Dîner en Blanc: What is it and why does everyone secretly want to go?

On the 23rd of March, 1100 Aucklanders will be wearing white as part of the 1988-founded Parisian tradition of Dîner en Blanc. We talked to a New Zealand born attendee of the Bordeaux event and the founder and organiser of the Auckland edition about what the exclusive event is, why the attendees wear white and what Auckland did in 2014 which broke international tradition.

Pythagoras and his disciples are said to have dressed in white because he regarded the colour as sacred. Western brides wear white to symbolise virginity and purity, a practice popularised by Queen Victoria in 1840.

For the last five years, thousands of Aucklanders have also donned their best whites, converging at a secret location to drink and dine in style. This year is no different, so what’s the appeal?

In 1988, aristocrat François Pasquier returned to Paris having spent a few years in Tahiti. Wanting to reunite with more friends than could fit around a dinner table, he and his friends decided to meet in the Bois de Boulogne, a park in Paris.To find each other in the vast and busy public garden they agreed to wear all white outfits.

“They must have had a good time at that first one because they came back and kept doing it annually,” says Auckland’s Diner en Blanc founder Vinny Sherry.

“The reason the venue is a secret is because they were meeting in public spaces and didn’t want the police to find out”

Despite its secretive beginnings, the event is now worldwide, taking place in more than 80 countries since the originator’s son Aymeric Pasquier expanded the event to Montreal in 2009. The Montreal team now monitors and helps other cities set up and host their own Dîner en Blanc.

To bring the experience to Auckland, Sherry liaises with the Montreal Dîner en Blanc office, aiming to make sure the event fits the global model.

The rules are strict. Head to toe white, the location is a complete secret to all attendees until the day of the event, and once you RSVP yes, your attendance is mandatory, regardless of weather.

That last rule is one Auckland broke in its first year of hosting.. “We were the first and I think only city in the world to have postponed an event,” admits Sherry.

Although the location is secret until the last minute, Sherry’s friends are constantly trying to trick him into letting slip the details. “But the reality is no one actually wants to know where it is because that’s part of the fun. So while people are trying to find out where it is, they don’t actually want to know because it would spoil the surprise.”

And as a New Zealander himself, Sherry reckons that getting really into the dress-up aspect is a way to maximise the fun: “The people who have the most fun go to town a little bit.”

At the first Diner en Blanc held in Bordeaux, there was a white horse present, wandering around the venue. “It was quite surreal,” says former French Masterchef contestant Susie Bridger. The Kiwi-born professor says the event makes for a beautiful evening, with an abrupt ending.

“When they blow the whistle at the end, you’ve got maybe 15 minutes to pack up your things, put them in your picnic basket and get back on the bus.” Bridger says this is all part of the fun. The brevity of the event, the Brigadoon-like blink-and-you’ll-miss-it aspect is as special as the spectacle and the exclusive nature of the night.

Previous Auckland venues include Karanga Plaza, Takutai Square, Britomart, Bayswater, Pah Homestead and the Cloud.Events Bridger has been to in Bordeaux include church steps and monuments.

As Bridger points out, though the French are known for being snappy dressers / their chic style, they don’t often dress up, so the formality of the event is out of the ordinary for them.And in a nation of jeans and jandal wearers, the unusualness of dressing up might appeal to us in the same way.

As Bridger puts it, “uniforms do two things – they either give you a sense of being hidden or they give you a sense of being part of a movement.”

Your initial reaction to this secret society posh picnic, maybe “how completely ridiculous”, and you’d be correct. It’s pretentious, it’s ostentatious, it’s an over the top insiders-only display of flagrant pantomime of bourgeois-ness with wine. And that isn’t half the fun, it’s the whole point.

Locations we are dreaming might be next (pure speculation on the part of Metro):
The Auckland Museum
The Auckland Wintergardens
A Bowls Club
On a yacht
The Parnell Rose Gardens
Silo Park
Albert Park
Aotea Square
Cornwall Park
On top of North Head
Inside the North Head tunnels

Outside of Auckland places which could do with hosting a Diner en Blanc:
Hagley Park in Christchurch
Craggy Range winery, Hawkes Bay
Taupo lakeside
Dunedin’s Octagon
Moeraki Beach, among the boulders
Te Papa museum

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