Life Ball Vienna 2013

Fashion and fiesta for charity draws the likes of Roberto Cavalli, Elton John, Fergie and Bill Clinton

The Rathaus, a Viennese government building, served as a spectacular backdrop for the Life Ball's events
The Rathaus, a Viennese government building, served as a spectacular backdrop for the Life Ball’s events

A bare-chested man smeared in blue paint saunters by in a genie outfit, while a woman to his left tries to keep her three-foot-tall headdress balanced as she spots herself on the Jumbotron. I’m bemusedly watching a pair tottering close behind her in sky-high stilettos and light-up costumes when my friend points at a simply tuxedoed man and exclaims, “That’s Adam Lambert!”

You know you’re at the costume party of the year when American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert looks tame—and indeed, the Life Ball is a gala of decidedly ostentatious costuming. A little over a week ago, I joined a throng of over 45,000 people in Vienna, Austria to watch the spectacle that surrounds the Life Ball, Europe’s largest AIDS-related charity event. Though the Life Ball’s official purpose is to raise funds and awareness for people living with HIV and AIDS, the event more closely resembles a hybrid of Halloween and a prom after-party on steroids than it does a somber memorial service.

The crowds begin to gather prior to the magenta carpet costume spectacle
The crowds begin to gather prior to the magenta carpet costume spectacle

This year’s theme was 1,001 [Arabian] Nights, and the event began with high-paying attendees strutting their outlandishly-outfitted selves down the magenta carpet. This was followed by numerous musical performances headlined by Adam Lambert and Azealia Banks. Next came the most substantial AIDS-related content, delivered in numerous mini speeches by celebrities including Barbara Eden in her “I Dream of Jeannie” outfit, a very pregnant Fergie, and former President Bill Clinton. Hilary Swank presented awards to three noteworthy NGOs in a classy minidress, and Elton John gave the best soundbite of the night, talking about loving outcasted AIDS sufferers.

For mere onlookers, the evening ended with a fashion show by Roberto Cavalli, featuring an array of 80 dresses including everything from decades-old pieces to items from his latest collection. Celebrity models like Karolina Kurkova and Carmen Electra starred in the show, and Cavalli himself appeared at the end in his signature shades. For the true partygoers, the Ball itself—complete with dancing, a voguing competition judged by Kelly Osbourne and the designers behind DSquared, and more celebrity performances—had just begun.

With all the dazzling costumes, performances, and elaborate pageantry, the 2013 Life Ball made for an evening to remember both for formal attendees and spectating riffraff like myself. Despite the often hypersexualized outfits of the attendees, I love the idea of using fun and fashion to raise money for charity—I can only hope that amidst the Ball’s revelry every year, the cause that motivated it in the first place will remain at the forefront of the celebration.

Check out the Telegraph’s selection of Life Ball photos here to get a better sense of the evening’s atmosphere.

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