Their First Date ‘Felt Like Christmas’

NaVell Shorter knew he was thinking too much about how to impress Yasmin Quiles on their first date. So he took a pause and regrouped. “I was like, don’t put too much pressure on yourself,” he said. “Everybody knows Yasmin knows what’s good. But I’m going to show her what’s better.”

That self pep talk paid off. Five minutes into dinner at the TriBeCa restaurant Macao Trading Company, in November 2011, Ms. Quiles leaned into the table Mr. Shorter had reserved and said, “Kiss me.” He was instantly a kid again. “I promise you, it felt like Christmas when she said that, like I was by the tree, about to open presents,” he said.

Mr. Shorter wasn’t the only one who sensed the ground shifting. “When he kissed me, I immediately knew how I felt about him,” Ms. Quiles said. “I was thinking, uh-oh, I’m in trouble. Now I’m going to have a man in my life.”

Ms. Quiles, 44, is the founder of POP! By Yaz, a company in Jersey City, N.J., that has produced lavish events for clients including HBO, Dropbox and LVMH Moët Hennessy.

More recently, she became a TV presence, appearing last fall as one of eight contestants on the HGTV competition series “Table Wars.” Martha Stewart helped judge which designer created the most extravagant tabletop. Ms. Quiles did not win — “She was wronged,” Mr. Shorter said — but working with Ms. Stewart was a fantasy realized, as Ms. Quiles had been a fan since adolescence. “I had all her magazines and books,” she said.

Mr. Shorter, 46, is a fourth-generation New Yorker, from the Bronx. Ms. Quiles also was raised in the Bronx, but by immigrant parents. Her mother, Raquel Quiles, came from the Dominican Republic; her father, Luis Quiles, is originally from Puerto Rico. She and her brother, Kenny Quiles, 35, grew up less steeped in Latin culture than they might have been if they were both 20 years younger, she said.

“My parents were from the generation that was trying to assimilate more than anything,” Ms. Quiles said. “People weren’t celebrating their cultures then like they do now.”

Ms. Quiles said her early daydreams about planning perfect weddings and parties were inspired by Ms. Stewart, who was her pole star. But Ms. Quiles wasn’t sure how to follow her career path. At Iona College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1998, she majored in mass communications and media studies for lack of direction.

“I knew I wanted to produce events and be in the entertainment world,” Ms. Quiles said. “But I didn’t know what that was even called.”

Ms. Quilles, who is the founder of the event design company POP! By Yaz, called in the help of her vendor friends to transform the parlor of the couples’ home into an elegant ceremony venue. Credit…Amy Anaiz

By the time she met Mr. Shorter on Nov. 2, 2011, she had it figured out. Ms. Quiles, then living in Jersey City and working for the agency SoHo Experiential, had produced a tasting event for the Scotch brand Macallan that evening, at 82 Mercer in SoHo. Mr. Shorter‘s friend Sylvia Lee-Gray, also a friend of Ms. Quiles, had invited him as a way to celebrate his new job as marketplace manager at Nike.

“I said, ‘I’m down,’” Mr. Shorter said. “I love Scotch.” But Scotch was not the primary intoxicant for him that night.

As soon as he saw Ms. Quiles, “my mind said this was the person I was meant for,” he said. “She had this smile, this radiance, this energy.” He also recognized a woman in her element. “It wasn’t until later on that I realized what that element was, though. It was being in a place where she was being creative and business-minded while taking care of people.”

Her business-minded side thwarted his attempt to turn on the charm at an after-party for the Macallan event. “He came up to me dancing, and I was like, ‘What is going on?’” Ms. Quiles said. “I was in complete work mode. I said, ‘I don’t dance at events.’” She didn’t have a policy against giving her phone number to new acquaintances, though.

Ms. Quiles travels frequently for work. In 2011, she was juggling the production of events in cities throughout the country and being a new mother. That year she had a daughter, Brooke Jenkins, from a previous relationship. Years earlier, her first marriage ended in divorce in 2005. Mr. Shorter had never been married, but was also a parent. His son, Mikai Shorter, is 23.

Two weeks after the Scotch party, Mr. Shorter was maneuvering his way onto Ms. Quiles’s calendar. A flirty text dialogue he had initiated the night they met was in full flight. “The reason I asked him to kiss me at Macao is because our chemistry had grown exponentially those two weeks,” Ms. Quiles said.

Once Ms. Quiles was seated at the table — a coveted corner spot that Mr. Short had secured by bribing the maître d’ with a pair of Nikes — and had ordered a cocktail, “I was like, ‘Wow, he gets me,’” she said.

By 2012, neither was interested in dating anybody else. In 2013, Mr. Shorter moved into a condo near Ms. Quiles’s place in Jersey City. To then, he had spent most of his life in the Bronx, where his mother, Deborah Shorter, his grandmother, Sadie Gray, and six aunts had shepherded him through Evander Childs High School and directly into his first job selling sneakers at a local H & Y Sports store.

Two years later, they moved into a new home in Jersey City together. In 2016, she quit her agency job and started POP! By Yaz.

Mr. Shorter, who was by then managing Nike’s boutique business, was her sounding board for ideas. He also provided a backdrop of harmony at home, something Ms. Quiles’s past relationships had lacked. “Very early on, NaVell set the stage for a way of communicating that was respectful,” she said. “We would have conflicts, but we never raised our voices or cursed at each other.”

Past relationships were no longer worth remembering to Mr. Shorter. For him, a future with Ms. Quiles was becoming all that mattered. “I was like, when you know, you know,” he said. “Even food didn’t taste good to me when she wasn’t around.”

But the idea of marriage left a bad taste in his mouth. “I didn’t come from a place where marriage was common,” he said. His mother’s two marriages hadn’t lasted, and only three of the aunts who helped raise him had married. “I had to take some time to get my emotions in order,” Mr. Shorter said.

Around 2017, though, he had started talking to their friends about what their ideal wedding might look like. “I made the mistake of bringing other people into it before I proposed,” said Mr. Shorter, whose lack of follow-through on those conversations frustrated Ms. Quiles.

In 2018, his mother died of an aneurysm. “I was dealing with a lot,” he said. “I needed time.” By 2019, he had made a plan to propose on New Year’s Eve. A friend’s wedding in Dubai got in the way; it didn’t seem like the right setting. Then Covid surfaced, and finding the right moment got way less important.

In the spring of 2020, Eric Santos, a colleague at Nike who was just a year older than Mr. Shorter, died of a heart attack. The two “would talk about the women we were in love with,” Mr. Shorter said. “He was engaged and had plans for his wedding. Then he went in the hospital and never came home.”

For Mr. Shorter, Mr. Santos’s death, in combination with so many new pandemic fatalities, was a reality check. “I truly realized you’re not guaranteed a tomorrow,” he said.

On Jan. 2, 2021, Mr. Shorter proposed on a trip to the Turks and Caicos. A friend who lived on the island had chartered a private yacht for them; a drone buzzed overhead to capture the moment when he dropped to both knees and presented a custom-designed diamond ring. That month, Mr. Shorter also ended his decade-long career at Nike. He is now the chief commerce officer at Hush Lifestyle Boutique in Englewood, N.J.

Ms. Quiles’s planning instinct kicked in before they left the islands to return home to Freehold, N.J., where they had bought a house in September 2020. But the pandemic wasn’t letting up. “We didn’t want to put anybody’s health in jeopardy, and we didn’t want any limitations, so we kept postponing,” Ms. Quiles said.

Mr. Shorter, once ambivalent about marriage, got impatient, she said. “He was like, ‘I really want to marry you. We should get married on our 10-year anniversary.’”

The intimate ceremony was held before seven guests, which included Mikai Shorter, middle, Mr. Shorter’s 23-year-old son from a previous relationship.Credit…Amy Anaiz

On Nov. 2, 2021, a decade after they met at the Macallan Scotch tasting, they were married in their home’s parlor by Shawn Solomon, Mr. Shorter’s best friend, who became a Universal Life Church minister for the occasion. Ms. Quiles wore a strapless white wedding gown and Mr. Shorter donned a light gray suit for the ceremony, which was simple and intimate. There were only seven guests, including Ms. Jenkins, now 11, and Mikai Shorter.

But it wouldn’t have been a Ms. Quiles production without some extravagant touches. More than a dozen “friendors” — vendors Ms. Quiles works with who have become friends — were hired for the day. A chef and sous chef prepared a five-course tasting menu, while a photographer and videographer captured the day. Also, a D.J. got the room dancing to R&B and hip-hop.

By night’s end, any lingering regrets about not holding out for a bigger celebration had vanished. “What we did here felt so intimate,” Ms. Quiles said. “There was no pressure to do anything but have a great time.”

On This Day

When Nov. 2, 2021

Where The home of Yasmin Quiles and NaVell Shorter in Freehold, N.J.

More to Come Though they loved their intimate, at-home ceremony, the couple plan to host a signature POP! By Yaz bash in 2022 for hundreds of friends and family. “We just need the pandemic to go away,” Ms. Quiles said.

Champions In his short speech as officiant, Mr. Solomon talked about the couple’s longtime devotion. “They’re each other’s champions,” he said. “That’s something I aspire to in my own life, and a special quality that I think makes for a successful marriage.”

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