For a young designer, the ball can have a kind of Cinderella effect—come as a commoner, leave as a princess. This is what happened to Behnaz Sarafpour, who is a particular favorite of Wintour’s. When she first attended two years ago, she dressed Selma Blair in a signature gold-and-white tulle dress. It turned out to be one of the evening’s most photographed dresses. “She stepped out of the car, literally one foot out of the limo, and I could hear the photographers screaming like it was the Super Bowl or something,” Sarafpour recalls. “I’ve never witnessed anything like that in my life.” It took them half an hour just to make it up the museum steps (Sarafpour timed it). She got calls about the dress for a year, and it eventually wound up in an exhibit on Hollywood glamour at FIT.
To facilitate such moments, Talley serves as a kind of fashion consigliere. This year he helped fit Fifth Avenue socialite Patricia Altschul into a Chanel from the exclusive Los Angeles vintage shop Lily et Cie. “It’s the most extraordinary, fabulous, incredible dress, from Karl Lagerfeld’s second collection, when he went to Chanel in 1983,” Talley says. “It cost a fortune, and Pat came to the Duke Diet & Fitness Center”—where Talley himself was a recent client (he lost 28 pounds)—“and she lost five pounds, and went back to California and tried the dress on, and it fits perfectly. She has gone to that length to be dressed properly for the evening.”
In his role as de facto host and style adviser, Talley accompanies Anna Wintour and her daughter, Bee, to fittings (Chanel for the senior; Rochas for the junior) and traditionally walks them up the steps at the Met. This year he reserved an Alexander McQueen gown for Melania Trump (Trump insists that she found the dress first, but why quibble?) and counseled Andre 3000. “Tom Ford suggested he call me, and I suggested to him a diamond bow tie, from Fred Leighton, with real diamonds from the twenties. I wanted to wear it, but I said I would let him wear it if he wanted to, because I have so much respect for his music.” (In the end, neither will be wearing that much bling. At least not around their necks.)
In the eyes of many at Vogue, the most dangerous of last year’s liaisons was with the riffraff that invaded after dinner. The dance, according to Wintour, had “lost its glamour.” Wolkoff translates: “People weren’t dressing.”
In the words of socialite Celerie Kemble, it was a real “ratfuck.” And when the unwashed flowed in (one guest had interpreted the “Dangerous Liaisons” theme to mean a giant, conical Vietnamese peasant hat), the famous and rich and beautiful called their limos and went home.
The solution—sometimes party planning is a lot like rocket science—was to pick the six richest, prettiest girls in New York and appoint them dance chairs. Choosing the six—a Trump, a Safra—was simple enough.
“They’re the girls!” says Wolkoff, shrugging. “They love fashion, they love events.”
And they each had a number of friends—under the age of 32—willing to shell out $400 a ticket. There’s even a waiting list.
“The only people who have said no are out of town,” says Lauren Davis. “My phone has been ringing off the hook. Everyone wants to know what to wear. I’m just saying something Chanel, or something fabulous.”