I still vividly remember my astonishment when I received my invitation to the wedding of Lama Alabdulkarim and Mohammad Al Bassam, both Saudis. A wedding at Château Vaux-le-Vicomte in France? Really? Maybe I read it wrong? If my memory serves me well (and it does), the last wedding to date at this magical castle was that of Eva Longoria to Tony Parker. It promised to be enchanting.
At 5pm, we left Paris to reach Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. An hour later, I found myself before a 17th-century masterpiece, which inspired the creation of what is since perceived as the most beautiful castle in the world, the Château de Versailles. For the history buffs, Vaux-le-Vicomte, also known as “mini-Versailles,” was conceived and built in the late 17th century by Nicolas Fouquet, minister of finance under King Louis XIV. A man of great taste, Fouquet employed the prodigies of his time, such as architect Louis le Vau and landscapist André Le Notre (whose work inspired the French garden style). Vaux-le-Vicomte was the splendid manifestation of their collective genius.
Just like a ball hosted at the court of King Louis XIV, a carriage with two horses and two coachmen awaited each guest to take us to the welcome cocktail venue. We were literally transported to another time as we roamed throughout the sublime gardens, the lakes, and fountains. For ten minutes, I felt like Madame de Bary! The bride and I obviously shared a common passion. I couldn’t wait to meet this exquisitely tasteful lady.
While awaiting the bride, we were entertained by many little spectacles, just like guests of the Sun King awaiting his arrival. Dancers holding large white feathered fans were performing among the guests, pretty girls dressed Parisian-style were modeling their oversized hats to the music of the great Edith Piaf. A woman in stilts manipulated human puppets in front of an audience of gorgeous ladies–guests who didn’t hide their amazement at being a part of this reverie. Traditionally, weddings in the Gulf are not mixed. This couple, while celebrating their union outside of Saudi Arabia, still wanted to respect their customs.
The bride made her grandiose entrance with the same ritual that announced the arrival of the King or the Queen. Dressed in a sleeveless dress custom-made by Alexander McQueen, her gown was fitted at the hips, featuring pleated tulle and with cascades of pearls. Her makeup was understated and her hair, held by a beautiful crown of Swarovski crystals, fell about her shoulders.
Her entrance exceeded our expectations. She met with the groom surrounded by his best men for a few photos, before he left. The evening was indeed ladies-only! As the guests arrived, I marveled not only at the beauty of the place, but also at the elegance of Saudi women. A glamorous parade of the most beautiful haute couture dresses by the trendiest designers unfolded before my eyes.
Dresses in ostrich feathers, with pearls or crystals, structured silhouettes, silk chiffon, or tulle capes all ornamented with Bulgari, Cartier, or vintage high jewelry added even further splendor and graciousness to the evening. I said to myself that King Louis XIV would have loved to be surrounded by these Arabian beauties.
Of note, of the 350 guests invited, almost all were Saudis. French-Tunisian jewelry creator Shourouk, present at the wedding, commented, “I am dazzled by the beauty, the elegance and the sense of style of Saudi women. They are the new personification of couture.” I couldn’t agree more. These women plunged us in a wakened dream all evening, with their accessories, their wonderful finery, and most of all, their sophistication. Nothing of what they bore was pompous or superfluous.
As the sun set, we were requested to take another short voyage through the gardens to join the interiors of the castle for the dinner reception. In a carriage of course. Once again, a magnificent scene awaited us. The route through the gardens was studded with candles until we caught sight of a completely illuminated castle. It kept changing colors until everybody arrived. Orange, red, purple, yellow. A fairytale.
At the grand entrance, we were welcomed by the guards of the King’s Court who guided us to the salons where dinner was to be served. Three of the most beautiful salons of the Château were privatized for the event. Under the watchful eyes of Charles Le Brun, painter of the sublime ceilings, dinner was served (by Potel et Chabot with a magnificent cake by Blanc-Tailleur Bastien). Surrounded by history, by the finest tapestries of the time, and the ravishing women in Prada, Dior, Gucci, Chanel, Givenchy, or Elie Saab, I discovered or re-discovered the refinement, kindness, and open-mindedness of the “khalijis.”
As soon as dinner ended, we were invited out again to the party under the stars. And there…an absolutely astonishing firework show stunned the audience. It lasted ten minutes, accompanied by classical ballet performances.
But that was not all, before midnight, the famous Emirati diva Ahlam Al Shamsi made her appearance before a very excited audience, me included! After a one hour and a half hour private concert I realized how generous Al Shamsi was with her fans, never refusing a selfie or a photo, dispensing with smiles to everybody.
Before leaving, I made sure to thank Lama for honoring us with this invitation. Why, I asked, did she decide to marry in France? “Château Vaux-le-Vicomte had everything I deemed magical,” she answered. I, having always been in awe of princesses’ stories, lived my dream thanks to this union of love. An evening forever engraved in my mind.