After sporting a number of elegant outfits over the past few months as she has returned to public outings, Princess Charlene’s choice at this year’s Red Cross Gala — the event which has traditionally marked the end of Monaco’s social season — was simply royal.
The mother of two chose a full-length ice blue satin ballgown by Prada, lightly embroidered with crystals in a floral motif. Keeping jewelry to a minimum, she accessorized her outfit with a Flying Butterfly necklace from Van Cleef and Arpels.
For the second year running in its new post-coronavirus reimagining, Monaco’s most glamorous evening was held as an outdoors benefit concert, set up like a garden party in Monte-Carlo.
Health precautions forced a complete rethink of Monaco’s traditions amid the pandemic. After cancellation in 2020, a ball with dancing held in an enclosed venue was still unthinkable last year. Organizers instead proposed the evening as an open-air concert featuring popular English songwriter Jamie Cullum.
The 2021 trial run went well and though a few raindrops threatened the lamp-lit Place du Casino, Alicia Keys — in a striking metallic silver and black harlequin patterned fitted bodysuit from Miu-Miu — took the stage on Monday for a performance before Princess Charlene, Prince Albert and 650 guests. The event marked Keys’ second major royal outing of the summer — she also performed during Queen Elizabeth‘s Platinum Jubilee celebration last month.
The event was started in August 1948 by Albert’s father Prince Rainier as a privileged ballroom gown and formal wear evening where guests enjoyed a hotel dance orchestra, auctions and performances by European entertainer Maurice Chevalier. Following editions could be termed “eclectically organized,” with guests being entertained by a Christian Dior catwalk show one summer and French ballet star Zizi Jeanmaire the next.
“Until Grace,” one long ago attendee sniped, “it was an evening designed to stare at other people’s jewelry.”
Princess Grace, however, made the event her own and under her patronage, the gala assumed international status. “Pretty soon after their wedding,” Prince Albert told PEOPLE in 2018, “In ’58, Mom took it on and then, it became something else.”
Employing her contacts, American actress-turned-royalty Grace evolved the evening, infusing it with Hollywood names, Paris designers and jet-set celebrities. Under Grace’s hand, the gala became an “impossible ticket” featuring showroom entertainers like Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra. More than anyone, she created what writer Jeffrey Robinson coined, “the biggest social event on the European calendar.”
“I remember we would see Mom and Dad get ready for it when we were kids,” Prince Albert recalled.
“Mom remained president until her passing [in 1982], and I’ve been privileged to head the Monaco Red Cross since then,” Albert said.
Continuing the evolution, Prince Albert chaired evenings where Sinatra took the stage with Elton John and where Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Tom Jones and Joe Cocker starred.
Celebrating his 40th anniversary as president this year, Albert has been deeply engaged in Red Cross projects (a portion of this year’s proceeds will assist humanitarian efforts in Ukraine), especially the annual fundraiser’s makeover.
Princess Charlene has also been a fervent Red Cross supporter of the event, regularly visiting workers in France and Italy as well as being present at numerous functions on its behalf. And Monday evening marked the beginning of a new era — named to the executive of Monaco’s Red Cross last September while recuperating in South Africa, the evening was Charlene’s first official gala as “Madame Vice President.”