Candiace Dillard really didn’t want to cry. And then she saw Chris Bassett’s eyes across the room.
The Real Housewives of Potomac star was doing her best to control her emotions on Saturday as she prepared to wed Bassett in front of 260 friends and family at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. But as strong as she was, nothing prepared her for the moment she started walking down the aisle and locked eyes with her soon-to-be husband.
“When they opened the doors, I only saw him,” Dillard tells PEOPLE exclusively. “I was connected to Chris’ eyes. And he was crying, so I was weeping. There’s an ugly cry moment where I had to stop and scrunch up my face. To be walking towards the man who is going to be your husband? That was such a powerful and incredible feeling.”
“That is what I will always remember, looking in his eyes,” she continues. “It felt so comfortable and so right and so ‘This is where I’m supposed to be.’ And I was so overwhelmed by that feeling, and the look of the room, and seeing all the people around us. It was like a dream.”
Dillard and Bassett’s nuptials were a long time coming for the pair, who met while working at a restaurant together in D.C. and dated for nearly two years before he proposed in May 2017.
Their wedding planning was captured for the RHOP cameras, and while some of the tougher moments made for compelling TV, the final affair was smooth sailing.
“Everything was perfect — we were just blown away by it all,” Dillard says of the affair, which was designed by Strawberry Milk Events on her theme of “cosmopolitan sophistication with a touch of southern class.”
For the ceremony, the grand Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium was decked out with décor from Social Supply Events, including a mirrored walkway, boxes of white roses, floating chandeliers and a custom-made gold mirror arbor flanked with Edge Floral Event Design‘s cascading flowers.
“They all just showed out,” she says. “They got my vision perfectly. As far as the look and the aesthetic of the venue, I wouldn’t have done anything differently.”
Cocktail hour and a reception followed, with a feast of hors d’oeuvres and a seated dinner from Spilled Milk Catering that included lamb chops, a summer watermelon salad, short ribs and a sea bass with dill — an option that referenced their wedding hashtag (#cbasswithdill).
As for the raspberry almond wedding cake? That was from ButterCream Bakeshop.
“The food was friggin’ amazing,” Dillard, a former Miss United States, recalls. “Delicious. The presentation was art deco, a little victorian — it matched all the themes I wanted in the wedding. And the cake was so, so good. We got nothing but great feedback from our guests on the food. So mission accomplished.”
Music from We the Fix and DJ Tryfe kept the guests moving. “We definitely danced the night away,” Dillard says. “I had a good sweat going on so I know I danced. My feet are still in shambles, so my body is telling me I had a good time.”
There were speeches throughout the night too, including ones from her dad and stepdad (who both walked her down the aisle) and one from Dillard’s mom. Bassett’s two best men, his brother his best friend, also gave speeches. “I wish we had maybe an extra hour at the reception, because all the speeches were amazing. I didn’t want them to stop,” Dillard says.
But of course, it was all about Dillard’s dress — or, in this case, dresses. Both were custom designed by New York designer Karen Sabag, who worked closely with Dillard over an eight-month period to craft the perfect look.
For the ceremony and reception, Dillard wore a flowing ballgown, its imprinted pearl cream silk organza draped over a fitted corset and continuing onto a skirt of 70 yards. Soft and dramatic at the same time, the gown was finished with two French bows on the shoulders, beaded (by hand) with 80 yards of Swarovski crystals. A clean, long cathedral vail — pinned into her soft curls — finished the look, with a blusher till the floor.
“That dress was everything I wanted it to be and then some,” Dillard says. “I knew I wanted a ballgown and I tried on several, but they just weren’t doing it. But Karen made it happen. It had the perfect drop-waist bodice, because when you’re a short girl wearing a ballgown, you have to be careful about it cutting you off on the wrong lines. And it was so light. It looked heavy, but I was really able to dance and jump around and move in it. I loved it.”
A a second dress — a halter with cold shoulder sleeves and a mini poof skirt in a metallic flower sequence fabric — made its debut at the afterparty.
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Now that the wedding is behind them, Dillard and Bassett — a restaurateur and father of three — have a honeymoon to plan. They’ve got some time, the two not planning on heading out on the getaway until January, when they can get some good vacation time scheduled.
“We’re thinking either Greece or Dubai, though we’ve also gotten some good suggestions in the Amalfi coast and Thailand,” Dillard explains. “What’s important for us in a honeymoon destination is that we’re able to immerse ourselves in a culture. Not just the food and the libations, but also being around the people and watching how those countries live. So all those places check those boxes.”
And in the meantime, they’ll be reminiscing about their big day for years to come.
“It feels so crazy,” Dillard says. “As soon as Chris and I walked back down the aisle together, the first thing I said to him was, ‘Can we do it again?’ And that’s how I feel about it now. I’ll remember it forever.”
The Real Housewives of Potomac airs Sundays (8 p.m. ET) on Bravo.