Twenty years ago, when Graydon [Carter] first assigned me to cover le Bal des Débutantes for Vanity Fair, I wondered exactly why, but didn’t ask. A week at the Hôtel de Crillon was reason enough. There were beloved pals in Paris to visit—Jean-Paul Goude and the widow Brassaï. As it turned out, the event itself had addictive qualities. I’ve been covering it each and every year since.

A Mistress of Ceremonies

This year marks le Bal’s 25th anniversary. Le Bal belongs to Ophélie Renouard, a well-born Parisian and, earlier in her career, a producer of fancy events. With singular devotion, Ophélie spends her entire year, every year, ensuring that this particular late-November evening is perfect. With grace and charm, she travels the world, socializes, and networks in search of more grace and charm, breeding, accomplishment, bright eyes, and elegant carriage. She has her own criteria for both debutantes and their escorts, known as “cavaliers.” Traditionally, many debutantes have brought their own brothers, gussied up in white tie and tails, but more often of late, the girls let Ophélie do the pairing, and it gets interesting. In 2017, the young Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh of Jaipur escorted Ava Phillippe, the daughter of Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe.