Let’s Hear It for the Bows!
At 8 p.m., the doors of the Grand Ballroom of the New Orleans Hilton Riverside opened and scores of guests in summer-formal attire entered. Immediately they beheld the setting for the first presentation of the months-long debutante season, Le Debut des Jeunes Filles de la Nouvelle Orleans. On opposite ends of the ballroom were the stages, one on which all 27 of the debutantes would be placed individually as the formalities ensued, and the other, for the band, Deacon John and the Ivories.
To preserve the integrity and decorum of the evening, “personal cameras” were not permitted. For the men attending, summer white linen suits or white dinner jackets with black tuxedo pants were the dress code. Ladies were asked to wear long summer formals.
General milling occurred for a half hour and then, with everyone seated, Deacon John struck up “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Master of ceremonies Mark Romig then welcomed the assembly and announced the arrival of the Jeunes Messieurs, four young men who are limelighted each year, as they strode the length of the ballroom. For 2017, they were Messrs. John Davidson Bailey, son of Mr. and Mrs. David Gunn Bailey; Lawrence Dell Harper Chaffe, son of Mr. and Mrs. David B.H. Chaffe IV; Clayton August Kallenborn, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Jacob Kallenborn III; and William David Sumrall IV, son of Dr. and Mrs. Sumrall III. Seated on each side of the ballroom, and facing one another, were the mothers of the 27 presentees.
Stating his pleasure in introducing the debutantes, Mark Romig issued a cue for the start of the presentation for which the fathers (or a close family member or friend) served as escorts. Along the way to the stage, where they were greeted by the Jeunes Messieurs, the debs halted to acknowledge their proud mothers with a modified curtsy. Accompanying each father-daughter duo was a procession song chosen by the family and played by Deacon John and the Ivories.
The first debutante to catch the spotlight was Miss Caroline Bailey Acomb, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Dwight LeBlanc Acomb. Fittingly, her song was “Sweet Caroline.” As she walked with her father, and after the obeisance to her mother, she made a second curtsy, a deeper one and facing the audience, just before arriving at the stage area, where a Jeune Monsieur then escorted her up the few steps to the stage’s platform.
The following debutantes were Misses Elizabeth Lockwood Atherton, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Curwen Atherton III; Bailey Elizabeth Batt, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John August Batt Jr.; Madeleine Anne Bienvenu, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Albert Bienvenu IV; Margaret Ann Bryan and Virginia Currin Bryan, twin daughters of Mr. and Mrs. James Randolph Bryan; Julia Anne Charbonnet, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Taylor Charbonnet; and Elise Lockett Clay, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George William Clay.
And, Misses Virginia DeRussy Dodenhoff, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Carrere Dodenhoff; Ellen Ashley Feringa and Megan Lane Feringa, twin daughters of Dr. and Mrs. Peter Anthony Feringa III; Sarah Jane Holbrook Freeman, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Louis McDaniel Freeman Jr.; Sarah Elizabeth Grehan, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Brooke Yates Grehan; and Julia Murphy Grehan, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Hughes Grehan. The latter two, who have strong Crescent City connections, do not live here. However, they paid homage to the area with their respective choices of songs, “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Do You Know What It Means (to Miss New Orleans?)”
Also, Misses Jane Talley Hodges, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Philip Nalty Hodges; Elle Alexandra Lovick, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Grayson Lovick Jr.; Elle Colton McLeod, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Evans Martin McLeod, and joined by her great-grandmother, Edna Colton; Layne Watkins Nalty, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Morgan Shaw Nalty; Caroline Elizabeth Perlis, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. David Wicker Perlis; Mary Fleming England Redd, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edmund England Redd; Ashley Elizabeth Sanders, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Craig Sanders, whose song was an anthem for the evening, “The Way You Look Tonight”; Katherine Kergosien Simmons, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Lawrence Simmons Jr.; and Eugenie Elizabeth Stall, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Ellender Stall.
The final foursome were Misses Mimi Elizabeth Waggoner, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Mark Thomas Waggoner, and “What a Wonderful World”; Eugenie Cecile Whealdon, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Burton Whealdon; Anne Summers White, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Forrest White Jr.; and Shelby Jane Ottley White, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Bright White.
Summers White enjoyed a quick turn on the dance floor with Mr. Charles M. Lanier Jr., president of Le Debut des Jeunes Fillles de la Nouvelle Orleans. (Joining him at their table was his wife, Reecee.) Fleming Redd and Eugenie Whealdon are daughters of Le Debut board members Messrs. Redd and Whealdon.
When all 27 debutantes were in place on the stage, with Caroline Acomb as the longest standing, Mark Romig announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, Les Jeunes Filles.” Effusive applause followed in deference to emcee Romig’s request at the outset of the program when he asked for guests to hold their applause until the end. The collective curtsy invited a full ovation.
The next step was just that: steps. The debutantes descended the stage to dance with their fathers to “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” With that, the formalities concluded and the parents of the debs received at their tables as guests approached to extend their compliments. Within the coterie, there were kin connections and many of the debs’ friends since childhood. A few of the mothers, aunts and grandmothers of the Jeunes Filles were debutantes themselves in earlier years.
As he has done for years, Paul Lacour extended his tasteful touch and provided the flowers and general décor. The backdrop on the presentation stage was a deep black-green. In front were three white, pyramid-pointed structures with pinpoint lights inside, along with greenery, a brace of lattice pedestals and floral arrangements. Two prominent white swags and five square chandeliers of translucent white fabric dripping with crystals hung from the ceiling.
White cloths topped the individual tables, which were centered with flowers in silver-flecked vases. A breakfast buffet punctuated the evening’s activity that combined the presentation, general milling about and dancing. Bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs, fruit and waffles were some of the late-night attractions. Food-fueled and heeding the call of Deacon John, the deb set bounded to the dance floor for favorite numbers. Youthful gyration translated into merry momentum.
With the presentation of Le Debut des Jeunes Filles and the season’s first notable curtsies, the formal launching of the young ladies has begun. Dozens of debs, along with their nearest and dearest, will relish the myriad activities to come, when the festive and formal focus will make a reality of the song chosen by Elizabeth Atherton, “My Girl.”