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“It’s royalty here,” boomed an attractive young man as he went in to kiss Sir Elton John on the cheek and congratulate him on the turnout at “Enduring Vision,” a benefit for the Elton John AIDS Foundation at Cipriani Wall Street on Wednesday night. “Royalty!”

Indeed it was. Karolina Kurkova arrived in Valentino and Danielle Steel swept in wearing a dramatic Alexander McQueen. There were enough fashion designers to pack a CFDA gala, including Valentino himself, who guests said left because his seat was too close to the door. (The designer couldn’t be reached for comment.)

No such drama from Karl Lagerfeld, who accessorized his skin-tight black suit and fingerless gloves with a jeweled American flag belt from Chrome Hearts. “I’m told it’s the most expensive piece in their store,” he said. “It makes me feel at home in America.”

He was sitting at Sir Elton’s table with Lily Safra, Tom Ford and Richard Buckley, Evelyn Lauder, Interview’s Ingrid Sischy and Bette Midler. Coughing up $150,000 in an auction held after dinner, Midler was the winning bidder for a five-day stay at Sir Elton’s mansion in Nice, France.

Then, around 10 p.m., the man of the hour took to the stage in tinted purple sunglasses and a Yohji Yamamoto tuxedo with a naked mermaid painted across the back.

“He has his own style,” justified Kenneth Cole. “He truly plays to his own music.”

And play he did. By the time he got to “Your Song,” his dinner companions had turned into an amateur chorus. Led by Lagerfeld, they had taken the candles from the seating arrangement and were waving them in the wind.

Others in the crowd included Stefano Pilati, Francisco Costa, Tommy Hilfiger, Tory Burch, Sophie Dahl, Ivana Trump and Jade Jagger.

This story first appeared in the November 4, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

But there was no after party. When his set ended, Sir Elton hopped on a plane and went back to his home in Atlanta. As he put it to one of the guests, “I’m working tomorrow. I’m working so hard my ass is coming off.”

It’s clearly paying off, though. The total raised for the charity was $2.75 million.

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