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Paris When it Sizzles: Skye Wong and Jasmine Yen on Le Bal 2023

Paris When it Sizzles: Skye Wong and Jasmine Yen on Le Bal 2023

It’s that starriest time of the year, when the young and be-glamoured, the baes and their beaus, or Debs and Cavaliers, descend upon the City of Light and indulge in a spectacular gilt-edged glitzfest of glamourosity at the Paris Shangri-La hotel, for the annual celebration of “Le Bal”. Cue cascades of star equilibrium, gowns for days, couture all ways and an exultant jeunesse dorée of royals, aristos, angels (in exchequered and ethereal varieties), movie stars, musicians and, this year, a quartet of Chinese Debs: Skye Wong, Jasmine Yen, Yvette Yao and Roxie Zhao. And two Chinese Cavaliers; Ethan Zhang, son of filmmaker Zhang Yimou, and James Yen, son of actor Donnie Yen and brother of Jasmine.

But don’t just take our word for it. Here’s Hong Kong- and UK-based Skye Wong, currently studying classics at St John’s College, Cambridge, on the significance of the occasion to her. “Tradition, glamour, a fun-filled weekend, a chance to wear a stunning gown with amazing jewellery. And I love supporting good causes. Le Bal celebrates the empowerment of women, a subject close to my heart. And, most of all, I can’t wait to make friends from all over the world.”

Much as her parents have always done. “I remember when I was little, my parents gave a huge Chinese New Year costume ball each year in London and their friends flew in from all over the world. The frenzy of activities in the house before the ball always excited me, with dress designers, milliners, hair and make-up artists all jostling for attention. This ignited my love for fashion and creativity, and made me realise that dressing up glamorously – and not just in my Tinker Bell costume – is seriously fun.”

Skye Wong
Skye Wong (Photo: Yunling Fang)

Wong’s sharing this in Claridges, London, one week before Le Bal, in the presence of her mum, Patti Wong, former senior international chairman of Sotheby’s. Post-chat, she’ll glide across the street for a final fitting at Vivienne Westwood, whose skeins she’s chosen to wear. The excitement is palpable. “We had to pick the designer,” Skye says, “and when I put the dress on I knew it would be the one. I was lucky that it sat so well on me. And I’ve got these really, really comfortable platforms covered with Swarovski crystals; I thought that would be pretty cool.” And, most importantly, “I didn’t want to find something that would just look nice on the night; I wanted that something to feel right, too.” 

Le Bal, initiated by Ophélie Renouard in 1994, is the contemporary take on the traditional debutante ball. Renouard’s seen and debuted them all; from Delphine Arnault and Dree Hemingway to Bee Shaffer, daughter of US Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Shaffer remains the only Deb to have worn a Chanel creation by Karl Lagerfeld, given the close relationship between her mum and the late marketing maestro of the cloth. “We do try to focus on the dress not the designer,” Renouard says.

And philanthropy. The raison d’être of Le Bal is to raise money for two charities: the cardiology research unit ARCFA of Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital, in Paris, which improves the quality of care for children with heart defects around the world. And the Washington-based World Central Kitchen (WCK), which provides meals in the wake of crisis in different parts of the world. 

“I don’t charge anyone money to take part in Le Bal, and you can’t buy your seat at the ball – that’s my claim to fame with it,” says Renouard. “Any money involved is all focused towards charity and people make donations directly.”

An extravagance of 21 Debutantes light up the Shangri-La hotel

Wong’s familiar with the associations. “I’ve heard about WCK, as pre-Covid I was a volunteer at Food Angel, a similar charity in Hong Kong. Like WCK, Food Angel provides and distributes meals to those in need, but on a local scale within the city. I don’t know Necker-Enfants Malades, but I’m keen to find out more.” And when Wong’s in Hong Kong, she does voluntary work for the Hong Chi Association, a charity running a factory for workers who suffer from mild to moderate autism, schizophrenia, bipolar and psychosis. “It’s so rewarding to be able to build relationships with and support those who are affected,given the stigma around these disabilities which still exists in much of Asia,” she says

So how far ahead does Renouard work in terms of “sourcing” the potential Debs? “We tend to know several years in advance some of our Debs. But, this is my 27th Le Bal and I never stop being surprised,” she says. “It’s difficult for us, because we’re dealing with very young people – and, of course, they’re still developing their personalities, tastes, likes, etc.” Renouard asks all potential Debs to fill in an extended Q&A, which helps the team in Paris write profiles for each of them.

Wong says it’s a challenge that merits serious consideration. “It took a long time to fill out,” she recalls. “You have to describe your ideal day, your style, your biggest achievement, the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you, your perfect day, career goals and a lot more. That gives them the full picture of who you are and how they can find out what they need.”

Skye with her parents,  Patti and Andy Wong
Skye with her parents,
Patti and Andy Wong

Wong, the progeny of two famous banking families in Hong Kong, didn’t study Classics with a view to extending her commitment beyond university. “I was fascinated by it. For instance, I could have studied marketing, but I thought, if I don’t study Classics now I never will, and I won’t have the chance to be immersed in such a world in a such a deep way. And I always really wanted to go into luxury retail marketing from the age of 11.”

Never have the classics seemed so, ahem … hype-contemporary. “I’m in my last year, I’m studying Classics. So it’s all old-school traditional Latin and traditional Greek, but this year I’m taking modern Greek as well. It gives me an understanding of philosophy, psychology and human behaviour that could be handy if I go into business. But I also do a lot of work on how the classics are used in a contemporary setting, like media, literature and culture.”

So we play psychologist. What are her best and worst qualities? “The positives: I’m charismatic and driven. The negatives: over-thinking and I’m a perfectionist. How does she feel about Alexa Chung? “Oh, I love Alexa Chung. Love Alexa,” she says. And her role model? “I admire Dame Mary Beard, who wrote some of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read [Women and Power]. She expresses her opinions publicly and is fearless of controversy. She’s empowered the modern woman.” Wong has met Beard. “Before I was admitted to Cambridge, I toured some of the colleges and found myself in Newnham College. I peered through the window and marvelled at the environment that nurtured her genius mind. I’ve met her on several occasions and she remains firmly a role model.”

Count Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck dances with his daughter – and Deb – Countess Lara Cosima Henckel von Donnersmarck

And the person she’d most like to meet, dead or alive? It’s not Alexa Chung. “The British rapper Stormzy has been one of my favourite artists for years. I know all his songs and the lyrics. I think it’s incredibly admirable how he uses his influence in such a positive and humanitarian way that other artists don’t. Through his foundation, he funds scholarships at Cambridge for under-privileged black students in the UK, and even through his lyrics, he’s constantly advocating to fight racial inequality and social injustice.”

Music resonates big-time with our second Deb, Jasmine Yen. Daughter of international star and Prestige cover subject Donnie Yen and his wife Cissy Wang, singer/songwriter Jasmine’s already signed with RCA Sony music. Her first music video “idk”, which was released in July, received over a million Weibo views within three days and is becoming headline news in China, Southeast Asia and the USA. She wears Georges Hobeika haute couture for Le Bal.

Jasmine Yen with mother Cissy Wang

Yen has plenty to be both excited and nervous about. For a start, she’ll perform at Le Bal, the first time a Deb has undertaken such a deed in the event’s history, and she’ll sing the title track of her debut album, tbh. “I thought I should take something a little upbeat, and also it’s like bringing a bit of Chinese culture to the girls here. Everyone is from all over the world at Le Bal, but a lot of them have never heard Chinese music before.” Yen sings in both Mandarin and English. Oh, and she’ll also lead the dancing of the waltz – all Debs must waltz with their fathers. “We didn’t tell my dad until yesterday, because if we told him earlier there’d be pressure – he’d be worried, he’s a perfectionist.”

But then, as if that debut weren’t enough, she flies from Paris to Hong Kong the morning after the ball to prepare for her appearance at the Harley-Davidson 120 Hong Kong Music Festival. And guess what? “What’s funny is that we don’t even know the choreography yet, so I fly back tomorrow and have three days to learn the choreography and be ready to go.” This will be Yen’s first live performance in Hong Kong. “That’s why I’m working my very hardest to do the best that I can. I’ll be practicing like crazy.” And is she feeling the pressure? “It’s a little nerve-wracking, but then I feel like music and performing is so much my passion. I love what I’m doing. Being on stage and connecting with people is the most important part. She’ll play three songs that open the festival; ‘tbh’ with dancers, then a slower ballad and a final number she calls punk-pop or pop-punk.

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How best to describe her singing style? “That’s something I’m trying to work out,” she says. ‘The covers I love to sing are things like Aretha Franklin, but then I love the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. I love punk rock and R&B, so I’m still finding my style. I might call myself an ‘old soul’.  But I’m enjoying the process. As long as it’s fun, every day is a learning experience. My next goal will be trying to find that style.”

And continuing to commit to charitable causes. “My parents founded our own charity organisation in Hong Kong, the Yen Charity Foundation. We concentrate on local low-income families, the elderly and young people. During the pandemic we distributed masks, rice and necessities to families in need. The charity has also worked with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, creating STEM programmes, digital programmes and opportunities for kids to learn. I’ve also performed to help raise funds for the Save the Children Gala in 2017, and the Po Leung Kuk Charity Gala in 2018, which supported protection for women and children.” 

And when she wants to chill out, what does she listen to? “There are always different phases of what you enjoy. I aways go back to 2000, I’m not sure why, and like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé, Destiny’s Child – you know … I don’t know why.” But which Britney? Favourite song? “Oh, that’s so difficult,” she says and repeats for emphasis, “this is sooooo difficult. I’d probably go back to her classics, like, ‘Oops I Did It Again’, or … I really like the duet she did with Madonna – ‘Me Against the Music’.” And favourite Christina? “I love where she’d just started coming out with ‘What a Girl Wants’ and ‘Lady Marmalade’.” 

Jasmine Yen and her mother Cissy Wang
Jasmine Yen and her mother Cissy Wang

Has she seen Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour movie yet, and where does she stand on the Swift vs Beyoncé debate? “First off, I think it’s just so inspirational for young girls. Beyoncé is my idol when it comes to music. I think she embodies the essence of strong women in her music. And her performance, her singing, her dancing, her songwriting have absolutely no flaw, which is something that was made through her hard work and dedication. It’s insane to me just how hard working the two of them are and how they can achieve such successful careers. That’s the inspirational part for me. They love their music and they give their fans incredible shows.” 

Yen, also an aspiring and dynamic portrait painter, is divided when it comes to Cantopop allegiance, but she’d pick by a whisker Anita Mui, the figurehead of the genre in Hong Kong, over Faye Wong. “I love how Anita Mui was so daring with her outfits, and so strong and different in all she did.” And she has insight on Faye Wong. “She’s always been different to everybody else, and ahead in some way. She has a vibe like the UK’s Kate Bush, in that respect.” Much respect Ms Jasmine Yen.

Postscript

On November 28, Jasmine Yen posted the Le Bal performance on her Instagram. Thank you Ophélie for inviting me. To not only have the opportunity to begin Le Bal with a waltz with my dad, but to also end the night performing in front of guests from all over the world, with my own song “tbh” in Chinese. I am filled with gratitude to be a part of Le Bal des Debutantes 2023.” Skye Wong was first to comment: “Absolutely gorgeous. See you soon !!! Xxxx” 

Two girls, who knew each other in name only before the ball, leave as BFFs, testament to the wonder of Le Bal. Our next meetings with them can’t come soon enough. From all at Prestige … “Lové.” 

Source: Prestige Online

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