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London Season VS French CircuitThe London Season is just about to begin. It is true that it is not what it was at the times of the Bal des Débutantes but still, there are some major events for the high society in the UK. And what about France? What are the unmissable society events on both sides of the Channel? Which country is the best place for high society to blossom?
The London Season
In the UK, the so called “London Season” used to comprise innumerable social and charity events beginning with the presentation of the debutantes to the Queen. It should have ended when the Queen abolished this ceremony in 1958 but still, the ambition of staying above the masses does not die so easily. The number of events and their closed characteristic have of course decreased but there are obviously some events where you have to be seen at to sparkle in the elite. There is no deciding authority anymore but I think we could agree on some points. The list is quite long…
Art/culture is a large part of a perfect gentleman's agenda.
The Edinburgh Festival is one of the unavoidable event. Created in 1947 with the aim of providing 'a platform for the flowering of the human spirit', it presents a rich programme of classical music, theatre, opera and dance over a three-week period in late summer each year. A must-see.
Glyndebourne and its famous picnics is also a hot spot. This 700-year old country and opera house near Lewes in East Sussex welcomes every summer the Glyndebourne festival. People with beavers take the train for enjoying opera and picnic on the grass. Performances start in the afternoon, enabling Londoners to leave town after lunch, and finish in time to catch the last train back.
Glastonbury. Amusing to think that this former hippie festival has now been entered in the season at least as far as young people are concerned. Rock and roll is high society in the UK…Don't try to dress up for this event, you will end up covered in mud! Wellies are 'de rigueur'.
The Serpentine Summer Party in Kensington Gardens bring together the biggest names from the worlds of fashion, art, architecture and music.
The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. One of the founding principles of the Royal Academy of Arts was to 'mount an annual exhibition open to all artists of distinguished merit' to finance the training of young artists in the RA Schools. Now known as the Summer Exhibition and held every year without interruption since 1769, the exhibition attracts around 10,000 work of art, the selection being carried out by Academicians and chaired by the President.
Gardening is also a British passion. Therefore, the Chelsea Flower Show remains a major event of the Season. Cutting-edge garden design and thousands of perfect blooms.
Even if the Season does not start with the presentation to the Queen,
crowned heads are not totally absent from the events! Each June, the
members of the Order,
wearing their ceremonial vestments and insignia, meet in the state
apartments in the Upper Ward of Windsor Castle. Membership in the Order
is extremely limited and includes the monarch, the Prince of Wales, not
more than 24 companion members, and various supernumerary members. King
Edward III founded the Order of the Garter as "a society, fellowship
and college of knights” in 1348. The monarch alone can grant
membership. They process on foot, led by the Military Knights of
Windsor, through the castle to St George's Chapel for the service. If
there are any new knights, they are installed on this occasion. This is
the most private event of the Season.
British people love sport but this time it is not about watching a football match half drunk in a pub…
Royal Ascot is one of the leading racecourses in the United Kingdom, hosting 9 of the UK's 32 annual Group 1 races. The course is closely associated with the British Royal Family, being approximately six miles from Windsor Castle, and owned by the Crown Estate. It has been founded in 1711. Definitely a place of high fashion and elegance.
Do not dare to go bareheaded! There is a special dresscode for Royal Ascot! Here it what is said on the website: "Both ladies and gentlemen are asked to dress in a manner appropriate to a smart occasion. Many gentlemen wear a shirt and tie with a jacket or suit. Please note that jeans, shorts, t-shirts and sports attire (including football and rugby shirts, sweatshirts and trainers) are not permitted." Well, the truth is, without a hat, you may feel also feel rather naked or at least inappropriate dressed. It is a competition of the most beautiful, original and exorbitant hats. Bare arms are to be avoid as well, especially if you have been invited to enter the Royal box. Look up to Camilla!
Goodwood has been created by the 3rd Duke of Richmond in 1802. Now more than 200 years later Goodwood is internationally acclaimed as being one of the most beautiful racecourses in the world. Renowned for its unique style and elegance, Goodwood continues to set ever higher standards of style and quality for its racegoers.
Boat is also a high centre of interest. The Henley Regatta may be the most important boat race of the Season. The race is even placed under royal patronage!
Polo is of course a must with Prince Charles, William and Harry all taking part in the sport! The Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup has become a bestseller amongst the glitterati. An astonishing 18,000 spectators descend on Cowdray Park – the home of British Polo – for finals day in July. Dressed to impress.
Tennis is not to be forgotten. Wimbledon is the most important competition.
Well, the less we can say is that the high society has no time to get bored in the UK and then, for some the London Season already died or at least is clearly dying. Goodbye waltz of naive debutantes and goodbye splendour of yore. This year in particular the Season seems to begin badly because of the financial crisis: First, sponsors are pulling out and secondly, the attendees recently lost a lot of money... Would a glass of champagne be enough to clear up the gloom amd doom? We can hope so! And don't forget ladies that Prince Harry will be there and that he is currently single!
And what about France? Could the social elite blossom in the country of Robespierre? When Major Thomson discovered France (in Pierre Daninos' novel "The Notbooks of Major Thomson"), he observed that it was the only place in the world where, when one sees a man in a beautiful car doesn’t dream of having the same but of getting him out and make him walk, as everybody else... Equality seems indeed to be a national passion. So, even if it is the French who revived the tradition of the Bal des Debutantes, is the diary of the French elite as complete as the British one?
There is no such a codified Season in France but still, there are some events where it is always good to be seen at.
First of all, the French Ascot with horse race and enormous hats, the Prix de Diane is a main event. Founded in 1843, it takes place every year in Chantilly, in the Parisian area on the second Sunday of June. Sponsored by Hermès, it is a high place of elegance and chic.
In the same vein the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe occurs every October in Longchamp. Popularly referred to as the “Arc”, it is one of the most prestigious horse race in Europe and an event not to be missed. The 2003 slogan was clear: “Not so much a race as a monument”. Put it in your agenda!
To continue with sports, Roland Garros is to be mentioned.
Part of the Grand Slam, it represents a major tennis tournament in the
world and one of the most popular. Celebrities are always seating on
the benches, mirroring them is definitely a good idea. Besides, matches
are always very impressive!
However, French elite society is not only keen on sports. Art remains a key element of the propriety.
The Festival d’Aix-en-Provence is thereby a major event. Annual international music festival which takes place each summer in Aix-en-Provence, principally in the month of July, it is mainly devoted to opera, but also includes concerts of orchestral, chamber, vocal and solo instrumental music. Always of the highest quality.
To some extent, the famous Festival de Cannes could be considered as a place to be despite of its jet-set aspects. It is indeed one of the world's oldest, most influential and prestigious film festivals alongside Venice and Berlin. Some original films could be discovered especially during “Un Certain Regard” where twenty films selected from cultures near and far are showed or during “Tous les Cinémas du Monde” which showcases the vitality and diversity of cinema across the world. Each day, one country is invited to present a range of features and shorts in celebration of its unique culture, identity and recent film works. Who said it was only about a red carpet and some steps?
Major event in theatre and street performances founded by actor and director Jean Vilar, the Festival d’Avignon is a great experience, so “bobo” as French would say.
High spot, the Bal de la Rose is organised every year in Monaco under the patronage of Prince Albert II. Opening event of Monaco’s Season, it collects funds for the « Fondation Princesse Grace » which devotes itself to hospitalised children. This year the ceremony was rock’n’roll with Chuck Berry’s performance.
Still in Monaco, the Bal de la Croix Rouge (Red Cross’s Ball) mixes elegance, glamour and generosity every summer.
Well, the codified Season is not so that important in France but don’t believe that being high-ranked in France is easy. The French elite can not afford to be lazy either!
The thing is, their obligations are not of the same nature. In France, it is for instance extremely important to be seen during holidays. To look perfectly accomplished you have to ski down slopes at Courchevel every winter (if you are not a good skier you can still stay at the hotel club…) and to perfect your tan on the Côte d’Azur every summer, or on the Atlantic coast in you are more “bobo”. British people don't care that much about holidays and Great Britain is definitely not the place to be during holidays!
Besides, in France, high society meetings are mostly planned in a smaller scale, in the
neighbourhood in particular. In fact, French elite is more dispatched
than the British one and, as the social classes are mingled, special
events have to be organised. So are the “rallyes”.
This parties aim to present eligible young people to each other in
order that they keep their place in the society and avoid “bad
company”. This parties are most of the times highly selective.
So would you dare to say that the Débutantes are dead? High society life is still codified and not easily penetrable but nobody can deny that elite has changed, and in a good way. More cultured, more open... never forget that, wherever you are in France or in the UK, the best way to look accomplished is to be accomplished. Cultural life such as theatre, exhibitions or concerts are perfect to blossom and sparkle at the same times! However we can wonder, is the new elite particularly cultured for the love of art or because, as Bourdieu said, cultural domination was the only one which remained possible to stay above the society? I let you judge! Whatever it might be, open your diary, here is a summary!
Orange: London Season
Blue: French Circuit
4 - 12: Paris Fashion Week
10 - 13: Cheltenham National Hunt Festival
28: Bal de la Rose
4: The Grand National
7- 10: Badminton Horse Trails
13 - 24: Festival de Cannes
19 - 23: The Chelsea Flower Show
21 - 31: The Guardian Hay Festival
24 May - 7 June: Roland Garros
3 June - 5 July: Garsington Opera
5 - 6: Polo in the Park
8 : Prix de Diane
8 June - 16 August: Royal Academy Summer Exhibition
19 - 21: British Grand Prix
22 June - 5 July: Wimbledon
24 - 28: Glastonbury Festival
27 June - 31 July: Festival d'Aix-en-Provence
1: Serpentine Party
6 - 9: Paris Fashion Week
7 - 29: Festival d'Avignon
16 - 19: Latitude Festival
16 - 20: Royal Ascot
24 - 26: CLA Game Fair
Bal de la Croix Rouge
7 - 31: Edinburgh Festival
1: Partridge Shooting
18 - 22: London Fashion Week
18 - 20: Goodwood Revival Meeting
Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe
From 6 October: Turner Prize
10 - 11: The British National Ploughing Championships
15 - 18: Frieze Art Fair
13 - 15: The Open at Cheltenham
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