PARIS — With all the dashing men in white dinner jackets amid palatial surroundings, one might have mistaken the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to France on the fabled Rue Faubourg-Saint Honoré Sunday night for the set of a James Bond movie.
The invitation to dinner, which kicked off three days of lavish fundraising events organized to benefit the International and American Friends of the Louvre and chaired by Houston's Becca Cason Thrash, asked men to wear light-colored jackets and women to wear long dresses ("not formal but long") or short cocktail attire.
A glamorous crowd of around 140, including around 50 Houstonians, complied.
On a slightly warm but near-picture perfect night, the guests gathered on the terrace of the ambassador's residence, a famed 60,000 square-foot palace completed in 1842, for cocktails before adjourning to a gold-gilded room on the first floor for a dinner prepared by the staff of the Ritz Hotel. The hotel, a favorite of the world's rich and famous, is closed for renovation until December 2014, but general manager Christian Boyens told guests "this is a great way to see our loyal guests beyond the four walls."
"I thought it was a modern take on Sabrina," Thrash said, recalling the 1954 movie. "I was inspired by the Larrabees in Long Island — all the men had white dinner jackets."
Large floor-to-ceiling windows were open to let in the evening air (no pesky mosquitoes in this part of France) as guests gathered at two candlelit tables that stretched the length of the long room. The lavish meal included a first course of a half-head of Bibb lettuce with lobster (Diane Lokey Farb marveled that it would make a great first-course at Houston restaurants), followed by grilled sole with summer vegetables and, for dessert, a heavenly hazelnut and chocolate concoction that promised to satisfy any sweet tooth.
It was the second time that U.S. Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin and his wife, Susan Tolson, opened up the residence for an American Friends of the Louvre fundraising dinner. The couple had previously hosted a similar dinner in 2011, when Thrash oversaw a well-received series of parties to raise funds for the treasured French museum. Rivkin noted that the Louvre has increased its global outlook, with more than 35 collections on loan around the world.
He also cited a recent magazine article that asked, "Can art help you live?" "The resounding answer is yes," he said, "if and when you have access to art."
Rivkin also welcomed former U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain Robert Holmes Tuttle and his wife Maria, along with the new Louvre director Jean-Luc Martinez, and praised Kip Forbes and Thrash for heading up fundraising efforts for the museum. Rivkin described Thrash as a "force of nature."
Also headlining the guest list were Ritz Paris Hotel president Frank Klein and wife Maria, Louis Vuitton head of private client relations Stephanie Laurent and designer Andrew Gn, who was pleased to see Tolson and San Francisco arts patron Yurie Pascarella wearing his designs.
Among the large Houstonian contingent were a number who had attended two previous Paris fundraisers for the Louvre organized by Becca, including the inaugural Liaisons au Louvre event in 2009. They included Becca's husband, John Thrash (an investor in CultureMap), his daughter Meghan Thrash, Farb, Monsour Taghdisi, Judith Oudt, Elizabeth and Gary Petersen, Greggory and Pat Burk, and Andrew Echols.
While the dashing dinner jacket theme reminded me of a Bond movie, Becca had another film in mind. She wore a floral skirt she designed from fabric she found in San Francisco and made by Houston designer David Peck, along with a white blouse, inspired by a classic Audrey Hepburn movie.
"I thought it was a modern take on Sabrina," she said, recalling the 1954 movie. "I was inspired by the Larrabees in Long Island — all the men had white dinner jackets."
As guests were leaving after midnight, Becca was already looking forward to hosting a dinner at the Palais du Luxembourg, the home of the French Senate, on Monday night as well as the big Tuesday night gala at the Louvre, with entertainment by Diana Ross, for guests who have paid $10,000 each for the opportunity to attend these trio of gatherings.
But already some Houstonians (lips sealed) were heading across town to dance the night away at the trendy club Chez Raspoutine.