Nicole Alphand, 61, a leading hostess in Washington when her husband, Herve Alphand, was French ambassador to this country, died yesterday in Paris. She had undergone throat surgery several weeks ago.

She joined her husband here in 1958 after their marriage in Paris. They remained here until his recall in 1965, when he became secretary-general of the French Foreign Affairs Ministry in Paris.

Mme. Alphand, who was on the world's best-dressed list several times during that period, was known for her elegant dinner parties. It was said that an invitation to the Alphands was the most prized invitation next to a dinner invitation to the White House.

She brought French cuisine, candlelight, music and haute couture fashion shows to the French Embassy. She also sponsored such things as hula hoop contests and hair-dressing parties there.

Mme. Alphand and her husband were close friends of the John F. Kennedys, while they occupied the White House. The guest list for her parties always read like a "Who's Who" of official political Washington as well as diplomatic Washington.

She frequently referred to the hard work (15 hours a day) that was part of her "job" as an ambassador's wife. She attended many charity affairs, where she made presentations in her almost perfect English.

Just before she left Washington for Paris in 1965, Mme. Alphand was presented with a certificate of appreciation from the D.C. Chapter of the American Red Cross for her efforts in volunteer work on behalf of the chapter.

As the foremost diplomatic hostess in Washington for slightly more than seven years and because of her striking looks, Mme. Alphand was photographed frequently and those pictures appeared in every major news and fashion magazine, including a cover of Time in 1963.

After her return to Paris, she joined one of the foremost designers, Pierre Cardin. She started the Cardin business in this country and made three or four business trips a year to New York and at least two trips annually to Washington.

Mme. Alphand noted that she was in the business end of things at Cardin and not the creative part of the operation.

In an interview several years later, she explained:

"I work because I enjoy it. It is important to do well whatever you do in life, whether it's giving a dinner party or working. I still have work to do for my husband."

She remained with Cardin until her death. Her husband retired in 1974.

Mme. Alphand was born Nicole Merenda in Paris. She was educated in France and England.

Her first marriage to Etienne Bunau-Varilla, a wealthy sportsman and head of a large pharmaceutical products laboratory, ended in divorce.

In addition to Alphand, she is survived by a son, Phillippe Bunau-Varilla and a daughter, Prisca Leonelli, by her first marriage.