Diffa AIDS Fund-Raiser Gets Fog Machines, Futuristic Theme

By Jenny Berg June 17, 2010, 12:34 PM EDT

Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS Chicago's Gala
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A red, white, and blue color scheme is a staple of summertime parties. But at Saturday's gala for the Chicago chapter of Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS, the hues nodded to something other than the American flag. According to co-chair Richard Cassis, the black-tie affair (No. 5 on our list of Chicago's top art and architecture events) used red to represent the past, while blue and white symbolized the future.

“The overarching theme for the Diffa Chicago campaign is 'believe,' and we started that last year,'” said Cassis. “In 2009, the gala concept was 'Believe in the magic of the moment.' The whole thing was very done up, with gilded frames and lush reds and purples. This year, our vision was 'Believe 2010, see 2020,' which represented a perfect vision of an AIDS-free world. So we were talking about the future, which we hope is a world without AIDS.”

To infuse the gala with a futuristic vibe, planners—somewhat ironically—wanted to start in the past. “We started with cocktails in the Red Lacquer Room of the Palmer House Hilton, which has an uncanny resemblance to the look of the 2009 gala,“ said Cassis. “It's very baroque, and very red. And people hadn't seen the ballrooms yet, so at the beginning they thought this was just a continuation of last year's event.”

Instead, the ballroom had a blue-and-white look designed by Tom Kehoe of Kehoe Designs. Meant to represent the future, the space held fog machines that imparted “an ethereal, otherworldly, almost dewy quality,” said Cassis. “The room felt like a movie during a flash-forward sequence. It had the feeling of not being in the now.”

The suspension of belief extended from the room's physical environment to the message that Cassis and his fellow planners hoped to impart. “We wanted our guests to believe in an AIDS-free world by 2020,” he said. “Now, whether that's doable or not is not the point. The gala is about reaching out, looking forward, and believing that things can happen.”

The event raked in an estimated $365,000 and drew 520 guests. Apart from raising funds, the evening served as the unofficial social kickoff of NeoCon, a conference and expo for the contract furnishings industry that took place at the Merchandise Mart earlier this week. The crowd was mostly NeoCon attendees, including interior designers, fashion designers, and executives from such companies as Steelcase and Herman Miller.

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