"Oh my God. I love it. Where did you find that mask?"
That was the phrase echoing through grand ballroom at The Pierre Hotel on Friday night just as the clock was striking 9 p.m. It was time for dinner, but a parade of air-kisses and hobnobbing kept delaying the first course.
A prolonged cocktail hour, perfect for mingling and outfit admiring, is to be expected when it comes to Save Venice, the annual New York gala to benefit Save Venice Inc., an American nonprofit organization founded in 1971 with the vaunted mission to preserve the artistic patrimony of Venice, Italy.
It's an annual highlight on the ever bloated New York gala season, which extends from late February to the beginning of May, and it's easy to see why. No other gala has quite the same air of over-the-top extravaganza. At other events you may be able to pull out your best gown, sure, but a mask? Well, that's special.
This years theme was Dangerous Beauty, sponsored by Oscar de la Renta and Glenn Spiro, and a far more wide-reaching and interpretive dress code compared to years past (2014 called for all red and black, while 2013 was a standard gala go-to with "Enchanted Garden"). The guest list, which included Poppy Delevingne, Indre Rockefeller, Miroslava Duma, Fernando Jorge, and Lindsay Ellingson, was certainly up for the challenge.
Model Jessica Hart, having inherently nailed that beauty (she is a professional after all), decided to go ultra-dangerous by—gasp—covering her entire face (most attendees opt for a dainty eye-mask, preferably made of lace or sequins) with an oversized black and red mask that at first glance gave the appearance of a melting face. Quelle horreur! Event co-chair Lauren Santo Domingo opted for a much more nuanced nod to a specific beauty: her blue Oscar de la Renta strapless gown had been worn by Gugu Mbatha-Raw to the Los Angeles premiere of Beauty and the Beast just weeks ago.
Harry Brant wore a mask by way of heavy eye makeup, a nod to his vintage Jean Paul Gaultier ensemble. "It goes with the suit, so I had to do this look," he explained of his 1930's look, thin eyebrows and all. As for his ultimate Dangerous Beauty inspiration. "I think it has to be my mom," he said. Aw. "It's true."
Bettina Prentice, founder and creative director of Prentice Art Communications, went for a more literal approach with her own interpretation of the theme. "It has wolves on it," she said, gesturing to her Alena Akhmadullina gown. "Talk about dangerous beauty."
As the main course dishes of mushroom risotto were cleared, it was time to announce the winners of the event's annual mask contest (another reason this gala is a favorite: prizes!). The grand winner? A grand lion and lioness wearing masks that would not be out of place at a performance of The Lion King on Broadway—in fact, the prop-master may want to check the costume closet.
And then came the grand finale: dancing. While at most other black tie affairs this would queue a mass rush to the exit, at Save Venice, perhaps thanks to its Friday evening slot, the dance-floor is the place to be as it becomes a grand mosh pit of socialites and models. As DJ May Kwok played a mix of everything from The Eagles to Beyoncé, the night turned into a blur of high heels, tuxes, and Champagne-buzzed New Yorkers busting out their best—interpret as you will—dance moves. Talk about dangerous.
Related: See the peacocks of another feather: Paris Fashion Week.