With six formidable towers and a glowering, gray façade, Vienna’s neo-Gothic City Hall is an artifact of the Old World if ever there was one. That’s why it’s always a shock to see its annual transformation for Gery Keszler’s Life Ball, a charity bash that raised $25 million for AIDS awareness and research last year alone.
Inside, a neon-lit bacchanal features deejay sets, live music and culinary surprises until the sun rises. An outside fashion show finds Ethel Merman-types sharing the catwalk with outrageous drag queens and couture designs from the likes of Roberto Cavalli. This year, Vogue Italia will present a show that will include Givenchy, Lanvin, DSquared2 and Gaultier (Jean Paul Gaultier put on the first two Life Ball fashion shows).
Getting in is a bit of a trick: only 3,780 tickets are sold each year and the event has become a jet-setting partier’s rite of passage into the world of elite charity galas (a 777 is chartered each year from New York). Past guests include Bill Clinton, Elton John and Sharon Stone, but the real stars of the show are those who buy costume tickets—a limited number are sold—and show up in themed outfits they’ve spent weeks putting together.
This year’s theme is “Garden of Earthly Delights,” inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s 16th century religious triptych. If the event’s style bible is anything to go by, guests can expect to see a variety of costumes, including a green, gem-encrusted “Praying Mantis” or a white-painted, gold-edged Apollo. And though the actual gods won’t be in attendance, they may be the only ones not beating down the gates, desperate to get in.