Interview with François Pasquier, Founder of Le Dîner en Blanc de Paris
On June 3rd, Le Dîner en Blanc will celebrate its 30th anniversary. As the event approaches, François Pasquier, founder and organiser of Le Dîner en Blanc de Paris, looks back over these many years of celebratory gatherings and shares a few anecdotes from along the way.
You created Le Dîner en Blanc thirty years ago, in 1988. What prompted the idea for this event?
My family and I lived in Tahiti for several years in the 1980s and upon our return to Paris, we wanted to celebrate with our friends. Our garden was too small, so we decided to host a picnic in the Bois de Boulogne. To make it easier to find each other, we agreed to dress all in white. The dinner was such a complete success that we decided to repeat it again the following year, and again, and again…until eventually, we had more than a thousand guests!
Has the concept evolved over the last thirty years?
The basic concept has remained exactly the same: a gathering amongst friends. Over the years, we have put a special emphasis on the elegant, all-white dress code to liven things up. Our priority remains the quality of the Dîner, and not the spectacular aspect of it. It is the Dîner itself that is the show. We now have between 8,000 and 12,000 guests each year, depending on the location. The site itself always remains a secret: no one knows, not the guests and not even the police! We have never asked the authorities for permission and in thirty years, we’ve never had a problem.
Which Le Dîner en Blanc was the most striking?
In Paris, I particularly liked the Dîner held in the square in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral. I was extremely moved by this particular gathering, most likely because of its sacred setting. What’s more, we received the blessing of the cathedral’s archpriest with his megaphone. He didn’t even know that we were coming! Abroad, I’d have to say the Dîner en Blanc in Singapore (2012), held at the foot of the Marina Bay Sand Hotel, was grandiose. Likewise, the Dîner in Los Angeles (2013) was unforgettable. Of course, these fond memories are linked to who was there and the quality of people with whom we shared these great moments.
Are there any celebrities among your regular guests?
Of course! But I won’t divulge any names! It’s a part of the concept. Anyone may participate, however everyone must remain simple and leave their social status at home. During the Dîner, we are all equal and no one enjoys preferential treatment.
How do you explain the global success of this event?
The simplest things in life, like friendship, are universal. Any event that promotes sharing and discussions over a meal can happen in any country in the world: you just have to give it a name, and the name today is Le Dîner en Blanc. But it’s really thanks to my son, Aymeric, and his team who thought to introduce the concept to the world. First, he found the right format for Anglo-Saxon countries, then for all continents.
In June, Le Dîner en Blanc will celebrate its 30th anniversary. What have you got planned for this special edition?
We are expecting between 5,000 and 10,000 people from around the world. In total, there will be between 20,000 and 30,000 in attendance. There will be some thirty orchestras, as Le Dîner en Blanc includes numerous musicians. For the rest, I can’t give anything else away. The event has to maintain an element of mystery!
You have surely made a lot of memories over the last thirty years. Could you share some with us?
If I’m not mistaken, it was 1991. We had organized the departure of our 30-bus convoy on the Esplanade des Invalides to our secret location on the Right Bank, forgetting that we were over the largest police station in Paris. Naturally, policemen came to inquire about our destination, to which we replied that they really wouldn’t be interested and didn’t need to worry about us. They consequently decided to keep us from leaving, under the pretext that there were demonstrations underway and that we might just make an already complex situation worse. So, we started setting up tables around the whole bus kerfuffle. While the situation actually became quite funny, it proved difficult for the police to manage. As such, the Prefect of the Paris Police had the excellent idea to provide us with a police escort, sirens and horns a-blazing, to the foot of the Eiffel Tower on the Champ-de-Mars. You can only imagine the atmosphere in the busses and the looks on Parisian’s faces as we drove past...
A few years later, at Trocadéro, a young woman threw what was left of her dinner into the garbage at the end of her meal, not realizing that she had also thrown out her engagement ring. She called upon other nearby diners to help her recover it. As a result, some innocent bystanders that night got to witness the unforgettable sight of some hundred people, all elegantly dressed in white and just a little bit tired, rummaging through garbage bags. Miraculously, the ring was recovered!
How do you see the future?
This will be the last time that I personally organize Le Dîner en Blanc de Paris. Up until now, we have always been a team of ten people. It’s time that I hand the reins over to someone of the age I was when this all began, some forty years ago. The most important thing for me is to maintain the spirit that we have cultivated over these last, incredibly happy, thirty years. Above all, Le Dîner en Blanc must continue to be a gathering among friends that is inclusive and is open to others; a gathering where sharing, gaiety and elegance are the catalyst to an evening and the hope for tomorrow.
Text: Diane Stehlé
Translation: Dawn Bessey-Gans
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