Chérie, come on in and meet the regal Sheikha Rima Al-Sabah, the wife of Sheikh Salem Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the United States. A distinguished emissary in her own right, Rima is both a United Nation’s Goodwill Ambassador and an ambassador of unparalleled hospitality. One of Washington’s top salonnieres, Rima is known for hosting purpose-driven parties that have engaged luminaries from Angelina Jolie and Leonardo DiCaprio to politicos from both sides of the aisle. After a recent trip to the Middle East, Secretary of State John Kerry stepped off the plane and hightailed it straight to one of Rima’s benefit dinners. “The greatest crisis of all,” remarked Secretary Kerry, “would have been if I had not made it back tonight.” How did this former journalist with savoir-faire to spare become one of Washington’s empresses of entertaining? Let’s find out.
Why do you think your party invitations are among the most coveted in DC?
I hope it’s because our guests know that they’re going to meet interesting people as well as catch up with old friends and they can relax and enjoy themselves.
What’s the secret to being a successful hostess in Washington?
It’s all about mixing it up – bringing together guests from the government, the media, the entertainment industry, the arts, and the corporate world.
What three words would you use to describe your entertaining style?
Engaging, elegant, and fun.
Rima presents Catherine Zeta Jones with the Distinguished Public Service Award at her Educate and Empower Gala to benefit Georgetown University
You host most of your parties at the Embassy or Embassy residence. What’s the most notable conversation piece there?
There is an 18th century Oriental room that was taken from a Syrian palace and reconstructed as a lounge in the Embassy. It gives guests a feeling of being in the Middle East.
What are your best tips for seating guests at a dinner party?
Separate married couples so they can get to know different people during dinner, and seat people who don’t know each other – but have similar interests – together to encourage new friendships.
Given that this is an election year, what is your advice for managing conversations that get a bit too impassioned?
People who live in Washington are very good at changing the subject quickly to make sure the conversation doesn’t get too heated. Also, many guests make a conscious effort not to create an uncomfortable moment for the hostess or the other guests. [Click here for some great tips for talking politics at parties.]
What percentage of your parties are purpose-driven versus purely for fun?
Most of our entertaining is purpose-driven. We are constantly hosting dinners for delegations from home as well as benefit galas for nonprofit organizations.
What are your favorite party resources in Washington?
I like Design Cuisine for catering and Flowers by Daniel for flowers.
Ambassador Salem Al-Sabah and Rima welcome Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban to a dinner party at the Kuwait Embassy
I know that you use dinnerware, glassware, flatware, and linens that feature the official crest of the State of Kuwait, but tell us about your favorite:
Candle for the powder room – Diptyque or Jo Malone
Hand soap for the powder room – L’Occitane
Party dress designer – Balmain, Victoria Beckham, Roberto Cavalli, Dior, and Emilio Pucci
Party shoe designer – Aquazzura, Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, and Gianvito Rossi
Party handbag designer – Chanel, Hermés, and Alexander McQueen
What three words would you use to describe the Washington party scene?
Quiet, politically-focused, and purposeful.
How has the entertaining scene in DC changed since you arrived in 2001?
It’s less non-partisan and more informal now.
What is the best party you’ve ever attended?
One of the best parties I attended (and hosted) was the 2006 Bridges of Hope benefit dinner, which raised one million dollars for UNICEF to help provide schools for girls in Afghanistan. First Lady Laura Bush and actor Michael Douglas were the honorees, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice performed an unforgettable piano duet with the late, great Marvin Hamlisch.
What do you consider to be your greatest party victory?
Having President George W. Bush – during his tenure in office – serve as the guest of honor and keynote speaker at the gala dinner we hosted to benefit Malaria No More.
President Clinton was the guest of honor and keynote speaker at Rima’s Enduring Support Gala where Ben Affleck spoke, Michael Bolton performed, and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski served as masters of ceremonies.
You have hosted just about every major politician, celebrity, and person of influence. Who stands out in your mind as being a really wonderful guest?
Secretary John Kerry. He honors his social obligations because he understands that useful work can be accomplished at a party.
What 10 people from the past or present would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Cleopatra, George and Amal Clooney, Coco Chanel, Bill Gates, John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Paul McCartney, Michelangelo, and Margaret Thatcher.
What would you like Americans to know about the people of Kuwait?
The people of Kuwait have enjoyed a democracy for decades. They remain grateful for American support and friendship, and they hope for a lasting peace in the region, just as Americans do.
How would you complete this sentence? You know you’ve been at a Rima Al-Sabah party when…
…you don’t want to leave even though it’s after 11 pm in Washington, DC.
Well, that sounds like our kind of party, Rima. Thanks for sharing your fête-fabulous hosting perspective.
Photos: Vicky Pombo