The magic of Diner en Blanc

Diner en Blanc? What’s that now? How is it even pronounced? What language is that, anyway? English? French? Spanish? Latin? Or Amharic? These were not the only recurring questions posed by Kigali socialites as word trickled in about the all-fancy Diner en Blanc party held in Kigali last Saturday.
An aerial view of the setting. (Courtesy).
An aerial view of the setting. (Courtesy).

Dîner en Blanc? What’s that now? How is it even pronounced? What language is that, anyway? English? French? Spanish? Latin? Or Amharic? These were not the only recurring questions posed by Kigali socialites as word trickled in about the all-fancy Dîner en Blanc party held in Kigali last Saturday. 

There was also the question of where the party would be held in the first place. 

Not even the fact that this was the fourth consecutive year Kigali was hosting DEB could mitigate these burning questions.

If anything, who in their right state of mind would charge RW F 15,000 per head for a party, then proceed to ask all guests to carry their own food and drinks, glasses and cutlery, and even decorate their own tables?

Getting to Dîner en Blanc

As a first-time attendee of DEB myself, I won’t lie to you that I had as much as a clue to the answers for the many questions. 

Now that I would be in attendance, I wasn’t in a rush for answers: I wanted to find out stuff for myself.

For a party that was slated for Saturday, August 15, I started receiving official correspondence from the organisers on Tuesday, August 11.

On that day, Anne Mazimhaka, the Creative Director at Illume Creative Studios, the organisers of Dîner en Blanc Kigali sent me mail asking for my personal contact details: Full names, phone number, ID number, and email address. 

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Diner en Blanc in session. (Courtesy)

The following day, August 12, I received yet another communiqué from Illume, this time from Mayake Lamberte Matasi, the Events Coordinator.

This time, it was a media advisory. It stated how, as a member of the press, I was expected to dress and conduct myself:

I had to wear white, and carry no camera, so that guests would dine in peace. Cameras would only be permitted at the after-party at the Chillax Lounge in Nyarutarama later in the night.

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Judith Heard (second right) and friends having a blast. (Moses Opobo)

Saturday August 15, D-Day

At 11:03 am, I received yet another text message from Anne:

“Hello Moses this is Anne from Dîner en Blanc. Please can you come pick your ticket from Odette at Hotel Chez Lando before noon. Her number is 0786990639.”

I went to Chez Lando and found Odette waiting for me at the restaurant. 

Odette asked me one more time if I had my white outfits ready. I told her not only were my whites ready, I had also been eating only white food all day –white rice and Nan, something that seemed to amuse her thoroughly. 

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Time to wine and dine. (Courtesy)

I picked my ticket and dashed home to get enough rest ahead of the do. 

At 12:23 pm, another text message came through from Anne Mazimhaka and it read:

“It’s finally here. DEB Kigali 2015 happens today! Wear all white, bring your food, drinks, and be at Amahoro Stadium opposite the Tigo service center at exactly 4:30 pm. See you in a few hours! #DEB team.”

I arrived at the venue at 4:25 pm, just as the skies were clearing of a slight and abrupt drizzle. 

Even then, I saw white-clad workers going diligently and quietly about their work, laying tables and generally setting white to the décor. 

This got me a bit confused, seeing as I had been told the Amahoro Stadium was the departure point from which we would board buses en route to the secret location. 

Soon, it emerged that this was actually the venue. At the entrance, I presented my bag for a security check. It contained just two medium-sized bottles of wine, a packet of Intore cigarettes, my invite, passport and notebook, so I was cleared quickly. 

The first rule I broke was that pertaining to food: I did not carry any, because in a party setting food is never a priority to me. I know my priorities. 

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Guests having fun. (Courtesy)

If anything, there would be lots of food going around on “serious” tables. One just had to play their cards right.

Rules, rules, rules!

If there is one thing the Dîner en blanc is renowned for, it is rules. These were quite many, and stringent too. 

Added onto that was the air of secrecy surrounding the venue. 

In earlier e-mail communications, we had been told the venue for DEB was a secret, and that our bus leaders would reveal the location en route to the event.

Then there were the rules regarding what to wear: 

“Wear white: this means no ivory, no cream or any other color will be permitted. (White shoes highly recommended. Brown, black, silver are acceptable. Dress elegantly and/or be creative. Not allowed: T-shirts, colorful sports shoes, baseball caps,” read the rules, forwarded to individual guests’ e-mail contacts. 

Of course, rules as they go, are there to be broken, goes one school of thought:

I was willing to adhere to the all-white dress code as prescribed, but this would have to be within means. I would not be going out of my way to borrow, hire, buy or steal clothes, all in the name of a one-off party.

So it was that I turned up in a white T-shirt, and not-so-white pair of trousers. 

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The Amahoro Stadium provided a perfect backdrop after its floodlights were turned on. (Courtesy)

What were the other rules? We were further asked to bring along plates, cutlery, drinks, table decoration, food, appetites and awesome attitudes. I could only afford to carry drinks, and an appetite for food. Well, other people’s food. 

The alcohol policy itself read something like –strictly no spirits. We were warned before-hand that gin, whisky, vodka and such other hard stuff would not be entertained. 

The other rule to do with age was easy to beat, since I’m way older than 21. 

At the end of the long e-mail containing the rules had come a disclaimer:

“Please note: should you not respect these rules, the bus/table leader has the right to refuse your presence at the DEB, even in years to come.”

So what really happened? 

Well, what happened was that the stringent rules aside, DEB 2015 was fun and memorable. Imagine a crowd of about 600 people, all decked in white, and carrying themselves around with refined elegance, decorum and style. 

One of the things that easily and positively stood out at the dinner was the extremely minimal branding, for an event that is made possible through several corporate endorsements and sponsorship deals. 

It was simply a white sea of tranquility with the superbly done décor.

The party was set at the entrance to the Amahoro Stadium closest to the RGB offices. 

And what a spectacular sight it would become later in the evening, when the flood lights inside the stadium were turned on.

 

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