They Were in Love. They Were the Last to Know.
Posted May 26, 2018 12:19 a.m. EDT
Jean Kim first spotted her future husband on a chilly day in 2002 at Amherst College. She was on the rooftop terrace of Valentine Hall, a dining facility that was doubling as a dormitory, and looking out onto the campus grounds, Bryan Woo had caught her eye.
“He has this cocky strut,” Kim, 33, recalled. “He was completely bald, he wore this giant puffy jacket and flip-flops in the cold. I thought to myself, ‘Who is this scary-looking guy?'”
Woo and Kim, it turned out, couldn’t be more different. He is a New York City native, unnerved by the silent countryside of Amherst, Massachusetts. She acclimated easier coming from a New Jersey suburb. He was private-school educated. She went to public schools her whole life.
As a swimmer at Trinity School on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Woo, 34, was also very competitive, determined to win (hence the shaved head) and devoted to building his biceps. A dragon tattoo covered his left shoulder.
At Northern Valley Regional High School at Demarest, New Jersey, Kim had a natural aptitude for both academics and athletics. She made the all-state orchestra for violin and the varsity volleyball team, where she helped the team to a state championship her senior year.
Although both Woo and Kim coincidentally enrolled in the same Japanese aesthetics class — he loved animé; she respected the culture — they interacted mainly because of mutual friends. During their freshman year, Woo grew close to four of his Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity brothers, who quickly formed an inseparable crew. Three of them also lived in Valentine Hall, along with Kim.
“They all looked after me as a little sister, but I was still one of the guys,” she said.
Then, in 2004, Kim fell between a stairwell banister, fracturing her right wrist and jaw and dislocating her hip. She took the year off to recover. In 2005, Woo started dating Kim’s friend during his junior year. Upon Kim’s return, the three of them would often spend time together.
“It was very platonic,” Woo said of their deepening friendship. “Although, somehow in every single photo we have of us three, Bryan is trying to eat my face,” Kim added, laughing.
After the relationship between Woo and Kim’s friend dissolved in 2008, Kim remained a confidante to both parties.
Woo, who had a double major in economics and psychology, returned to New York after graduating in 2006. He traded real estate bonds for NorthStar Realty Finance. Then, in September 2008, he moved to Seoul, South Korea, for a job at Mirae Asset Global Investments. He resided on Yeouido Island, which, coincidentally, was where Kim’s parents and maternal grandparents had at one time lived.
Kim graduated in 2007 with a degree in English, and that summer started a career in marketing analytics at Viacom in Manhattan. She currently works as a senior account manager of the Enthuse Marketing Group. Although both actively dated other people, their approaches were very different. “Dating was never just fun for me,” said Kim, who viewed relationships as a means to finding a potential life partner and settle down. Woo courted women casually, with relationships lasting from one to six months.
“I was very focused on work,” Woo said. As the first son from an accomplished immigrant family, he felt a responsibility to continue his family’s success. His father’s real estate development firm, Youngwoo & Associates, purchased the AIG towers with Kumho Investment Bank of South Korea for around $140 million in 2009 and won the bid to develop Pier 57 with RXR Realty that same year.
After Woo returned from Seoul in 2010, he became the director of acquisitions at his family’s firm. That October, Kim received an unexpected phone call from Woo. Eventually they caught up over dinner at BCD Tofu House in Koreatown — but not before Kim had tried to reschedule.
Woo insisted on their original date. The reason? His cousin’s archery tournament was on the alternate day she had suggested. “I never expected him to prioritize his baby cousin or family,” Kim said. “That stood out to me.”
From then on, their encounters were casual and often in group settings. “I would ask her about my dating life because she was the only female opinion that I trusted,” Woo said. Kim was in relationships, but Woo never approved of her suitors.
In October 2014, Woo invited Kim on a weekend trip to Connecticut with Amherst friends. As the only singles, their friends “had very strategically put us in the barn together that night,” Kim said.
“We kept saying we have to make sure we get married later in life — only to other people,” Woo recalled of their evening.
Nothing romantic transpired (much to those friends’ disappointment), but the weekend revealed a different side of Woo. “I was surprised that Bryan wanted to get married and have a family,” Kim said. “Until then, I thought he was just a playboy.”
Three weeks later, Woo invited Kim and some friends to a fundraiser. When Woo arrived with a date, Kim was surprised. “Three weeks ago, we were consoling each other, saying ‘You’ll find someone.'” Upon seeing the other woman, Kim believed that finding love “didn’t feel like a big dilemma for him.”
Eventually the evening progressed to a Chinatown bar, then Woo’s apartment. Once Woo’s date left, his childhood friend, Charles Clinton, became frustrated. “When you see two people who are in love sometimes it’s very obvious,” Clinton said.
“Clearly you’re in love with Jean,” Clinton said to Woo. “Just go tell her that.”
While Kim retreated to the restroom, Woo shooed everyone from his apartment. When she emerged, he confessed his feelings. “I think I really like you,” Kim remembered him saying. Not wanting to hurt their friendship, she replied, “I think me too.”
The next morning, Woo left for a 10-day business trip. When he returned, he organized a formal “business meeting” over dinner at Gaonurri in Koreatown. Despite the risks to their friendship, they decided to give a relationship the old college try. A week later, Woo planned a romantic getaway to Cold Spring, New York. Although both describe the weekend as “very awkward,” the butterflies were there. “I was so giddy,” Kim remembered when they held hands.
After that, Woo and Kim felt at ease with their romance. Their friends? Not so much. Most were skeptical, given Woo’s dating record. One friend, Alister Dabreo, told Woo, “If you date Jean, you better marry Jean.”
Clinton noted that Woo “has a very kind heart that you didn’t always see with women, but that was immediately evident with Jean.”
Woo’s father, Young S. Woo, agreed. “Bryan is not exactly a soft guy, lovely guy or quiet guy,” he said, “but every time he sees Jean he becomes like a pussy cat.”
On New Year’s Eve in 2014, Woo told Kim he loved her. “She’s such a complement to me,” Woo explained. “She’s able to read me and understand my motivations in ways I don’t fully comprehend.” One year later, they discussed marriage.
On Feb. 10, 2017, Woo proposed to Kim at his family’s country house in Garrison, New York. He surprised Kim with two stacked bamboo steamers on an outside table. The first contained Kim’s favorite food, dumplings. In the bottom, she discovered a ring box.
On April 14, they were married before 260 guests (including Martha Stewart, who is a friend of the groom’s family) in the Bronx Post Office. The building holds special significance for Woo, whose family firm purchased the landmark building in 2014. His parents also met 10 blocks away from the site — his father had delivered rice from a Korean grocery store to his mother’s apartment in 1972.
Kim wore a pale blush, strapless lace dress by Monique Lhuillier. Woo donned a white tuxedo jacket and black pants by Ermenegildo Zegna. Clinton, who had prompted his friends to express their love four years ago, became ordained through the Universal Life Church. He officiated alongside his wife, Jacqueline Clinton. The bride’s brother, Daniel Kim, read “Love in Action” from Romans 12:9-16.
After Kim agreed to take Woo as her husband, Jacqueline Clinton paused, asking: “Are you sure, Jean?” Laughter erupted in the room.
Ivory and white velour curtains transformed the industrial space, which was finished only days before the wedding, in a romantic setting. After cocktail hour in the lobby, the 16-person bridal party emerged into the dimly lit reception area to Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” During the couple’s first dance, Woo dramatically dipped his wife backward to Etta James crooning “At last my love has come along.”
While guests noshed on branzino, steak and pasta, the groom’s brother, He-myong, shared a slideshow of Woo. His Korean name, He-ryong, means bright dragon. For a time, Woo was pure dragon. Under Kim’s influence, He-myong said he saw his brother’s lightness come back. “Jean isn’t the light, but she’s a source that brings out that light in him,” he said.
ON THIS DAY
When: April 14, 2018.
Where: The Bronx Post Office in New York.
Under Construction: Still an active construction site, the post office’s first floor was finished only days before the wedding. Wedding planners Medium Rare and Concrete+Water transformed the 30,000-square-foot industrial space into an ethereal and romantic setting, replete with floor-to-ceiling drapes and blooming cherry blossom branches on the tables.
Historic Lobby: After the ceremony, guests sipped cocktails and devoured hors d’oeuvres while the sunset’s golden light streamed through the building. The band, Acappella Soul, sang classics like “Stand by Me” before one of the 13 restored 1930s murals by the artists Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson Shahn.
A Modern Tradition: The bride’s wedding party all wore traditional Korean Hanbok-style dresses in modern fabrics by dressmakers in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Families Merged: During the ceremony, Woo and Kim’s mothers lighted two candles, symbolizing the light and life of their separate families. When the newlyweds lighted their own candle, signifying the merging of their lives and families, Woo inauspiciously dropped his, but quickly recovered it before anything could catch fire.