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Asia’s coming out: Shanghai International Debutante Ball 2013

The ladies formally “come out” to society in a ceremony. — Pictures courtesy of Shanghai International Debutantes BallThe ladies formally “come out” to society in a ceremony. — Pictures courtesy of Shanghai International Debutantes BallSHANGHAI, Nov 18 — While Paris is set to present to society the newest batch of princesses and heiresses at the Bal des Débutantes November 24, Shanghai is gearing up for the second edition of the Shanghai International Debutante Ball, to be held at the Peninsula Shanghai on January 12, 2013.

Earlier this year, Shanghai played host to the country’s first International Debutante Ball, with 13 young women from around the world formally introduced to the city’s social scene. Next January, expect to see more glitz and glamour at the event as a bevy of new debutantes “come out” to society, decked out in high jewellery creations by Chaumet and wearing couture gowns made by Chinese homegrown talent Tina Fu.

“Asian societies, as in Europe, are very independent.  Some even have great language barriers,” Vivian Chow Wong, executive director and producer of the Shanghai International Debutante Ball, told Relaxnews. “I am hoping my ball will help to narrow this gap in years to come.”

Vivian Chow Wong: Directly linked to the original 1780 ball.Vivian Chow Wong: Directly linked to the original 1780 ball.According to Wong, “Shanghai has what it takes to be the leading 21st century metropolitan city”, and this Asian leg of the international debutante ball season differentiates itself from the others for several reasons:

1) The ladies come out at 10pm as was the custom in King George’s time.

2) The debutantes come out wearing a real diamond-studded tiara at every ball.

3) All the gowns are designed “made-to-measure” for each debutante.

4) It is the only major debutante ball that has an alternate ball — “The May Ball” — to raise funds as a private charity.

Relaxnews chatted with Wong to find out more.

R: What are some of the criteria in your selection of debutantes?

VCW: In general, a debutante of the Shanghai International Debutante Ball should be a young lady from a family of prominence in society. Preferential considerations will be given to debutantes whose parents or ancestors are known to have carried out exceptional civic duties in their respective communities.

She must have a sound reputation and maintain a clean record. She can be an achiever in her own rights. Ideally, she has attained a certain level of accomplishment in a particular field, notably in the arts or a sport generally associated with the nobility.

She must be free of any controversy and scandal. Parents of a debutante must be free of any controversy, scandal and criminal record.

R: Tell us something interesting which you’ve come across when selecting debutantes.

VCW: While I do not penalise girls carrying a Birkin, I do draw a line at any debutantes using crocodile bags (unless proven to be vintage). So far the girls I met have been very well mannered. I make a lot of enquiries before meeting them so no time is wasted on either side.

Top Asian hairstylist Kim Robinson putting the finishing touches to the debutantes’ hair earlier this year for the photo shoot.Top Asian hairstylist Kim Robinson putting the finishing touches to the debutantes’ hair earlier this year for the photo shoot.R: Any names of who will appear at the next ball?

VCW: I am sorry, this is confidential until the day of “coming out”.  The whole point of “coming out” is about the “first time”. You will know on January 12, 2013.

R: Are debutantes born or made?

VCW: Born. Definitely. I believe in fate and destiny. I believe everyone is born to fulfil a certain kind of life.

R: Why create an Asian edition when most of the debutantes from last year were non-Chinese? (Most of the debutantes from last year’s ball were European.)

VCW: Asian families are not familiar with the culture of debutante balls, with the exception of the Philippines. In order for the right Asian debutantes to reach a ratio of even 50 per cent, it will take some time. Asia lacks an international debutante ball, hence I created it.

In time, when the Asian countries are open to the idea of debutantes, we hope to have a more even balance of ethnic attendance.

R: Will there be more Asian entrants this year?

VCW: There will be mainland Chinese girls. This was lacking in the last one. Not that there were none [who would have been eligible], I just did not come across one, then.

R: How relevant is the notion of the debutante and the debutante ball today? Is it archaic?

VCW: Debutante ball is a form of immersive art. As long as there are girls aspiring for a white wedding, there will be a need of a debutante ball.

R: There are plenty of other society events in Asia where young socialites are shown to high society — tell us what makes your event different from theirs?

VCW: My ball is an annual event with strictly laid out structure and rules. It is also directly linked to the original 1780 ball by way of the London Season’s Queen Charlotte’s Ball. It is a private event, it has no committee and is not involved with any charity as I have my May Ball to compensate for the charity element.

The Shanghai Ball is also a bona fide international ball with British aristocrats officiating.

Last edition’s Debutante of the Year Larissa Scotting.Last edition’s Debutante of the Year Larissa Scotting.R: Tell us more about some myths or false ideas people might have about the Debutante Ball and/or about debutantes in general?

VCW: The Debutante Ball is not a match-making ball. At least not in the British sense. It is originally meant for young ladies, even married ones, to be presented at Court, although we no longer present girls to a Monarch, the London’s Queen Charlotte’s ball and the Shanghai Ball follow the British system. 

R: What do you think is the difference between English high society and Chinese high society?

VCW: This is a tricky question. Hong Kong is very different to Shanghai to start with. All I can say is, for me, until there is a formal ball for young ladies to “come out” from, the area of “society lady” remains very blurry. — AFP/Relaxnews

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