For the past five years, Bottega Veneta has partnered with L.A.’s Hammer Museum to put on the art institution’s star-studded annual benefit. This year’s fête, called Gala in the Garden, took place on Saturday and celebrated the talents of legendary writer Hilton Als and powerhouse filmmaker Ava DuVernay.
During cocktail hour (it was two hours, to be precise) guests like Jane Lynch were seen perusing the museum’s current exhibition, a survey of artists entitled “Radical Women: Latin American Art 1960–1985,” while the Haim sisters, who performed at the gala, congregated by the open bar. Priyanka Chopra swept in, a vision in paillettes and a silk trench coat, posing for photos with fellow actress and Bottega-wearer January Jones, while other celebrity guests (Emmy Rossum, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Jessica Chastain, to name just a few) swanned around in fetching metallic numbers from the brand. Diane Keaton, for her part, aced gala dressing in a layered turtleneck ensemble, topped off with a jaunty hat.
But the evening wasn’t all air kisses and passed hors d’oeuvres. Once ushered to their seats in the museum’s courtyard (hence the evening’s “garden” title), guests were treated to appearances and speeches by a series of cultural heavy hitters. The Argonauts author Maggie Nelson introduced Hilton Als, who, in lieu of a speech, enraptured the audience with a short story (a “contemporary fairy tale,” he called it) to a standing ovation. “What is history,” he asked, “except people stuffing shit into other people’s mouths?”
Director J.J. Abrams then gave Ava DuVernay a glowing introduction: “Ava eats barriers for breakfast,” he declared, praising DuVernay’s support of other female directors and her quest for “more equity and access.” DuVernay wore a gold Bottega Veneta gown and a grapefruit-size cocktail ring. “I have to give it back tomorrow,” she jokingly lamented to the Cut.
“I choose to center on what is so often in the margins — women,” DuVernay said in her address. “Tonight I want to switch it up and I’m going to talk about men.” In a moment when Hollywood is rocked by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which has blown the lid off the industry’s entrenched culture of predation, the director instead focused on what she called “the good guys.” She cited four men — her father, Abrams, Jim Whitaker (who’s producing DuVernay’s forthcoming film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time), and Ford Foundation president Darren Walker — as a few examples of the kind of men others should look up to. “It’s not easy walking into a boys’ club,” DuVernay said. “Sometimes it takes one boy … to say ‘come sit with us.’”
When asked between the dinner course (devil’s chicken with potatoes and braised leeks) and dessert (nectarine très leches cake with dulce de leche) what she would most like to change about Hollywood, DuVernay had her answer at the ready: “Racism sexism and homophobia,” she said in one breath.
DuVernay also recalled her first Hollywood memory of growing up watching actors rehearse for the Academy Awards, with her late aunt. “For four years we would go down the Saturday before the Sunday show at the Shrine. I saw Cher, I thought, I saw Cher, my life is made! To see all the stars go in and get autographs back then felt like quintessential magic,” she said.
Als shared a similarly nostalgic anecdote about his first impressions of the film business: “My first Hollywood memory is Gone With the Wind, and the way the camera tracks toward Vivien Leigh when she said her first line.
I never understood that you could make an image and words move at the same time; I was really amazed.”
Bottega Veneta designer and gala benefactor Tomas Maier had a slightly less glamorous (and quite unexpected) response to the question. “I think my first-ever trip to America I went to L.A., and went to Hollywood and shopped at the Goodwill,” he said. What did he buy? “Fabulous stuff,” he answered. Naturally.