Flavia Woodall: A modern-day debutante
PUBLISHED: 17:51 18 October 2010 | UPDATED: 18:00 20 February 2013
The world of the 'deb' has changed beyond recognition. Business cards now replace dance cards and networking replaces waltzing. Some things remain the same though...
The model of a modern debutante
The world of the deb has changed beyond recognition. Business cards now replace dance cards and networking replaces waltzing. Some things remain the same though Sareda Dirir spoke to Shropshire girl Flavia Woodall about the appeal of the London Season
Seventeen-year-old Flavia Woodall from Mytton in Shropshire possesses the kind of heroic beauty that could launch a thousand ships.
With her peaches and cream complexion and fine regal features she laughs disarmingly at the suggestion that being a debutante is about getting married off to an eligible bachelor.
No, not at all! Im very young and getting married is not something Im thinking about right now. Being a debutante is harmless fun, we get to wear some gorgeous dresses, meet some wonderful people and of course raise lots of money for charity in the process.
Flavia, who describes herself as just an ordinary teenager, is one of just 28 debutantes taking part in the 2010 London Season.
The tradition is one steeped in history. For many years, young girls from the most prestigious families across the country were presented at Court with the hope of introducing them to society and ultimately, marrying well.
Now, no longer presented to the monarch, modern debutantes view the process as an ideal opportunity to make friends, learn valuable life skills, network, raise money for charity and of course become a lady.
Previously a rather secretive society, the current directors of The London Season are keen to make the world of the debutante more accessible and girls are now able to apply online.
Flavia comes from a long line of debutantes; her three elder sisters did the season as well as her mother Patricia, and her mother before her.
Patricia Woodall is a key figure on the London Season Committee and keen to promote the good work of the debutantes.
People dont realise just how much money these young ladies raise for charity. Throughout the year they work exceptionally hard organising social events, garden parties, balls, charity auctions, and all for such worthwhile causes. Im very proud to be a part of it.
With so many debutantes in her family was it a foregone conclusion that Flavia would follow in their footsteps?
Well yes. It was definitely something that I wanted to do its nice to keep the family tradition going, my three sisters had all been debutantes before and Id seen what a great time they all had, they all made some wonderful friends and I just couldnt wait to take part.
So what do her friends back at Shrewsbury School make of it all?
A few of them remember my elder sisters taking part and they all definitely remembered the gorgeous dresses. Many people think that being a deb is just about partying but its much more than that. We do an awful lot of work for charity and as young teenagers trying to make a
difference were really keen to spread that message.
Thierry Macquet the man charged with changing the image of the debutante season supports this new approach: We want to make the debutante world more open, more welcoming. There are so many great things about being a debutante, as well as raising lots of money they have a lot of fun and learn valuable life skills that will really help them in their future lives and of course many girls like to play princesses.
Royalty and debutantes have always had a strong connection and this year is no exception. Princess Olga Romanov of Russia is patron of the London Season and explains why she supports the event: Its such a wonderful experience for these girls to be a deb. It helps them so much with self-confidence, with social skills. They will make so many important contacts for their future and of course, some life-long friendships.
The 2010 Debutante Season began at the Berkeley Dress Show in April at the Hurlingham Club, when 34 debutantes were presented in the presence of the guest of honour Princess Olga Romanov. The young ladies, wore head pieces by royal milliner John Boyd and were dressed by eight of the best young graduates from Central St Martin's and the London College of Fashion.
Its been a busy year for Flavia, in addition to modelling in The Berkeley Dress show and attending numerous fundraising events she was invited to be part of the executive organising committee and worked with a small group of debs to arrange a glamorous drinks evening at the Kings Fund in London, attended by many of her Shropshire family and friends.
So has becoming a debutante helped her to develop any useful life skills?
"Definitely. As debutantes we are expected to attend public speaking seminars and learn about time management, event planning, all sorts of things that will help us in the future. I think that the Etiquette Day in particular was very helpful and of course all of us now know how to perform the perfect curtsey.
The culmination of the months of training and fundraising is the Queen Charlottes Ball. Founded more than 200 years ago, it raises money for what is now known as the Queen Charlottes Appeal and provides funding for Professor Lord Robert Winstons groundbreaking work at Wolfson and Weston Research Centre for Family Health.
This event conjures up the most enduring image of debutantes, virginal white gowns worn with pearls or diamonds and of course the traditional cake. Casting an elegant eye over the proceedings this year was Chair of the London Season, Jennie Hallam-Peel a former debutante who is passionate about its benefits and proud of what the young girls have achieved.
Its so wonderful, months later to see the young girls turning into assured, poised women. It is stressful and demanding to arrange fundraising events and when you consider how young some of these girls are it is quite astonishing what they achieve. Being a deb is great for confidence building and so many of the girls keep in touch with us telling us how useful it was for them.
So how does she respond to criticisms that the Season is frivolous and irrelevant?
Many of our young girls are extremely accomplished and dedicated. We have girls that have gone on to be doctors, teachers and lawyers but who wish to celebrate and enjoy their femininity as well. Being a woman is becoming a dying art and our girls always say how grateful they are to have something like this around.
What makes a debutante?
A debutante (from the French dbutante, "female beginner") is a young unmarried girl who has reached the age of maturity, and is introduced to society at a formal presentation known as her "dbut"
The last time debutantes were presented at Court was in 1958 after which Queen Elizabeth II abolished the ceremony
The expression "Deb's Delight" is applied to young unmarried men from similar backgrounds
At one time debs were accompanied everywhere by a strict patroness. They had to ask permission to dance and it was often refused
Forms of the debutante tradition exist across the world. In New Orleans, Louisiana, a debutante is usually presented during the carnival season
In 1958, Miss Brenda Frazier became one of the first celebrity debutantes. Journalists were fascinated by her and she featured almost daily in newspapers and magazines of the day
Miss Jacqueline Bouvier was named Deb of the Year in 1947. She was to marry John F Kennedy and become First Lady of the United States