Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Benefit
New York City
Beyoncé At 2016’s Met Gala
Popularly known as the Met Gala, this annual extravaganza is arguably the most fashion-forward ball of the lot, thanks to its chairwoman, Anna Wintour, who is also the editor of American Vogue. Held on the first Monday of May, this black-tie event is held to commemorate the launch of the Costume Institute’s annual blockbuster exhibition. With a star-studded list of attendees that include top fashion designers such as Donatella Versace, Marc Jacobs and Diane von Furstenberg; models including Gisele Bundchen, Liu Wen and Karlie Kloss; as well as celebrities known for their fashion chops — Beyoncé, Sarah Jessica Parker and Rihanna just to name a few — this event is the perfect confluence of influence, fashion and fame.
One of the key reasons why a ticket to this party is so coveted is because Wintour is known to keep extremely tight tabs on the invitation list, which always reads like the who’s-who of the most famous people in the world. To dial up the edginess of the event, Wintour often invites up-and-coming fashion designers to attend the ball, so sharp-eyed fashionistas would do well to note who these newbies are if they wish to stay ahead of the sartorial curve.
While the Met Gala is not a themed party per se, its high-profile guests often gamely dress up to complement the year’s exhibition. For instance, this year’s Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology show inspired many guests to don futuristic outfits, while attendees to 2015’s China: Through the Looking Glass paid homage to Asian influences with their attire.
amfAR Hong Kong Gala
Although only in its second year in Hong Kong, the amfAR Hong Kong Gala is one upstart to keep an eye out for. This year’s gala, held in support of amfAR’s Aids research programmes, drew an international group of attendees, including thespians Uma Thurman and Adrien Brody, model Karolina Kurkova, fashion designers Victoria Beckham and Francisco Costa, as well as artist Tracy Emin. But what makes the Hong Kong edition of amfAR’s fundraising gala truly stand out is the support it has garnered from the who’s-who of the region’s high society, including billionaire heiress Pansy Ho, actresses Rosamund Kwan and Carina Lau, and jewellery designer Wan Baobao.
Designer Victoria Beckham at 2016’s amfar Hong Kong Gala
Besides the lavish gowns and jaw-dropping jewellery on display, the amfAR galas are also known for their top-notch entertainment and ultra-exclusive auction lots for guests. In 2015, Leonardo DiCaprio made a surprise donation of two seats at his personal table at the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation gala in Saint-Tropez and even threw in an invitation to relax on his yacht the day after the event. This year’s auction offerings included VIP invitations to the first-ever gala dinner hosted by HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco in Monte Carlo and eight unique Andy Warhol photographs from his first and only trip to China in 1982. In these two years, US$8 million has been raised for Aids research.
With such a stellar combination of glitz and glamour in the name of a good cause, it is no wonder that there is already talk among insiders that the amfAR Gala is well on its way to dethroning some of the other top local balls in the city.
Le Bal des Debutantes
Each year, only 20 privileged ladies are selected to debut at the Crillon Ball
Despite the French name, debutante balls are actually a British tradition. Historically, the noble class held these balls to introduce blue-blooded young ladies (of marriageable age) to society. This notion is a little outdated today and such events might have been relegated to history books, if not for the vision of well-connected public relations maestro Ophélie Renouard, who reinvented the concept of these galas to suit modern-day sensibilities.
Renouard’s Le Bal des Debutantes, better known as the Crillon Ball, has been held every November in Paris since 1992 and is the definitive version of modern-day debutante balls. A strictly by-invite-only event that raises funds for two charities, 20 debutantes are handpicked by Renouard to embody a diverse yet accomplished group of young women from all corners of the globe. Under her watch, debutantes are not merely well-connected by virtue of birth, but should also have distinguished themselves through their work in philanthropy, arts or academia.
Debutantes through the years have included royalty such as Princess Lorenza de Liechtenstein, Princess Fawzia Latifa of Egypt, Lady Amelia Windsor and Countesses Victoria and Sarah von Faber Castell, as well as the offspring of prominent families including Delphine Arnault, Dree Hemingway and Lauren Bush. Asian debutantes include Alexandra Louey, daughter of William Louey, director of the Kowloon Motor Bus Company, and Emily Madrigal, daughter of Vincent and Ann Madrigal, a prominent family in the Philippines.
To add to the magic of the night, attendees are dressed in haute couture gowns and fine jewellery, and are escorted to the ball by handsome cavaliers, who are usually princes or aristocrats from European families. Now that’s a fairy tale come to life.
Bal de la Rose
You’ll be hard pressed to name a gala that’s more exclusive than the Bal de la Rose, which is hosted by the royal family of Monaco. The Rose Ball had its beginnings in 1954 and garnered international fame under Princess Grace, who was personally involved in many aspects of the event, including the venue’s decor.
Today, the royal family has continued this tradition to benefit the Princess Grace Foundation and it remains carefully curated by the royals, with the guestlist controlled by Prince Albert, his wife Princess Charlene and sister Princess Caroline of Hanover, with the ball designed by Karl Lagerfeld, a close friend of Princess Caroline. For the 2016 edition, the theme was Cuba, which might have been inspiration for Chanel’s subsequent cruise collection in Havana a couple months later.
High-society elites, celebrities and fashion mavens flock to the ball but the spotlight is always on the glamorous Monegasques. This year’s marked the debut of 16-year-old Princess Alexandra, the youngest daughter of Princess Caroline, dressed in a beautiful Chanel couture gown. Pierre Casiraghi, Princess Caroline’s second son, attended with his new wife, Italian heiress Beatrice Borromeo, who dazzled guests in a show-stopping Giambattista Valli gown.
The Love Ball, now in its fifth year, is the brainchild of Russian supermodel-turned-philanthropist Natalia Vodianova, whose own rags-to-riches story has moved and inspired many in the fashion industry and beyond. Vodianova grew up in a single-parent family in Russia where she had to sell fruit on the streets to help support her family, including a sister with cerebral palsy. Lucky for her, she was spotted by a talent scout and whisked off to Paris where she found fame and fortune as a top model.
But she never forgot her humble beginnings and launched the Naked Heart Foundation to support families with special needs children in Russia. The glitzy Love Ball, held in a different location every year — often in a venue with impeccable fashion connections, such as Valentino Garavani’s private residence in 2011 and the Fondation Louis Vuitton this year — is the foundation’s key fundraising event.
The glitterati came out in full force to support this year’s gala, which coincided with the end of couture week, with A-lister guests such as designers Marc Jacobs and Riccardo Tisci and fashion journalists Suzy Menkes, Tim Blanks rubbing shoulders with celebrities Kanye West and Milla Jovovich.
The Foundation has raised over €15.5 million over the years to support countless needy families and has built over 150 play facilities in 100 towns in Russia and internationally, proving that there’s plenty of heart in the fashion world.