Richard Mille’s inaugural Arts & Elegance concours achieves 100-point perfection.
Lying less than an hour’s drive north of Paris, the quaint town of Chantilly (pronounced “shawn-tee-YEE” in French) affords a blessed respite from France’s alluring but chaotic capital. The town, once known for the types of porcelain and lace that were made there, is home to the Domaine de Chantilly, a property that dates to at least the 13th century and includes a castle of grand proportions, the Château de Chantilly. The castle houses the Condé Museumand its collection of more than 800 important paintings, 44,000 ancient books, and 1,500 manuscripts. The estate’s grounds also feature a garden and a 1.5-mile Grand Canal designed in the 17th century by André Le Nôtre, who at the same time was creating the gardens of Versailles for King Louis XIV.
On the first weekend of September, visitors to the Domaine de Chantilly were greeted by one of the greatest treasures of the automotive world: the 1930 Bugatti Type 41 Coupé Napoleon, the first of the six Royales that Bugatti built. On loan from the Collection Schlumpf at the Cité de l’Automobile, Museé National in Mulhouse, France, the 21-foot-long leviathan sat atop a platform at the entry to the estate. On the field beyond was a collection of A-list automobiles ranging from models built at the dawn of the industry to prewar classics, postwar sports prototypes, historic racecars, and contemporary concept cars. Each was a contestant in one of the three concours competitions that composed the inaugural Chantilly Arts & Elegance Richard Mille, an event that drew some 10,000 visitors and will likely attract even more to its second edition, scheduled for September 6, 2015.
The presence of the Bugatti immediately signified to all visitors the clout of the event’s organizers: Richard Mille, the founder of his namesake watch brand and an avid auto collector, and Patrick Peter, of Peter Auto, which operates the Le Mans Classic and other vintage-racing and classic-car events. On the evening prior to Sunday’s competitions, Mille and Peter hosted a formal dinner for nearly 500 invited guests at the estate’s Great Stables, in the nave—the banquet hall where the Condé family held parties when they owned the estate in the 18th century.
An architectural masterpiece, the stables were also home to the Condé family’s horses and today house a museum of equine history. According to legend, Louis Henri, the prince of Condé, believed he would be reincarnated as a horse, and so in the 1700s he commissioned stables that would provide him with comfortable accommodations in his next life. The centerpiece of the stables is an elegant stadium whose oval ring served as the stage for a performance that preceded the banquet. A troupe of riders dressed in brilliant period costumes and their mounts executed meticulous equine choreography to music that ranged from a Brandenburg Concerto to cool midcentury jazz.
Dinner was a black-tie affair that began with the introduction of the hosts, Mille and Peter, followed by a procession of waiters serving the evening’s wine. Accompanied by a light show and music, the waiters presented the wine in a succession of formats that began with a single 750 mL bottle and progressed to an 18-liter Melchior. Dinner included a soufflé that seemed, although the three Michelin-starred chefs were cooking for 500, to have come from a single casserole.
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