The CFDA Awards are routinely called the Oscars of fashion, though mainly by fashion people, as host Seth Meyers quipped.
"It doesn't work the other way around," Meyers said. "You never hear the Oscars described as the CFDA Awards of Hollywood."
Meyers' monologue got to the self-importance of this particular awards show, but also its esteem within the fashion universe, its unique position as the industry's highest honor outside of leading a legacy European house or going public on the New York Stock Exchange.
And, so, on Monday afternoon all of fashion schlepped to Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom, just a block away from 7th Avenue, a thoroughfare also known as Fashion Avenue, though no one's actually ever called it that since 1972. "If you say to a cab driver, take me to the corner of 33rd and Fashion Avenue, they legally have the right to rob you," Meyers said to a chummy crowd that appreciated all the in-the-know jokes.
Inside, a room that might have felt bereft without the star power of a Rihanna and Beyoncé instead radiated with the combined wattage of the girls of the moment—both Gigi and Bella Hadid were with us—Nicole Kidman in Oscar de la Renta, a bevy of young It girls (Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Rowan Blanchard, the Haim sisters), model legends like Karen Elson and Amber Valetta, James Franco and Suki Waterhouse canoodling at the Coach table while Hari Nef vaped nearby, and international design talent, represented by Raf Simons and Demna Gvasalia.
It wouldn't be an awards show, though, without some tears, many of them shed by Simons, fashion's resident emo boy, who in just one season took home both the Menswear Designer of the Year and Womenswear Designer of the Year Award for his debut Fall 2017 collection at Calvin Klein—a feat previously only previously accomplished by Calvin Klein himself, in 1993.
In accepting the first award, for menswear, Simons set a tone of sincerity for the evening. "If we as creatives can be an inspiration for how the world should look," Simons said, wiping at tears. "I think that it's something we should take as a very important task in our existence." He also thanked “my man,” a reference to Jean-Georges D'Orazio, sharing that when they moved to New York knowing no one, they only had each other, inciting a chorus of “Aw’s” around the room.
Upon accepting the Founder's Award, Pat McGrath, too, delivered touching remarks reflecting on her own climb up the ladder from working-class London. "Fashion is an industry where all the insiders are outsiders," she said in a much quoted line.
Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue and Condé Nast artistic director, choked up when honoring her late friend Franca Sozzani, before presenting a posthumous Fashion Icon award to Sozzani’s son—and Wintour’s soon-to-be son-in-law— Francesco Carrozzini.
"An eye for romance was one of Franca's editorial gifts," Wintour said haltingly. "Franca's deep imagination drew on drama and a feeling that fashion meant more than just clothes."
“Welcome to the inner sanctum of winningness,” Kerry Washington, who had presented the Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent, said to Kim and Garcia as they entered the so-called “Winner’s Walk,” a makeshift war room with a mini step-and-repeat for winners to pose with their statue.
“I didn’t have a speech, but Laura still had her speech from last year, so she deleted a few names who are no longer part of our lives, and then added a couple, and then improvised. And I just rode on her coattails,” Garcia said, fresh off the podium.
“Oh god, it all went blank. I wasn’t sure where to go, and I didn’t know what I was going to say. I don’t know what I said,” said Stuart Vevers after winning Accessory Designer of the Year for his work at Coach. Luckily the hard part was over. “I think I’m going to get drunk now.”
For some, the CFDAs are a night out with an old friend, for others, something of a supremely glamorous first date. “I’ve been wearing his designs for a long time, but we only finally met two weeks ago and it was stellar. It was cosmic,” said Brit Marling on the red carpet of her date, Sies Marjan’s Sander Lak.
Blanchard ventured the carpet alone, clad in Coach and sequined eye makeup, having just had a glamorous date of her own: prom, where she attended alongside Yara Shahidi.
“It was really fun! Our school is an online version, so it was really fun to go in person,” she said. “Prom was weird, though, because I was the youngest person there because I was only a sophomore. They were all like, ‘You’re a baby,’ and I’m like, ‘You’re a year older than me.’ That was sort of amusing, and they had a weird DJ, but it was fun.”
As if on cue, Elson spotted Blanchard, running up to gush. “I’m so lucky that my daughter has someone like you to look up to,” she said. She also had someone she wanted to introduce her to: Gloria Steinem.
“My heart is racing so fast right now,” Blanchard said, as she approached the living legend. It was a feeling that resounded on the carpet and, later, inside the venue.
The feminist icon was being awarded with the Board of Directors Tribute, along with Janelle Monáe and Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards, and was easily the most popular woman in the venue. “I think this is a group of very socially conscious people who are making beauty not guns,” Steinem told W. “I think the fashion industry have often been on the forefront of many different kinds of social change. There has been especially more consciousness about how are garments are produced and making sure they are ethically produced and create good jobs. And it’s a sign of freedom. Oppressive regimes dictate uniforms, so clothing that is self-expression is democratic.”
The trio of women closed out the night with a series of rousing speeches. "You can't be a feminist without being anti-racist, and vice versa," Steinem said. Echoed by Monáe, who added, “As human beings it is our responsibility to take care of one another,” a fitting conclusion to a particularly poignant evening.
With all the waterworks, perhaps Calvin Klein should make handkerchiefs next season? Surely Accessory Designer of the Year would go nicely with Simons' two other trophies.
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