The starting gun on the glittering calendar of festive galas and parties in Paris is arguably the biggest and most curious of them all: Le Bal des Débutantes.
An event whose raison d’être eludes logic in 2013, the ball involves 20 girls from all over the world arriving at Place de la Concorde in black cars, each wearing a dress fitted by a different couture house. Following suit, parents and relatives will step on to the red carpet in requisite black tie or long evening gowns.
This year’s ball took place last weekend at the Auto-mobile Club de France, next to the Hôtel de Crillon, the ball’s traditional home, which is being refurbished.
Among the guests were a Kennedy, a Windsor, an Essex cabby’s daughter (possessing an IQ of 161), an Italian princess, daughters of Asian industry titans, and Romy David, youngest daughter of American comedian Larry David – all handpicked by organiser Ophélie Renouard, and all resplendent. Men included.
Unmissable was Vanity Fair photographer Jonathan Becker, in a bespoke, wide-lapel, double-breasted suit by Savile Row stalwarts Anderson & Sheppard; monogrammed, velvet slippers custom-made in Hong Kong; celebratory cigar in hand: his son Sebastian was escorting Juliana Canfield, who was presented in couture by Oscar de la Renta.
Most of the men at the ball were wearing similarly tailored suits – except for one guest, who was sporting a dinner jacket and flamboyant, floppy, black necktie reminiscent of Oscar Wilde, by Alexander McQueen.
When the watchmaker Edouard d’Hauteville was asked about his perfectly cut tuxedo, he said: “This? This is just by a small French tailor from many years ago.” It worked well, matched with the navy off-the-shoulder Vivienne Westwood gown worn by his 19-year-old daughter Zita. “At first we wanted Dior but it had gone,” d’Hauteville said. “You have to be quick.”
The Dior, it turned out, had gone to 18-year-old Kyra Kennedy, who came with her father, Robert Kennedy Jr (in Armani) and actress Cheryl Hines, whose golden, fitted Dolce & Gabbana dress would only allow her to shuffle on the edge of the dance-floor, smartphone in hand, poised to capture her television co-star Larry David waltzing with his daughter. Gretel Packer, mother of deb Francesca Packer Barham, looked on in a voluptuous dark dress by Australian designer Jane Hill.
Towards the end of the evening, the Dior-clad Kyra Kennedy kicked off her heels and sank gracefully on to the carpeted floor, the crispy folds of her ice-blue gown, designed by Raf Simons, splayed in a voluminous cloud around her. Then, like a flock of social Cinderellas, women all over the room began to discreetly slip off their towering footwear. No one could curb their enthusiasm.