Inside Le Bal des Débutantes, where daughters of royalty, Hollywood icons, and politicians have made high society debuts since 1994

Debutantes and Cavaliers dance the waltz at Le Bal in 2013.
Le Bal is basically a modern revamp of a Bridgerton party. Ophélie Renouard/Le Bal
  • Daughters of Hollywood elite, royals, and politicians have attended Le Bal des Débutantes in Paris.
  • Founded by Ophélie Renouard, Le Bal is a modern revival of traditional Bridgerton-like balls.
  • To get a glimpse inside, Insider spoke to Renouard and former debutante, Princess Akshita Bhanj Deo.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Daughters of Hollywood’s elite, royal houses, business moguls, and politicians from around the world have received exclusive invites to attend Le Bal des Débutantes in Paris.
Lauren Bush, niece of former president George W. Bush, poses in a light purple Christian Dior dress in 2000.
Lauren Bush, niece of former President George W. Bush, attended Le Bal in 2000 wearing Christian Dior. Ophélie Renouard/Le Bal
In 1994, Ophélie Renouard was working in public relations for the Taittinger hotel group when she founded Le Bal des Debutantes as a modern revival of the 18th-century English tradition of debutante balls, according to the official website.

However, unlike other modern-day debutante parties, such as the Queen Charlotte’s Ball, Renouard told Insider she likes to “distance” Le Bal from traditional balls.

The most noticeable example is in the optics, she said. Le Bal debutantes wear gowns of an array of colors, a contrast from the white dresses, gloves, and tiaras that are a staple of traditional balls.

While the concept of holding an evening in honor of girls on the cusp of adulthood bears some parallel to traditional debutante balls, Renouard said Le Bal is “totally different.”
American actress Andie McDowell is pictured with her daughter Rainsford Qualley during her Le Bal debut in 2005.
American actress Andie McDowell is pictured with her daughter Rainsford Qualley during her Le Bal debut in 2005. Ophélie Renouard/Le Bal
Perhaps the greatest difference between Le Bal and other debutante balls, according to Renouard, is that no one can pay their way into Le Bal — it’s strictly invite-only. While former debutantes can make recommendations, Renouard has the final say. 

“I get requests every week, people say I want my daughter to go to the ball, how much does it cost, blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t cost anything,” she said. “I invite people because I find them interesting and because we can tell a story about them.”

Because the cut-off age for debutantes is around 21, that “story” is often the one about who their parents are, she added. 

There are several other criteria a prospective debutante must meet to get a coveted invite to Le Bal.
Lily Collins pictured with her cavalier Richard Dennen at Le Bal in 2007.
Lily Collins, who wore Chanel to her debut at Le Bal in 2007, was accompanied by journalist Richard Dennen. Ophélie Renouard/Le Bal
Debutantes selected to take part in Le Bal often have a “certain profile” and are scouted years in advance. “Usually they’re good students, they’re hardworking and they’re interested in charity,” Renouard said.

Despite the glamour and haute couture gowns, she says the core of Le Bal, which took place at the Hôtel de Crillon until 2012, is grounded in charity.

According to Le Bal’s website, its purpose is to fundraise for charities helping young women including the Seleni Institute and Enfants d’Asie, “a girls help-girls humanitarian association launched to promote women’s education in South-East Asia.”

Potential debutantes often face stiff competition as Renouard never invites more than 22 women.
American actress Margaret Qualley is pictured at Le Bal with her date Count Filippo Emo Capodilista of Italy.
Six years after her sister Rainsford made her Le Bal debut, Margaret Qualley got an invite and attended alongside her cavalier, Count Filippo Emo Capodilista of Italy. Ophélie Renouard/Le Bal
The reason there are never more than 22 debutantes invited to Le Bal each year is that there is simply a scarcity in what they can wear, Renouard told Insider. Generally, each woman is dressed in haute couture, a strictly French collection of fashion houses, and Renouard said there just aren’t that many houses anymore.  

“It’s a very small circle, because it’s very costly for them,” she said, adding that the gowns worn by each debutante are all totally unique, sewn by hand, and of the highest quality.

Having international representation is a high priority for Renouard.
Bruce Willis dances with his daughter Tallulah at Le Bal in 2011.
Bruce Willis and his daughter Tallulah shared a sweet dancing moment at Le Bal in 2011. Ophélie Renouard/Le Bal
Renouard said they are “very selective,” but in each class of debutantes, she tries her hardest to have “as many nationalities as possible,” and usually has around 12 countries represented each year. 
The debutantes selected by Renouard and her small team of three don’t have to pay for their gowns, waltz lessons, and almost anything else they require during their weekend in Paris.
Kyra Kennedy posed for photos with her father Robert F. Kennedy Jr at Le Ball in 2013.
Kyra Kennedy attended Le Bal with her father Robert F. Kennedy Jr in 2013. Ophélie Renouard/Le Bal
Renouard said she works with sponsors to finance the event each year, and as with the number of debutantes she chooses, she keeps the number of sponsors she uses to a minimum. 

“I always choose sponsors that I can promote within the context of Le Bal and it looks natural,” she said. “Le Bal is like a story, so they wear haute couture gowns, so they have to wear jewelry, so the sponsor is the jewelry.”

But having a reputation of inviting only the rich and the famous, Le Bal has faced criticism over the years for perpetuating an outdated tradition of class division.
Ava Phillippe with her mother Reese Witherspoon at Le Bal in 2017.
Reese Witherspoon came out to support her daughter Ava Phillippe’s Le Bal debut in 2017. Ophélie Renouard/Le Bal
In 2017, author Bob Morris summed up criticism about debutante balls for Town and Country: “Try posting anything upbeat about debutantes on social media and you’re likely to get heavy cynical commentary about fetishism, feminism, classism, and racism.”

When asked about it, Renouard said: “You’re always criticized if you do things.” She went on to point to the enduring popularity Le Bal has among its debutantes. “They want to have a princess moment,” she said. “Of course it is a bit from another era, but they like the beauty of it.”

 

Renouard said she and her team of three often try to find debutantes outside of their usual profile.
Phillippe mid dance at her Le Bal debut in 2017.
Ava Philippe wore Giambattista Valli Haute Couture to her high society debut. Ophélie Renouard/Le Bal
Renouard said finding girls who bring a unique story to Le Bal is “very important,” but not “easy to find.” 

One of her favorite examples of a debutante who didn’t fit the usual stereotype was Lauren Marbe, a daughter of a taxi driver from Essex, England, who was in the news in 2013 for scoring a higher IQ than Einstein. Renouard called to offer her an invite and she went. 

Marbe later described her experience in an interview with The Times, sharing anecdotes about her meeting the likes of Lady Amelia Windsor and exchanging numbers. 

In 2024, it will be three decades since Renouard started Le Bal, but she has no plans as of yet to stop.
Ophelié Renouard, founder of Le Bal, is pictured.
Renouard has a list of potential debutantes for the ‘next 20 years.’ Ophélie Renouard/Le Bal
While she’s been approached by people over the years about possibly taking over, Renouard said she’s not in any rush to give up the reins on Le Bal. 

“I have a list of debutantes for the next 20 years and I have a very good team” she added. “But I’m not making plans, after this pandemic my priority now is just to make it happen again.”

COVID-19 meant she had to cancel Le Bal for the first time ever in 2020 and while she traditionally hosts it in November, she said she’ll look to May 2022 for the next edition. “It’ll be different,” Renouard said.

Though she is actual royalty, Princess Akshita Bhanj Deo of Mayurbhanj, India, told Insider getting to go to Le Bal was like living a scene out of “The Princess Diaries.”
Princess Akshita Bhanjdeo enters Le Bal wearing Zuhair Murad couture.
Princess Akshita Bhanj Deo was the only one wearing a caped dress during her Le Bal debut in 2013, which she said ‘felt really cool.’ Ophélie Renouard/Le Bal
Princess Akshita Bhanj Deo, 28, told Insider she first found out she’d received a preliminary invite to Le Bal a year before the event took place in 2013. At the time, Bhanj Deo was a 19-year-old sophomore at Bard University in New York City and it was there Renouard asked to meet her in person at The Carlyle hotel. 

While she said the meeting felt a bit like an interview, with questions being asked about her future career plans, Bhanj Deo said it was also like a scene out of the movie “The Princess Diaries,” and that Renouard was like Julie Andrews’ character, Queen Clarisse. 

While Bhanj Deo said her royal background probably helped her to be on Renouard’s radar, she also said there is more to what makes a Le Bal debutante.
Lady Amelia Windsor dances the night away at her
Lady Amelia Windsor dances the night away at Le Bal in 2013 with Prince Giacomo Leone Massimo Brancaccio. Ophélie Renouard/Le Bal
“After a point, it’s not really a family background,” Bhanj Deo said. “It’s like who is this person? What’s her personality? What does she have to add? Is she gonna work to actually do something?”

A level of ambition is one thing Bhanj Deo said Renouard prioritizes among prospective debutantes. 

“Ophelie has an eye for youth who are out to make a difference,” Bhanj Deo said. “You get to actually sponsor the education of 100 girls in Cambodia. That for me seemed like a no-brainer, in terms of knowing it’s all for a good cause.”

 

When Renouard asked her whether she had a cavalier in mind, Bhanj Deo quickly thought of her cousin Prince Chaitanya Raj Singh, who has since been crowned a King in the Indian state of Jaisalmer.
Princess Akshita and her cousin Prince Chaitanya Raj Singh at Le Bal in 2013.
Bhanj Deo’s date was her cousin Prince Chaitanya Raj Singh. Ophélie Renouard/Le Bal
For her cavalier, Le Bal’s term for a debutante’s escort, Bhanj Deo chose her cousin, Prince Chaitanya Raj Singh, now the crowned King of his home Indian state, Jaisalmer.

Next up was finding a dress. Studying in America meant she couldn’t go to Paris for fittings at an Haute Couture house so she opted to wear a couture gown made by Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad, whose story, voice, and background spoke to her, Bhanj Deo said. 

She ended up being the only debutante that year to wear a caped dress, which she said “felt really cool.” 

One of the best moments from the actual weekend for Bhanj Deo was really getting to know the other debutantes and cavaliers.
Famous parents Larry David, Cheryl Hines and Robert F. Kennedy Jr attended Le Bal in 2013.
Accompanying her husband Robert F. Kennedy Jr was Cheryl Hines, pictured here alongside Larry David whose own daughter Romy made her debut in 2013. Ophélie Renouard/Le Bal
Bhanj Deo said her debutante class included Lady Amelia Windsor, a niece of Princess Diana, Kyra Kennedy, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy Jr, and Princess Melusine Ruspoli of Italy. 

“For those three or four days, you’re just chilling and having fun and you’re meeting all these people,” she said. It was only later, when articles about Le Bal came out, that she realized who exactly the other girls were.

“It was like ‘Oh my god, that was lady Amelia Windsor,’ or ‘that’s Kyra Kennedy,'” Bhanj Deo said. “When you’re meeting everyone, you’re all in bathrobes.”

Bhanj Deo said she was totally taken care of the entire weekend – and each girl even had their own glam team.
Forest Whitaker dancing with his daughter True at Le Bal in 2018.
Forest Whitaker dancing with his daughter True at Le Bal in 2018. Ophélie Renouard/Le Bal
“I’d never done fittings before with an actual team,” Bhanj Deo said, adding that everything was “so well-curated.”

“I had a French stylist and a hairstylist and they were amazing, they were there with me the whole time,” she said, affectionately calling them her “guardian angels.” One of her worries, quickly put to bed, was whether the people doing her hair and makeup would know how to cater to her ethnicity. 

“I was like ‘thank God’ because I’d never gotten professional makeup done and I was worried it would be someone who didn’t know how to work with my skin or my hair texture.”

“Everyone wanted to network and network in the best way possible,” Bhanj Deo said. “You want to be friends with everyone and we all wanted to have each other’s back.
Princess Akshita and Prince Chaitanya Raj Singh at Le Bal in 2013.
Whereas traditionally debutante balls were a place to find girls suitable marriages, Bhanj Deo said Le Bal was more like a networking event. Ophélie Renouard/Le Bal
Bhanj Deo’s favorite part of Le Bal, and one she felt wasn’t captured well by the media after her debut, was the important conversations going on throughout the weekend. 

“Girls were talking about the Syrian refugee crisis, Pope Francis becoming more liberal,” she said. “The majority were very well informed and they were so humble. A lot of them were going to Ivy Leagues and I never heard anyone bragging, never felt like someone was being uppity.”

And while she did say the feeling she got from dressing up and meeting Renouard was similar to “The Princess Diaries,” Bhanj Deo said no movies or TV show portrayal of a debutante ball compare to Le Bal.
Sylvester Stallone accompanies his daughter Sophia Rose onto the Le Bal dance floor in 2012.
Sylvester Stallone accompanies his daughter Sophia Rose onto the Le Bal dance floor in 2012. Ophélie Renouard/Le Bal
The majesty and mystery surrounding debutante balls have been covered in a number of movies and TV shows, such as “She’s the Man,” “Gossip Girl,” and “Bridgerton.”

However, Bhanj Deo said what has been captured on-screen is “not even close” to what it’s actually like to go to Le Bal.

“No one has really seen what goes on behind the scenes and it’s much more grand and opulent than anything on TV,” she said. “You can’t even compare.”