In Pictures: Dîner en Blanc in New York City

Dîner en Blanc, New York City
Dîner en Blanc, New York City | © Rachel Thalia / Culture Trip
Salma Abdelnour

Imagine thousands of people wearing white dresses, white suits, white shoes and white jewelry taking over a New York City lawn on a summer night. It sounds like a scene from a surrealist film. But it’s real, and the mob of 6,000-plus are guests at what might be the biggest pop-up dinner party on the planet.

Dîner en Blanc, a roving international picnic with an all-white dress code, celebrated its eighth annual New York City event on September 17, 2018. The dinner thrives on its mystique and word-of-mouth exclusivity, so the confirmed guests for this year’s New York City event didn’t find out the location until that afternoon when phones started buzzing with texts revealing the secret spot: Governors Island. Taxis and subways heading downtown began filling with white-clad clusters of people heading to the Battery Park ferries, hauling tables, chairs, picnic baskets and magnums of champagne.

White-clad guests waited in long lines to board ferries to Governors Island.

The venue changes from year-to-year, but the all-white dress code – interpreted every which way imaginable – is always de rigueur. The only time guests didn’t wear all white was in 1988, at the original picnic that kicked off the tradition. That summer, a few friends in Paris gathered for a spontaneous al fresco dinner party in a park. The night turned out to be too much fun not to repeat, so the next year the friends did it again and invited a bigger group. Everyone needed an easy way to spot each other in the park, so the all-white dress code was born.

The logistics have gotten complicated, but the event’s core principles remain as basic as they were for that first Paris picnic: spontaneity and joie de vivre. “It’s such a simple concept, to get together with friends and have a dinner outdoors,” said Sandy Safi, who co-founded Dîner en Blanc International in 2012, turning the event into a company built to handle the growing worldwide demand. Her co-founder is Aymeric Pasquier, the son of Pascal Pasquier, an original host of the 1988 Paris dinner.

“The event has no borders or boundaries. You can go to the dinner and find a 65-year-old on one side of you having an awesome time, and a 25-year-old having an awesome time,” said Safi. She attends many Dîner en Blanc events around the world annually and says she loves seeing the diversity of the crowd and the different ways guests in each city interpret the dress code.

The dress code has remained Dîner en Blanc’s signature, as the event has ballooned to include nearly 80 cities in 30 countries. The organizers field requests every year from people all over the world who want to bring a Dîner en Blanc to their own city. Venues have ranged from the Sydney Opera House to downtown Ho Chi Minh City.

“Some people like to explore different cities by going to Dîner en Blanc events everywhere,” said Safi. “New York is the most dramatic fashion city of all the Dîner en Blanc cities,” she added. “Paris is more easygoing, but New Yorkers play the part more than anything I’ve ever seen. New Yorkers really go for it, dressing up and having fun.”

The traditional ‘napkin raise’ officially kicks off dinner, with thousands of white napkins waving in the air.
Dancing is highly encouraged at Dîner en Blanc events, and guests are always game.
One group of 20 brought an ‘Under the Sea’ theme to their table with glittering jellyfish centerpieces.
Entertainers in silvery outfits and elaborate head-dresses wove through the tables all evening long.
Bottles of rosé were ubiquitous on guests’ tables on this late-summer night.
It was a misty night in New York City, but this guest’s fancy umbrella was not about the rain.
One of many stunning candelabras
This tiered cake stand did triple duty, holding hors d’oeuvres, candles and flowers.
Guests carefully plated and served multi-course dinners to their group.
Dancers and singers took over the main stage all night.
This was a night for old friends, new friends, and non-stop toasts.
The perfect accessory for a sparkling night: sparklers.

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