- 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.
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.
“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.
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.”
“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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”