Close your eyes. Imagine the most opulent, over-the-top, celebrity-filled party; the kind of party that F. Scott Fitzgerald could wax poetic about. Now multiple that by one hundred. Welcome to amfAR Gala Cannes.

The annual charity bash is like the Met Gala of Europe, if the Met Gala took place at a palatial hotel on the Côte d'Azur at sunset, and included a full-scale fashion show styled by Carine Roitfeld featuring just about every top model, a high art auction with lots selling for millions of dollars, and not one, but four musical performances. And, incredibly, somehow even more stairs.

Held at the famed Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, the gala would be a showstopper for just the setting alone: on one side, a staggering red carpet leading to a castle-like facade with gardens flanking each side, and through the hotel lobby, a courtyard the size of an airport hanger, peppered with sculptural pieces up for grabs in the auction, including a massive vestige of an Olympic diver by JR and a one-of-a-kind installation by Alec Monopoly created especially for the Gala.

And then of course, there were the celebrities; A-listers as far as they eye could see: Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, attempting to stay as inconspicuous as possible, posting up towards the waterfront; Adrien Brody schmoozing with Harvey Weinstein; Jessica Chastain and Will Smith strolling in arm-in-arm, making the case for their own buddy comedy. “Let’s get the cocktails flowing. I need one,” declared Chastain to no one in particular. Smith opted for a more direct route: “Alcohol! Alcohol!” he chanted as they made their grand entrance. They needn’t walk far before striking gold: Moet Hennessy were one of the evening’s main sponsors, and had lined the courtyard with numerous stations offering coupes of Champagne and bespoke Belvedere cocktails, including a martini dubbed, aptly, the Belvedere amFAr martini.

The martinis certainly did the trick—an hour into the cocktail portion of the evening, a lengthy three-hour stretch, any inhibitions or formal decoram had been tossed aside. “During the festival, this is the one night where everyone let’s the hair down,” Diane Kruger explained, as nearby Doutzen Kroes pranced around in the greenery, her red cape trailing behind her, and Lara Stone smoked a cigarette in her Chanel Couture, traipsing down the hill barefoot. “What are you doing,” Olivier Rousteing called after her. The Balmain designer was acting as the defacto model wrangler for the evening, rolling with the L’Oreal crew—Kroes, Stone, Irina Shayk, Maria Borges, Barbara Palvin—having just revealed his new collection for the beauty brand the day prior.

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Nicki Minaj arrives at the amfAR Gala in Cannes.

Photo by Victoria Stevens for W Magazine.

“What I love is that it’s Balmain Paris and L’Oreal Paris, two big French houses, and together, we just wanted to create couture, diversity and modernity in cosmetics,” he said.

The collaboration had made the designer the de facto king of Cannes, at least among the model set, with the L’Oreal party the night before a hot ticket on the Croisette. “With Balmain, when we arrive somewhere, it’s coming. The Balmain army. And with L’Oreal, it’s fire,” Roesteing explained.

But perhaps no one was bigger Cannes royalty this year than Bella Hadid, having appeared on nearly every red carpet of the festival in a series of show-stopping gowns. This evening was the grand finale: Hadid swept in a a crystal-encrusted gown, completely sheer, save for a nude corset bodysuit underneath. Her entrance, more than any of the many Academy Award winners in the area, caused a photographer frenzy.

“It’s custom Ralph and Russo,” she said once the flashbulbs had subsided. “We did it together.”

The model had just returned to Cannes after a whirlwind evening with Bulgari in Rome, where she was named the face of their new perfume. How the 20-year-old was still standing was a marvel in human strength.

“I have no idea, honestly. I got in at like 11:30 last night and went straight to sleep after that whole thing—I was like a princess, it was insane—and I woke up this morning to be fresh, and here I am.”

Bella Hadid arrives at the amfAR Gala in Cannes.

Rick Van Weelden

She paused as a fan came up requesting a selfie. It was Rita Ora. “I’m annoying, and I never do this, but my little brother loves you,” the singer gushed. But first, the pair recorded a to one of Ora’s songs. The singer had a new single to promote. And oh, did she promote.

“I’m literally my own plug. It comes out Friday, so midnight tonight, and I’m performing it tonight,” she said. “It’s going to be crazy because obviously no one knows it, so everyone’s probably going to look at me like...But yeah, it’s amazing. The last time I was here I was just attending, but now I’m performing alongside, like, probably some icons.” (Half true, along with Ora, performers included Diana Ross, Nicki Minaj, and DNCE).

For her big night, the singer was dressed up in a outfit that could only be described as Barberella meets Barbie: big hair and lots and lots of pink. “It’s Chanel. I mean…” she deadpanned. “I thought I had to, I mean we’re in France”

It’s true, it was all about the statement look. Hailey Baldwin had been planning hers for some time. “I did a fitting for it a while ago and it was just my favorite look,” she said, gesturing towards her strapless Elie Saab purple gown. It was a rather demure look for someone who had just been named _Maxim’_s Hottest Woman in the World.

“I was honestly confused at first. I was like, ‘Are you guys sure? Like that’s your final decision?’” she said. “But I’m obviously very happy about it and it’s a cool opportunity. My dad wasn’t thrilled. He was like, beside himself. He’s like, ‘You’re my baby child.’”

Speaking of dads, Baldwin had just spotted one she knew. “Long time, no see!” she exclaimed, greeting Smith. “I just saw Jaden.”

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Nicole Kidman arrives at the amfAR Gala in Cannes.

Photo by Victoria Stevens for W Magazine.

It was time to move the schmoozing inside, as guests were instructed to make their wey to the grand tent where dinner was to be served. Several people attempted to smuggle their cocktails in. “Don’t worry, there will be more inside,” assured a server. (Belvedere strikes again: each table was equipped with a bottle of vodka the size of a small child, engraved with the words amfAR down the side).

But before dinner was served, the live auction was to begin. At the end of the day, the night was all about charity, after all, as Nicole Kidman explained before taking the stage. “It really is the biggest amfAR event in terms of raising, and we obviously still need money,” she said. “Four thousand people a day contract AIDS, and still there is no cure. That’s why we are all here. And as much as we put on our pretty dresses, we are here to raise money.”

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Rita Ora and Kate Upton attend the amfAR Gala in Cannes.

Jacopo Raule

And so they did, with the bulk of the night centered around the live auction, drawing out the big stars to drum up some extra cash flow. David Beckham auctioned off a private game of football together, while Smith offered the winner of his lot a selfie where he’d kiss the winner on the cheek. Despite that person being a middle aged man, Smith proved to be a man of his word. By the end of the evening, over $20 million had been raised.

Throughout it all, guests table-hopped, chain-smoking the entire way—this is France, after all. The space itself was outfitted in an Art-deco style, appropo for the over-the-top Gatsby-ness of it all, including rose gold sequined tablecloth, giant feather plumes on each table, and dozens of chandeliers.

Around 1 a.m., the room began to clear out as the party transitioned to the after-party, held on a waterfront building on the property. It was there where guests mingled even more over even more Belvedere martinis, until the magic words of Cannes began to float around.

“Let’s go to Leo’s house.”

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