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The Charity Ball Game

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The Architect David Monn at work on a topiary orb, moments before discovering that it might disrupt an unlucky guest’s “sight line.”  

The invites work like this: Once the theme of the event is decided, Wintour starts thinking about the committees. Getting on a committee is an honorary badge of fabulousness, at least as sized up by the unforgiving eye of Anna Wintour. “Of course it’s a privilege,” says Lauren Davis, one of this year’s dance chairs. “It’s the most glamorous event of the year.”

Wintour doesn’t like the list of names to be a foregone conclusion. In order to keep things vital, she makes changes. If you’ve got a new movie, a new album, or you’re starring on Broadway, you just may make the cut. If you’re a longtime patron of Chanel with a closet full of six-figure suits, you’re also probably in. Probably.

The benefit committee is not so much a list of who will be at the party as a name-check of who’s really popular in America. It includes everyone from Katie Couric and Madonna to Harvey Weinstein and Renée Zellweger. Oprah Winfrey’s name shows up, as does Diana Taylor’s. Drew Barrymore is on the list, and so are the Clintons and a couple formally listed as TT.SS.HH. the Prince and Princess D’Arenberg.

Vogue staffers begin compiling their celebrity wish lists in September. The lists then go to Wintour, who delivers the final yes or no. Vogue then invites the celebrities, and farms them out either to their own tables or to the tables of the corporate guests, most of whom are big advertisers in Vogue.

With a reluctant celebrity, Anna herself will put in a few calls. And who can say no?

“A designer will call and say, ‘We’re looking for X, Y, Z to fill out the table,’ ” says Wolkoff. “If it’s someone that’s appropriate for that table, we will first call the agency and say, ‘How do you feel about this?’ and then the celebrity will be asked.”

Tables cost up to $150,000—and they’re sold out.

Designers have to do their own wrangling, too. Particularly hot this year, for example, is L’Wren Scott, a previously B-list L.A. stylist who’s quite publicly become the lover of Mick Jagger. Designers are frenzied about inviting her, even though she’s being coy about whether she’ll bring a date.

Some designers are lucky enough to have established “close personal” best-friendships (or advertising deals) with certain stars, so whom they’ll bring is a foregone conclusion. Marc Jacobs has often brought Sofia Coppola. (This year, Coppola is shooting and can’t get away. His substitute? Marilyn Manson.)

Up for grabs are Richard Gere, Naomi Watts, Usher, and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots—who is not terribly likely to be in high demand. Teen Vogue is said to have pulled in a particularly glittering bunch that includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Li’l Kim, Lindsay Lohan, Claire Danes, Nicole Richie, and both Olsens.

Then comes the hard part: the seating. Wolkoff considers not only who each guest is next to but also who is behind him or her. Last year, for example, Wolkoff dealt with the fact that Jennifer Lopez and Mark Anthony were not yet “out” as a couple by placing them back-to-back so they could whisper over their shoulders.

Another consideration is the sight line. A Vogue advertiser with a B-lister at his table might nevertheless have a carefully considered and unobstructed view of Nicole Kidman’s clavicle. “I mean, I didn’t know any of this before Anna taught me,” Wolkoff says.

At press time, it looked like Anna Wintour’s table might seat Tom Ford and Miuccia Prada, Andre 3000, and Jimmy Fallon. Liev Schreiber could compliment Natasha Richardson on her Vera Wang dress, while her husband, Liam Neeson, makes conversation with Vogue contributor Miranda Brooks.


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