2012 Paris  Dîner en Blanc in the  Cour Carrée du Louvre

[Update: Photographs from the  2012 Dîner en Blanc at Notre Dame  and at  Versailles]

Readers of Untapped Cities have come to know us by our annual coverage of the always fabulous and ever exclusive flash mob  Dîner en Blanc (White Dinner) in Paris. In 2010, we descended onto the Louvre museum stretching from the I.M. Pei Pyramid to the Tuileries gardens. Last year, we filled the  Cour Carrée du Louvre  with 8,000 attendees in white, while a second official flash dinner took place at Notre Dame cathedral.

Although I cannot divulge any specific information about the 2012  Paris Dîner en Blanc, I can safely tell you you that it will be the grandest yet. With prior locations at the Invalides, Arc de Triomphe, Pantheon, Eiffel Tower and Madeleine (here’s a look back), it’s hard to imagine that the dinner could outdo itself–but that’s my prediction. Untapped will be covering the Paris dinner again this year.

In 1988, the first official Dîner en Blanc took place in the Parc de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne upon Francois Pasquier’s return to Paris after some years abroad. He planned a dinner party to reconnect with friends but so many wanted to come that he asked them to convene at the Bois de Boulogne and to dress in white so they could find each other.  Not surprisingly, it became a yearly affair. Until 1991, the venue remained the same but the numbers quickly escalated from 200 initially to 400, to 800 in 1990 and 1,200 in 1991. By 1992, it was necessary to conceal the location of the dinner and the current method of using point-people to coordinate batches of tables and provide transportation to the event began.

The  first New York City  Dîner  en Blanc

Over the past few years, the Dîner en Blanc has  become a worldwide phenomenon due to the efforts of Aymeric Pasquier, Francois’s son, who spread the dinners first to Montreal and Quebec, and then formed Le Dîner  en Blanc ®  to expand to other cities. Last year, Untapped attended the first New York City  Dîner  en Blanc. This year, the official  dinner will arrive to San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas, Toronto, Barcelona, Philadelphia and Singapore, and they’re looking for a group to spearhead the first official Chicago dinner. Although the Paris Dîner en Blanc  remains via personal invitation, the other cities have a more “democratic” system using online signups. In years after, those that attend the dinners are invited back and can recommend friends to join them the year after, a pyramid amicale  or “friendly  pyramid,” the founders call it.

This rapid expansion has not occurred without controversy, however. When news of the first New York City  Dîner en Blanc hit The New York Times, enterprising organizers in other American cities scrambled to create their own version.

Last year, a trademark dispute arose between the official  Le Dîner  en Blanc  organization and groups in Chicago and San Francisco. The name “Le Dîner  en Blanc” is trademarked by by Aymeric Pasquier in the United States, France and Canada. In San Francisco, the organizers changed the name to “Le Diner  à    San Francisco,” but Pasquier contends that the organization deliberately plays on confusion with the public as regards to the origin and affiliation of the event. San Francisco will also have an official  Dîner  en Blanc this year.

As we reported last year, a local group in Chicago claimed they had opposed the trademark filing but it does not appear to have gone through (based on the US Trademark website). The group in Chicago went ahead to host the dinner last year without changing the name, with Pasquier hoping they would come to an agreement for 2012. According to Pasquier, this has fallen through so there is an open call to host an official  Le Dîner  en Blanc  in Chicago.

In New York, the limit of technology presented itself when 30,000 logged in to sign up for just 1,000 spots, leading to outrage by characteristically feisty New Yorkers, further compounded when politically correct America met not-so-PC France. While the  Dîner en Blanc in Paris is noted for the attendees’ strict adherence to decorum and rules (imagine 14,000 people leaving not a spec of litter behind. If you’re in disbelief, I will take photographs of the empty Paris locations this year), New Yorkers are hardwired to break rules. They wanted (rightly) to attend as same-sex couples, they got creative with tables (a painting canvas atop a laundry rack), they brought sparklers (illegal in NYC), they danced on chairs, they wore ballet tutus, one girl took off her top (but was quickly lambasted by those around for being particularly unattractive and flat-chested–her group left early).

I was left with mixed feelings of course. New York is, in my heavily biased opinion, one of the best cities in the world because it’s brash and chaotic; there’s a nuance to the rules, a tacit understanding that to live here requires acceptance of contradiction and of disparity, of simultaneous hi-brow and lo-brow existence, and everything in between.  It is a place where we know anything can happen. The New York City dinner was uniquely New York, at least the New York of the Bloomberg era–distinctly corporate in a public space that is in fact, private (the World Financial Center), but the event was still able to retain the elements of spontaneity and quirkiness without which New York City would die a slow, generic death.

But this, in the end is the magic of the  Dîner en Blanc. In each city, it takes on the particular flavor of what defines that urban setting physically and in spirit. Using a franchise model, the international Dîner en Blanc  organization prefers and solicits ground-up and local execution of the  event.

In any industry there will be the trailblazers and then the enterprising that copy and modify, and Americans know this dialectic all too well. Will people know the difference between the real  Dîner en Blanc and the alternatives? Maybe, maybe not. As for me, I’m holding on to the spirit of the original Paris  Dîner en Blanc–it’s hard to go against an event created purely out of a desire for comraderie.

To start your own official  Dîner en Blanc in any city, contact the organization through their website. They’re still looking for someone to head up Chicago this year so get on it!

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