Accessories designer Rina Shah will be checking in to meet the right kind of people. She’s attended a couple of French Tuesdays in New York and is hoping that with its first event in Mumbai the international club will rescue her from the plebeian drudgery of the city. “I’m looking forward to a well-edited social scene,” says Shah, who owns her own label, Rinaldi, an accessories brand.
This Tuesday, the “classy social networking phenomenon” which took off in New York in 2003 will open its doors to a select bunch. The guest list for the premiere comprises those recommended by French Tuesdays’ global members and Mumbai folk whom Gilles Amsallem, co-founder and chief operating officer (COO), met personally over the last month in Mumbai.
The Francophile rendezvous club took off because Amsallem and his fellow French expat Pierre Battu wanted “to infuse the American social scene with Parisian sophistication”. Its success quickly led to chapters in Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Tokyo, and ironically, Paris. The idea, says Amsallem—a B-schooler who ventured into event management—is to offer contemporary men and women entrée to a network of successful individuals and a world of couture nightlife.
French connection: A scene from the ‘white’ party at Beverly Hills. Photo : Courtesy French Tuesdays
French Tuesdays has more than 23,000 members in the US itself. Its Hong Kong chapter took off earlier this month, and now with Mumbai, and plans for Bangkok, Singapore and Shanghai next, an expansion to Asia seems to be the top focus.
Amsallem insists that it’s not about making everything French but about sharing the best of France: the good food, the good wine, the savoir faire if you’d like. So you don’t have to know how to make cassoulet, you don’t even have to speak French to attend (some “Bon soir” would help though).
This is Amsallem’s first trip to India, and deeply immersed as he has been in scouting venues and meeting sponsors, he’s impressed. “Mumbai is like any other global city. And I feel sorry that stereotypes had me think otherwise,” he says.
Localizing each event is key. Themes can vary from “return to paradise”, where winged angels will usher you in at the door, to the annual “white” party that is held in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles. Some form of entertainment—be it a string quartet or a belly dancer—is usually incorporated into the evening. Amsallem intends to attend the first few gigs in India till the brand establishes itself. A niggling concern when we spoke a week ago was if Bollywood music should be playing on the dance floor. “So many Indian friends have strongly advised me against, and so many have endorsed it…I’m still learning the codes,” he says.
In an age of one-too-many virtual networking avenues, what French Tuesdays has in its favour is that it is neither professional networking nor a dating platform, but perched perilously in between. There is no entry fee. Your ticket is the invitation. And while you pay for the drinks you consume, hors d’oeuvres, the entertainment and the party favours are on the house. Every event has two parts: an early cocktail reception from 9-11pm, which gives way to a dance floor. The party ends at 1.30am: The world of successful individuals needs to get to work on Wednesday morning.
“There is no riff-raff,” says Amsallem, explaining that diversity within the group is important. A typical event will have around 10 nationalities and 30 professions represented (total count varies from 200-1,000, depending on the venue). “It’s not about how much money you have, or how many drinks you buy. Flashing cash notes is no way to enter our events,” says Amsallem, defensively. Understandably, he frequently encounters allegations of snobbery.
The Internet is rife with such personal accounts. A blogger, www.bigreddiary.com, writes of being turned away because her male friend was wearing sandals (custom-made Hermès sandals, but still). “We do not allow sandals into our parties,” the doorman at the Los Angeles event had supposedly told her even after she argued that the invite had only said “no sneakers and T-shirts”. IDs were matched with “the list” and supplicants were eyeballed to make sure that dress codes were enforced.
However, it is this factor that draws many to the event. Shah says she is glad that members can only bring a limited number of guests to the event. “It prevents the party from getting diluted,” she says. “Anyway, Mumbai clubs are full of yuppies.”
For others who’ve committed to attending the premiere, such as Emmanuelle de Decker, head of programming, Blue Frog, the idea of a VIP circuit is mildly embarrassing. Decker, a former deputy director of cultural events at Alliance Francaise, Kolkata, is a French national who has been in India for seven years. She’d never heard of French Tuesdays till Amsallem approached her for a possible collaboration. She will attend because she is curious.
The first event in Mumbai will be held at Zinc (previously Zenzi) in Lower Parel. But if you were going, your hand-engraved invitation would have told you that already.