I landed in Vienna, with the confetti of winning a contest to cover the Life Ball still fresh on my shoulders. But for me, the event was more than just a celebration. As excited as I was to experience the event, and as much as Huffington Post made me feel like a rock star, it was also important that I cover this story to the best of my ability. I shook the glamour off and tried to represent Huffington Post to the best of my ability so I could make it feel like you the reader was standing next to me. Thank you to the readers, The Huffington Post, Life Ball and the folks at Kenneth Cole. Enjoy!
Towering Corinthian marble columns gilded atop with gold leaves, sleek polycarbonate designer chairs, black calla lilies intertwined among orchids for the table's center pieces--the setup at the amfAR gala inside Vienna's Parliament welcomed dignitaries, politicians, artists, entertainers and European royalty Saturday night.
With the overflowing glasses of champagne and wine, the beautiful people, and the architectural grandeur, this kind of AIDS charity event at Life Ball was glamour at its peak.
The exclusive gala marked the beginning of Life Ball, one of the world's largest AIDS charity events. It also aims to bring attention to the International AIDS Conference that was set for the following day. Vienna has played host to Life Ball for some time now, and the event is characterized by its quirky take on a traditional Viennese ball. At the Life Ball, party-goers are famous for their colorful and skin baring costumes. This year was the first time opulent elegance was put into the mix.
Check out my photos and video from the festivities and scroll down to keep reading!
It's estimated that 40,000 people attend the opening ceremony festivities each year. There are live performances, a fashion show and high-profile speakers.
This year, organizers added two black-tie events, the amfAR gala at Parliament and the Red Ribbon Cotillion at Burgtheater, which mixed hundreds of party-goers dressed in formal attire and earth-themed costumes on the red carpet.
At the amfAR Gala, guests including Whoopi Goldberg, Dita Von Teese and Life Ball organizer Gary Keszler were driven up the grand driveway of parliament, walked the red carpet up the steps and under a gigantic red ribbon. At the start of dinner, amfAR chairman Kenneth Cole announced the gala would be cut short by an hour to move up the opening ceremony in hopes that the outdoor celebration could squeeze past the forecasted rain. Soon after Former President Bill Clinton spoke about the need to raise funds for the AIDS community in Tanzania, Kenya and Haiti.
However the glitter of sequins turned to the shimmer of rain. And then, mother nature, embracing this year's Earth theme, doused the outdoor event, sending thousands scrambling for cover. For VIPs they found it underneath the towering arches of City Hall. Hundreds dressed in their designer black-tie attire rushed to the ball wearing bright pink ponchos in the sweltering heat.
BEHIND THE SCENES
As the frantic audience sought shelter, the real frenzy was backstage as designers Kenneth Cole, Diane Von Furstenberg and Calvin Klein's Francisco Costa were preparing for the fashion show. Calvin Klein Collection models in mini-dresses, were ready to take the runway. Unfazed by the weather, they sipped champagne (or possibly the champagne was to embolden them). Behind them were New York's Radio City Rockettes, in black, white and red rompers designed by Diane Von Furstenberg, chatting amongst themselves about being dwarfed by the models in front of them. "This is the first time I've felt short in my life," one said.
When word of the show's cancellation came down the line, the Rockettes were visibly upset while some of the doe-eyed models appeared to be relieved that it was called off.
Rebecca Romijn who was scheduled to walk the runway for Kenneth Cole shrugged it off. "I guess the party goes on," Romijn said passing by. She was wearing a black mini-skirt and a white t-shirt printed with the message, "Wear a rubber."
Life Ball, in its press release, credits Cole, as the first designer to take a public stance for the fight against HIV. For 25 years he has supported fund-raising efforts through personal and corporate means, which includes a portion of his marketing budget to public awareness campaigns, according to the release.
"It's disappointing when you work so hard, everybody worked so hard, and everybody volunteered, nobody here got paid, to communicate an important message it's not just what we look like on the outside but who we are on the inside," Kenneth Cole said.
Through the chaos behind the scenes at Life Ball, it was at a more subdued press conference earlier that day that Whoopi Goldberg quite succinctly explained why she flew more than 4,000 miles to perform, a feat in itself since she hates flying, and why this event carries so much weight for organizers disappointed in the rainout.
"My hope is that everyone remembers why were here, it's a great big fabulous party, but remember the one person who affected you that is no longer here," Goldberg said. "So tonight we party for that person, we celebrate the fact that no one has to hide again, or be turned away from hospitals again, that those days are behind us. This is what the celebration is about tonight."
Interviewing the average party-goer at the ball, I knew there would be lots of drinking and a majority of them would most likely speak Austrian German, some would be speaking Austrian German while drinking. Anticipating these obstacles and the likely possibility of getting wrapped up in this fairytale event I contacted AIDS Project LA to make a last-minute request.
I wondered who is the AIDS community in my community and what's being done by local charities. I learned that among their services, AIDS Project Los Angeles offers referrals, grocery assistance and organizes fund-raising events to support families affected by AIDS in Southern California.
On Wednesday morning, on the way to meet with project managers and put in some volunteer time, there were about a dozen people already waiting for the food pantry to open. Inside were about a half-dozen volunteers busy packing grocery bags full of fresh produce, meat and fish. By 10 a.m. the doors opened up and the room was packed.
One of the pantry's clients, a man, said something to all of us at the pantry. He said, " Thank you for the food, but much more than that thank you for being here. Seeing your support means a lot."
As it appears, the support is much larger than any of us and can grow even larger. It extends around the world to the gigantic red ribbon hanging over the entrance to Vienna's parliament and across economic barriers as shown by the time donated by celebrities and designers to this cause, and the thousands of dollars that will go to charities around the world because of the ball...until next year again.