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LOS ANGELES With its traditional A-list fanfare, the 18th annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Awards viewing party, presented by Chopard, Jo and Raffy Manoukian, and Neuro Drinks, took to the Pacific Design Center on Sunday night. Although the basic format was the same as past years (the gala hinges on the award show's live telecast), the decor got a bright new look and a performance that veered from the party's usual course. Foundation executive director Scott Campbell oversaw the event, once tapping Virginia Fout of V Productions to produce it.
Antony Todd handled the design, with an overall look in red, tangerine, and off-white, and an off-white carpet leading the big-name celebrity guests into the party. Neon light tubes hung from the ceiling in different directions for a slightly abstract look. Decor for the dinner was punchy red, with the ceiling, tablecloths, and flowers all in bright hues that popped atop an off-white carpet. Tangerine orchids decked tables, where red, orange, and off-white chairs alternated for a colorful effect. Fout described the look as “strong, powerful, and beautiful.” Table settings, including flatware, china, and crystal, were simple, in a style she described as “tasteful, clean, with a bit of a modern look to it.”
After dinner, Grace Jones performed, marking a departure from John's tendency to handpick young, up-and-coming acts. (Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters was a surprise guest in 2008.) “You've got this legendary person who has a very theatrical show,” said Fout. “People hadn't seen her in years. [They were wondering,] what's she going to do? How outrageous is it going to be?”
The guest count was slightly up from last year's tough climate—about 700 versus 2009's 665 or so. In Fout's assessment, it's still a challenge to reach the numbers the gala saw two years ago, when the guest count was 680 and the financial haul $5.1 million. “It's still tough out there, but the mood is better. Everyone's overall temperament is more positive. But are there sponsorship dollars running toward you? No. Everybody's still a little cautious. For us, there are enough people who believe in [the foundation and its mission] and we thrive on [their support].” This year's take was $3.7 million.
The meal from Crumble Catering started off with spring vegetable compote with red pepper coulis and arugula pesto, continued with risotto Carnaroli with saffron licorice and king prawns, and led into the entree of wahoo fish with black olives, pine nuts, fresh herbs, and stewed lentils, or tagliata New York steak with candied green celery and Amarone wine sauce. Crispy milk chocolate bars with bitter chocolate glaze, meringue sticks, and apricot coulis rounded out dessert, and Sterling Vineyards poured its wines with the meal.