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Jessica Simpson's Wedding: 'It Was a Dream Come True'

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At any wedding, there’s always one factor that’s hard to predict: Will the flower girl and ring bearer really make it down the aisle? So at their July 5th nuptials, Jessica Simpson and Eric Johnson breathed a huge sigh of relief when their 2-year-old daughter Maxwell proudly walked hand-in-hand with her cousin Bronx, Ashlee Simpson‘s 5-year-old son. “I thought they were going to be shy, but they did a perfect job!” says the bride. Adds Johnson: “Halfway down, Maxwell saw me and let out the biggest ‘Dad-dy!’ The whole place laughed.” When the couple’s 1-year-old son Ace toddled down the aisle soon after, Johnson scooped up both his kids. “And I split my pants,” he says with a laugh.

“Eric completely split his pants!” Simpson confirms, giggling as well. “So after the ceremony, when everybody left, Eric was in his boxers and tux jacket. There’s always got to be something that happens!”

But after waiting four years – and welcoming two kids together – the couple were not about to let their big day come apart at the seams. “We’ve anticipated this for so long,” says Simpson, who exchanged traditional vows with the former NFL player in front of 275 guests under a canopy of lush delphiniums at the San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, Calif. “It was amazing to feel the love of everybody and to be able to have our babies watch us say ‘I do.’ It’s a moment you can’t describe.”

Johnson was left speechless when he first saw his fashion-mogul bride in her custom Carolina Herrera champagne gown with delicate gold embroidery. “She was all lit up and beautiful. I think my heart was exploding a bit,” says the groom, 34, who wore a custom charcoal gray tuxedo by John Varvatos, Simpson’s costar on Fashion Star. (For the record, his pants were fixed for the reception!)

“Everybody thought I was going to wear a dress that completely showed off my new bod,” says Simpson, who got her post-baby figure back with the help of Weight Watchers. (She’s a spokesperson for the company.) “But I can’t help but want a princess dress! I’m a Southern girl at heart. I like everything big!”

Which explains her entrance to a 18-piece orchestra playing the sweeping score from her “favorite movie of all time” – the 1998 film adaptation of Great Expectations. “Hearing that music, I could barely hold it together. I was trying very hard not to cry all the way down the aisle,” says Simpson, who turned 34 July 10. What helped was seeing her two maids of honor—mom Tina and sister Ashlee – waiting for her alongside her 12 bridesmaids all dressed in different designer gowns handpicked by Simpson. Next to them was her future husband standing with his father, Stephen, who served as best man, Johnson’s 11 groomsmen (including Ashlee’s fiancé Evan Ross) and Simpson’s dad, Joe, who officiated the nondenominational ceremony. “It was nice to see my family and my new family up there together,” she says.

Maxwell and Ace voiced their approval as well. “Ace knew when to give an ‘Ahhh!’ It was like he was yelling out ‘Amen!’ at all the perfect moments. It was so cute!” says Simpson. “And it was fun for Maxwell to see us. She knows the love that Eric and I have.”

The joy spread to the reception tent, where celebrity event planner Mindy Weiss continued the ode to the Great Expectations film (see next page). “I wanted to re-create the movie as much as I possibly could,” says Simpson. “I didn’t want it to look like your traditional wedding.”

Nor did she want the reception to follow the standard program. “We didn’t want to do a first dance, and we didn’t cut the cake. We’ve both been married before, and it’s kind of like, ‘Eh, we don’t really need to do that again!’ ” explains Simpson. So after the newlyweds were introduced as “Mr. and Mrs. Johnson,” the groom stepped up to give a welcome speech. “It was nice to be able to connect my love for Jess to my grandparents, whose love has been a model in my life,” says Johnson, who met Simpson through mutual friends in 2010. “He talked about how he knew he wanted to be with me for the rest of our lives because we sat on the stairs at my house and just talked for hours,” says Simpson, who got an engagement ring six months later. “It was an instant connection.”

Their bond has only intensified. “We’ve already had our two babies, and he’s seen me at my best and my worst for sure,” says Simpson. “And he’s loved me no matter what.”

His love even passed the wedding planning test. “Eric was really good at all the seating arrangements. We worked over 10 hours on that alone because Eric’s like, ‘This buddy’s single and he would totally love your friend. So put them together!’ ” says Simpson. “You have to hook your friends up!” says Johnson.

As it turned out, nobody stayed seated for long. After tucking into a four-course meal of crab cakes and short ribs or sea bass, guests flooded the dance floor as a live band performed songs ranging from Motown to classic rock. “We had seven different singers! I was very selective about the music, and everybody had the time of their lives,” says Simpson. “We had 200 people dancing at all times!” adds Johnson. One of the stars of the dance floor turned out to be Maxwell, who twirled in a custom Carolina Herrera gown that complemented Mom’s. “She wanted to get out there, and Eric danced with both kids,” says Simpson. “I did have moments where I danced, but I would stop and talk to everyone. Having everyone coming in from out of town, you want to make sure you spend time with them.”

There was no rush to catch up with all the partygoers by the time the reception ended at 10 p.m., because the pair hosted an afterparty on the ranch that featured a deejay, a spread of sliders, grilled cheese and fries—and, of course, an outfit change by Simpson, who slipped into a blue Zuhair Murad minidress. “Since it was for the afterparty, I felt like I deserved to sex it up a little bit!” says Simpson. “It was from a past collection, and it was one of a kind, so they had to make another one for me. So I had two custom couture gowns for my wedding!”

The festivities didn’t end until 5:30 a.m. “The whole weekend has been completely magical for all of us,” says Simpson. “The wedding wraps up the last four years,” says Johnson, “and it’s a nice feeling of completion to know our relationship is coming together.” Simpson agrees. “It’s not really that anything has changed,” she says. “We’ve really built such a beautiful life, and it just keeps getting better. I’ve waited a long time to find someone as wonderful as he is, and I look forward to raising our children together and growing together. With Eric, it’s only just begun.”