The darlings of the fashion world — including usual suspects Heidi Klum, Paris Hilton and Naomi Campbell — mingled with supporters of AIDS research and HIV prevention on Wednesday evening at amfAR’s starry New York Gala, held at Cipriani Wall Street. The 17th annual event, which routinely kicks off New York Fashion Week by way of a black-tie dinner, live auction and show, honored actress Rosario Dawson, fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier and musician, actor and human rights activist Harry Belafonte — raising $2.2 million for the cause.
Under strands of dangling lights, fashion designer and chairman of the amfAR board Kenneth Cole introduced a spirited evening that featured awards presentations by Chris Rock, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and Whoopi Goldberg.
On the red carpet, Cole explained that the evening was critical to the organization’s success. “It’s a way for us to say thank you to the fashion industry. Tonight is a celebration of the extraordinary progress we have made… (Everybody) looks great, and at the end of the day, they know that they did great, and they know that they are part of something important.”
Shirley Bassey, who, at 78, appeared as brassy and bold as ever, belted her classic tune “Goldfinger,” along with “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Diamonds Are Forever” and an encore performance of “I Am What I Am.” Interspersed in the program was an auction hosted by lively art auctioneer and collector Simon de Pury.
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Following a humorous introduction by Chris Rock — in which the comedian joked that Dawson is “one of those rare actors who is both self-centered and a humanitarian” — the actress accepted her award. She spoke of her involvement with multiple groups, including Voto Latino, an organization that empowers and encourages American Latinos to vote, and Studio 189, an enterprise that seeks to provide a platform to help promote and curate African and African-inspired content.
Dedicating her award to her adopted uncle Frank, Dawson relayed how she has found much inspiration in her family member who has been living with HIV since 1984. “He has been living his life, and he prioritized his dream,” she said. “He is my hero, inspiring me to live my life to the fullest, because we may never know what’s around the corner.” Dawson also dedicated her award to her friend Chloe Dzubilo, an AIDS activist who passed away in 2011.
Lastly, she dedicated her award to her mother, Isabel Celeste, who was celebrating her birthday that evening, and whom she called the “love of my life.” Dawson declared: “She never shielded me from the ugly of the world. I’m so grateful for her, for her advocacy, for her activism, for her person, for her being (and) for her flawless, flawed self.” She fiercely drove home her conviction that “this disease is something that knows no boundaries — not children, not women, not men — and we need to act if we’re really going to get to that countdown for a cure.”
Wintour presented honoree Demarchelier with his award, calling out his confidence, warmth and creative energy. “His philanthropic efforts are wide-ranging, from donating studio time to benefit auctions to championing humanitarian causes across two continents. Patrick thrives on joy. It takes courage to say yes again and again, and we can all see how wonderfully his confidence has been borne out over time.” She added, “As Vogue’s photography director Ivan Shore says of his work, ‘It feels modern because it is timelessly classic.’” Demarchelier humbly accepted the honor, offering a simple “thank you” before exiting the stage.
The evening concluded with Goldberg expounding on honoree Belafonte’s tireless missions over the course of decades in the areas of civil rights and humanitarian aid.
Upon accepting, Belafonte spoke of his work with Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. He noted that, at the root of his involvement, was a desire to raise awareness surrounding HIV and AIDS — and a quest to dispel the stigma that it was primarily African Americans in the gay community who were spreading the disease.
Belafonte also recognized the activism work of his friend Rock Hudson, and he spoke fondly about Elizabeth Taylor, who was one of the original founders of amfAR in 1985. “I was seeking to find a greater truth than the myths were yielding,” he said. “Thanks to amfAR, and thanks to all my fellow workers at amfAR, (with) the work that they do day in and day out, we have made a difference. We have a new and enlightened global community; we are now on the threshold of breakthroughs that never existed before we stepped into the fray.”
Belafonte closed his speech by expressing that, much to his disbelief, he was just a few days away from turning 88, making this night all the more significant. “What tonight does for me, in deep personal terms, and (by) your presence here… is that it validates who I have been, and it validates the things that I have stood for.”
(Pictured: Naomi Campbell, Rosario Dawson, Marina Abramovic and Chris Rock at the amfAR gala.)