Tender is the Night. May 2013.

Dear Rowley,

The Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc has been the mise-en-scène for the most enchanted evenings in the history of the Cannes Film Festival and none more so than amfAR’s 20th anniversary gala. The promenade that slopes from the hotel’s perch on an Antibes hillside to the Eden Roc pavilion touching the Mediterranean sea is haunted by legendary lovers Rita Hayworth and Aly Khan and Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton who honeymooned here. F. Scott Fitzgerald immortalised the Hôtel du Cap in Tender is the Night and Picasso drew inspiration from summers in residence at this pale, palatial Napoleon III chateau.

The Hôtel reminded me of George Bernard Shaw’s quip about San Simeon: ‘the kind of place God would have built if he’d had the money’. You would have to have a heart of stone or a face full of Botox not to beam with pleasure on first stepping out on the Hôtel du Cap terrace. 900 guests in full evening dress posed out on the promenade overlooking the azure coastline sipping champagne and smoking the occasional illicit cigarette as if invited to cocktails by Sott and Zelda almost a century ago.

Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of Fitzgerald’s elegiac jazz novel The Great Gatsby opened the 66th Cannes Film Festival. His leading man Leonardo DiCaprio was amfAR’s star guest who prowled the hotel’s tropical gardens in an immaculate tuxedo like a latter day Gary Cooper. In a haze of late summer sunshine and Moët & Chandon, the stars seemed like a mirage of Hollywood past. Dita von Teese was the image of 50s Elizabeth Taylor in a black velvet Ulyana Sergeenko cocktail dress. Jessica Chastain peered from underneath a cascade of titian hair like Rita Hayworth as Gilda and the peerlessly elegant Marchesa-clad Nicole Kidman was still in character as Grace Kelly whom she plays in an upcoming biopic.

I’ve already swooned over Goldie Hawn – as effervescent as an echo of Marion Davies – and de facto hostess of the evening Sharon Stone who is born to play Mae West when Luhrmann turns his talents to her story. Couldn’t take my eyes off Miss Stone all evening. She vamped it, camped it and defied her 55-years with an ‘I’m Still Here’ sashay that was regal, sexy and superb. The theme for this year’s amfAR gala was of course gold and Miss Stone nailed it in white bias cut Cavalli with a gilded serpent snaking its way down her backless gown and sinuous rose gold and diamond de Grisogono chandelier earrings.

Giovanna Battaglia won best in show wearing a floor-length Schiaparelli pink kaftan cinched at the neck with a gold Bulgari collar with upswept hair decorated by a cornet of gold roses. Battaglia was reminiscent of Cannes legend the Begum Aga Khan as played by Merle Oberon. Unbeknown to the guests, Battaglia would later execute a quick change to walk in the Ultimate Gold Collection Fashion Show curated by über stylist Carine Roitfeld as the centrepiece of amfAR’s now legendary auction with Sharon Stone as self-appointed mistress of ceremonies.

It was an open secret that Roitfeld had commandeered supermodels Karolina Kurkova, Lily Donaldson, Jessica Hart, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Karlie Kloss to walk 38 golden gowns made especially for the event by the royal family of fashion including Chanel, Prada, Valentino, Gucci, Marc Jacobs and Versace. No wonder the lion’s share of ladies chose to interpret the gold theme with 18k jewels rather than compete with the runway extravaganza modelled by the world’s most beautiful women.

Dinner was served in a monolithic pavilion decorated by Roberto Cavalli that hid in the 22-acre tropical gardens of the Hôtel du Cap. It was bordering on surreal to join the conga line of guests including Kristin Scott Thomas, Kylie Minogue, Janet Jackson and Goga  Ashkenazi snaking towards the pavilion while a jazz band played and guests vied to pose astride a one-of-a-kind Azzure custom motorcycle commissioned by Redemption Choppers for the 20th anniversary amfAR auction.

With 20-years’ experience in the high rolling auction game, amfAR knows how to raise the collective blood pressure and loosen purse strings. No fool they, a tsunami of champagne flowed and food was kept strictly to supermodel rations. This being a gathering of the French Riviera’s wealthiest residents and stars of the Cannes Film Festival, auction prices went as sky high as Marilyn’s skirt in The Seven Year Itch. Before the first course was served an Osar Weekend at the Beverly Hills Hotel with invitations to all the A-list parties sold for $1.5 million. Subsequent prizes went from the sublime (a week at Donna Karan’s Parrot Cay paradise) to the ridiculous (a journey into space with Leonardo DiCaprio on board Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactica). A signed Andy Warhol Liz lithograph (1964) paid homage to amfAR patron saint the late Elizabeth Taylor.

Though Miss Stone owns the amfAR auction, she was aided and abetted by Harvey Weinstein, Kenneth Cole, Heidi Klum, Adrien Brody, Nicole Kidman and flamboyant auctioneer Simon de Pury. The Ultimate Gold Collection was heralded when the divine Dame Shirley Bassey took to the stage and whipped the audience into a frenzy with a magnificent rendition of Goldfinger followed by the gay national anthem I Am What I Am.  I was still having post-Bassey heart palpitations when the runway show began. Until next time…