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Bal des débutantes

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Vanity Fair photo shoot with the 2011 Debs

Le Bal des Débutantes, also known simply as 'le Bal' (or, previously, the 'Crillon Ball')[citation needed], is a fashion event held annually in November that brings together 20–25 girls aged 16 to 22 from about a dozen countries.

Since 1992 le Bal has been organised by Ophélie Renouard as an invitation-only couture event.[1][2][3][4][5] The young women don gowns from haute couture and couture designers,[6] as well as foreign fashion houses. They all wear jewelry from the same jeweler.[7][8] The débutantes usually come from famous families, known for the contributions to arts, politics, business, and more.[9] The organiser of Le Bal claims that money is not a criterion for selection.[9]

The event raises money for one or more charity organizations while celebrating the French way of life.[10] Since 2009, le Bal has supported Enfants d'Asie, which provides education for girls in Southeast Asia.[11] In 2015 it also supported Seleni, a non-profit that finances research in healthcare for adolescent mothers.[2]

In 2005, Forbes cited it as one of the world's 10 hottest parties.[12]

Fashion houses

In 1993 the International Herald Tribune stated that "the show itself was central casting's idea of Paris couture – all unswept Carita chignons, solid makeup and the girls plodding out in drop-dead gowns. Yet all seemed as thrilled as Cinderella that someone had waved a mascara wand to give them old-fashioned glamour."[13]

For many of the débutantes, le Bal is their introduction to the world of high fashion.[14] For example, in 2008, French actor Jean Rochefort's daughter Clémence, who wore Nina Ricci, said that it was her first time in haute couture.[15] Anna Cleveland van Ravenstein, on the other hand, had been modeling for Chanel for years before "Uncle Karl [Lagerfeld]" helped her pick out a vintage gown for le Bal.[14]

Some couture houses have produced special gowns for the event, for instance Carolina Herrera in 2003 for Diana Mellon, and, in 2014, Danish designer Jesper Hovring for Viola Mikkelsen.[16]

The Event

Deb Sokhna N'dour dressing for le Bal in 2008

Planning and preparations include inviting the débutantes and their cavaliers and meetings with the debs and their families.[17] From 1992 to 2012, le Bal was organized at the Hôtel de Crillon.[18][19] The Hôtel Raphael was the hotel of le Bal in 2013 and 2014[20] and the event was held in the Palais de Chaillot in 2015, overlooking the Eiffel Tower.[21] Le Bal was held at its partner hotel The Peninsula Paris in 2016 and 2017.[22]

Friday, or the eve of le Bal, is when the débutantes come together for the first time. The makeup and hair styling sessions start at 9:00am. Then the débutantes don their dresses, shoes,[23] and jewels, and the individual and group photo sessions[24] last for the rest of the day.[17] On Friday evening, the débutantes' fathers and cavaliers take part in a waltz class with two teachers.[17]

The debutants have sessions with M.A.C. Cosmetics for makeup and Alexandre de Paris for hair.[25]

Debs dance and talk at the 2009 Ball at the Hôtel de Crillon.

The débutantes are introduced in alphabetical order on the arms of their cavaliers[17] by journalist and author Stéphane Bern.[26] Then the dinner is served.[27] After dinner, the débutantes who are the most followed by the media open le Bal, followed by all of the fathers with their daughters.[27][28]

Opening dance

Each year since 2005, there has been a débutante who opens the dancing with a waltz, led by her father or the evening's MC[citation needed]:

This opening dance is followed by a waltz with all of the fathers and débutantes. The fathers then cede their daughters to the cavaliers, and the waltz is replaced with contemporary music with a live band. The debs then return their dresses and their jewels. The débutantes and their cavaliers finish the evening out clubbing.[47]

The debutantes

The criteria for invitation are looks,[18][48] brains, and famous parents.[18][23] They often come from families known in entertainment, business, or politics.

As le Bal is also a couture event, the gowns are fashion show dresses and le Bal's team endeavors to find the most suitable ones.[18]

From 2000 to 2003, le Bal welcomed a winner from a contest held by the French magazine Jalouse each year. Each one was chosen based on a submitted application.[49]

The majority of the participants must undergo a bit of a transition in wearing haute couture dresses.[27] Rory Ross of The Daily Telegraph described the débutantes' transformations as: "Trading fashionably frayed jeans, trainers and fruit-scented lip gloss for heels, tiaras and haute couture gowns worth up to £30,000 each, they undergo a semi-Cinderella transformation ('semi' because most of these girls already have a head-and-shoulders start on Cinderella)."[18]

In interviews, the débutantes usually speak of the pleasure of wearing couture dresses, the charity aspect of the event,[11] and the opportunity to meet girls from different countries.[50][51]

The cavaliers

Each débutante is escorted by a cavalier. He may be by a young man of her own choosing, such as a brother, cousin, friend, or boyfriend. However, nearly half of the débutantes, particularly those travelling from abroad don't bring their own cavaliers; they rely instead on the organizers of le Bal to find a cavalier.[52] The organizer, Renouard, told Malaysia Tatler, " When a deb wants us to find her a cavalier, we look at the ages, the language they speak, their heights and possibly their backgrounds and usually it works.[14]

Media coverage

The 2011 Debs photographed at le Bal.

Coverage often emphasizes the cachet of the event and its elegance.[53] It has been claimed that "Le Bal has really maintained its exclusivity; all the top designers participate, and there have never been any sleazy photographs of the débutantes."[54]


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