How Altered Lady, a blonde woman in her 50s with a rocking body in a black sequined dress, wound up at our table, we never found out, though it was clear, as my colleague Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair points out, that she’d “enjoyed a glass or six of the free-flowing Moët champagne at the cocktail party.” Fabulous metal gloves covered her wrists, but a gray or black ribbon bracelet each amfAR guest gets upon entry was not visible. Other oddities emerged. She introduced herself as a producer, though everyone at the table was supposed to be press, and we were a chair short when a late-arriving reporter showed up to claim his seat. Altered Lady was unmoved by his plight, but did grab a waitress’s shirt, pull her in close, and demand more Champagne.
The night before Altered Lady’s arrival had been, dare I say, amfAR as usual: beautiful people in beautiful dresses floating along the beautiful grounds of the Hôtel du Cap at sunset. A brief rainstorm had forced Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman to huddle indoors in her embroidered maroon gown, not far from where Tom Bernard of Sony Pictures Classics — avowed and outspoken rival to Chapman’s husband, Harvey Weinstein — was grabbing a drink in khakis and a sweater; he’d been sealing up details with producer Brett Ratner for a movie about the Dan Rather scandal, starring Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett, but was skipping the gala in favor of any charity event that isn’t chaired by Weinstein. On the du Cap’s grand walkway that leads to the sea, a phalanx of photographers exhorted Kendall Jenner to twirl so her plum gown billowed in the wind, while Cannes Film Festival jury president Ethan Coen and jury member Jake Gyllenhaal appeared to be absorbed in a passionate discussion about cinema before funneling into a gargantuan tent on the grounds of the du Cap for an auction to benefit AIDS research, where one dare not raise one’s hand, or wind up a couple million dollars poorer.
The evening’s program opened with a performance by Charli XCX that left Altered Lady unmoved. But such was not the case moments later when Chris Tucker got onstage to auction off a private concert with Andrea Bocelli. “You will have dinner with him in Los Angeles or Florence with 11 of your best friends, and you name any song and he’ll sing it!” screamed auctioneer Simon de Pury, swiftly selling a pair of such concerts for 1 million euros a piece. Then Bocelli took the stage to sing “Con Te Partirò.” Altered Lady began to moan. Loudly. She may have even orgasmed on the spot. “I saw him when he wasn’t famous in Germany!” she gasped, trembling, her hand over her heart. “You’ll sing along with me?” Bocelli asked the crowd. “Yes!” screamed Altered Lady, her hands outstretched. Then she started weeping.
I lost track of Altered Lady for a while, during a Carine Roitfeld–curated black-and-white fashion show featuring 40 outfits designed by everyone from Tom Ford to Alexander McQueen. As the models walked the runway, Roitfeld danced on the side and gave each a high five. She’d spent six months picking the clothes, she said later. “It was amazing! The girls did so good. And they came from all over the world for this.” Alas, the auctioneering team of Eva Longoria and Tom Ford couldn’t get the bids for the entire collection to top 800,000 euros, even with Karlie Kloss, Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, Lara Stone, Jourdan Dunn, and Joan Smalls storming the stage to beg the audience for more, even offering to throw in dinner with any model onstage to sweeten the pot. “Guys, dinner with me is worth at least $25,” Kloss joked, but the bids stayed where they were.
Luckily, Mary J. Blige came on next to liven up the room. AmfAR “is about saving lives, and that’s what I’m all about,” she said, tearing down the house with “Family Affair,” and then walking offstage. “More Mary!” shouted Robin Thicke, who’d rushed to the front of the crowd. John C. Reilly was in the thick of things, too. “One song! One!” he said, shaking his head. “That’s gangsta. One and done.” (Reilly himself was the one A-lister we spotted dancing not in the VIP area, but among those of us with undesirable gray wristbands at the Mark Ronson–DJ’d after-party on the seaside deck of the du Cap. We raised our hands, and he raised his back in acknowledgment, even opening his dance circle so we could join in. Very gangsta, indeed.)
We learned so much in the next hour or so.
• Chris Tucker and Petra Nemcova are fantastic dancers. Tucker also knows his private jets; he joked that he’d hitched a ride home in a rich friend’s G-V jet, though, he said, “I shoulda asked for a 650. More room.”
• If you accidentally wave in the middle of an auction, Adrien Brody will hold you to it. “That cost 300,000 euros,” he said to a woman who was trying to get his attention.
• Andrea Bocelli is more popular than Bradley Cooper. A photo session by Cooper only went for 220,000 euros. Despite Simon de Pury promising, “You’re all alone with him, no assistants,” and Karolina Kurkova adding, “You’ll get to hug him and kiss him.”
• Bocelli is also more popular than Picasso: An original drawing from 1968 sold for 700,000 euros.
• Leonardo DiCaprio is, according to de Pury, “an amazing art collector who is building one of the best collections,” as well as “a formidable art lover [who] has a very great eye.” A Banksy from his personal collection sold for 1 million euros.
• But Leo himself is less popular than his art; a ticket to the annual benefit for his environmental foundation, followed by a dinner the next night with Leo on his yacht, went for 250,000 euros.
• Someone, somewhere had 12 million euros to burn on what may be the ugliest sculpture Jeff Koons has ever made.
• Eva Longoria, too, knows her art. She spent 550,000 euros for an Andy Warhol portrait of Liz Taylor.
It was all starting to get a little gaudy, and a bit far away from amfAR’s message of finding a cure for AIDS, and only Frances McDormand was willing to point that out. “I’m going to offer you something we haven’t seen tonight: a little bit of subtlety,” she said, auctioning off a work by Alexander Calder. She was followed by actress Alicia Vikander, who sold a weeklong retreat at a resort in the Maldives with these words: “We all need a little vacation after a week in Cannes.” Welcome to the one percent.
Altered Lady, who had been in and out all evening, seemed to have become more altered over the course of the night. She frequently leaned across my lap to speak to my colleague from Vanity Fair, as if I wasn’t there, while smoking a cigarette. She also called me disgusting for not engaging with her more in conversation. Though when I did turn her way during a lull in activity, she was asleep at the table. Whatever she was doing, however, was often way more entertaining than anything else happening in the room.
Around midnight, as the auction reached its fifth hour, Altered Lady disappeared once again. The official proceedings were almost done. Some 40 million euros had been raised for amfAR. Imagine Dragons, led by cute lead singer Dan Reynolds, with his hair in a man-bun and hot-pink leggings paired with black shorts and black knee-high socks, took the stage to say how honored they were to be there, how the worthiness of the cause made this mean so much more than just another show.
As he began to introduce his second song, though, he stopped and began to laugh. A giggling woman in a black sequined dress crept toward the microphone. Who was it? One guess. “I wanna see your fucking hands!” Altered Lady told the crowd. Reynolds gave her a warm hug and concurred: “I think you’d better clap your hands for this wonderful lady.” Altered Lady got even more excited. “Clap your hands!” she crowed. Reynolds gave her another hug and told her she had a beautiful dress. She collapsed into a fit of giggles. She’d come full circle from belligerence and unconsciousness to recognition and hugs. Everyone at our table couldn’t have been more proud.