The Hollywood Reporter: A glimpse inside RiRi’s charity event, where Kevin Hart played host and Lionel Richie performed his famous tunes like “Easy Like Sunday Morning” and “All Night Long.”
Just outside the entrance to Santa Monica’s historic Barker Hanger — a onetime airport space now used for big Hollywood-type events because of its 43-foot ceiling and 35,000-square feet interior space — press and photographers gathered under a clear tent just after 5 p.m. to get photos and quotes from guests of Rihanna’s 2nd annual Diamond Ball. But really everyone was just waiting on the A-list hostess.
The red carpet — a matching complement to the crimson handprint logo of Rihanna’s Clara Lionel Foundation, the night’s recipient of goodwill and good press — had been rolled out and stepped on by the likes of Will Smith and wife Jada Pinkett Smith by the time RiRi arrived around 7 p.m. (Though Mr. Smith didn’t do any interviews, the newly-minted Golden Globe nominee sounded giddy as he mimicked the crush of photographers and shouted “Jada! Jada! Jada!” while she posed in a white Zuhair Murad dress. He’d later pinch her butt.)
Kylie Jenner, Tyga, Zendaya, Emily Ratajkowski and host Kevin Hart would follow, but nobody makes an entrance quite like the superstar singer, who seemed to float down the line in a champagne Dior Couture creation. The strapless ensemble featured a cinched waist and matching shawl, which she clutched as she breezed past print reporters at the end of the carpet. One of the journalists asked when to expect her much-anticipated (and delayed and delayed and delayed) new album, Anti. “Soon, loves,” she cooed in an effortlessly cool way that few, if any, artists can get away with the way Rihanna does.
No fan, or loves, can blame her for taking a night off from final tweaks on the new album for Thursday night’s big party. She launched the charity four years ago and joined the gala ranks last year with the first Diamond Ball, an event that raised $2 million for her cause. The organization — named in honor of her grandparents, Clara and Lionel Brathwaite — carries a mission of improving the quality of life for communities globally in the areas of health, education, arts and culture.
Though her native Barbados has received the bulk of the foundation’s attention, Rihanna made it clear that her philanthropic efforts go beyond the Caribbean island. And it will be easier to spread the wealth after all the cash was counted on Thursday night because the 2015 edition of the Diamond Ball tallied more than $3 million, including a $50,000 donation from the energetic Hart.
But that was when it was all over. Back to the beginning, after making it through the red carpet kickoff, guests made their way into the carpeted Barker Hanger for a lively cocktail hour featuring champagne flutes of Armand de Brignac and specialty D’USSE cocktails. Even Rihanna and the Smiths mingled with regular guests, who kept busy with a Samsung gift wall, photo booth and sock-sharing center from Stance. Shortly thereafter, guests made their way into the giant hanger and the event kicked off with opening remarks from Rihanna herself.
“This evening is not about me,” the 27-year-old singer said. “Tonight is about extending a helping hand to others when they need it most. That’s the quality I learned from my late grandmother, Clara Brathwaite, or my Gran Gran Dolly, and my grandfather Lionel who’s here with me tonight. When I launched CLF in 2012, I was following the example of my grandparents that has been passed down to my entire family. It’s simple. We care about each other and we help each other, and that’s what I want to do for my global family too, with a focus on health, education, art and culture.”
She used the Samsung-presented event to announce that CLF has created the Clara Lionel Foundation Global Scholarship Program, an initiative designed to assist deserving students with full scholarships at colleges in the United States. Thursday night’s funds will be funneled into the program and split by CLF’s other programs like the Micro Grants for Schools Program and the Clara Brathwaite Center for Oncology and Nuclear Medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Barbados. Additional pieces of radiotherapy equipment will be purchased, changing lives on the tiny island per a video featurette played during the gala.
Though the event had an emotional impact, there was a playful yet casual nature to the program. The same cannot be said of the decor, however. There was nothing casual about it because the event design inside the Hanger was a breathtaking display of glamour. How’d Rihanna do that? According to an event rep, the Diamond Ball was produced and designed by SO Events. Using the ever-posh South of France as an inspiration, details included curved booths, custom rose gold tables, centerpieces of plum callas and lavender roses in rose gold vases and 42 low-hanging chandeliers.
Guests — including Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino (who received the inaugural Diamond Honors Award), Roc Nation exec Tyran Smith, a slew of Roc Nation athletes, CLF’s Towalame Austin and Rihanna’s inner circle including best friends Melissa Forde, Jennifer Rosales and RiRi’s mother Monica — were treated to a four-course dinner (think four cheese tortellini, braised short rib and brown sugar ginger cake washed down with delicious Diamond Collection vino by Francis Ford Coppola Winery) and live auction handled by Paddle8 co-founder Alexander Gilkes. Rihanna just announced that she’d be showing a new collection for Puma at New York Fashion Week on Feb. 12, and one of the auction items included a VIP trip to the show, complete with a front row seat. Yep, jealous.
If that doesn’t make you green with envy, there was also a Diamond Ball finale featuring a 4-song performance by Lionel Richie. His set included “Running With the Night,” “Easy Like Sunday Morning,” “Hello” and “All Night Long.”
But if you want to know what music the DJ played at a Rihanna party, here’s a sample of that set list: Aaliyah’s “Back & Forth,” Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” “Where Are U Now” and “What Do You Mean,” SWV’s “Right Here,” Mariah Carey’s “Honey,” LL Cool J’s “Around the Way Girl,” Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time,” Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love,” Kanye West’s “All the Lights” featuring Rihanna and Kid Cudi, Frank Ocean’s “Sweet Life” and Jay-Z’s “Tom Ford.”
In addition to Samsung, RiRi’s event featured a mile-long sponsor list that also included CTMS Travel, Stance, Domo, Kendo Brands, Stargate, Todd Pedersen, MAC Cosmetics, Dior, American Express, MGM, Forward, Vita Coco, DreamWorks, NOS Energy, Pacific Sotheby International Realty and Bacardi, among many others. There were also Puma suede backpacks with such parting gifts as a three-month Tidal subscription and Rihanna’s RiRi perfume and Rogue cologne. Samsung’s presence was felt just about everywhere one looked, not surprising considering the tech giant reportedly paid $25 million to sponsor her album and upcoming tour, in addition to collaborating with her on an “ANTIdiaRY” campaign.