For those counting, 2021 technically marked 50 years since Save Venice’s founding, but as last year went without a grand gala hosted by its maestra, Lauren Santo Domingo, 2022 would be the year to celebrate the cultural heritage organization’s golden anniversary.
This last Friday night, Santo Domingo, who also serves as board member and vice president of Save Venice, lured patrons of the arts and general lovers of a good time down to the tip of Manhattan. Set at Cipriani South Street Seaport, this year’s event promised Incantesimo Al Mare—or Enchantment by the Sea.
In a wink to Venice’s Carnival, the gala has historically been a masked ball, but given the city’s most recent interpretation of “masks required,” this year, the event committee opted to make masks of all varieties optional. (Though vaccinations were checked at the door.)
The only accessories on Santo Domingo were earrings by Stephen Russell; she opted for understated elegance in a strapless taffeta gown by Oscar de la Renta—the evening’s fashion sponsor alongside Bulgari and Select Aperitivo. Oscar de la Renta’s Laura Kim (in an oceanic-blue velvet frock of her own design) and Fernando Garcia were responsible for a slew of the evening’s best dressed, including an expecting Nicky Hilton Rothschild and Tina Leung. Carolina Herrera’s Wes Gordon was also present with husband Paul Arnhold, and so too was Markarian’s Alexandra O’Neill, who shimmered in a sequined gown the same color as the Negronis clutched in the hands of many at cocktail hour. O’Neill’s creations also dazzled on the likes of Sarah Hoover, Isolde Brielmaier, CeCe Barfield Thompson, and Huma Abedin.
Ivy Getty wore pink sequins and looked the part of a 1940s screen siren and Sienna Miller glowed in a marigold gown. Elsewhere, headpieces and mermaidish elements served as fashionable garnishes to guests’ black-tie looks. One guest turned a set of coral earrings into brooches for his tuxedo; another handmade a headpiece out of pearls that quivered as she moved. For added drama, attendees took turns posing for photos in front of a massive oyster shell dreamed up by event producer extraordinaire Bronson van Wyck, who applied his magic touch to the night’s decor.
Fun and fashion aside, the reason everyone had gathered was to raise funds for Save Venice. Friday night marked the first gala since 2019’s devastating floods, which saw over 80% of the island submerged in over 6 feet of water. Recent world events, including the loss of Notre Dame’s spire to the ongoing war in Ukraine, also serve as sobering reminders of the fragility of arts and culture.
Since 1971, Save Venice has preserved masterpieces of Italian heritage. Currently, the organization is dedicated to restoring the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta in Torcello and Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin in the Basilica dei Frari.
Just before guests sat for their burrata salads, Save Venice’s chairman Frederick Ilchman announced that the ongoing restoration of Gentile Bellini’s Miracle of the Relic of the True Cross at the Bridge of San Lorenzo would be dedicated to Santo Domingo. The gesture is a commemoration of the eight years she’s served as chair of the gala and the 10 million her events has raised.
“It was about nine years ago that my mother-in-law asked me to take her board seat, which I did happily,” Santo Domingo said to her gala guests. “It’s a pleasure to be able to preserve the artistic treasures of Venice, a city that I love, and, of course, most importantly, I’m not in the habit of saying no to my mother-in-law. I’m also not in the habit of doing things in halves, so I was delighted to dive right in to chair this gala.”
Speaking to the crowd, Santo Domingo referenced Winston Churchill’s plea to maintain funding for the arts during the Second World War. Whether or not he actually said that, as she explained, is up for debate; but no matter, Santo Domingo continued, the message stands, “for any of you who know me, you know I have never let the truth get in the way the way of a good story.” And as to not let anything get in the way of a good party, just after dinner, the dancing commenced.
It wasn’t long before everyone headed down to the Casa Cipriani for one of many after-parties. Views of the Hudson glittered in the night. It was Venice, but it was just as enchanting.