Check Out CNN Correspondent Brianna Keilar's Modern Las Vegas Wedding
After a year of grueling campaign coverage and devastating personal loss, CNN political correspondent Brianna Keilar and now-knew they didn't want to wait long to tie the knot. Six months after Fernando proposed during the Independence Day fireworks in 2016, the couple wed in Las Vegas at a weekend-long New Year's celebration. "We wanted to end the year on a high note, and there's no better way to do that than on New Year's Eve," Brianna says.
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Brianna Keilar and Fernando Lujan's Wedding
In addition to spending weeks away from home covering the 2016 election, Brianna lost her mother, Miriam, to leukemia suddenly in May. The couple weathered the grief and hard times together and decided the best way to honor her memory was to bring their families some much-needed happiness. So they invited 85 guests for a three-day blowout in Vegas. The weekend started with welcome drinks and a view of the Strip at the Mandarin Oriental tea lounge, continued at the wedding on December 30 and culminated with a New Year's Eve party in a skybox at Hakkasan for the Drake concert. "I think a lot of people thought it was an upgrade from what their New Year's plans would have been, so it was a great way to go," Brianna says.
Las Vegas felt like a natural fit for a number of reasons. Since Nevada is a swing state, Brianna had anticipated her job would take her there throughout the year, but she also knew she could count on the city's entertainment experts to make planning a breeze. "My mom would have been the one to help me plan a wedding, and I didn't have my help anymore," Brianna says. "I had known that Las Vegas does weddings phenomenally, but since they also do so many custom events, I trusted that it really would not feel cookie-cutter." The couple needed to visit only one hotel to find the perfect spot to suit their vision: the sculpture-filled ceremony space at theGALLERY Featuring Dale Chihuly and the modern luxury of the Mandarin Oriental's ballrooms.
The bride credits her wedding planner, Dennis Silknitter, with helping to make her dream a reality despite her busy work schedule. He even arranged for Brianna to meet all the wedding vendors on the same day while she was in town for a speaking engagement. "I don't know what I would have done without him," Brianna says. "All the bridesmaids decided we needed a Dennis to take care of all the other things in our lives and solve all our problems."
Brianna says her favorite part of the day was the intimate and emotional ceremony. With their closest family and friends surrounding them, she and Fernando couldn't help but feel overwhelmed by their love and support. The Rev. Linda Venniro peppered the ceremony with personal anecdotes and touching vows, which hit home after a challenging year. "It felt very warm, like she was including the whole room," Brianna says. "The sun had gone down, and everything was lit up. The gallery was all these beautiful colors. The amount of people we had was just perfect—it felt like this big family of ours."
Eye-catching glass sculptures by world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly filled theGALLERY at ARIA Las Vegas, which served as their ceremony space. "The thing about an art gallery is that you don't have to do much because it's already so visual and beautiful," Brianna says. "It was full of bright colors."
At the ceremony, Rev. Venniro surprised Brianna and Fernando with touching things they had said about each other in private interviews. "It was so meaningful. We both heard some things that we hadn't heard before, and she talked about how it had been a difficult year and how we had gotten through that together," Brianna says.
To include family members who had passed away, the couple displayed sentimental photos, and Brianna carried her mother's locket on her bouquet. They also donated to the American Cancer Society in lieu of favors, since they had lost both Brianna's mother to leukemia and Fernando's father figure to cancer.
The bride wore a sculptural, short, white dress and the groom sported his Army Special Forces uniform. Brianna had originally purchased the short dress for the rehearsal dinner with a more traditional gown in mind for the wedding, but once she tried them both on, she was torn. "I know it's against tradition, but I tried on both dresses for Fernando and had him make the choice. It wasn't even a contest," Brianna says.
Vegas-themed save-the-dates and invites were designed by the bride's cousin Peita Keilar in Australia and printed in Washington, DC; the envelopes were made in England. "It was quite the global endeavor," Brianna says.
The wedding's stylistic inspiration was a bubbly glass of champagne, perfect for the New Year's nuptials. The table settings at the Mandarin Oriental reflected the sparkling theme, with mirrored vases, mercury-glass votive candles and silver chargers.
Reminiscent of tiny bubbles, silver dots adorned the stationery and cake. A custom cake topper included Fernando, a director on the National Security Council at the White House, in his Army Special Forces uniform.
Even the reception ballroom's circular lights echoed the sparkling champagne motif. In addition, fuchsia uplighting matched both the bridesmaids' dresses and the colorful floral arrangements.
While taking wedding portraits overlooking the Strip, Brianna and Fernando decided to help some tourists snap a few selfies.
As a nod to his Mexican American heritage, the groom and his groomsmen serenaded the bride and her bridesmaids with "Malagueña," accompanied by an authentic mariachi band.
It's just not a celebration without Elvis and Wolf Blitzer! After dinner, "Elvis" got the party started with a surprise performance. "Then he kicked off the dancing with 'Viva Las Vegas,' and it got crazy," Brianna says.
Brianna Keilar and Fernando Lujan's Engagement and Relationship Details
According to Keilar, Lujan originally intended to propose earlier than he did, on July 4th, 2016, but he pushed his plans back due to an unexpected family tragedy. "Fernando and I had talked about getting married," Keilar tells The Knot. "He asked about my preferences for an engagement ring, so I knew it was coming — but not when."
Lujan, 39, originally wanted both their families to be nearby when he proposed — so that they could celebrate together. Sadly, Keilar's mother, Miriam, passed away suddenly in May. "It was a shock to my family, and we're still making our way through our grief," she tells us. "It was tough for Fernando too. They texted all the time. Probably more than she and I did. They were always joking around."
"The day she died, I asked him what they'd been talking about," Keilar continues. "He told me that — although it would ruin the surprise — he wanted to tell me that they had been conspiring for his proposal in June. We were supposed to go back to my hometown in California to celebrate my mom's retirement with [my family] and Fernando was going to propose at Laguna Beach."
Keilar's mom, meanwhile, was planning a surprise dinner party nearby. "His family and his best friend were going to fly out from Texas. My best friends (two of whom I had tried to set him up with) were flying in from DC. It didn't happen, but it's been very special to know that's what my mom was cooking up with Fernando in her final days."
The actual proposal was much more intimate, and it took place on the Fourth of July. "It was just the two of us," she says. "On our terrace during the fireworks. And yes, he did get down on one knee! We celebrated afterward at Fiola Mare in Georgetown. He had asked them to keep the kitchen open late and the chefs graciously agreed."
Four years ago, Keilar met her future husband, a Director on the National Security Council at the White House, during a post-work happy hour. "It was the summer of 2012," she recalls. "I was covering the White House at the time and he was working at a defense think tank in Washington between deployments to Afghanistan. Thus started my trying – and his rebuffing my attempts – to set him up with my girlfriends. I tried to get him to go on a date with one of my best friends and it went nowhere, so I didn't press it."
But D.C. was too small for the future dynamic duo. "Over the last few years, we would bump into each other every few months or so — once at a White House Christmas party, once at a Taylor Swift concert. He was taking his nieces, I had no such excuse — but we were dating other people, so it was just friendly," she shares. "It wasn't until last November that we went on a date. He got in touch with me and seeing he was single, I tried to set him up again with another friend! When he found out I was also single, he asked me out."
It was over after the first date. "He picked one of my favorite restaurants in DC, Little Serow, where the multi-course Thai tasting menu is amazing, but we hardly looked at our food," she reveals. "We talked for hours. It was a mind-blowing first date. I was actually a little overwhelmed by it from the start. It occurred to me that this might be the beginning of a life changing event. My first glass of Sauvignon Blanc went down unusually quickly."
Ahead his proposal, Lujan worked meticulously with a jeweler abroad to craft the perfect ring. "It's absolutely beautiful!" Keilar tells The Knot of her engagement bling. "It's a cushion cut sapphire solitaire accented with pavé diamonds. When my CNN producer, Pallavi Reddy, found out I was preferential to sapphires, she put Fernando in touch with a family friend in India who is a really talented jeweler. Her name is Bharathi Raviprakash. She's based in Chennai and her boutique is called Studio Tara. She and Fernando designed the ring — with a gorgeous Ceylon sapphire from Sri Lanka — entirely via What's App."
With such hectic work schedules, Keilar tells The Knot how they maintain their strong bond. "Once, when I had a layover at DCA (cruel, just cruel!), he came to the airport and met me for a drink," she jokes. "In February, he flew to New Hampshire before the primary to see me while I was in the middle of an almost month long stretch on the road. I got a little time off so we went to Walden Pond."
In all seriousness, they're both present when they're together. "When I'm home, he makes spending time with me a priority and we try to have as much fun as possible. We rented a Harley Davidson in May and rode in Rolling Thunder. I travel so much that I've really been enjoying time at home more. I'll cook or Fernando will make his signature enchiladas and pick a movie, we'll walk the dog, read to each other or just hang out and talk. We try to go running in the mornings together," she shares. "When I'm away, we talk regularly on the phone or by FaceTime. [It seems obvious, but] he asks me how I'm doing and he really listens."
Of course, there's also the couple that works out together. "We've also done P90X," she notes. "So we can complain about how hard the workout was! It allows us to share something on a daily basis even if we're apart."
Keilar concludes by telling The Knot what she loves most about her husband. "I'm really in awe of him," she says. "For someone who has spent years in a war zone, he is one of the least cynical people I know. [Lujan is a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army Special Forces.] He has such a good heart and compassion for his family and friends, as well as mine. He's so much fun — he's always up for an adventure. He's curious and will talk about anything and everything with me. Being with him recharges my batteries. He also loves my dog. Bonus!"