Hubert Burda Media

By Invitation Only

For the first time in its 21-year history, the le Bal des Débutantes in Paris inducts a Singaporean into its midst. And for REBECCA EU, being part of a time-honoured tradition is an experience of a gilded lifetime. By Suhana Ab

By Invitation Only

For the first time in its 21-year history, the le Bal des Débutantes in Paris inducts a Singaporean into its midst. And for REBECCA EU, being part of a time-honoured tradition is an experience of a gilded lifetime. By Suhana Ab
At only 20 years of age, Rebecca Eu showcases a maturity beyond her years. She speaks with confidence, makes well-founded observations and contemplates the meaning of living a fulfilling life rather seriously.
This, we suspect are some of the reasons that made her deserving of a spot in the prestigious annual debutante ball in Paris — le Bal des Débutantes. Recognised as a modern version of the time-honoured practice of formally introducing young ladies to society, le Bal is known for its stringent prerequisites.
The founder of le Bal, Ophélie Renouard, lists a few: “The girls must come from established families and have nice personalities. Another criterion is for her to fit into sample size couture ball gowns.”
Named as one of the top 10 social events in the world by Forbes, le Bal sees some 20 young women from prestigious families the world over come together. Past participants include Lauren Bush, Bao Bao Wan and Princess Fawzia Latifa of Egypt.
“It is such an honour to be invited to be a part of le Bal,” Eu shares, who came to the attention of the organising committee when her aunt, Emi Eu, who was once a debutante at the International Debutante Ball in New York, put forward a strong recommendation. After going through some formal forms and a questionnaire, Eu received an official acceptance letter in the mail.
Naturally, she was thrilled at the idea of being part of something so exclusive. To prepare herself for the grand event, Eu ironically did nothing. She didn't google the other participants or delve into minute details.
Of her approach, Eu says: “I didn't want to think much about the background and titles that these people have. It's not that I didn't care; it is because I wanted to meet them as they are. That way, I would get to know these people better as that, without any preconceived notions or prior judgment. Google just kills the mystery for you these days, don't you think?”
Eu was hoping too for the same treatment and she received just that. She shares that the other girls at the ball including Kyra Kennedy, Lauren Marbe and her roommate Francesca Packer Barham were very down-to-earth and made for great company.
On the first day of the five-day affair, Eu had the opportunity to sit down with the other girls, also known as “debs” (short for debutantes), after a photo shoot. “A little into the conversation and we realised we had many things in common. And coming into the debutante ball, we were worried about the same things; how we would fare and if we could get along with each other. It was heart-warming.”
“It wasn't how the media tends to portray it to be — catty and competitive or something out of an episode of Gossip Girl. It was nothing like that. If anything, great friendships were forged,” Eu reveals.
As part of programme, the debs learnt how to waltz with their cavaliers and were made familiar with the presentation routine for the evening of the ball. One of her favourite bit was when she danced with her father Richard Eu, the group CEO of Eu Yan Sang International, at the ball.
“My parents have always advised me to be humble and I was happy to have both of them there,” Eu says.
Le Bal des Debutantes is traditionally held at the Hotel de Crillon but due to renovation works, the 2013 instalment was held at the Automobile Club de France. The tradition of having the ball at Crillon will resume in 2015.
What was most notable about the admission process?
I was required to answer a long questionnaire, one of which asked what I'd like to be remembered as. For me, there's only one answer — I want to be remembered the way my grandmother was remembered: Someone who loved her family, was charitable and a lovely people-person who wanted to meet and positively affect the lives of as many people as she could.
Was there ever an unglamorous moment?
The car that transported me and two other debs to the ball was stuck in traffic and made us very late. We were about three blocks away and made the decision to make a run for it in the three degree C weather. It felt like a long stretch because we were in our ball gowns and impossibly high Louboutins (laughs). Just as we were about to turn a corner, we saw a sea of reporters and we were in such a mess. We stopped, fixed each other's hair and straightened the gowns. Out of breath, we smiled and attempted to walk as gracefully as we could. Once we got through the main doors, we felt like we were about to collapse. That's truly something to remember.
You were paired with the designer Alexis Mabille, who dressed you at the event. What was it like?
Alexis charmed me off my feet. He speaks with adoration and is so immensely talented. We first met at his Galerie Vivienne boutique where I was led up a hidden staircase behind the cashier to a beautiful fairy tale-like room that stored every single couture dress he had created since he started. You could feel the creativity.
And the grand decision on the dress?
My mum, who had accompanied me, saw this beautiful red dress with a slim silhouette and suggested that I try it on. It took three people, including Alexis, to put me into that dress and immediately, they did some alterations. He asked: “So Rebecca, is this the dress?” I initially thought it was too sexy for me but after seeing how I looked, I replied: “Yes!"
Some may say that the tradition is outdated. What are your thoughts?
Some think that debutante balls are for girls who want to get married and while this might have been true decades ago, today it is different. Firstly, it is more about the fashion; the event has all the debs officially paired up with haute couture houses. This partnership is something unique to the ball. And of course, it is about the girls themselves. Through the ball, I've met many girls who are an inspiration in their own right and want to do something good with their lives. It also includes particpants from all over the world, which I believe is the only debutante ball to have done so in its history.
And the best part of the le Bal des Débutantes is...?
That it is also a fundraiser. The money benefits the Enfants d'Asie (Children of Asia), an organisation that promotes women's education in Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and the Philippines. Since 2009, donations received from the event have funded a year of schooling for 900 girls — this makes participation in the ball even more meaningful.
PHOTOGRAPHER / FANG YUNLING