Panday will be dressed by French couturier Jean-Paul Gaultier, while Princess Gauravi will wear a Tarun Tahiliani Couture sari-inspired gown
Pankti Mehta Kadakia
A lavish three-day affair with haute couture, glamorous photoshoots and a grand Victorian ball, inspired by those of British aristocracy in the 18th and 19th centuries—le Bal des Débutantes is as exclusive as it gets. The invite-only charity event is held annually in Paris to introduce young men and women of luminous global families that are known for their contribution to politics, business and the arts. In its milestone 25th year, the ball will introduce two Indian debutantes—Princess Gauravi Kumari from the Royal family of Jaipur; and Ananya Panday, daughter of Bollywood actor Chunky Panday, who is looking to join the film industry too.
The young princess’s brother, HH Sawai Padmanabh Singh, is the current Maharaja of Jaipur. He will be a cavalier at the event, escorting Hollywood actor Reese Witherspoon’s daughter, debutante Ava Phillippe.
While le Bal has debuted a host of Indian ladies in the past—including Isha Ambani, Jayati Modi and Leanna Mallya—founder and Paris public relations magnate Ophélie Renouard says they would like to further strengthen their relationship with India.
From 2017, they have decided to include two debutantes from India annually.
“India is such a vast, rich country. Unfortunately, I have not been able to spend time there so we have had fewer Indian debutantes compared to other countries,” Renouard says. “This year’s Indian debs are both beautiful and interesting, and from diverse backgrounds.”
References for debutantes typically come from Renouard’s network or from former debutantes. Over the years, Gorbachev, Hearst, Mellon, Mountbatten and Ambani are a few of the famous names whose lineage has been presented at the coming-of-age event, which Renouard describes as a “modern mix of royalty and rock ‘n’ roll”.
This year’s ball will be held on November 25 at The Peninsula Paris, and will raise funds for two non-profits— Enfants d’Asie (Children of Asia), which provides care for close to 10,000 children a year in South East Asia; and The Seleni Institute in the US, dedicated to supporting women’s mental health and teenage mothers.
Fashion, and more precisely, couture, plays a key role at the event. “We dedicate significant time and effort looking for the perfect gown to match each young woman’s style, location and expectations,” says Renouard. “We are also focussed on involving foreign fashion houses—for instance, Oscar de la Renta and Vivienne Westwood have been partners since the beginning; now, we are also working with Tarun Tahiliani.”
New York-based Indian jeweller Payal Mehta will create bespoke baubles for each of the ladies. This year, Panday will be dressed by French couturier Jean-Paul Gaultier, while Princess Gauravi will be wearing a Tarun Tahiliani Couture sari-inspired gown.
The age-old concept finds its relevance in the 21st century by working as a global, private club, says Renouard. “The debs come from all over the world, and while they represent various cultures, they also have many similarities,” she says. “They read the same books, wear the same clothes, listen to the same music—they connect with each other instantly, and remain in touch. They are proud to be part of a very small, special group where girls help girls.”
Le Bal is also trying to select women who are achievers in their own right. For instance, an award-winning Chinese ballerina, Hang Yu, debuted last year. In 2015, participant Olivia Hallisey had invented a low-cost rapid test to detect Ebola at the age of 16. “Our priority is excellence rather than birth or origin,” says Renouard. “I would love to have someone like that representing India in 2018.”
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