Last night I attended Diner en Blanc Chicago with my husband. Diner en Blanc is a smart mob event in which more than a thousand people, dressed entirely in white, gather in a pre-organized but unknown-by-participants-until-the-last-minute location to partake of an elegant dinner. It is a collaborative, dazzling, monochromatic art installation made up of people and place settings.
Smart Mobs are groups of people that are able to gather through the use of technology and social networking to perform a mission. Diner en Blanc is a smart mob, not to be confused with a flash mob, because the event lasts several hours. A flash mob occurs when a group of people gather, suddenly, in a place, perform a seemingly random act, and then quickly disperse. Both could not happen without technology and social media. Both mobs fall under the umbrella of performance art.
François Pasquier started the Dîner en Blanc in 1988. Pasquier, a Frenchman, had been abroad for a few years and wanted to connect with friends when he returned to Paris. He invited them to meet at a park one day in June. He asked everyone to wear white so they would all recognize each other. The dinner was such a success that they decided to do it the next year, with each guest inviting other friends and the event grew organically into something that occurs in over forty cities worldwide.
I wrangled my husband into going to Diner en Blanc last year. He made me promise not to spend any money to outfit him for the affair. I procured an outfit for $12 using Kohl’s Cash, so I’ll say I succeeded. He looked dapper in white pants, shirt, tie, our son’s white sneakers and the $5 blazer purchased on the clearance rack. My outfit was not so easy but I pulled it altogether with a white fascinator that I embellished with ostrich feathers.
In order to participate, you must sign up through the Diner en Blanc website, and pay a $65 per couple and a $5 membership fee. This gets you into the event but that’s it. The rest is up to you! The Diner en Blanc appeals to the artistic spirit because you need to dress yourself, your date and your table in white from head to toe, literally. You must bring china, crystal and real silverware, nothing disposable. Each little table becomes a work of art in itself and all of the parties together make the installation. Part of the beauty of the event is seeing the streams of white-clad partygoers traveling en masse to the location.
The most challenging aspect of Diner en Blanc is getting to the site. To keep the event location secret, the organizers break everyone into groups with team leaders who have everyone taking all manner of public transportation, not unlike a treasure hunt. This is all done while dressed in your finery and hauling your dinner stuff. I will be honest and say that I had the most streamlined set-up of anyone I saw last year and I was even more efficient this year. I was able to fit all of my food, table, chairs and decorations into a wheelie duffle. The only thing I didn’t put into the suitcase was my fresh flowers. That’s the beauty in going each year. You do it up a little more and you get better at it.
So when I read the following quote on the DEB website, I felt like the gauntlet has been thrown down: “This year, the event expects to host a great number of fashion and design aficionados and foodies alike. “Chicagoans know true fashion, great food and elegance.” says Sandy Safi, Director of Partnership, and Aymeric Pasquier, Executive Director, Dîner en Blanc International. “Not only have they welcomed us with open arms from the very beginning, but they truly express the joie de vivre that is symbolic of Dîner en Blanc.”
I cobbled together a new outfit for myself and tweaked my husband’s ensemble, spent thirty hours making a hat that is a miniature of a table for two, embellished a Target hat for my husband, shopped for our dinner and flowers and plated it ahead of time and put it in portable bins. The organizers require everyone to have an appetizer and dessert. I got all of this ready and managed to fit it into a rolling duffle, complete with candles, crystal champagne glasses, water glasses and a vase. I carried my dozen roses, which would be my centerpiece. Thankfully, I packed my stuff so efficiently because last night was a Trains, Planes situation for me and I almost bailed.
My daughter dropped me off in a thunderstorm with all of my stuff for the 4:02 train, which did not come until 5:30. The plan was to meet my husband downtown, park the car and walk to our meeting spot. I got into Chicago after 6:00, which caused us to miss our 5:45 rendezvous at Cloudgate. As I waited for my husband outside Union Station, all in white, with my suitcase, table-for-two hat and my bouquet of roses I was asked if I was getting married. Ha HA! My “groom” arrived shortly and we set off to track down our group.
We called Caitlin, our team leader, who told us to meet them in at Sedgwick and North but could not tell us the secret location. We eventually made it, a bit frazzled, to the Lincoln Park Zoo boardwalk, where a sea of white-clad tables and people spread out across the docks. It was spectacular! We had a lovely time and will do it again next year. Perhaps tighten things up a bit…
Kathleen Thometz is an artist and writer and sometime hatmaker. She lives with her husband, kids and three doodle dogs. You can experience more about her at www.kathleenthometz.com