Imagine having your husband’s boss US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton drop in for a nine hour visit at your ‘home’ in Paris, the enormous Hôtel de Pontalba aka the US ambassador’s residence in Paris.
Meet former high-ranking money manager for the Capital Group in Los Angeles and mother of two Susan Tolson, wife of Charles Rivkin, who was sworn in as US ambassador to France and Monaco in August 2009. Far away from their life in Santa Monica, the couple along with Eli, 17 and Lily, 15 navigate not only the ballroom, but a cinema-size screening room, a kitchen with three chefs, gilded salons, and a state diniing room that seats 120.
Susan Tolson’s life in Paris — profiled recently in Harper’s Bazaar and also today’s T Magazine Design and Living Summer 2011 — is a fascinating mix of promoting American culture in France and also absorbing and interpreting French chic for Americans.
“You can be as involved as you like or as disengaged as you like,” says Tolson, who hosts an average of at least four official events per week. Because she is the wife of the youngest ambassador to France in nearly 60 years, it’s not surprising that the household activity is as prolific and wide-ranging as it is unstuffy and inclusive. There have been intimate private dinners for Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen, a reception for Ralph Lauren, and a Jimmy Buffett concert for the embassy’s military personnel and their diplomatic counterparts. Then there was her Route 66-themed Fourth of July extravaganza, which was attended by 2,500 politicos, distinguished guests, and regular (but lucky) expat folks. She served California Tex-Mex and New Orleans Cajun food overseen by chef Dickie Brennan. “We had cars and Harleys all over the yard,” Tolson recalls. “Everyone loved it.” (Harper’s Bazaar)
Proving her cultural adaptability, Tolson not only had a front-row seat that Paris’s ready-to-wear shows, but she attended Carine Roitfeld’s 90th-anniversary ‘Vogue Paris | Eyes Wide Shut’ masquerade party wearing a mask. Sexy.
In similar fashion, Ambassador Rivkin and Tolson celebrated Michael Kors’s 30th anniversary and new store on the Rue St.-Honoré with a garden dinner for 200. The event was also Madame Tolson’s 49th birthday culminating in Mary J. Blige singing — not only ‘Happy Birthday’ but ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and ‘One Love’.
Mary J Blige Live | US Embassy Paris for Michael Kors
On the Fourth of July, there were 3,000 people ‘out back’. Tolson didn’t comment on how she’s adjusting to losing Jeremy Bernard, who was snatched up by the Obamas as the new White House Social Secretary.
“I had been told that the French are very particular about protocol,” Tolson says. “Obviously we have been granted fertile soil because Obama’s approval rating here is through the roof and they are proud of Americans for electing him. We want to take every advantage of it. It’s an opportune time to show the good face of America.” (NYTimes)
Ambassador Rivkin’s father, a lawyer, was Ambassador to Luxembourg under President Kennedy and Ambassador to Senegal and Gambia under President Johnson.