GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER: This week’s state visit to the Beltway by French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte is shaping up to be a momentous and potentially precarious one. Although France is America’s oldest ally, the French leader and President Joe Biden aren’t completely in synch on some of the issues of the day — specifically regarding their countries’ policies about China, climate change, and the war in Ukraine. The pinnacle of the Macrons’ three-day stay is Thursday’s night state dinner — the first to be hosted by the Bidens and the first one in the White House’s history to be held during the holiday season.
Breaking bread amid such pageantry will be a different type of test — one in hospitality — and presumably a welcome change of pace from the more taxing issues at hand. Three hundred to 400 guests were invited to pull up a seat in the candlelit pavilion on the South Lawn. That greenery was also recently the site of another Biden-hosted milestone: the president’s granddaughter Naomi’s wedding. Musician Jon Batiste was expected to perform at the state dinner. Fellow musician John Legend was also in the crowd with his wife Chrissy Teigen, and other notables like Jennifer Garner, her daughter Violet Affleck, Baz Luhrmann, Anna Wintour, Tim Cook, Laurene Powell Jobs and ABC’s Robin Roberts.
Abiding by the standard dress code for state dinners, Presidents Biden and Macron each turned out in traditional tuxes. Their wives also kept things very formal. FLOTUS wore an off-the-shoulder custom hand-beaded navy crepe floral gown from Oscar de la Renta and Brigitte Macron looked sleek in an all-white high-neck, long-sleeved evening gown.
Discussion about the state visit and dinner got underway this past summer, according to a White House pool report. Having celebrated the president’s 80th birthday on Nov. 20, unveiled the “We The People” holiday décor on Monday and held the official Christmas tree lighting Wednesday night, there has been no shortage of festivities at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as of late. The menu alone was months in the making, and the first lady selected the American wines — a Newton unfiltered Chardonnay “Napa Valley,” 2018 (a la LVMH), an Anakota Cabernet Sauvignon “Knights Valley,” 2019, and Roederer Estate Brut Rose. Attendees were expected to be served butter-poached Maine lobster and calottes of beef. The tables also will have “French-forged Champagne vessels,” according to White House social secretary Carlos Elizondo, based on a pool report.
The red, white and blue color scheme is suitable given both countries’ national flags, and is meant to symbolize the shared values of liberty, democracy, equality and fellowship. As another signal of the alliance, the menus have been imprinted with an image of the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France to the U.S. Another likeness of that torch-bearing landmark in New York Harbor was planned as a backdrop for President Biden’s toast, during the state dinner.
Like everything else, the floral décor has been selected with great care. Iris, France’s national flower, was to be in the mix, as were American Beauty roses, which were bred in France and first shipped Stateside more than a century ago. As another hint of solidarity, piano roses were chosen to reflect President Macron’s love of the piano.
Personal presentation is always de rigeur for such world leaders and their respective spouses. For a photo-op and outing earlier Thursday, the first lady wore an entirely Millennial pink ensemble including heels and gloves, whereas her French counterpart was more classically understated in a hunter green dress with a black-shouldered tweed jacket and black heels. While the two presidents held bilateral meetings, their wives engaged in some cultural diplomacy, making a pass through Planet Word, which is known as the museum “where language comes to life.”