By
with contributions from Ellen Sheng
 on March 15, 2015
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Until recently, Hong Kong didn’t have a great deal of star appeal but a changing of the guard seems to be taking place. A bevy of celebrities touched down in the city this weekend for the first amfAR gala coinciding with the latest edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong. “I think culturally the city has ripened. It’s full of energy and creativity. It’s so international,” said fashion designer Vivienne Tam. “Having amfAR here during Art Basel creates even more excitement.”

On Saturday evening, an entourage of VIPs in limousines pulled up at Shaw Studios in the far-flung New Territories for the AIDS research fundraiser. Joining honorary chair Gwyneth Paltrow were about 700 guests including international and local heavyweights. Paltrow, who was dressed in an elegant navy gown, was met with applause when she introduced the event as “long overdue.”

This story first appeared in the March 17, 2015 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Paltrow, along with co-chairs Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell all wore Marc Jacobs. “Marc was one of the first designers to ever book me in 1987,” cooed Campbell, wearing a backless burgundy number with nailhead details. “He’s also been someone who’s been a supporter of amfAR I think since it started. Even though he’s not here tonight, he’s here in spirit.”

The woman of the hour was “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” actress Michelle Yeoh who was honored for her efforts in the fight against AIDS. Also in attendance was co-chair Victoria Beckham who wore a minimalist, high-neck white dress, socialite Paris Hilton who arrived in a black gown with skin-baring cut-outs and Wendi Deng Murdoch in a fitted fuchsia Calvin Klein dress. From the art contingent was megadealer Larry Gagosian, American photographer Alex Prager and Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos. Big names from Asia included event chair Pansy Ho, model Du Juan, actress Carina Lau, entrepreneur David Tang and collector Budi Tek.

Asked why the organization decided to host a gala in Hong Kong, amfAR chairman Kenneth Cole stressed that Asia has long been at the forefront of the organization’s agenda. “The whole community just committed to opening their hearts, arms and wallets so we had this comfort level here,” he said. “The night’s been beyond anything we even hoped for. It’s just amazing.”

Campbell echoed a similar sentiment emphasizing her ties with the region. “I’ve been to Hong Kong many times and I like the city. You know my grandma is half Chinese. I feel comfortable here,” she said. “With HIV, we don’t read about it everyday in the news but it’s important that we keep people aware…The more countries it goes to the better.”

Dressed in a black sequined tulle gown with cigarette in hand, Moss fluttered around the room between speeches. At one point she pulled up a chair at Campbell’s table where they posed for a selfie before Paris Hilton sauntered over. Soon, one of their table members arrived with his own bottle of Grey Goose and began pouring vodka into wine glasses.

It wasn’t long before the vivacious auctioneer Simon de Pury caught everyone’s attention with an energetic auction. The star lot that sparked a bidding war was a surprise donation from Leonardo Di Caprio. He offered up a table at his benefit event in St. Tropez this July as well as an invitation to his yacht the next day. While only one space was available, demand was so high that de Pury extended the offer to three additional individuals raking in a total of $1 million. Moss later bit her lip in anticipation as a Mr. Brainwash portrait of herself arrived on the auction block. She offered to autograph the work, which sold for $130,000.

Nearing midnight magpie Robin Thicke got the party started when he belted out a few cover songs before closing with the controversial “Blurred lines.” Revelers then headed into another soundstage for the after party where a DJ called upon “Phat Moss” aka Kate Moss to join him at the decks. In total the event raised more than $4 million.

The marathon of parties began much earlier in the week for the art set, which culminated in Art Basel in Hong Kong’s private view on Friday evening. Big-ticket collectors swarmed the fair snatching up works from blue chip artists ranging from Yayoi Kusama to Zao-Wou Ki. It wasn’t long before thirsty guests filtered into the Davidoff cocktail reception at the Grand Hyatt poolside. Many were eager to catch the racy show by burlesque star Dita von Teese. Despite the chilly weather, the scene looked like something out of a Miami club with guests packed cheek-to-jowl sipping on colorful Andy Warhol themed cocktails and smoking cigars under palm trees.

Von Teese was thrilled to be in town for the first time for the art fair. “I’m a girl from a farming town in Michigan so it’s really exciting for me to have an opportunity to perform here,” she said coyly before stripping down into silver tassel pasties and a bejeweled thong. Audiences were rapt as she frolicked inside a large liquid-filled martini glass in one of her iconic performances.

Meanwhile in another part of town, art world insiders flocked to the fortress-like Asia Society for Georg Jensen’s annual dinner co-hosted by Deng Murdoch, an investor in online start-up Artsy along with Weng Ling, David Chu and Wan Jie. The event celebrated the launch of Arts China Union, a platform that aims to create social change through art. “I love Hong Kong. I have many friends here,” said Deng Murdoch clad in Prada. “I went to the openings yesterday but everything was sold! I love that I can see some interesting young artists.”

On Saturday, Susan Sarandon made an appearance at Art Basel in Hong Kong. Mobbed by photographers, Sarandon gave a talk on her life and work in the Swire VIP lounge organized by cultural brand Liberatum. “This feels kind of like a performance art piece. I have to say it’s a first for me. Maybe at some point we can all get up and do a choreographed dance?” joked the actress glancing at the flashing cameras and gawking passersby. Others spotted at the fair over the weekend included Paltrow, Von Teese, Deng Murdoch and Tommy Hilfiger.

Later that day, the city’s harborfront became a hive of activity with the opening of a new satellite fair Art Central housed in a large tent and Marni’s temporary rooftop market at Central Piers. Hot on the heels of the Milan event, the market is part of its worldwide 20th anniversary celebrations, Marni Prisma.“We wanted to hold it during Art Basel because of the link with art,” said Marni founder and designer Consuelo Castiglioni, who planned to pop into the fair the next day.

The marketplace, which was set up as a charity effort, featured an art installation by Italian artist Massimo Bartolini and fun wares including flowers wrapped in printed paper and quirky animal sculptures. Castiglioni said the event expressed the brand’s joie de vivre.

The fashion festivities continued on Sunday with artistic director for Diesel Nicola Formichetti’s installation being unveiled at PMQ, a design hub in Central. An ambassador for the Pepsi Challenge, he made the work titled “AO dress” out of repurposed Pepsi bottles and lights. Formichetti who couldn’t make it for the opening due to commitments in Milan said, “I truly wish I could be there. I definitely see the city becoming an important fashion and art destination. Word on the street is that Hong Kong is the new Miami!”

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