Seoul's fourth Dîner en Blanc becomes Dîner en rain, but spirits can't be dampened

Guests during Dîner en Blanc's traditional napkin wave at Banpo Han River Park, southern Seoul, on Saturday [COMMUNIQUE]

On a recent Saturday, figures draped in white appeared one by one through the thick fog in Banpo Han River Park, southern Seoul. With hands and arms full of picnic baskets, and foldable tables and chairs, they darted through the light rain and into the large ivory tents set up near the river.

They were there for Dîner en Blanc — the world-famous secret al fresco party. Held in more than 120 cities around the world during the warmer months, thousands of people annually participate in the event, where they dress to impress and enjoy gourmet food.

One must be invited or apply for an invite which is a competitive process. Once invited, there is a fee of 79,000 won ($60). The party is held in a public space, in the middle of cities, each time at a different location that is kept a secret, even from the guests. (This year, it was revealed a few hours earlier than usual because of the rain). The dress code is head-to-toe white formal wear and most guests choose BYO, (the acronym for 'bring your own'), hence people hauling their own furniture and food through the rain.

Some may think the event is pretentious, but, at least for the crowd of some 1,000 people gathered on May 27, unafraid to muddy up their finest white garments and dance in the rain with smudged makeup, snobby seemed an unfit term.

Guests at Dîner en Blanc Seoul at Banpo Han River Park, southern Seoul, on Saturday [COMMUNIQUE]

“Just seeing everyone together, seeing all the beautiful tables, beautiful people and embracing the culture here itself is fun and exciting — especially amid this rain,” said Shane Devera-Waden, 52, a retired army officer from the United States. He received the Best Couple Award of the evening along with his wife of 26 years, Gwen Devera-Waden, 49, who is currently a commander for the U.S. Army in Korea. “We actually first met in Korea!”

Han So-jeong, 30, who came with her 6-year-old son said that she applied for an invite because she wanted to do something where both she and her son could have fun together. “It feels good to dress up and be out of the house!” she added.

“I already can’t wait for next year,” said Lee Song-hee, 38, who won the Best Dressed Award. She was wearing a lace fascinator and an elegant one-shoulder dress with frills, both of which she purchased from a local online shopping platform.

Guests bring their own plates, cups, cutlery and food to Dîner en Blanc Seoul at Banpo Han River Park, southern Seoul, on Saturday [COMMUNIQUE]

Dîner en Blanc was started in Paris by François Pasquier, the founder and organizer of Le Dîner en Blanc de Paris, who, 35 years ago, wanted to hold a party but didn’t have enough room in his Paris apartment so asked his guests to bring their own food and meet him at Bois de Boulogne, a large public park in the city. He asked them to all wear white so that he could identify the group. Today, Dîner en Blanc is an international event.

Dîner en Blanc Seoul marked its fourth year this year. It was hosted by White Dinner Korea, media production company Ms. Jackson and the French Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The last edition was five years ago at Coex in Gangnam District, southern Seoul.

With the traditional napkin wave at 6:30 p.m., dinner commenced. Atop beautifully adorned tables which the participants decorated themselves — some with strings of lights and pearls and others with white balloons and flowers — guests popped open their champagne and wine, before tucking into their picnic baskets.

For those who decided to pre-order dinner from the event, a four-course meal for two (either 85,000 or 100,000 won, depending on their choice of entrée) was served with dishes like French charcuterie platter, Provence-style marinated and grilled chicken breast, mint taboulé, tenderloin beef roast, strawberry macaroons and chocolate mousse cake, prepared by the owner-chef of central Seoul’s Le Chef Blue Laurent Dallet and owner of France Gourmet Pieters Romuald Olivier Christophe.

Appeasing classical guitar music by Park Kyu-hee and Park Ji-hyung and the pitter-patter of the rain accompanied the picnic dinner.

Guests take pictures after they lit sparklers at sundown [COMMUNIQUE]

Once the sun set and the Banpo Bridge lit up with rainbow lights, guests set fire to sparklers, and the night turned from a posh picnic to a real party.

The rain halted momentarily and attendees came out from their tents to cheer on the performances by singer-songwriter and producer Sumin, rapper Sokodomo and DJ Maalib.

And even when showers did resume, the dance floor never emptied.

“That was the best part of Dîner en Blanc!” said college student Lee Sang-eun, 27, who was leaving the party drenched after it ended at 10 p.m. “I’ll be honest and say that it wasn’t the sort of party that I was expecting when I first received the invite, but dancing in the rain with strangers was so liberating. It’s certainly a night to remember.”

Guests dance to music performed at Dîner en Blanc Seoul at Banpo Han River Park, southern Seoul, on Saturday. [COMMUNIQUE]
Rapper Sokodomo performs at Dîner en Blanc Seoul at Banpo Han River Park, southern Seoul, on Saturday. [COMMUNIQUE]