A sterling silver napkin ring with your name engraved on it looks like the perfect memento of a luxurious vacation in Paris. But it is not an honor that you can buy; you must be requested by the owner of an exclusive French hotel.
Bought in 1899 by Louis Fouquet, the Hôtel Fouquet’s Barrière, located at the corner of avenue George V and avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris, opened as a coachman’s inn. It quickly became the place to see in Paris. Elaborate movie theaters began to open on the Champs-Élysées in the 1930s, turning the street into an avenue of Paris cinema, with Fouquet’s as its center. Actors such as Marlene Dietrich, Sacha Guitry, Yves Montand, Simone Signoret and Edith Piaf have made Fouquet’s the place where they signed contracts, organized parties with actors and presented new films.
Then, during the 1980s, another level of luxury unleashed: the silver napkin ring. It was a loyalty program created by Maurice Casanova, owner of Fouquet’s restaurant. “Monsieur. Casanova wanted frequent customers to feel at home here: they would always find a place at their favorite table and would be greeted with their engraved silver napkin ring”, explains Céline Lavail-Georgin, marketing and communications manager of the hotel. “When you receive one, you become part of the Fouquet’s ‘family’ for life. And when you dine at Fouquet’s, you will find your napkin ring at the table, as if you had come home.
Among the recipients of these coveted papers are Alain Delon, Bruce Willis, Johnny Halliday, Liza Minnelli, Jack Nicholson, Charlotte Rampling and Catherine Deneuve, to name a few. In 2006, the napkin ring program became an invitation-only membership program with annual membership fees; only 10 new celebrities, politicians, socialites and important people are accepted each year. Silver membership costs around $ 960 per year and Gold status can cost you around $ 2,560. Club Fouquet members are offered honors and discounts at the hotel’s five restaurants, three bars and U Spa Barrière Shiseido, among other benefits.
The rings are housed in two display cases located on either side of the Fouquet’s entrance. Whenever a new member is inducted, the rings are rearranged alphabetically, so the system remains intact and everyone can easily find their nickname ring.
But name recognition doesn’t stop at the table; it can also be found on the ground. Because Fouquet’s organizes galas for the Césars, the French equivalent of the Oscars, bronze plaques were placed inside and outside the restaurant, and along the catwalk at the hotel entrance. First installed in 1976, the year of the first Caesar ceremony, the plaques pay homage to the names of the many celebrities who have visited the hotel.
“There are four columns in front of Fouquet’s restaurant representing each year the best actress, the best actor, the best director and the president of the ceremony”, specifies Lavail-Georgin. “The 1976 winners are the first people whose names have been engraved: Romy Schneider (Best actress), Philippe Noiret (Best actor), Bertrand Tavernier (Best director), [and] Jean Gabin (President). Today there are over 170 plaques, honoring stars like Ingrid Bergman, Sophia Loren, Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, David Lynch, Lauren Bacall, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee.