Cannes amfAR Gala: We rub shoulders with Leonardo DiCaprio, Jessica Chastain and more at the star-studded charity night

Sharon Stone amFAR Gala 2013
Photography by Jacovides/Bestimage
Sharon Stone amFAR Gala 2013
Photography by Jacovides/Bestimage

See the red carpet pictures from the Cannes amfAR Gala 2013 »

It was a cool, wet week for the Cannes Film Festival, but the skies cleared in time to cast a warm glow over the 20th annual Cinema Against AIDS amfAR (the Foundation for AIDS research) Gala at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc.

Our tinted Mercedes SUV was one of many that lined a steep incline to the luxurious venue just outside of Cannes. After passing through gates (with a smattering of fans waving), we were led past a pack of photographers who urged us civilians to “hurry up!” so they could shoot the likes of Heidi Klum, Karlie Kloss, Joan Smalls, Aishwarya Rai, Rosario Dawson and Zhang Ziyi

Inside the main house we spotted Adrien Brody waiting for his girlfriend outside a washroom, while John Taylor of Duran Duran air-kissed a friend. We moved to the rear of the building to arrive atop a wide dramatic staircase. A long path leading to the sea was covered in a cushion-like platform. Perhaps to protect the grass? Or visitors’ heels? 

Nearby we saw Jessica Chastain and Milla Jovovich posing playfully with host Sharon Stone for an event photographer. Down the stairs were tables stacked with Moët & Chandon Imperial. I drained my glass as Jeremy Renner popped out from a shrub and Pucci designer Peter Dundas wandered by laughing, with two models on either arm. A ragtime jazz band played as we followed the band in to dinner. En route we passed a seated Leonardo DiCaprio talking with Goldie Hawn—over the evening he was lauded repeatedly for his philanthropic efforts.

We passed the tennis courts and saw Nicole Kidman, flanked by her handlers, tiptoeing through the woods. I overheard someone ask an usher if Paris Hilton had arrived. Once inside the tented dining area, I was struck by the intimacy of the event: I’ve been to weddings this big! The walls were black and lined with Annie Leibowitz (also in attendance) portraits. Stacy Keibler stood near the entrance, waiting excitedly for someone (I did not see George Clooney) to arrive. We found our seats with event sponsor Moët Hennessy, and the sightlines were superb. Nearby paths to the stage and stylish porta-potties meant plenty of stars transited us. A pregnant Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) and model Eva Herzigova sat a table away.

Sharon Stone, Harvey Weinstein and Kenneth Cole shared hosting duties over the dinner and auction, interspersed with the Ultimate Gold Collection runway show and performances by Ellie Goulding, Dame Shirley Bassey and Duran Duran. Stone was on fire, loving the attention—she helped the auctioneer to push bids up by offering kisses for dough and tossing out the odd f-bomb.

Over three small courses, wild gifts were auctioned off: a week at Donna Karan’s private island villa; a Hollywood weekend during the 2014 Oscars; and a trip to outer space with DiCaprio aboard the Virgin Galactic that fetched $1.5 million.

The Ultimate Gold Collection was a spirited fashion show with more than 30 looks, inspired in part by Elizabeth Taylor and curated by Carine Roitfeld. The items were culled from design houses like Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Commes des Garçons, Gucci, Rick Owens and Tom Ford. A-list models (especially the Victoria’s Secret variety) took to the catwalk—Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (who sat at our Moët Hennessy table), Alessandra Ambrosio, Lily Donaldson and Angela Lindvall, to name a very few. If this was a highlight, so too was the auctioning of the entire Gold Collection to South African businessman Patrice Motsepe and his wife, Precious.

When brought onstage, Motsepe (looking extremely stylish in a velvet embossed tuxedo jacket) seemed surprised. He looked out into the crowd and shrugged his shoulders sheepishly. I guess even Africa’s only black billionaire (who recently made headlines for donating half his fortune to charity) can be caught off guard by the awesome power of fashion and celebrity. He and his wife plan to exhibit the collection in Africa to inspire the continent’s emerging designers.

As for the amfAR Gala, when all was said and done, the evening had earned the Foundation for AIDS research a cool $25 million.