Nothing draws celebrities like cocktails, fellow A-listers and a good cause.
"It's a safe bet to say that this is the event of the year so far — everyone I've spoken to is saying they're stunned by how grand this whole thing is," said Debra Messing, who attended Madonna and Gucci's "A Night to Benefit Raising Malawi and UNICEF" party Wednesday night with her husband, "Fool's Gold" writer Daniel Zelman.
On the upper level of the cocktail reception area, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, who was dressed in a sculpted red Alexander McQueen dress, talked to Jerry Seinfeld and his wife, Jessica, about real estate, while host Chris Rock mused about which Democratic presidential candidate would be able to deliver the best joke.
"Barack (Obama) could probably tell a better one," he said. "But Hillary (Rodham Clinton) knows way more about comedy." This thought caused Rock to crack himself up.
Apparently not laughing: Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and some other UN officials. While the reception, dinner and auction event raised $5.5 million for UNICEF, its commercial tie-in with Gucci, which paid the bills and pegged the event to the Friday opening of its Manhattan flagship store, was a bit much. Though his schedule was open, Ban left New York for Chicago hours earlier, and his undersecretary general for administration and management, Alicia Barcena Ibarra, said her office "should have investigated more fully" before approving the event.
That didn't stop stars from showing up by the dozen. Guests included Salma Hayek; Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher; Baby Phat designer Kimora Lee and her boyfriend, supporting actor Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou; Dylan McDermott; Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale; and Billy Joel and Katie Lee Joel.
"She wanted to come — I'm really just here as her date, though," said Joel. "She's in love with New York — it's sweet to watch her taking it all in."
Messing, who had been at the Bryant Park tents for the Michael Kors show earlier in the day, said she's almost as big a fan of the designer and "Project Runway" judge as she is of Madonna.
"I used to dance to 'Lucky Star' in my bedroom," she said. "I remember trying to learn the dances from Madonna's first videos. Leg cross, leg cross — I thought I was going to be Madonna II."
Near the entrance, Drew Barrymore, wearing a black-and-yellow Gucci dress, and her new beau, Justin Long, had a question for Jennifer Lopez.
"When are we going to do game night?!" Barrymore asked the pregnant singer, who was accompanied by husband Marc Anthony and a team of bodyguards.
"He's the BEST gamer," Barrymore said, pointing to Long.
"We're into Scrabble and charades," Long said.
Barrymore recently finished shooting "Grey Gardens," a movie based on the documentary of the same name about "Big" Edith and "Little" Edith Bouvier Beale, Jacqueline Kennedy's reclusive aunt and cousin. Barrymore plays the younger Edie, who gained sartorial notoriety in the 1970s for wearing odd head coverings made of skirts and towels and broaches.
Preparing for the role meant reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Marble Faun," a book referenced often in the documentary, and watching the movie to "a psychotic degree," Barrymore said. She also lived for a period a la "Little" Edie Beale, without television, magazines, newspapers, computer or phone.
"But even under normal circumstances," said Long, "we like to be a little reclusive together."