Celebrating her Légion d’Honneur with Designer Nicole Farhi

Undeniably one of the most successful and glamorous fashion designers in London, French-born Nicole Farhi has been flagging her own brand of super sleek Gallic chic in Britain for thirty years, earning in the process a CBE awarded by the Queen in 2007. It is therefore fantastic news that President Nicolas Sarkozy also decided to recognise her contribution to the fashion industry and French cultural influence by giving her the Légion d’Honneur, the most prestigious form of public recognition in our home country. She celebrated the award last Tuesday with a superb and extremely fun dinner, where I was lucky enough to be invited, alongside a glamorous crowd including actor Bill Nighy, US Vogue editor Anna Wintour, model and DJ Ben Grimes, style icon Zandra Rhodes and fashion designer Betty Jackson.
With David Cohen (Betty Jackson’s husband), Nicole Farhi and Bill Nighy

It is only when I received the invitation (“a private dinner to celebrate her Légion d’Honneur 2010”) that I learnt that Nicole Farhi had received this prestigious award. Given the fact that she had known of her nomination since last January and that I had had lunch with her several times since, it came to me as a surprise, but also as a testament to the kind of person she is: discreet, modest and certainly not one to boast, however entitled she might be.

Obviously, as someone who is lucky enough to have become her friend, I was extremely happy for her, but also about the fact that Nicolas Sarkozy decided to honour one of the numerous French people who choose to make a life and career in London. And while it is generally British fashion designers who go and settle in Paris to further their career -John Galliano at Dior being the prime example- Nicole has been leading a much smaller but significant trend of French talents coming to settle in the British capital, with super successful designers such as Roland Mouret and Charles Anastase following her lead.

The dinner, organised on Tuesday 21st September to coincide with the end of London Fashion Week, was held at Nicole’s Bond Street store, transformed for the occasion into a fairy tale dining room, with a big communal table covered with flowers and delicious food that came from Nicole’s restaurant downstairs. While Nicole, born in Nice from Turkish parents, isn’t really interested in the party scene, she loves to entertain her friends and family, which made the dinner pretty cheery and informal. Even the supremely elegant but usually rather cold Anna Wintour -who famously served as model for Miranda Priestly in the film The Devil Wears Prada- was super smiling and relaxed, a testament if needed of the good and intimate party atmosphere Nicole managed to create. Only her husband, the playwright and Oscar-winner script writer David Hare, was missing, as he was giving an award to a young playwright at Yale university, leaving Bill Nighy, star of Love Actually, Pirates of the Carribean and the upcoming installments of Harry Potter (one of their best friends) to play co-host with Nicole.

I certainly had a brilliant time, catching up not only with Nicole, who was understandably in great form, but also with the lovely Betty Jackson (without a doubt one of the warmest person in the fashion world), and getting to meet super creative fashion icon Zandra Rhodes and artist Andrew Logan, who were my neighbours at the table, as well as hot Prada model and DJ Ben Grimes, another fellow Frenchie (on her mother’s side).

One of my personal highlights came when we left the dinner to go to the after party, which was organised at the Brompton Club in South Kensington. I got a lift in Bill Nighy’s car, alongside Nicole and Telegraph fashion director Hilary Alexander. In the kind of “pinch me if I dream” scene, Bill Nighy -who played ageing rockstar Billy Mack in Love Actually- broke into a rather good rendition of “Wild Thing”. The actor then entertained us with musical trivia (such as the fact that Angelina Jolie’s uncle wrote this famous British song- who would have thought?), before telling us of the time he sang alongside Radiohead for Comic relief. And while there is no way he would have been as outrageous as his character in the Richard Curtis movie -who famoulsy celebrates getting a number One hit by watching porn! – he certainly proved that when it comes to music and having fun, he’s still got it.

While glamorous parties abound in London, it takes particular ingredients to make for a really good night, where people actually enjoy themselves rather than just posing. Interesting people, a beautiful setting and great food certainly help, but social chemistry, where one feels that people are here because they really want to and because they enjoy each other company, can often be missing. It wasn’t the case at Nicole’s party, which makes it one of my favourite London nights ever: so thank you Nicole, and félicitations again!

Below, clockwise from left: Bill Nighy, Nicole Farhi and Betty Jackson; Zandra Rhodes and Andrew Logan; Telegraph magazine editor Michele Lavery and Ben Grimes; Nicole Farhi and Anna Wintour