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Fashion / Profiles

The Ultimate Billionaire’s Ball

Houston’s Social Force Tops Herself Again with a Paris to Venice Fundraiser

BY // 03.21.17

BECCA CASON THRASH DEBUTS HER MOST GLITTERING FUNDRAISER TO DATE — FROM A GALA AT THE LOUVRE TO DINNERS AND A MASKED BALL IN VENICE’S MOST STORIED PALAZZOS.

She swore she was retiring. “I was done,” says Becca Cason Thrash of orchestrating her multi-million-dollar American and International Friends of the Louvre fundraiser, Liaisons au Louvre — the last of which was held in Paris in 2013. “I was retired! It’s so all consuming. But then …”

The rest will become glimmering history in June, when Thrash debuts her most brilliant event to date. Indeed, Liaisons au Louvre is back — this time with a new Italian partner named Venetian Heritage.

“I told Jean-Luc Martinez [director of the Musée du Louvre], ‘If we’re going to do it one more time, then there has to be a caveat,’” says Thrash. “‘I’m going to raise the ticket price. I’m going to split the proceeds between the Louvre and Venetian Heritage. We’re going to give guests an incredible itinerary for both cities.’”

Not ones to play the spoiled child of the European museum bunch, the top brass at the Louvre agreed to go halfsies on the benefit with Venetian Heritage. After all, Thrash sits on both boards, and Venice was also in great need of fundraising help. “The Venetian Heritage was over the moon!” Thrash says.

Liaisons au Louvre IV has been more than a decade in the making, beginning in 2005 when Thrash hosted a fundraiser at her Houston home to benefit American and International Friends of the Louvre. More than $600,000 was raised — and this was 12-years-ago money.

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The I.M.-Pei designed Pyramid at the Louvre, site of the Liaisons entertainment.

That evening, then-director Henri Loyrette asked if Thrash would consider organizing a similar event in Paris at the Louvre — the first fundraising event ever to be held inside the museum. And she did, all with boundless energy, an innate ability to plan events, and a covetable roster of friends in chic places. There have been plenty of luminaries involved. Harper’s Bazaar editor in chief Glenda Bailey helped secure entertainment the first year.

“I called her and said I wanted to have a rock band underneath the Louvre’s iconic Pyramid. Someone from the ’80s,” Thrash says. “And Glenda said, ‘Well, what about Duran Duran?’ ” Glenda made the call, and after a few conversations the band agreed to perform. “To this day,” Thrash says, “my husband, John, and I spend Christmas in England, with John and Gela Taylor.”

Thrash has sourced auction items — most of which sell for more than six figures — from fashion’s top names, too. She once called friend Christian Louboutin to ask if he would lend his luxurious, four-bedroom barge, docked on the Nile River, for a travel experience. He did. Even Xavier Guerrand-Hermès of the Hermès fashion-house family allowed his Marrakech villa to go on the auction block. For this year’s Paris-Venice itinerary, Thrash has tapped two legendary jewelers: French house Van Cleef & Arpels will host cocktails and dinner at the Petit Palais the night before the big gala, and in Venice, Italy’s foremost jeweler, Bulgari, will host dinner at the circa-1751 Palazzo Rezzonico.

It’s not for lack of elbow grease that Liaisons au Louvre has won an international reputation, drawing both a posh and pedigreed, deep-pocketed crowd. A space on the guest list is prime real estate, with attendance capped at 250 and tickets sold at $12,000 each.

“These titans — these multibillionaires — come,” says Thrash. “And it’s infused with art collectors, quiet money, brand-new money, titled Europeans, and celebrities.”

Past Liaisons have attracted the Grimaldi family, from Prince Albert of Monaco to Caroline Princess of Hannover, and her daughter Charlotte Casiraghi, as well as Bianca Jagger, Dasha Zhukova, Olga Kurylenko, Diane Kruger, Princess Zahra Aga Khan, Christine and Stephen Schwarzman, and Hilary and Wilbur Ross. Rumored to be attending this June’s Liaisons au Louvre and La Dolce Vita are Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, and Milla Jovovich. Stars and six-figure auction items aside, Thrash’s focus has always been the beneficiaries.

“If people think I just do this to buy a dress and have my picture taken in Paris, please, au contraire!” she says. “It’s so much work. I do everything. Find the venues. Find the sponsors. Create the invitation. Create the itinerary. Work with the vendors. Invite people from all over the world. And then I have to sell it!”

Napoleon’s apartments had not been opened for 100 years, until the 2011 Liaisons au Louvre.

There is also the dealing with centuries-old arts institutions. No easy task. Take one Liaisons au Louvre, during which Thrash insisted cocktails be held in Napoleon’s apartment — and on his balcony, the doors of which hadn’t been opened in more than 100 years.

Enter Thrash, ever the diplomat: “In France,” she says, “Every single negotiation begins with ‘Oh-la-la-la-la! Ce n’est pas possible!’ And I told them, ‘In my country everything is possible. You must find a way to open those doors!’” So she made them an offer that made a deep impression. The doors were unsealed.

“It was a pinch-me moment,” she recalls. “That Napoleon may have been short — but he lived large!” Adding Venice to the mix creates another layer of cultural adaptation. “The French are more serious,” says Thrash, “but the Italians are more dramatic.”

And for good reason, at least in Venice. The city is sinking; its most historic sites are in desperate need of restoration. In planning the itinerary for the premier La Dolce Vita, which benefits the renovation of the second wing of the Gallerie dell’Accademia and 66 works by old-master painters, Thrash toured the city by foot this summer. With the director of Venetian Heritage Toto Bergamo-Rossi, they met with museum directors, the mayor, and the owners of some of the city’s most spectacular palazzos.

Her site for La Dolce Vita is the Scuola Grande Della Misericordia, which has just been reopened after nearly 100 years. “I want to give people the wow factor,” Thrash says of outfitting the palazzo in glorious gala fashion. “But the truth is, one chair and one painting in any of these historic rooms is enough.”

LIAISONS AU LOUVRE IV
What will transpire during the week of the summer solstice is the stuff of jet-set dreams: It begins Sunday, June 18, in Paris at the Hotel Ritz — Liaisons au Louvre IV headquarters, if you will. An itinerary of private museum tours and dinner at the Petit Palais ensue Monday, before Tuesday’s La Grand Nuit at the Musée du Louvre. A most intriguing opportunity comes during the day of the big event, when guests will be able to view the glorious 18th century decorative arts galleries that were closed for a nine-year restoration, and reopened two years ago.

The private viewing is rare, indeed — a chance to quietly see where the money raised during past Liaisons au Louvre has gone. “Now, the challenge at the Louvre,” says Thrash, “is to do something different every time.” This year, that entails inverting the notion of a grand entrée, with guests cocktailing in the 16th-century castle ruins beneath the Louvre’s Borghese Galleries.

Dinner and a brief auction of eight or nine blue-chip pieces of art, from artists such as Anish Kapoor, Francesco Clemente, and the Haas Brothers, will be held beneath the Pyramid. A top-secret, megawatt performer will take the stage before a red carpet leads guests to Café Marley for an after-party with DJ, dancing, beaucoup croque monsieurs, more cocktails, and a smoking pavilion … because this is Paris.

LA DOLCE VITA VENEZIA
Champagne headaches be damned! Wednesday morning, travelers pack their Vuitton and jet to Venice for round two. First, a day of rest before two days of tours — from Palazzetto Alvisis Gaggia and Palazzo Gradenigo to Palazzo Giustinian Recanati and Scuola Dalmata, even a chance to roam the 57th Venice Biennale. Thursday evening, it will be white dinner jackets at Palazzo Rezzonico, a site which rarely opens for dinner events. Finally, Friday brings La Dolce Vita, a grand masked ball at the centuries-old Scuola Grade Della Misericordia.

“I do not want it to be costumed,” says Thrash of the attire requirements. “I want it to be dramatic: capes, masks and headpieces — really going for it! Medieval, iconoclastic, old-world, turn-of-the-century!”

This is a Venetian masked ball, after all, so one should consider reviewing the attire worn at masquerades by Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren.

Liaisons au Louvre IV in Paris, June 18, 19, 20; La Dolce Vita Venezia, June 22, 23, both benefitting American and International Friends of the Louvre and Venetian Heritage. Information bctfete@ gmail.com. 

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