New York City Ballet Fall Gala
When Olivia Palermo sauntered down the red carpet at Lincoln Center a week ago, she seized the occasion, the gala opening of theNew York City Ballet, as a glittering photo op, a chance to shine in her multitiered Dior gown — and, oh, incidentally, to offer homage to Valentino Garavani, who stepped out of official retirement to create the costumes.
Her attendance lent Ms. Palermo, a social gadabout and former reality-television star, a welcome dose of culture cred, a debt she repaid by lending the evening a generous dollop of chic.
“This is my first gala,” Ms. Palermo murmured before sailing past banks of bellowing paparazzi and into the David H. Koch Theater.
She was preceded on a runway (ahem, a red carpet) that bisected the Plaza and cascaded to the street, by the stylish likes of Daphne Guinness, Julia Koch, the beauty entrepreneur Lauren Remington Platt, the runway star Karolina Kurkova and scores of emphatically youthful guests whose combined wattage easily eclipsed that of the social stalwarts who customarily form the backbone of such affairs.
“I’ve never in 20 years at the ballet walked a red carpet like this,” said Ms. Koch, who arrived on the arm of her husband.
Clearly this wasn’t, or was not exclusively, Great-Aunt Tessa’s ballet.
“There has long been a stigma attached to the ballet and the opera, that they’re stuffy organizations that just don’t appeal to a younger, cooler demographic,” Andrew Saffir said. Mr. Saffir, whose Cinema Society screenings routinely draw the young fashion and Hollywood crowd, was engaged by the board of the Metropolitan Opera to zsoosh up its guest list for its opening gala on Monday.
The anointed successor to Peggy Siegal, the high-powered celebrity wrangler, he was determined to let in some air. “It behooves us,” he said, “to attract a younger, more dynamic, name-driven crowd.”
Indeed, at a time when even the most august cultural institutions are being challenged by an ailing economy, some beset by union troubles, a program or guest list larded with the names of celebrity designers, runway models, pop stars, rockers and athletes, the younger the better, can be a powerful draw, one clearly intended to fatten company coffers and raise cachet.
For Sarah Jessica Parker, a member of the City Ballet board of trustees, turning dance into a must-attend event for Manhattan’s bright young things was something of a grail.
“I was always thinking about Anna Wintour and all that she did to raise funds for the Metropolitan Museum,” Ms. Parker said unabashedly. “In planning this event, I tried to think, What would Anna do?”
Her vision was fittingly grand. “I wanted to wrap Lincoln Center in red like Christo,” she said. When that proved unfeasible, she had the red carpet transferred from its formerly discreet position at the adjacent Koch theater, to center stage, a move intended to turn the evening into the autumn equivalent of the Met’s Costume Institute gala, the jewel of the spring social season.
Minus the red carpet, but rivaling the ballet for star power, the opera on Monday boasted as its chief attraction the charismatic soprano Anna Netrebko, who would perform Adina that night in the Donizetti opera “L’Elisir d’Amore.” So it was telling that when Ms. Netrebko, her opulent frame encased in a Zac Posen gown, whooshed past photographers, her arrival was nearly overshadowed by Mr. Posen himself and his highly lacquered armpieces, the models Erin O’Connor and Crystal Renn.
Such aggregate star power turned both events, which traditionally usher in the fall social season, into unabashed style fests, proof positive that, in this town at least, high culture has attained the kind of sizzle that more commonly heats up Hollywood awards extravaganzas or the Fashion Week tents.
“It’s not just a ballet, it’s a great celebration and quite a fashion event,” the artist Anh Duong said, as she glided into the Koch theater in a dusky number by Giambattista Valli.
At the Met on Monday, the pop singer Sia, showing off a brazenly blond variation on Ms. Wintour’s signature bob, took in the scene with a mingled irony and awe.
“Oh, my God,” she drawled, “I’m just going to basically squat on the floor and watch it all file past. I want to cop all the plastic surgery, and all the best dresses.”
She certainly got an eyeful. Courtney Love, the club impresario Amy Sacco, the Knicks star Amar’e Stoudemire, Patti Smith and the actress Maggie Grace, her features partly concealed by a fascinator, were among those who dressed to thrill.
But that, after all, was the point. “Fashion at these events,” Mr. Saffir said, “is a very important element. It brings allure and sex appeal.”
Fashion also plays a role in lending such otherwise intimidating cultural events a degree of mass appeal. When it comes to raising awareness, Ms. Parker remarked, “fashion tends to be easier for people to hook into.”
Such observations are not lost on the administration of the Metropolitan Opera. Its opening gala last spring was sponsored by Yves Saint Laurent. Such names lend clout and the kind of excitement that brings in ticket buyers. “It ensures that a generation of future moguls will be giving us donations in years to come,” said Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met.
Of the company’s $340 million annual operating budget, Mr. Gelb said that more than half is covered through donations, a significant portion from corporate sponsors (among them, Rolex and Jaguar), which helped to underwrite the Monday night festivities. Securing future alliances with other luxury brands “can’t hurt,” he said. “The fashion sector would certainly add cachet,” he added, and by extension, a welcome influx of cash.
The evening drew 1,200 guests and raised $6.2 million, a spokeswoman for the company said.
Additionally, sometimes controversially, Mr. Gelb has sought to dust off the opera’s crusty image by updating the repertory and signing new stars. He has wooed a wider public with movie-theater screenings. (The Monday night opera performance was shown simultaneously on giant screens at Lincoln Center and in Times Square.)
Still, in a star-struck society, such efforts scarcely compete with a celebrity-paved red carpet. At the City Ballet this spring the choreographers Peter Martins and Benjamin Millepied enlisted designers like Gilles Mendel and Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the designing sisters of Rodarte, to create costumes. A year ago, the company collaborated with Sir Paul McCartney on a performance choreographed by Peter Martins, the company’s ballet master. Stella McCartney designed the costumes for the event, which raised $4 million.
Mr. Garavani received no fee for his designs, a spokesman for the ballet company said. In exchange for his services, he demanded a degree of artistic control, stipulating, Ms. Parker said, that he create the costumes for three of the pieces performed, a departure for the company. Nor was he paid to pull his weight in other ways. With Giancarlo Giammetti, a co-chairman with Ms. Parker (and Maria Bartiromo and Pamela Joyner) and the designer’s business partner, he purchased several tables for the event and persuaded others to buy, at $150,000 each.
As expected, Mr. Garavani drew a bevy of loyalists, glamorinas who dressed in his signature red. Tamara Mellon wore crimson in his honor, as did the model Jessica Hart, who arrived on the arm of the shipping heir Stavros Niarchos. Ms. Platt complied with the unstated dress code, turning out in a lipstick red Valentino jumpsuit. “I knew everyone would be coming in huge ball gowns,” she offered, “so I wanted to change things up.”
Peacocking on the carpet before her handlers spirited her away, Anne Hathaway, another star attraction and Mr. Garavani’s dinner partner, eschewed the requisite scarlet for an autumnal floral by the couturier. Zani Gugelmann, the jewelry designer and raven-maned girl about town, chose buttercup lace (“Valentino, of course,” she announced).
The spectacle that poured $3 million into the company’s coffers, a jump of $1 million over projected earnings for the night. Those donations, along with revenues from the spring gala in May, accounted for some 20 percent of the company’s annual contributed income, a company spokesman said.
Such impressive contributions ought to have been reward enough, but Ms. Parker remains intent on spreading the high-culture gospel. Many of the guests last week had never attended a ballet performance, much less an opening night. For some, like Amy Sedaris, Ms. Parker’s dinner partner, it was an eye opener, literally. “I can’t believe what I’ve seen,” several rushed to tell her afterward. “I can’t wait to come back.”
All good. Certainly Ms. Parker could be forgiven for injecting a mild note of self congratulation. “Aha,” she recalled musing on hearing such enthusiasm. “I’m on to something here. ”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 7, 2012
An article last Sunday about efforts by the New York City Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera to attract a younger audience misstated the amount raised by the ballet’s fall gala. It was $4 million, not $250 million. The article also misspelled the surname of a publicist used by the opera to attract celebrities to its opening nights. She is Peggy Siegal, not Siegel. And the article misidentified the people who enlisted the designers Gilles Mendel and Kate and Laura Mulleavy to create ballet costumes. The decision was made by the choreographers Peter Martins (with Mr. Mendel) and Benjamin Millepied (with the Mulleavys), not Sarah Jessica Parker and other ballet board members.
A version of this article appeared in print on September 30, 2012, on page ST1 of the New York edition with the headline: Going Hollywood.
By Ruth La Ferla
September 28, 2012