From Paris with Love: Le Bal des Débutantes in the City of Light
Le Bal des Débutantes is synonymous with high fashion, good breeding and the promise of youth — but this time it was so much more. We meet the impressive young women making their society debuts.
Madeleine Ross on Feb 23, 2017
From left, back row: Countess Victoria von Faber-Castell, Vanessa Wang, Inês de Bragança, Almudena Lapique, Zara Fistolera, Olivia Hallisey. Front row: Countess Sarah von Faber-Castell, Aliénor de Chabot-Tramecourt, Iman Perez, Sonia Ben Ammar, Dominique Cojuangco, Countess Gloria de Limburg Stirum.
"Paris is always a good idea" has become a universal mantra since Julia Ormond uttered it in the 1995 remake of the classic 1954 film Sabrina. These six seemingly innocuous words perfectly encapsulate the magnificence of the French capital—its beauty, its historical significance and its irrepressible joie de vivre.
Late last year, however, for perhaps the first time in recent memory, the lure of Paris was overwhelmed by apprehension. The terrorist attacks of November 13, which took the lives of 130 and injured 368 others, shook the city's foundations.
In the weeks following, numerous tourists cancelled their trips and many citizens avoided crowded areas and public transport. For the parents of the 20 high-profile young women scheduled to take part in the famed Bal des Débutantes, the concept of putting their daughters in the spotlight must have challenged every instinct.
Standing, from left: Countess Angélique de Limburg Stirum in Georges Hobeika, Princess Emilia von Auersperg-Breunner in Emanuel Ungaro, Dinh Thi Nam Phuong in Alexis Mabille, Tess Kemper in Alexandre Vauthier, Hermine Royant in Elie Saab, Princess Zita de Bourbon-Parme in Zuhair Murad, Daniela Figo in Gaultier Paris, Jayati Modi in Vivienne Westwood, Olympia Taittinger in Chanel, Maia Twombly in Giambattista Valli, Alexina Fontes Williams in Yanina Couture. Seated, from left: Ella Beatty in Christian Dior, Marquise Altea Patrizi Naro Montoro in Stephane Rolland, Donna Yuan in Guo Pei, Amelia Ash Rudick in Naeem Khan and Monica Concepcion in Marchesa.
Donna Yuan, Yu Hang and Monica Concepcion.
Iman Perez in Gaultier Paris.
Dinh Thi Nam Phuong, Angélique de Limburg Stirum and Monica Concepcion with Le Bal's custom Renault.
Princess Emilia von Auersperg-Breunner in the arms of her cavalier Count Erik Law de Lauriston.
A spirited Sonia Ben Ammar hams it up on the arm of Octave le Gouvello du Timat.
The arrival of Princess Zita de Bourbon-Parme.
Dominique Cojuangco in Vivienne Westwood Couture.
Tess Kemper and Prince Philippe Emmanuel de Croy-Solre.
Countess Victoria von Faber-Castell makes her debut at the ball.
Tess Kemper, Alexina Fontes Williams and Daniela Figo.
Countess Angélique de Limburg Stirum opens the waltz with her father.
Olivia Hallisey -- in an airy Giambattista Valli gown -- flanked by suitors.
Dinh Thi Nam Phuong and Léopold de Boissonneaux de Cevigny.
Countess Angélique de Limburg Stirum, Ella Beatty and Olympia Taittinger.
Hermine Royant, Donna Yuan and Princess Zita de Bourbon-Parme.
Jayati Modi and Romain Takeo Bouyer.
Hermine Royant, Olympia Taittinger, Donna Yuan and Amelia Ash Ruddick.
Countess Angélique de Limburg Stirum and Count François de Limburg Stirum.
Making the ball relevant for current times.
In the minds of the young women who had agreed to take part, however, there was no doubt that the show must go on. "How would it help to not participate in le Bal?" asks 16-year-old Sonia Ben Ammar, daughter of film tycoon Tarak Ben Ammar, when we meet in the dressing room a day before the ball.
"You can't give these people what they want—and what they want is to break down our ideologies and stop us living our lives. I'm not going to live my life in fear."
For those who aren't au fait, le Bal (as it's known for short) is a grand gathering of mademoiselles from the world's most influential families. The event has been a fixture on the calendars of high society since 1992.
Each girl is personally invited to take part by le Bal's founder, Ophélie Renouard. An arbiter of taste and a celebrity in her own right, Renouard's unrivalled little black book bursts with direct lines to politicians, power brokers, princes and pop stars.
Traditionally held at the Hôtel de Crillon, a Rosewood Hotel that's currently undergoing renovation, the 2015 incarnation of le Bal took place at the monumental Palais de Chaillot.
To read all about their experiences, pick up a copy of Thailand Tatler February 2017 issue.
Photos: Tim Griffiths and Sarah Aubel Debutantes hair & makeup: MAC and Alexandre De Paris