When your parents come from different cultures, and then, as a child, you moved from country to country, went to an International School, speak a foreign language better than your native one, you end up being surrounded by likeminded people because nobody else understands you. London is the ultimate attraction for such people. That is why Alla Furmanova, a Russian emigrée, raised in New York, decided to introduce London to a luxurious networking and party event called "French Tuesdays" for those who see the world as their oyster.
Launched in 2003 by Pierre Battu and Gilles Amsallem, two French men living in New York, "French Tuesdays" have become an international high-end, invitation-only party brand with a presence in 16 cities across the world. It has nothing particularly French about it apart from the name and nationality of its creators who have mastered the art of immersive marketing and partying. Events happen once a month on a Tuesday, at different venues, sponsored by a brand that showcases the product to an affluent group of people, having fun and ready to spend cash. From champagne to e-cigarettes, to Spanish jamon, all the brands are carefully knitted into the intricate fibres of the partying elite.
Alla could be the poster girl for the party success and for what we, Europeans, imagine American meritocracy to be like. Alla started as a host of "French Tuesdays" in New York and then became more and more involved, making her way up and proving that she could single-handedly launch the brand in London, where making exquisite parties is probably one of the most competitive areas.
I first met her, not surprisingly, at a champagne tasting when she was just launching the brand in the British capital. Two years later, "French Tuesdays" number 1,200 members and the two-year anniversary was celebrated at Cirque du Soir, one of London's sexiest night clubs, with entertainment consisting of naked girls juggling with fire and bearded ladies performing body-bending extravaganzas. Needless to say, the Royal family and other celebrities are regulars.
Behind the glitz and bubbles of these fancy monthly gatherings, Alla is almost invisible. She is the puppet master, whose puppets are the various elements that hold the party together. As I go to meet her for an interview, I'm conscious that I might be disappointed. The puppet master wants to keep the magic working and explaining how the strings never get entangled is the most boring thing in the world.
Alla tells me to meet her at Home House, one of London's most exquisite private members' clubs, tucked away on Portland Square, where the most recent "French Tuesday" had taken place the night before. Her petite figure is buried in the soft, voluptuous sofa and the charming smile on her face takes the attention away from signs of the party fatigue. While her guests are still curing hangovers and sending her emails about their last night's shenanigans, she is already engrossed in arrangements for the next event.
I ask Alla how difficult it was to break into London's party scene where everything is known to be socially rigid and codified. She doesn't deny it but she says "the global status of the brand helped attract foreigners living in London as "French Tuesdays" is about bringing people together from different countries for a glass of champagne on a Tuesday". It is slightly more than just a glass of champagne, as there are also raffles for luxurious prizes, monthly themes and performers who give it all the final touch of exclusivity.
In fact, "French Tuesdays" is a party for the "Third Culture Kids" as they tend to be described in social columns and funny Buzz feeds - kids whose worst nightmare is answering questions as to where they are from. "The DNA of our brand is that we are global", Alla tells me "but a lot of it is about consistency. No matter if you go to "French Tuesdays" Hong Kong, Sao Paolo or London, you want to walk into a room and feel like home. We try to recreate the same ambience no matter which city you are in". Undoubtedly, when you switch countries, no matter how accustomed you are to change, there is always the matter of adaptation. Finding a familiar party with like-minded foreigners is, of course, comforting.
Every time I sign up to an event and a row of flags appears, showing where other attendees come from, it brings flashbacks from my International School years when we used to stick little flags into cakes for the international food day. We have grown up, made careers and instead of glittery cakes it's now the turn of colourful vodka shots.
Some might criticise "French Tuesdays" for the lack of identity. As with any global brand, it is anonymous, and it offers an idea of luxurious fun that anybody can feel associated with. Although those who have lived around the world know that adapting is hard and having done it all their lives, they are too tired to make an effort. They want to walk into a room without worrying about pronouncing "banana" with the wrong accent.
Only a third of the "French Tuesdays" members are British and it is mostly the curious ones, who want to meet people from other places. For them, it's an opportunity to travel in their own country.
Alla understands the "Third Culture Kid" mentality and gets a kick out of bringing people together and seeing relationships, friendships and careers blossom during the events. Success, she tells me, isn't about numbers of guests but about bringing interesting people on board. Indeed, what struck me the most was how hand-picked the guests are. It feels like stepping into one of those ads about glamorous life.
The locations are also part of the fantasy that "French Tuesdays" are trying to offer. Looking for the hottest venue in town is part of Alla's job. Having been to some of the most famous and beautiful places in London, I wonder if she has her favourite spot. Immediately, I hear a New Yorker speak as she tells me that she misses the rooftops of the Big Apple. Zinc, on top of the Paramount, is her favourite place in London "where you have that New York feeling of being on top of the world".
It is not surprising that there is a little bit of that feeling in every "French Tuesday". But it only lasts for one night.