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With Vanity Fair's exclusive bash off the slate this year, a new entity claimed the title of biggest Oscar party last night (apart from the academy's own ball): the Elton John AIDS Foundation fund-raiser. Sir Elton John and David Furnish hosted the foundation's 16th annual party at the Pacific Design Center, with Chopard and VH1 cosponsoring. The event raised $5.1 million—up considerably over last year's $4.2 million and by far a record.
The gala event began with a cocktail reception, followed by a formal dinner and viewing for 680 (more guests than last year by a small margin, but considerably fewer than in previous years after a decision to cut superfluous guests who weren't contributing to the benefit's bottom line). Following dinner offered by Mark’s Restaurant owner and chef Wayne Elias and co-owner Chris Diamond with their Crumble Catering team, guests bid on live auction items including Sharon Stone's 1974 Corvette and a world travel package patterned after Oscar-winning film Around the World in 80 Days. To cap off the night, Elton John and his band performed for more than an hour, along with guests Mary J. Blige and Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters. About 200 more guests joined the dinner group for the auction and performances.
Hands-on foundation executive director Scott Campbell tapped Virginia Fout of V Productions to produce the event again this year, her fourth go. Of all that's been made about the party's greater significance this year, Fout said, “The thing to remember is that first and foremost we're a fund-raiser, so on Oscar night we're unique [from Vanity Fair's party].“ She added, “In years past we'd have celebrities that would try to do both [parties], but they'd just stay there and not come over to ours because the night gets long.”
As for decor, the room featured what Fout called “an uplifting, feel-good, motivating look,” designed by New York-based Antony Todd for the second time. Gone was last year's silvery palette, and in its place was a sea of fuschia, orange, yellow, and gold with purple and green accents—apropos of the cheerful feeling in the room in light of a ceremony that could have been derailed by the writers strike. Mokara orchids packed simple vases on tabletops, and dinnerware featured gold rims.
“The colors overall are just very happy and festive. It's an exciting time because the strike has just finalized itself, and everyone is really celebrating that. It's kind of a twofold celebration,” Fout said. “Plus we get a nice diverse group of people in the room—not all celebrities, not all corporate America. It's a conscious decision to mix and marry different folks.” This year table prices soared to about $100,000.
Fout says the team behind the fund-raiser never considered scrapping the party altogether, even as the writers strike continued into February. She says John had always planned to perform, which is consistently a draw for guests no matter what the status of the ceremony, and the fund-raising component was too important to the foundation to consider pulling the plug. “Unfortunately, AIDS didn't go on strike, and there's still a need out there to raise awareness and raise money,” Fout said. “But it's wonderful that the strike is over. I will not lie to you.”