There aren’t many 16-year-olds that can count haute couturier Ralph & Russo as a wardrobe staple. But then again, Kareen and Natalia Fares are not your average teenagers. The twin sisters are the daughters of Lara, 47, and Michael Fares, 53, who, early on in his career was the youngest ever chairman of a Swiss bank. As the granddaughters of Issam Michael Fares, the ex-deputy Prime Minister of Lebanon who built one of the largest privately owned conglomerates in the United States, and the nieces of renowned jewellery designer Noor Fares, Kareen and Natalia possess an impeccable lineage. The girls are well-spoken and have a maturity that belies their young age. It’s a sophistication that will stand them in good stead when they make their debut into society at this year’s Le Bal des Débutantes, being held on November 28 at Paris’ Palais de Chaillot.
Each year, 25 young women and men are invited to take part in Le Bal, held to raise money for the Seleni Institute and Enfants d’Asie charities. With a strict ‘invite only’ policy, it is the only ball in the world where all debs wear haute couture. Now in its 23rd year, Le Bal’s alumni is glitteringly glamorous: In 2000 Kuwait’s Lulu Mubarak Al-Sabah wore Pierre Cardin, while Lauren Bush opted for Dior, Bianca Brandolini d’Adda wore Valentino couture in 2005, in 2007 Lily Collins wore Chanel couture, Tallulah Harlech wore Lanvin couture in 2011, and this year, Kareen and Natalia, escorted by Etonians Thomas Coleridge and Henry Tompkins, will wear haute couture gowns created by British couturier Ralph & Russo, which, in January 2014, became the first British label to be invited to join the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris in 100 years.
“We’re very excited to be able to go to this sort of an event and meet so many new people from such great families from all over the world. Plus, everyone will be in gorgeous couture gowns. I think it will be equal parts exciting and overwhelming,” Kareen tells Bazaar at their home in London. “We’re so appreciative to have been invited to participate to begin with. It’s not just the night of the ball but the entire journey in the lead-up,” Natalia adds.
The journey began in late September when the girls first visited the Ralph & Russo atelier in London to meet with the brand’s creative director, 34-year-old Australian Tamara Ralph, an old friend of the Fares family, for whom the girls are full of praise. “We’ve really enjoyed meeting Tamara and the work that she’s done with us,” says Kareen. After browsing the brand’s archives and realising they liked every dress they saw, Kareen and Natalia knew they’d found their dream designer. “We love that it’s a London couture house, and we’re Londoners. Plus, the pieces are amazing.”
Tamara hand-picked the dresses – which first appeared on Ralph & Russo’s autumn/winter 2014 catwalk – that the pair will be wearing. “The dresses are perfect for the girls, and to have both of them in pieces that are so complementary to one another is great,” Tamara tells Bazaar from the brand’s elegant Mayfair showroom. “They’re quite intricate pieces. They’re stunning when you see them. The reason we chose these particular dresses was because the A/W14 collection was inspired by Massimo Listri who was famous for photographing grand palaces and stately homes, so we thought the feeling matched perfectly with Le Bal. They’re quite princessy.”
There are around 200-300 hours of work per dress, Tamara reveals, thanks to their remarkable detail. “Each petal in the flower-work detailing is made by hand. Natalia’s dress has quite a lot of silk tulle and beautiful hand embroidery using ostrich feathers and silk velvet with crystal glass beads, three-dimensional flower detailing and a velvet bodice. It’s quite a dramatic piece. And Kareen’s has over 1,200 metres of silk organza that’s been cut and hand-dyed in various shades of black and navy and then hand-stitched in layers to create a scalloped effect. Then, this is hand-embroidered with clusters of crystal-work throughout. The dresses suit the sisters perfectly. Both are very youthful and elegant and they work well on the girls because they’re graceful and ooze maturity, considering their ages, so in the pieces they’re like two elegant swans,” Tamara smiles.
For the full article, see the November issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia.
Words: Maddison Glendinning. Styling: Mohieb Dahabieh. Photography: Toby Coulson. Flower installations: By Appointment Only Design. Jewellery: Payal New York. Hair: Randolph Gray for Neville. Make-up: Dominic Skinner using MAC Cosmetics. Shot on location at Maison Ralph & Russo, 40 Park Street, Mayfair, London