You could say I've been keeping up with the Kardashians from the beginning.
From my days as a newly minted Angeleno at L.A.'s Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising watching the 2007 premiere to my years working as an entertainment reporter, I've been witness to each bikini wax, salad-filled lunch and momager moment.
But one memory from the whole pop culture phenomenon that is the Kardashians is etched in my mind and today, on Kim Kardashian's 40th birthday, I'd like to pay tribute. And give thanks, really. You see, guys, I attended the May 24, 2014 wedding of Kim and Kanye West. Kiiiiiiiinda.
I was about two years into my job as a staff reporter for a weekly celebrity magazine when my editor assigned me to cover that year's Cannes Film Festival. Much to my delight, the film fest happened to align perfectly with Kim and Kanye's wedding—believed to be taking place just a hop, skip and a jump away in Paris—and my trip was extended so I could cover all of the wedding festivities.
I'd never been to Europe before. So the fact that my first trip was one that my company was paying for so I could cover a glamorous film festival on the Cote d'Azur and then spend a week traipsing around Paris Kardashian-style—are you kidding me? Easiest yes I'd ever given.
I was, of course, one of many reporters covering this momentous event in pop culture. It was an absolute circus of local and international press who flew into town for the occasion.
In the City of Light, I found myself wandering around some of the Kards' favorite places: the high end shops on Avenue Montaigne, impossibly hip eateries such as L'Avenue, Ferdi and Hotel Costes, the crepe stand and the carousel at the Eiffel Tower and the luxurious George V Four Seasons hotel where I indulged in many a night cap.
But by far, the most memorable evening was the night my colleague made a reservation at this trés chic restaurant inside Hotel Costes—a known Kardashian-Jenner hot spot—and we ran into the entire family (sans Kanye): Kim, Kourtney Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian, Kendall Jenner, Kylie Jenner, Kris Jenner, Caitlyn Jenner and Scott Disick. The whole krew was there just days before the wedding and Kim was raving to a friend that her final dress fitting was "perfect."
At this point, we knew that the wedding wasn't actually going to be in Paris, despite the fact that family and many of their well-known guests had turned the city into a Where's Waldo-style game of spot the celebrity. Kim and Kanye had plans to surprise their guests with a trip from Paris to Florence, Italy for the big day. My flight was quickly booked and what started as an already glamorous trip to Cannes extended once again to a tri-leg Euro tour.
The plane was packed with a lot of other reporters and more than a few notables. I was seated across the aisle from Chris McMillian—the man Jennifer Aniston trusts with her tresses tapped to do Kim's hair on the big day—and in between a few members of Kanye's styling team. I thought to myself, is this real life?
My heart raced as we landed in Florence. I only had a few days to mentally prepare to go to Italy and didn't know a lick of Italian. My taxi driver gave me a crash course, telling me that "prima volta," which means "first time," was all I really needed to know, and we arrived at my bed and breakfast, tucked away on a Tuscan hilltop overlooking the city.
Italy was a dream. I mean it when I say I don't think I've ever seen anything more beautiful with my own eyes than when we took the long journey up a mountainside to check out Villa san Michele, where royalty, past presidents and, allegedly, some Kanye pals stayed. There was lush green foliage, ancient stone and the terra-cotta shades of Florence below—so, so much history. But mostly it was freakin' beautiful and you get why the Wests chose it from the endless location options at their disposal.
Then we saw their actual venue: Forte di Belvedere. The historic fortress' walls were adorned with turquoise shards of glass in place of barbed wire and the views from Boboli Gardens were even more stunning than I expected. We even caught a sneak peek of that infamous wall of white roses being set up—the backdrop of the Kimye wedding vows.
By the day of their long-awaited wedding—hours before Kim and Kanye were set to marry inside an open air fortress, in one of the most romantic places literally ever– everyone knew this is where it was going down. A group of local teens had even gathered at the main entrance, chanting "Justin! Justin!" because, for some hilarious reason, they were all convinced Justin Bieber was on the guest list. For the record, not so much. Sorry, kids.
As the line of blacked-out Mercedes carrying Kim and Kanye's guests onto the grounds snaked their way up to the fortress, Joe Francis, at the time a constant fixture in the Kards' life, poked his head out the window to wave to the fans screaming at the top of their lungs.
After everybody drove in, I met back up with my colleagues around the corner where a nest of media folks were stationed. We could actually hear Andrea Bocelli serenading the bride and groom and guests whistling and cheering once Kim and Kanye were finally wed. John Legend crooning his ode to romance, "All of Me" echoed through the Florentine hills, though their actual first dance was a mashup of Etta James' "At Last" and Otis Redding's "These Arms of Mine" and "Tenderness." Somewhere in there, Kanye gave a 20-minute wedding speech and at one point we heard Q-Tip, their DJ, play Beyonce's "Drunk in Love" and began to wonder if Queen B herself was actually there. (She wasn't, and neither was Jay-Z).
The capper: At 1:30 a.m., as we ate the most delicious, cheesy pizza in the streets of Italy, we watched an epic fireworks show courtesy of the new Mr. and Mrs. West.
To say those two weeks were the most magical and unforgettable of my life is an understatement. As a 25-year-old who had never been to Europe, that was the trip of a lifetime. I will always and forever have love in my heart for Kim and Kanye. Had they never had this incredible wedding extravaganza, I may still have never been to Paris and Florence—and I certainly wouldn't have had that lavish of a trip.
So, Kim, happy birthday. And thank you. This is my favorite memory of you and I'm infinitely grateful for it. Here's to you being so unapologetically fabulous in your celebration of love. Ciao bella!