picnic in advance. I got these beautiful sterling silver champagne flutes from England. I got engraved the exact coordinates where I made the proposal. His name, my name and the date. And then I used a saber, and I opened a bottle of Dom Perignon 2000 rosé. I pulled out this amazing picnic of all of his favorite foods, the things he likes.”
“And then … he doesn’t really wear rings but when I was working with Blue Nile, I’d made a ring that I carried around the world for three years. I was going to use it in a social media post, asking ‘Where has this ring been?’ So I had inscribed inside the ring, “around the world for you, my love.”
And then as he was about to put it on his finger, I pulled out a leather lanyard and slipped the ring on it. Now he wears it on his neck.”
Colin pauses in his recollection of his proposal to point out that LGBTQ+ people don’t have to follow conventional engagements and weddings. “I also think we can write our own rules. We don’t have to be bound by what tradition says you need to do, to wear a ring on your left hand. You can wear a symbol of love any way you want.
“And from that moment onwards, we just had an amazing day. I’d arranged to have white truffles flown in from Italy to the Bush. And our combined birthdays at the time made up 100.
“After sunset there were 100 candles, 100 lanterns burning. And the final fun moment was after dinner it was pitch black outside. And you could hear these women singing and these men. Two choirs came together. I arranged for a choir to come sing African love songs to us. And the last song was Viva Argentina in Spanish. I’d sent them the words to learn a few weeks before. And we all lived happily ever after,” he ends his story with a charming grin.
Colin’s advice to others planning a proposal? “Make it special!”
The wedding will take place on a vineyard in February 2020 in South Africa. “South Africa has the best weather in February,” he explains. I press for details but Cowie is understandably coy, and twists a pretend lock at his lips with a twinkle in his eye.
“But it’s going to be epic, stunningly beautiful, an all-nighter. I’m a big believer in writing a new script. I don’t want to do anything stereotypical. However, rituals, ceremony … everything will take on a very personal meaning and a new way of doing things.”
Advice to couples who are trying to come up with new ways of doing things? Cowie is happy to share his thoughts:
“First thing is it doesn’t have to be like the stereotypical heterosexual wedding. Where you’ve got men and women walking together down the aisle, some standing to the right and some standing to the left. Rewrite the rules completely! There are no rules.
As long as you’re not offending anyone, go ahead and do something new and different and inspiring because no one’s going to judge you. The people are there to support you and to love you. Otherwise they shouldn’t be there in the first place.”
As far as Cowie’s South African wedding, he plans on bringing in many of the typical elements of weddings, but he’ll be doing it his own way. He says, “I’m going to incorporate all the traditions but my spin on them and I think that’s the whole key because this is not just another big party. It’s our personal statement of style. It’s about who we are to our family, new family and new friends. We both know who we are individually.
“So that’s why I don’t believe in a textbook wedding. I don’t want to do a stereotypical wedding that mirrors others … I don’t see him and me walking down the aisle, holding hands together. That’s not who we are, y’know? Or cutting a big towering floral cake. It’s not who I am.”
Do you like cake, I ask? “Not particularly.” Another dashing grin. “But we’ll do a very beautiful cake but it’s not going to be festooned in flowers. It’ll be marbled, clean, contemporary and architectural, which is my aesthetic.”
Does Danny have a similar sense of style that Cowie has? “We’re actually very different. I’m in the creative business, and he’s in finance.”
But Cowie doesn’t want to just take over and plan it all by himself or take the lead because of his creative career. “I don’t believe in ever doing that,” he says, “because I believe that the planning of a wedding is something that you do together and even though I am known for designing these extraordinary weddings it’s been fun to bounce around all these ideas together. We could do this, or we could do that. It’s also part of building, you’re planning this event together. The last thing I want is for him to show up and say, ‘What the f-ck? Why’d you do that?’ So we’ve come together and agreed on everything. He defers to me in many ways but in many ways, he has a point of view and it’s respected. He’s come up some really good ideas!”
To propose with or without a ring—and other wedding trend disruptions
I ask Cowie about men proposing with or without engagement rings, since he proposed to Danny with a ring that Danny will wear on a necklace. Cowie breaks the mold on proposal gifts by saying, “I think that there’s this idea that every engagement ring needs to start with a little blue box … forget that! Throw that out the door. Do whatever works. Go get a tattoo if you want to! Get a love bracelet that’s screwed on for the rest of your life. Do a ring. Do a pendant. Do anything. This is your opportunity to express who you are. And as I’m coming up with a unique idea for what to do for our wedding.”
“This industry is still trying to understand us by their standards,” I say.
“I’m not interested in that,” Cowie says. “And you’ll see. After this wedding, it’ll be a whole takeaway about what to do, the speeches and the toasts … I’ve reinvented the wedding completely. And I think it’ll be a style guide, an example for other people how to express themselves without feeling that it was rooted in some form of tradition from the heterosexual world.”
“I think the straight community thinks we just started getting married because of marriage equality but we’ve been having weddings for a very long time,” I say. “They just didn’t have a legal paper to go with it.”
“Right,” Cowie says.
“We’re writing our own rules,” I find myself saying in response. “In my book, I say, ‘These are all just suggestions!’” Cowie wrote an advance recommendation for my book before it was published—a blurb, we call it in the literary world.
“Absolutely,” he says with a nod. “It’s your opportunity to shine, to make a statement of style to say who we are, not who we’re emulating. Or feel that we need to do what is done traditionally.”
What’s it like when a celebrity wedding planner plans his own wedding? Does it feel different?
“No, I’m actually excited! I lie awake in bed and I can’t fall asleep because I’m thinking, ‘My God, we could do this.’ It’s evolved amazingly. It’s crystal clear in my own mind.”
To orchestrate it, Cowie is bringing a core team from New York to be in charge of logistics. He’s also collaborating with a South African company he’s worked with before on another wedding to provide additional support.
“I’m sure no one wants to disappoint you,” I point out. He flashes that grin again.
“You’ve never really seen anything of my personal life,” Cowie begins. “It’s not that I hide it. I like somewhat of a mystery of some of my life. I don’t blast every single thing on social media. When we got engaged on the 21st of December, I was able to kind of keep it covered until the Post heard about it and then it went crazy. I had people in India to Africa to Argentina wanting to provide cakes, music, favors, come sing, photographs. People I haven’t seen in 20 years want to come to the wedding.
“If I did this wedding in New York, we’d have 600 people. I don’t want that. I really don’t want to attend a banquet. One-hundred-and-fifty people max. I think that’s the magic number. This is our greatest hits, not our latest hits. That’s been my approach with the guest list.”
In the meantime while planning his wedding and running his event-planning business, Colin Cowie Lifestyle, Cowie is also writing another book. His eleventh book is titled Colin Cowie’s Standard Operating Procedure. “It’s a business-to-business book,” he says. “It’s for anybody in the service industry. It’s really about the importance of customer service and how we use it today to set ourselves apart from a very flooded arena in all areas of business. It’s crowded. And why it’s so important to create that emotional connection. Otherwise you’re just a product.” Cowie is certainly far from that with his jovial warmth. Though he’s been planning events for three decades, he says he “learns something new every time he does a job.” He says with a grin: “It’s tremendous fun.”
All photos courtesy of Colin Cowie’s personal collection. Black-and-white photos of Colin Cowie and Danny Peuscovich were taken by Brian Dorsey Studios
Kirsten Ott Palladino
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