By Alesandra Dubin Posted February 23, 2009, 11:23 AM EST
LOS ANGELES With Vanity Fair’s party canceled last year on account of the writers' strike, Elton John’s bash rose to the top of the Oscar-night clutter. But the reemergence of the magazine’s party this go-round did little to quash the glitter of last night's 17th annual Elton John AIDS Foundation benefit at the Pacific Design Center—and neither did the woeful economy, which necessitated careful budget review, but no cuts that looked jarring to guests.
John and husband David Furnish hosted the viewing dinner and party, and Chopard, Jo and Raffy Manoukian, and VH1 were the evening’s cosponsors. Foundation executive director Scott Campbell oversaw the event, tapping Virginia Fout again this year to produce it.
“We had to tighten up,” Fout said of the party’s budget. “[When preparing the production] I had to try and find a couple thousand dollars [to cut] in every area.” A departure from last year’s post-strike, cheery-looking party, a black-and-white theme dominated this year’s look, by designer Antony Todd, which also featured silver accents and splashes of green coming from leaves in hydrangea-filled centerpieces. “We were very conscious of perception, given the economy. The thought process was to keep it simple but still elegant and tasteful, a little old school, classic, and crisp—nothing that looks like you've been excessive, [a look that shows] that you're staying true to the environment and the mood around you.” (The Governors Ball took the same approach with its relatively subdued look.)
Nearly seamless cuts included 50-inch plasmas in lieu of last year’s 60-inchers. And instead of a production trailer, this year Fout and the team made use of a spare room in the design center. “We went back in and cut whatever we could,” Fout said.
Around 650 guests sat for dinner at the party. Helmed by chef Wayne Elias, Crumble Catering served a five-course Italian menu, inspired by John’s annual trip to Venice. Sterling Vineyards—which also poured its wines at the Governors Ball—offered its beverages, and Ciroc served specialty cocktails from an ice bar outside. After the dinner and Oscar telecast, John and Raphael Saadiq gave performances that had the crowd on its feet at the foot of the stage.
When asked about about any lingering competition with that other party, Fout said, “Vanity Fair is always something you think about, but the true reality is that from the onset, we're a fund-raiser and they're not. They've scaled back tremendously—[nevertheless] we're happy we're in the same vicinity so some celebrities come after.”
In a surprising twist, the live auction featured a pair of tickets to Vanity Fair's party—the same night—accompanied by John and Furnish. The auction materials at guests' places read: “One of the most renowned events of the year—and, notoriously, the most difficult invitation to obtain ... If you want to continue the fun tonight after the EJAF's party is over, this is where you want to go ... and in what better company?” The magazine donated the package, which fetched $60,000 at auction. Overall, the evening raised nearly $4 million for the charity, down from $5.1 million raised at last year's bash.