Aids charity amfAR hit Hong Kong with its customary tornado of star wattage and fanfare, celebrating its second gala benefit last Saturday, March 19. Held once again at Shaw Studios, the event defended its title as the ball of the year, bringing together the cream of Hong Kong fashion and society.
Pansy Ho chaired the event once again, supported by a vice chair hailing from further afield, actress Uma Thurman, who turned out to be a rather vocal presence when the proceedings began...
But not before the paparazzi snapped away on the red carpet, welcoming guests such as Prestige's March cover star Karolina Kurkova, who made her second trip to the city in as many months after judging a Mary Kay modelling competition in February; Victoria Beckham, the evening’s honoree, who made the trip East worthwhile by inaugurating her first standalone boutique in Landmark the day before; and Adrien Brody, who seems to have made Hong Kong his second home, if his frequent appearances here are anything to go by. Asian stars who also made pilgrimage included newly crowned UN Goodwill Ambassador Michelle Yeoh, Korean actor So Ji Sub, Zhou Xun and top model Liu Wen, joining a table with Francisco Costa and Kevin Carrigan, of lead sponsor Calvin Klein.
Fashion-wise, the American brand dominated, dressing It girls such as stylist Tina Leung, PR and restaurant maven Jaime Ku and sunglasses designer Rene Chu in its minimalist designs. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Pansy Ho thanked friend Michael Russo on stage for creating her custom gown (“I look very pretty tonight,” she joked), a frothy, tiered confection. The Fast and The Furious star Michelle Rodriguez rocked a mean crimson Alaia, though a pregnant and glowing Claudine Ying stole the show (on Instagram, at least) in a fire-engine-red plunging Germain number. Her social-media-savvy crew made full use of the #amfarhongkong hashtag.
On the auction front, the organisation over-delivered, with two sets of auction lots, including a handful of pieces donated by Poly Auction. The star of the lots was a neon installation by Tracey Emin that was hung on stage for the duration of the evening, which seemed likely to go home with Uma Thurman with her US$80,000 bid. When the artist offered to customise it for the owner, the numbers went up another 50 percent, but Thurman gamely clapped for its winner. A surprise lot was a stark black-and-white dragon painting, done by none other than actor-turned-artist Adrien Brody – it sold to a gleeful CoCo Lee for US$100,000.
Speaking of over-delivery, the performances certainly did. Elle King did a bluesy rendition of her hit "Ex’s & Oh’s"; Lang Lang proved why he’s one of the most exciting pianists in the world; and Aloe Blacc closed the evening, soulful crooning tunes like “I Need a Dollar” to a raucous crowd.
It wasn’t all just fun and games, though – as amfAR chairman Kenneth Cole reminded us in a red-carpet interview before the event, the Aids epidemic is serious business, and though it might seem like a cause that’s only discussed once annually in Hong Kong when the gala sweeps into town, Asia Pacific has the second highest number of young people living with HIV in the world. A sobering thought indeed, but, as Cole reminded, tonight is about “feeling that our presence made a difference. And yes, we had a good time, but it was for something important, so it’s OK.”
Read on for the rest of our chat with Cole.
What’s different about this year?
You’re going to get a sense of what last year was, but more of it. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and a shared commitment to a sense of purpose. The cause has been embraced by the community in a profound way, and there’s a genuine desire to want to help us make it better and help us bring it to the community in a way that is more impactful. So we’ve got some great friends here who have supported us from the beginning, and we’re so excited about that.
amfAR galas are always so glamorous. Is there enough focus on the cause?
We make a point at every event to show a video, and then I get up and talk about it. Because I don’t want people to lose sight of it. At the end of the day, it’s an elegant evening, and amfAR is an elegant brand that delivers life-saving solutions. And I think we do it in a non-offensive and very compelling way, and that’s what we’ve tried to do from day one. As a brand, we look to over-deliver in our advocacy and in our science and the research and also in our fundraising. So when people come here tonight, they’ll get more than they bargained for, and they’ll go home feeling good that they were there.
You’ve been involved with the cause for such a long time. What calls to you about it?
I got involved a long time ago, 1987. That’s when I joined the board of amfAR. And I became chairman in 2004. It became clear that I had an opportunity, I had a voice to say things that others wouldn’t, and others haven’t. And of course I’ve stayed on, it’s a platform I’ve embraced, and I’ve continued to be grateful for it.
With the success of Hong Kong’s event, are you looking to host the gala in other cities in Asia?
This is a lot. If we can just keep this on the course it’s on, we don’t need to do more events, we just need to educate and connect and inspire more and more people. The reality is, 78 million people have contracted HIV. Forty million of them have already died. There’s 38 million that are still living that we can help, and that’s what we’re trying to do.