Masked and (Not Quite) Anonymous: Lifting the Veil of the Disguised Do-Gooders at the Save Venice Ball

Padma Lakshmi...or Catwoman? (Photo Julie Skarratt 2014)

Padma Lakshmi…or Catwoman? (Photo Julie Skarratt 2014)

There aren’t many places where you’ll see heroes in disguise anymore. Between Facebook and Twitter we all live in public. If Batman were around, he’d likely Instagram every rescue. If you want to find anyone doing good deeds in a mask in modern day Gotham, the only place is the Save Venice Masked Ball.

The comparisons to Batman, well, basically end there: This year’s party, held at the Pierre, had an enchanted garden theme. Guests festooned their headdresses, and sometimes entire suits, with paper butterflies and orchids. Since there’s no such thing as a simple good deed, they all had ample incentive to don their crepe Lepidoptera. Prizes were distributed to the owners of the best masks—and they’re good prizes, like a cocktail party at the Marquand, or a Dolce and Gabanna handbag.

If they weren’t pulled from the pages of a comic book, the modern masked do-gooders all could at least have passed for some very wealthy holdover from The Scarlet Pimpernel and doubtless appreciated the fact that the funds from the evening went towards the restoration of the Saint Urusla Cycle in the Accademia Galleries and the restoration of the church of San Sebastiano, which is filled with frescoes by Paolo Veronese.

Meanwhile, we tried to disclose the secret identities of the veiled party guests.

There was Padma Lakshmi, who noted that if she had to be a masked hero, she’d want to be Catwoman, that leather-clad vixen, though her mask, Ms. Lakshmi said, was “made with fresh flowers. I wanted to channel the enchanted garden theme. And it was made by my florist, L’Oasis.” Meow!

Vogue editor Hamish Bowles went a somewhat more traditional route, with a violet-hued headdress made by milliner Philip Treacy. He paused for a moment considering his favorite masked hero, then exclaimed that it would have to be the photographer “Cecil Beaton, dressed for the Tete Champetre in 1937, when he has a mask on the back of his head.” As far as heroes go, that’s perhaps a more obscure reference than, say, Superman, but Beaton did give the world the following aphorism: “Perhaps the world’s second worst crime is boredom. The first is being a bore.” So, fair enough.

And then there were those who rejected masks altogether, like philanthropist Jean Shafiroff, who appeared notably mask-less in a cerulean blue ball gown. When we commented on the absence she stiffened and replied, “Women should never have to wear masks.”

For a moment, we thought she was referring to the beauty of the women assembled, and we hastily tried to say that yes, everyone did look wonderful, until Ms. Shafiroff, unbeknownst to her taking our whole superhero theme pretty literally, clarified, “There are too many women in the world who are required to have their faces covered, so in honor of those women I expose my face. We have to work hard to strive for the future of women and so many women have so little and we have to strive for others people in the world, because we really live in a world where there are two classes, the very rich and the very poor. And that has to change to change.”

When we pointed out that this would mean considerably fewer masked balls, she replied, “We’ll survive.”