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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Facts of Life Ball

Kendall Herbst goes behind-the-scenes of the world's most festive cause célèbre...

An eclectic, electric mix of personalities, from red-carpet regulars Sharon Stone and Kim Cattrall to the flamboyant fringe of the fashion world, converged on Vienna this past Saturday for the 16th annual Life Ball. Having never been, I jumped at the chance to take a chartered plane from New York to the Austrian capital with a posse of celebs and press, joining thousands of others from all over the world. Our mission was the same: to raise money and awareness for the HIV/AIDS benefit—and have a few shiggles while doing it.

Agent Provocateur's Joe Corre, Linda Evangelista

Many others donated their time, like make-up artist Billy B., responsible for glossing, rouging and blotting over 170 models in an Agent Provocateur lingerie fashion show (with a little help from his team). I chatted with him as he applied fire-engine lipstick to Lily Cole, who skipped the resort shows to be here. "I had to decline last year," he lamented, "because I was working on Pink's I'm Not Dead project. I really regretted that. So I emailed the right people this year, saying I would just come along to help however I could. And they ended up putting me in charge of the whole show's make-up. The inspiration is Helmut's Newton's girls. It's very hard, very graphic, almost militant. What's sexier than that?" Cole chimed in from the make-up chair, black quilted Chanel bag strewn at her feet. "It's my first Life Ball. I decided to come because it's a good cause." What would she wear down the runway? "Oh, a big sack dress," she deadpanned, before taking a Q-tip from Billy B. and fixing her own lips. "No, no, it's Agent Provocateur, of course, so I'm in a black corset thing."

Later, Sharon Stone opened the ceremony with an emotional speech, imploring the audience to fight homophobia on all fronts. "It matters if you stand up for your friend, your co-worker; it matters if you stand up for yourself," she commanded. When the applause died down, thigh-highed models pounded the runway dressed as bikers, street-walkers and other assorted dominatrices. At one point, Amanda Lepore descended from the ceiling, singing the official Life Ball song, The Life. "I love to sing," she said, "but it's a little hard because you have to remember the lyrics."

Backstage, rapper Eve cooed, "Lingerie just makes you feel good. Even if you're in sweats, if you have a cute bra or thong on underneath, you're like damn." Nearby, Lydia Hearst slipped into her outfit for the show: a wide-brimmed hat, a long blonde wig, black lacy underwear and pasties. "It's a little cold," she confessed, "But if I didn't like what I was doing, what would be the point?"

In good news for fans of sequins and glitter, I later caught up with Heatherette designer Traver Rains, who dispelled the rumors of a creative breakup with Richie Rich. "Not true, just media gossip," he sighed, adjusting his omnipresent cowboy hat. "What can you do?"

Party-goers were still filtering out at 5:30. "Best party ever!" shouted one tipsy reveler before stumbling headfirst into a bush. As his friends picked him up, he sputtered, "I'm drunk on champagne and good vibes." And so it was: good vibes, heartfelt volunteer efforts and record-setting contributions (netting the largest total to date: €1.4 million) proved once again what a ball life can be.

Lydia Hearst


Markus Schenkenberg & partiers

Terence Koh

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