Inside the Parisian luxury hotel now hosting the world’s most famous debutante ball
One of the most lavish and buzzed about events on the high society social calendar is returning after a two-year hiatus.
Le Bal des Débutantes (The Debutantes Ball) is an especially unique and regal event that celebrates a select group of 20 young women and men from prominent families, from Hollywood royalty to actual royalty around the world. Previous debutantes born to celebrities include Lori Harvey, Dree Hemingway, Autumn and True Whitaker, Scout and Tallulah Willis, Ava Philippe, and Lily Collins.
The event also has a charitable component, and this year Le Bal is raising money for two charities: Chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen in the U.S. and for research on heart disease at the Necker–Enfants Malades Hospital in Paris.
Established in 1994 by Ophélie Renouard, the gala was inspired by the 18th century English tradition of the debutante ball, wherein the young ladies were introduced into high society. Over the first several years of Le Bal’s history, the event was once also known as the Bal de Crillon, or the Crillon Ball as it was hosted year-after-year at the prominent Parisian hotel of the same name. But the Hotel de Crillon underwent an extensive renovation for a few years, and the event has since moved around to a few different hotels in Paris before settling at the Shangri-La Paris, which hosted the grand affair in 2018 and 2019. And this year will mark the event’s return since the pandemic started.
The Shangri-La Paris has the esteemed honor of being one of the handful of hotels in the city deemed by the government with the distinction as a palace hotel, signifying both its historical significance and its excellence in service and hospitality above and beyond the traditional five-star meter.
“The Shangri-La is classified as a ‘historical monument,’ and therefore has kept its charm and the level of sophistication necessary to showcase Le Bal in the best way possible,” Renouard tells Fortune. “Also, the fact that the Shangri-La is a private venue gives it a special feel, and it is a bonus for a private event like Le Bal.”
Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts has more than 100 luxury hotels and resorts with more than 40,000 rooms across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and Australia since launching out of Singapore in 1971. The hospitality giant is now based in Hong Kong.
Located in the posh 16th arrondissement of Paris, the hotel hosts 100 rooms and suites, with enough amenities that guests might not even want to leave often, despite being steps away from sites like the Eiffel Tower and Place du Trocadero as well as many of the city’s most popular museums, including the Musée Moderne, Palais de Tokyo, and the Palais Galleria with the Musée de la Mode. (Not to mention the hotel is a 15-minute walk from some of the most high-end fashion boutiques—including Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent, and Dior—in the world along Avenue Montaigne and the Champs-Elysées.)
But despite hosting one of the most prominent society events in the world—as well as catwalk shows during Paris Fashion Week each season as well as Hollywood press junkets (as the hotel’s premium “Shangri-La Suite,” the brand’s name for its presidential suite, offers an unparalleled view of the Paris skyline)—the hotel itself is has a much more calm, low-key ambiance. It is one of the most luxurious five-star hotels in Paris, and of course it does welcome celebrities, but usually those who are not seeking attention from fans and paparazzi.
Guests feel more at leisure to spend time in the lounge champagne bar or the hidden cocktail bar, Le Bar Botaniste. The hotel also welcomes families frequently, and even has a new set of panda-themed amenities for little ones, including slippers with panda emblems, a children’s book, and a plush panda toy—all of which kids can take home as souvenirs.
A major task for the staff at the Shangri-La Paris is to master the art of combining an authentic representation of Asian customs and hospitality with the French art of living in order to develop a strong customer base of European and American clientele in addition to its long-standing tradition of welcoming guests from Asia.
Originally built as the home of French imperial Prince Roland Bonaparte, the great-grand nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, the site was selected by the prince for its proximity to the Seine and its strategic location to the heart of Paris for its social scene. Under construction from 1892 to 1896, the urban palace remained within the family up until Bonaparte’s death in 1924, and his daughter sold it shortly thereafter to a financial company that turned it into office space. After World War II, the state took over the building until 2005, when it began to undergo renovations before opening as a Shangri-La in 2010.
Throughout the hotel, guests will find a mixture of both French art that came with the estate as well as paintings and other antiques from across Asia, as Shangri-La installs at all of its locations worldwide. The most historic areas of the former Palais— including the cast-iron gateway on Avenue d’Iéna, the façade, the rooftop, the vestibules and gallery, the entryway dome, the marble stairway, the ground-level family salons (such as billiard room), and Roland Bonaparte’s private living quarters on the second floor—were registered in 2009 as national heritage sites, an initiative undertaken by Shangri-La Group.
For the rooms (including 37 premium suites), the architectural renovations were designed to blend late 19th century French styles with modern (but minimalist) luxury. And one of the subtle themes with Shangri-La hotels is that every room must have a view, from the Kowloon location overlooking the Hong Kong skyline to The Shard skyscraper, offering 360-degree views of London. At the Shangri-La Paris, 40% of the rooms and 60% of the suites offer unbelievable direct views of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine. And the majority of these rooms and suites—nearly half of which have a private balcony—are large enough and equipped to entertain friends, family, or business partners.
But the hotel has strived to preserve the historical components, with the only noticeable touches being air conditioning and an Nespresso machine in one of the connecting salons that makes for a backstage for a fashion show.
Overall, the reception and event spaces span 850 square meters (9,150 square-feet). Three connecting rooms—the Grand Salon, the Salle à Manger and the Salon de Famille—lead to the historic first floor gallery. The ballroom is located on the rue Fresnel side of the building, an expansive space with integrated audio-visual functions. Frescos grace the walls, and the ballroom overlooks a portion of Prince Roland’s former stables.
The Grand Salon, decorated in Louis XIV style, is the building’s principal reception space, both during the prince’s era and today for the hotel. The ballroom features an immense white marble fireplace, decorated with two golden wooden and marble tables, two crystal chandeliers, and dozens of bronze wall appliqués (most notably crowns, lions, and bees—all symbols embraced by Napoleon Bonaparte) and a trumeau mirror.
The Salle à Manger, designed in homage to the Napoleonic era, features mahogany carvings of battle arms and military trophies within the upper arches above the salon doors and window opening on to an outdoor terrace. Two massive eagle statues with spread wings hold pride of place in the room. A Renaissance-inspired fireplace, topped with a dual-columned mantle, frames a bronze relief replica of Jacques Louis-David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps.
The Salon de Famille is softer with delicate color tones and artistic touches, a room primarily used by women during the palace’s time as a residence. It is decorated mainly according to French Imperial style, with paneled walls painted with winged women around a medallion, and the ceiling features an orb of sphinxes and plants.
Shangri-La Paris says it can customize its spaces to business meetings and events, from conferences to even executive retreats as concierge staff and events team can complement working schedules through a variety of wellness activities at the hotel’s subterranean spa, pool, and fitness center. Additionally, the hotel’s award-winning chefs are on hand to organize special gastronomic experiences celebrating both seasonal local French products as well as Asian cuisine, notably at La Bauhinia, which specializes in Thai food and might have the best Pad Thai sin Paris, and Shang Palace, a Chinese restaurant that Shangri-La installs in many of its locations worldwide. And the Paris location, over seen by 37-year-old Hong Kong native Samuel Lee Sum, hosts the distinction of being the only Chinese restaurant in France with a Michelin star.
Rates at the Shangri-La Paris start at €1,600 ($1,599) for a superior room per night for two people during winter months.
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