Friday, April 1, 2016 | 3 a.m.
Le Diner en Blanc in Paris
Le Diner en Blanc in New York
Le Diner en Blanc in Miami
The most-sought-after secret event April 17 in Las Vegas will be a visually stunning all-white-decor dinner party, and it follows for the first time the traditions of Le Diner en Blanc, which began nearly 30 years ago in France. Now as many as 10,000 people, dressed from top to toe in white, get together in Paris once a year for the most prestigious dinner — and always at a secret location.
Call this elegance en masse.
When Paris celebrated 20 years of Le Diner en Blanc in 2008, 9,000 guests sat down under the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysee. In 2009, the first-ever Le Diner en Blanc outside Paris was held in Montreal, Quebec. By 2012, 15 cities were added, including one in San Diego.
In 2013, the event in the French capital celebrated its 25th anniversary with 15,000 guests in front of the Eiffel Tower. Last year, more than 60 dinners were celebrated. Now the tradition continues in 2016 with first-ever events in Hong Kong, San Paulo, Brazil, Budapest, Hungary, Perth, Australia, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Las Vegas.
Several years ago, Bravo’s “Top Chef” filmed a luncheon at the outdoor plaza of the Venetian. It was small in comparison but spectacular. However, it was not the original French concept, and now for the first time that is arriving properly in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas folks have signed up as if gold is being given away, and on Monday more than 300 lucky ones will receive confirmations to attend. They have to bring their own table, chairs and picnic basket of food. When dining is over, they have to pack up everything they brought in white trash bags so that there’s no evidence they were there. It’s communal seating, so no VIP area or Table 1.
Melanie Hakaim, catering sales manager at SLS Las Vegas, is a co-host here, and I talked with her about plans for the first Las Vegas Le Diner en Blanc.
Going back to the original concept in France, why did it take so long to come to Las Vegas?
It spread through many, many cities throughout Europe first, then it came to the U.S. in 2012. There was a small one, but not the official dinner of white when it was produced for “Top Chef” filming. It was small compared to what we do. You couldn’t even call it a test run. New York was the first city in the U.S. to produce it in 2012 with just 1,200 guests selected from 30,000 hopefuls.
What’s been the response so far as we get closer to the April 17 event here?
People are very excited and intrigued with what this might be. It’s just a different concept, and they love that idea of the secrecy of it.
It’s not difficult to organize, but it’s been fun with the secret location and booking vendors and not being able to tell them where they’re showing up to and what they’re doing for us. It’s quite fun to organize and get the word out to everybody.
Nobody knows until they meet in the schoolyards to board buses where they’re going?
Correct. They won’t really know until they’re on the bus en route. The bus ride is no more than 30 minutes.
Is anything set up in advance when people arrive?
Sort of. The whole idea is everybody is supposed to bring with them all of the materials they need for a picnic. So, in true tradition, they bring with them a table, chairs, picnic baskets, silverware, glassware, everything.
We’ve been very lucky this year as our sponsor purchased tables and chairs for everybody, but they’re going to pick them up on the bus so they get that experience of bringing it with them. They’ll unpack their tables when they get to the location, so anybody walking or driving by won’t know the exact location until people start arriving.
Let’s be honest: We’re pretty spoiled here, so I’m wondering what the initial reaction is to you schlepping your table and chairs, your picnic basket, or do people just abandon all of their hang-ups and just go for it?
People seem to be onboard about it. You’d be surprised I have heard some people question it a little bit, but we try to make it very easy for them. … Let them know that luggage carts are a great way to pull stuff, and you can buy picnic baskets onsite, so that lessens the load.
Same thing with the wine and champagne, so there are definitely ways that they can lighten their load. But many will really go all out. I’ve talked with a lot of people who are having parties to decorate their tables and have come up with really fun ideas. Some people have gotten really into it and how they’re going to pull this off together with their friends.
Our board the bus locations for departure start between 5 and 5:30 p.m. The buses return people to the departure location at 10 p.m.
So over the five-hour experience, is it just eating and drinking, or do you have entertainment, as well?
There’s entertainment. There will be dancing. Basically, there are two very big traditional moments that happen at Le Diner en Blanc. The first one would be the napkin wave, where everybody waves their white napkins to start dinner. Then everybody starts their picnics together.
At the end of dinner, you have the sparkler moment where everybody lights sparklers, and that signifies the opening of the dance floor. So the last two hours is more of the party with the DJ, dancing, drinking and having fun. There are no waiters per se because everybody acts as their own.
What about cleanup? You insist that the guests take everything out so the place looks undisturbed afterward?
Correct. Just like you would do if you showed up at a park with just two people and sat down and had a picnic. Same thing here. We encourage people to bring trash bags, but we will be providing white trash bags, as well. The whole idea is to pretend as if we were never there and clean up and walk away as if it never happened.
Do you honestly think it will remain a secret right up until the last minute?
I do. I haven’t even told my own husband where it’s at — he wants to know very badly, and he tries to go through my files and I catch him, and I will not let him! We have three hosts and 26 volunteers who are very important to us. They help with the organization of the buses and marshaling the people to get from the bus to the location and guide them where to sit. All are sworn to secrecy, and nobody has revealed anything.
This is the first real go-round in Las Vegas, and, if it’s successful, will you repeat it every year or twice yearly?
It will be once a year. We have a very good following, a good list and a very nice waiting list that is waiting anxiously for their Monday sign-up date. More than 300 people will dress all in white for a dinner in a place that nobody knows where it will be.
And white means no ivory, no cream or any other color. Even accessories have to be white. In event of rain, we encourage people to bring white umbrellas or white raincoats and ponchos! It’s very elegant, stylish and tasteful, so there’s no shorts, baseball caps, T-shirts or sports shoes.
So you think people will dress up in tuxedos, wedding dresses, showgirl outfits that are all white?
We have seen everything. Some people take it to costume level with wigs, fun hats. Some are a little bit more casual, which is OK, too. It is an upscale picnic, so we encourage some type of white outfit. It’s a real visual effect as more than 300 people all dressed in white suddenly descend on the one area.
We do want to promote that this is an event that was built by friends for friends, so we definitely encourage everybody to gather a group of friends and attend. It’s definitely based around locals, so we hope the community really gets onboard and we can make this a yearly event for everybody.”
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.