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Crowns, Couture and Commemorable Young Women: A Look Back at the 2023 ‘Les Bal des Debutantes’

Enter high society’s finest young royals, socialites, the heirs of industrial empires, and inspiring female entrepreneurs and artists: welcome to the 2023 Paris ‘Le Bal des Debutantes’.

Organised by Ophelie Renouard, French PR extraordinaire and reviver of the debutant ball in 1991 at the Crillon Hotel, the 2023 ‘Le Bal des Debutantes’ in November at the Shangri La Hotel, Paris, was not to be missed. Raising funds for the cardiology research unit ARCFA of Necker-Engants Maldes Hospital and World Central Kitchen, the affair unified aristocrats, philanthropists, and young stars from across the world to aid an amazing cause. Anyone who’s seen just one episode of Gossip Girl, starring Blake Lively, Leighton Meester and Ed Westwick, knows the importance of the Debutante Ball, for the debut of young women in high society and for the major fashion houses to produce a stunning display of the most gorgeous and elegant dresses of the year, and this year did not disappoint.

Everyone is talking about Countess Lara-Cosima Henckel von Donnersmarck. Taking TikTok and Instagram by storm, inviting the world into the elite’s lavish parties and her life in fashion, the 20-year-old Countess and Dior intern opened the dance with her Oscar-award winning film-director father, Count Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Looking ethereal in a Jean Paul Gaultier gown of grey tule and a metallic baroque embellished bodice, she topped the look with a diamond floral tiara made by Guillot in the 1880s for the Couteulx family.

Marchesa Barbara Berlingieri wore a Giambattista Valli red ruffled gown, with an asymmetrical bodice, and diamond and ruby tiara, originally belonging to Archduchess Marie Anne of Austria, Princess Elie de Bourbon-Parme, designed as a bow of circular-cut and rose diamonds, set at the centre with a cushion-shaped ruby weighing 6.89 carats. The tiara was sold at Sotheby’s for 375,000 CHF as part of the Royal Jewellery from The Bourbon Parma Family Auction in 2018, including jewels once owned by Marie Antoinette.

Archduchess of Austria and the Princess of Hungary, Ildiko Habsburg-Lothringen wore an Alexis Mabille panelled, petrol blue gown, with slight puffed sleeves. She accompanied this with the belle epoque-style Orleans tiara, originally made for Louise Francoise Marie Laure d’Orleans, Princes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies and Infanta of Spain (1905), featuring old-cut, old-pear-shaped and rose-cut diamonds set in platinum.

With some sources claiming their origin under King George III in the 18th Century, the international spread of the debutante ball has led to the development of a diverse range of practices from cotillion balls in the US to the Vienna Opera Ball, Austria. Historically, however, they have typically been bound together by a few governing principles, namely the subjugation of women, almost exclusively aristocratic, in the pursuit of a deeply constrictive performance of femininity and the ever-present heteronormativity, all in all producing an archaic marketplace for wealthy families to rank their daughters by their general profitability in the institution of marriage. The revival of ‘Le Bal des Debutantes’, though, marks a significant shift away from the focus of matrimony. In the early 90s, Ophelie Renouard reignited the debutante ball with a new lease of life, centring the new criteria for entrance on young women with the ability to make the biggest cultural waves, garnering the greatest publicity for each couture house’s ballgown of the year.

However over the last 30 years, one would recognize those with cultural dominance through tabloid news and scandal across the likes of OK! Magazine and Us Weekly, where each year’s ‘It Girls’ were likely still found amongst high society rankings, Renouard’s PR-savvy decision has paved the way for a new era of debutant culture. Much more increasingly in attendance today are significantly accomplished young women from across the globe, fulfilling many significant achievements throughout the respective fields of business, sport and the arts. Though it can be argued there is still some controversy over the persistence of the male cavalier escort, they exist more as a ceremonial role, allowing the women and their achievements to take centre stage. The debutante ball has been reclaimed by the women it once subjugated in Puritan white gowns on “display” to eligible bachelors; now, it marks an annual platform, promoting an international network bound by women’s empowerment and a celebration of fashion. Some of this year’s inspirational young women were:

Roxie Zhao, entrepreneur, and business leader for her go-karting track venue, which she started at 16, wore a ruffled Franck Sorbier Haute Couture dress with a stunning navy to magenta gradient. She accompanied the look with the Boucheron Art Deco Diamond Necklace from Lady Anne Norman.

Ella H. McCaw, winner of the under-25 “racing cars Grand Prix” in Canada, wore a Fovari powder blue gown, whilst professional French champion equestrian Eden Leprevost Blin-Lebreton wore a stunning Natan green avant-garde dress that words can’t really describe.

The Norwegian singer Angelina Jordan offered two gowns for onlookers at the ball, wearing a Dolce&Gabbana turquoise blue dress and V Muse siren-inspired emerald tiara, dated to 1880, featuring teardrop-cut Colombian emeralds, before changing into a deep plum strapless gown for her performance later in the evening.

Some faces I would love to see at next year’s ball would definitely include seven-times winner of WTA Tour tennis titles and No. 1 in the world for doubles, professional tennis player Coco Gauff, founder and executive director of Climate Cardinals and America’s youngest ever United Nations advisor, Sophia Kianni, and Anishinaabe Indigenous rights advocate who addressed the UN General Assembly about water protection at just 13, Autumn Peltier.

For a breakdown of the rest of the night’s stunning gowns, please see below!

Great-great-granddaughter of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Princess Lissie Sellassie wore a a white flowing Lanvin gown, a poetic reinterpretation of a dress donned by the graceful women of classical antiquity. She juxtaposed the elegant simplicity with a colourful triple-layered jewelled gold necklace.

Countess Honor d’Andlau-Hombourg wore a Stephane Rolland Haute Couture metallic dress, with an extravagant gold embellishment on the bodice and the girandole Diamond Earrings of Marie Therese de Savoie, Duchess of Parma, whilst, Lara Connor, daughter of Vogue contributor, Marina Rust, wore a colourful tulle tiered gradient gown by Carolina Herrera.

Victoria Mestre-Cisnerosa, great-granddaughter Pepsi-Cola’s Venezuelan founder, wore a pastel pink strapless dress by Antonio Grimaldi. A white Georges Hobeika Haute Couture Princess gown was worn by Musician Jasmine Yen, who also sang at the show and danced with her martial arts superstar father, Donnie Yen.

Elizabeth Webster, daughter of famed community philanthropists from South Carolina, wore a Guo Pei black and white lace ballgown. Yvette Yao, advocate for Alzheimer’s research and granddaughter of Alice King, the founder of one of the first contemporary art galleries in Hong Kong and major patron of the arts and niece to Tung Chee-Hwa, the first chief executive of Hong Kong, also attended, wearing a strapless floral Armani Prive dress. Model and graphic design student Louisa Dub wore a classic navy-blue Ralph Lauren tiered gown and diamond necklace with a large pendant once belonging to the Bourbon Parma Family.

Advaitesha Birla, great-great-granddaughter of Mr G.D. Birla, founder of the Aditya Birla Group, and member of one of India’s oldest business families, wore a beautiful ruby Sabyasachi dress and diamond necklace from the collection of Charles Ferdinand d’Artois, Duc de Berry and Princess Maria Carolina of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. She currently studies a BSc in Psychology with Education studies at UCL.

Hannah Husain, great, great-granddaughter of Sir Fazle Husain, Barrister from Cambridge, Education Minister, and founder of the Unionist party in India wore a strapless Elie Saab floral-embroidered gown with diamond and emerald Orleans necklace made in 1810, originally belonging to Princess Maria Carolina of Bourbon-Two Sicillies. Talitha Stern, a descendent of 17th-century merchant bankers in Frankfurt and a champion ski slalom racer wore a custom black Christian Dior gown.

Skye Wong, a second year at St John’s College, Cambridge, and great-granddaughter (on both maternal and paternal sides) of co-founders of the oldest and largest local banks in Hong Kong, the Bank of East Asia and Hang Seng Bank wore a red velvet off-shoulder Vivienne Westwood gown with a grand train as she waltzed through the ball. Olivia Ford Uzielli, granddaughter of Anne Ford, a direct descendant of American inventor and industrialist Henry Ford, continued the metallic theme with a tulle Oscar de la Renta dress decorated gorgeously with gold and silver butterflies.

Lastly, Anya Embiricos, great-granddaughter to one of the founders of modern Greek shipping wore a ground-breaking Celia Kritharioti gown in emerald, green with a deep V-neck, high leg slit and a starfish detail on the hip.


Edited by Fashion Editor, Megan Shears



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