Cannes: amfAR's Annual Gala Hosts Fewer A-Listers, More Models in Down Year

Dominique Charriau/WireImage
Heidi Klum and Benicio Del Toro

The departures of Harvey Weinstein and Kenneth Cole led to a more low-key event.

For years, amfAR’s Cannes gala fundraiser has been one of the hottest tickets on the French Riviera during the iconic film festival. But as the organization faced a series of troubling stories during the past year over questionable fundraising practices involving disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein — investigations that led to the resignation of Kenneth Cole and other board members — many wondered if it would impact the 2018 event.

The short answer: Sort of.

Missing from the milestone 25th annual event, which was held at the famed Hotel Du Cap, were the A-list stars and longtime fans of the event such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Sharon Stone and, of course, Weinstein. The lack of major star power proved to be a buzzy subject at the party as guests scanned the room searching for big names. Cannes jury member Kristen Stewart walked the carpet but was not spotted at the party, and Pierce Brosnan was seen taking DiCaprio's traditional seat next to fundraising chief Milutin Gatsby. 

The gala still drew a long list of the world’s most famous models including Heidi Klum, Alessandra Ambrosio, Winnie Harlow, Elsa Hosk, Lais Robero, Barbara Palvin, Toni Garrn, Petra Nemcova and Karolina Kurkova, who partied alongside boldfaced names including Benicio Del Toro, Chris Tucker, Adrien Brody, Milla Jovovich, Anne Heche, Paris Hilton, Carine Roitfeld, Ruby Rose and Ellie Goulding. (By comparison, last year’s event drew Nicole Kidman, Will Smith, Jessica Chastain, Uma Thurman and David Beckham.)

The departures didn’t seem to affect the entertainment, however. The soiree boasted Ellie Goulding, Grace Jones, Sting, Shaggy and Jason Derulo as performers, and those who were in attendance were in full support of the organization.

"I think it can be good to have some freshness. We can't focus on the things that have been negative — we have to focus on the cause and how important it is and try to just move forward," said Mila Jovovich, a longtime supporter and co-host of the evening.

Heche made her first trip to Cannes and to an AmfAR event in honor of her late father, who died from AIDS. "It's part of the story of my whole life, and being here is quite a contrast to the pain in so many people's lives," said the actress. "I know the facts of [the Weinstein case], but it doesn't change the organization and the work they are doing to find a cure. A human being can't create fear, the fear is AIDS."

Jones, in a glittery red bowler hat and a gold veil, delivered a rousing, butt-slapping performance on the eve of her 70th birthday. Clips may surface on Instagram, but that’s not what Jones wanted. Despite her request that no one film her performance, cameras went up in the air almost immediately after she got onstage. "I love you amfAR! Let's not forget Elizabeth Taylor," Jones shouted as she wrapped her performance.

The lack of big Hollywood names allowed the fashion crowd to step in. Newly minted Louis Vuitton designer Virgil Abloh made a one-day trip from Paris in support of the event. Models Kurkova, Harlow and Palvin strutted to Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," Chaka Kahn's "I'm Every Woman" and Beyonce's "Run the World," while Lara Stone gave passing walkers high fives and chided bystanders for not getting into the groove. It went with this year's theme of "And Woman Created All" and kept the mood high. 

The auction saw some priceless pieces make their way to the block, including a prized Palme d'Or, which sold for €220,000 ($260,000) to South African mining billionaire Patrice Motsepe. Chopard president Caroline Scheufele, who auctioned it off as the first item of the night, reminded the crowd her company makes the trophy with fair-mined gold. Scheufele said she was auctioning it off with the support of the film festival for a good cause.

The charity has raised $210 million for AIDS research over the years, and the auction always delivers big ticket items and competitive bidding by wealthy European attendees. Thursday night was no different. A Bentley went for $944,000, while a collection of dresses from designers such as Chanel, Giambattista Valli, Missoni and Louis Vuitton went for a cool $1.9 million after the models offered up kisses to the highest bidder.

A painting of Bob Dylan by Brosnan went for $1.4 million in a heated bidding war, while an Ai Wei Wei sculpture went for $649,000. A private party with Hilton went for $236,000. A trip to the Perrier-Jouet Maison Belle Epoque in France's champagne region sold for $94,000. 

Jovovich, who won a trio of metal balls at a past auction, told The Hollywood Reporter that they are still sitting in her garage. "I don't have space for them," she said, joking: "But maybe one of these days I'll crush those balls."