A debutante coming-out, Le Bal des debutantes in Paris, also known as “le Bal,” was inspired by the 18th century English tradition of the debutante ball, a “coming out” into the adult world where the young ladies are were introduced to society as young adults. Historically the objective was to present them to the world to which they would belong and mature. Frequently this was followed by acquiring a mate and beginning the establishment of a new family of the old order.
In France, however, the traditional debutante ball, the introduction to the society to which they were born into, was first established in 1957 and had a very short existence — ending sixteen years later in 1973.
19 years later, in 1994, Ophélie Renouard created a modern version. It called for the gathering of 20 exceptional young women, along with their cavaliers, reflecting and promoting the name of Haute Couture, high jewelry and for the ultimate benefit of charity.
These days with almost all traditions retired from social purpose (and potential adult mergers) debutantes make their debuts on social media. Le Bal, however, is staged for an unforgettable moment of their haute couture and media premières.
Le Bal in Paris is also the only débutante ball in the world by invitation only. This year’s rendition, which is traditionally held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, took place at the splendid Shangri-La Paris hotel — which is the former private residence of a nephew of Napoleon; and in the 20th century the salonniere of the social doyenne, Elsie de Wolfe.
The event is a rare combination of old world protocol and elegance and internationalism. It is a modern approach to the definition of “elite.” The debutantes and their families hail from fifteen different cultures from all corners of the globe including India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, China, the Philippines, Greece, Italy, Great Britain, Hungary, Germany and the US. Some represent ancient aristocratic clans; while others exemplify individual achievement and excellence (the Hapsburg archduchess had competed for her country in equestrian sports and gold medalist Eileen Gu also made her debut.)
Le Bal supports two important organizations: WCK World Central Kitchen, which provides meals in the wake of crisis in different parts of the world, and the French hospital Necker-Enfants Malades, the first children hospital in the world.
The past attendees include royalty such as TIH Princesses and Princes Victoria-Louise and Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia and Grand Duke George Mikhailovich of Russia, TRH Princesses and Princes Aude, Charlotte, Elizabeth, Zita, Amaury, Henri and Michel de Bourbon Parme; Charlotte, Paul-Louis and Leopold de Nassau; Fawzia Latifa and Mohamed Ali of Egypt; Louise, Hélène and Philippe d’Orleans; Lorenza, Livia and Wenceslas de Liechtenstein; Lady Amelia Windsor; Luis de Borbon, Delphine and Antoine Arnault, Lauren Bush, Kyra Kennedy, Anoushka Delon, Lily Collins, Kayla Rockefeller, as well as Scout and Tallulah Willis and Francesca Eastwood.
Photographs by le Bal/Yunling Fang/Studio Vanssay/Sylvie LeFort