I’ll meet you tonight under the moon. Oh, I can see you now, you and the moon. You wear a necktie so I’ll know ya.
So how many people did you have at your last dinner party? Eight? Maybe 10? Well, François Pasquier, a 67-year-old gent from Paris, had about 15,000. Yep, nearly 15,000 by-invitation-only swells came to his annual dinner party last month at the Pont Alexandre III. François told his guests to dress in white and bring their own bottle as well as “a table, two white chairs, a picnic basket comprised of quality menu items and china dinner service.” And the Monsieur didn’t let on the location for his fête until mere minutes before it started. Rather an unusual way to host a party, non? But this was no ordinary soirée. This was Le Dîner en Blanc, the world’s largest secret dinner party.
François Pasquier and his family at a Dîner en Blanc
Created in Paris 25 years ago by François who simply wanted to picnique with friends in forbidden places, Dîner en Blanc (the “dinner in white”) has grown into an international social event with tens of thousands of white-frocked guests and guests-of-guests who come together in landmark spaces to dine, dance, and revel. As François likes to say, “Dinner parties are what create bonds of friendship.” We couldn’t agree more. Sites for the chic pop-up picnic have included the Champs-Élysées, Le Louvre Pyramid, and the Esplanade de Notre-Dame.
One lucky guest was Jennifer Ash Rudick, a filmmaker from New York, who brought a movie camera instead of a table, chairs, and picnic basket. What she cooked up is “Dîner en Blanc: The World’s Largest Dinner Party,” a 40-minute documentary that reveals how François’ dinner party has gone from a picnic with 25 pals to the international social marvel that it is today with events in 40 cities worldwide including New York, Buenos Aires, Milan, and Moscow. Grab your Lillet, and listen in while Jennifer gives us the inside scoop on the world’s largest and most secretive dinner party. Jennifer is the only person ever to have complete access to François and all the party secrets, so you’re not going to want to miss a word of her story.
Jennifer Ash Rudick (center) during the filming of “Dîner en Blanc”
Jennifer, what inspired you to make this film?
I first heard about Dîner en Blanc while in Paris walking over the Pont des Arts with a Parisian friend and she explained her sister was part of a group of about 2,000 friends-of-friends who had an annual dinner in a forbidden spot in Paris. The most recent location had been the Pont des Arts and the police tried to evacuate them without success. About 15 years later, I read about a Dîner en Blanc in the New York Times. This seemed like it could be a nice little film, so I tried to connect with the founder who really wanted to remain anonymous. It took me six months to convince someone to make an introduction. He agreed to meet me in Paris to discuss the film but, when I arrived, he sent his neighbor. The neighbor asked me what kind of film I envisioned and I answered that I really didn’t know. I thought we should start filming and see what happens. I only knew it would be beautiful because it would be an all-white dinner in Paris. I also wanted to communicate the joy that comes from collaboration.
What do you think is the success behind Dîner en Blanc?
I believe it comes down to the fact that there’s no agenda, it is completely non-commercial, the location is not disclosed so there is spontaneity, which makes it fun, and everyone is on equal footing with no VIP seating. There is a lot of positive energy in the air! It’s really the perfect dinner party.
How do people get on the Dîner en Blanc guest list?
Hah! In Paris, it is friends-of-friends. If you can’t come one year, but you let the organizers know, you will stay on the list. If you simply don’t show up, or you don’t pick up your garbage, you will probably not be asked back. François wants the numbers to be manageable but he is also inclusive, as that is the idea of the dinner. Many people thought it was meant to be snobbish but it’s not at all. François would like to include anyone who would like to come but he also has to be sure there is room for everyone. That said, he never thought 5,000 would be manageable and they made it work and then 10,000 and now 15,000.
How has making the film changed your perspective on dinner parties? Has it changed the way you think about entertaining?’
I would say making this film has really freed me from many of the constraints that I mistakenly thought were necessary for a proper party. I used to labor over the table setting, flowers, guest lists, menu and so on. Now, instead of orchestrating a dinner party, I act more like a facilitator, especially in the summer, including whoever is around that week, taking advantage of what’s in season to serve, what’s in the garden to decorate the table. As in Dîner en Blanc, an element of surprise always helps, even if it is just a special drink. I also love having people who can’t stay for dinner swing by for an early drink or come later for dessert. The coming and going energizes the party. I still wouldn’t want to entertain 15,000 people but I have definitely adopted a more casual, open-door policy.
Interested in organizing a Dîner en Blanc in your city? Find out how here. À votre santé, doll.
Introductory photo: Joan Crawford
Introductory quote: The Cocoanuts, 1929