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How Clare Vivier Throws a Rustic French Dinner Party

An accessories designer with a flair for creating colorful, eye-catching styles translates her talents into fun, simple, and spontaneous entertaining.

Clare Vivier, the force behind Clare V., a line of luxe bags and accessories, loves to amp up basic shapes with bright primary colors, leopard prints, and Gallic stripes. The results? Designs that look both understated and cool.

She and her husband, Thierry, a French journalist, go about entertaining in much the same way. Every few months, the two host a soiree at their home in Los Angeles's Echo Park, inviting artists, writers, and entrepreneurs to their table. The gatherings are casual, "nothing too fancy or over the top, just laid-back and beautiful," she says. And in their off-the-cuff way, the couple typically plan the menu the day before.

One dinner they make often is inspired by summers in the Loire Valley to visit Thierry's family: salad with a walnut vinaigrette and ratatouille with couscous and merguez sausage. For dessert, they offer chocolate mousse with fresh fruit and various cheeses, including an aged Comte and very ripe Camembert.

"For ratatouille, you're basically making a stew out of ripe vegetables from the garden," Clare says. "It is simple but utterly delicious." She likes the way the flavors come together on the plate, with the couscous soaking up all the sauce.

Moments before guests arrive, Clare sets the table with fresh flowers and lights candles throughout her backyard, so it glows as the sun fades. Then she steps back and lets the evening unfold. "I grew up with five siblings," she says. "I love having people around—the more, the merrier."

A Gem of a Salad

A salad of sweet, crisp Little Gem lettuces with tangy walnut vinaigrette makes an elegant starter. Serve it on a big platter and let everyone help themselves.

Ratatouille from Clare's Mother-in-Law

This garden-to-table stew is a great make-ahead option for summer entertaining, as the flavor benefits from some time to develop. It can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days and is delicious hot or at room temperature.

The Merguez de Resistance

Merguez -- a harissa-spiked lamb sausage of North Africa -- is grilled and served on a bed of couscous to soak up the precious juices. You can also skip the grill and broil it instead.

Chocolate or Cheese? Both!

The evening ends with fresh apricots and a classic chocolate mousse made by Thierry. For guests who want to finish on a more savory note, Clare puts out a selection of soft, semisoft, and hard cheeses on a rustic board.