The ultimate tiaras and tuxedos networking hangout in Paris
If you have an invitation, you need almost nothing more in life…
Thanks to Politico’s editor Jamil Anderlini, I recently learnt about a fascinating event in the heart of Europe: Le Bal des Debutantes, a ball that keeps an old world of debutantes and tiaras startlingly alive in an age of social media trolling, sneakers and mantras of inclusivism.
Mr Anderlini described wearing a tux to “the rather absurd but incredibly glamorous old-school debutante ball for the remnants of global aristocracy and royalty”.
He then proceeded to list some of this year’s debutantes. They included: “members of the Ford family, the Habsburg clan, the daughter of great film director Count Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (Run, Lola, Run and The Lives of Others), the great granddaughter of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie and the grandson of legendary American actor Gregory Peck.”
He added that past debutantes have included “Mikhail Gorbachev’s granddaughters, George W. Bush’s daughter, Bruce Willis’ daughter, Silvio Berlusconi’s daughter, Carlos Ghosn’s daughter, Sylvester Stallone’s daughter and lots of Kennedys, Rockefellers and the like”.
That list doesn’t sound like the remnants of global aristocracy and royalty. In fact, it is a good starting point to construct a map of money, power and influence in the world today, with a few titles sprinkled in like stardust. This year, one of the cavaliers – the men escorting the debutantes – was from France’s royal House of Orleans. As Mr Anderlini says, “If the Orleanist French throne wasn’t defunct, then one of the ‘cavaliers’ who chaperoned the debutantes would be 8th in line to succeed it.”
But unlike the United Nations, which hasn’t changed its structures of power in nearly 80 years, Le Bal des Debutantes seems to have been quick to note the changing dynamics in the world of business, celebrity and power and to pivot to those points.
In 2018, Princess Ananya Raje Scindia of Gwalior, a once rich Indian princely state, was at the ball. Indian actor Sanjay Kapoor’s daughter Shanaya Kapoor has been a debutante. Last year, Wenhao Cai, daughter of Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, opened the ball. This year, the ball had its first Pakistani debutante Hannah Husain, the great-great-granddaughter of Sir Fazle Husain, a Cambridge man who founded the Unionist party in India and later served as Pakistan’s education minister. And from India, there was Advaitesha Birla, daughter of the one of the country’s oldest business families.
In fact, the ball’s Instagram page says it “celebrates excellence, the empowering of women, and the harmony between débutantes and cavaliers from all over the world !” And Harpers Bazaar Arabia gushes: “Held annually in November at Shangri-La Paris, the former residence of Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew, the ball assembles 20 debutantes aged 16 to 22. The inaugural event first took place in the orangery of the Palace of Versailles in 1958. Today, it attracts a huge online audience that are both interested in fashion and history.”
The point of the ball appears to building connections. Someone in the Ford family will meet someone from the film industry who meets someone important from Ethiopia and voila, it’s entirely possible a Netflix series set in Addis is born and becomes a worldwide hit? Or some such.
In fact the ball, which started in 1958, is all about exclusivity, a sort of tiaras and tuxedos networking hangout. If you have an invitation, you need almost nothing more in life.