Who Really Won the British Fashion Awards?

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Walking up the extravagant red carpet that decorated the steps of London’s Royal Albert Hall on Monday evening gave a mighty fine first impression of the 2018 Fashion Awards, which are Britain’s equivalent to the Oscars (if you trust the press release) or, more likely, the CFDA Fashion Awards (if you’re a bit jaded, like me).

The venue has a major advantage with its panoramic view of the arriving guests that, in one glimpse, included the designers Giles Deacon, Wes Gordon of Carolina Herrera, Peter Dundas, and Sandra Choi of Jimmy Choo; the models Lara Stone, Brooke Shields, Edie Campbell, and Eva Herzigovà, as well as Steven Kolb, the ceo of the CFDA. The steps were clearly the place to be for rubbernecking, as the ushers were, in their polite British way, urging us to move along, rather than to take a moment to enjoy the fine details. Such as when Herzigovà, who was playing the role of red carpet reporter for a YouTube and Swarovski broadcast, told me that she was enjoying very much the role reversal, “because I’ve had to learn how to pronounce everyone else’s names correctly,” she said.

By now, you will probably know the big picture, anyway: Meghan, Duchess of Sussex was the big surprise guest as a presenter of the women’s wear designer of the year award, given to — you guessed it — Clare Waight Keller, artistic director of Givenchy and the designer of her wedding gown. I have no doubt that my fellow American will have stolen every headline on the planet, such as these things go, but she did indeed look radiant onstage, clutching her baby bump (really, I despise that term, but I’m certain the editors of Us Weekly were yelling, “Stop the presses!” even as it happened). Also making news: Kaia Gerber, who won model of the year at age 17, wore a McQueen dress that would have made Princess Leia blush, while noting to the hall, “This is so much nicer than my high school auditorium,” and Gucci’s master of mischief Alessandro Michele, not one to be overlooked, accepted the brand of the year award while wearing a glittering tiara. Now that’s worthy of a curtsy.

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For the last few years, the Fashion Awards, previously known as the British Fashion Awards, have become a major global spectacle, rivaling their American counterpart in celebrity appeal but also prey to some of the same age-old, ego-inflated designer shenanigans that make guests start to squirm around the 60-minute mark of a two-hour ceremony. For what it’s worth, this being my first appearance at the British awards compared to more than a dozen at the American ones, I was mightily impressed by the star power, as their Meghan will always trump our Oprah. And even with way too many awards (I counted 15!), including one for business leadership and another for something rather specious called “urban luxury,” it’s much clearer that in London, which has historically been the home of amazing new talent for decades, young designers are really valued here. That perception has likely benefited from the primary sponsorship of the awards by Swarovski, which provides materials to hot new designers and promotes the heck out of them. Richard Quinn won this year’s award for emerging talent for women’s wear and, in a rare moment of sincerity, he cried through his acceptance speech.

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Another highlight was Jack Whitehall, the British comedian, as co-host with model Alek Wek, who gamely modeled the designs of each nominee for brand of the year throughout the event.

In Whitehall’s opening number, he described the Fashion Awards as “the one night of the year that Chiltern Firehouse is as deserted as the Dolce & Gabbana store in Beijing.” Bring this man to New York immediately! And also, give him my number.

Awards throughout the evening were handed to Kim Jones, now of Dior men’s wear, for being a trailblazer; to Virgil Abloh of Off-White and Louis Vuitton, for that weird category of “urban luxury,” which to my ear sounds like a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan for less than $1.5 million; to Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga for accessories; and to Marco Bizzarri, the ceo of Gucci, for business leading and for making a hilarious reference to his third win in this category by hiring Cambridge Analytica to swing the vote. Craig Green won the top men’s wear prize in a big upset, Miuccia Prada got a special award for “outstanding achievement,” and Pierpaolo Piccioli, creative director of Valentino, won the final grand prize as “Designer of the Year,” but by this point I was more than a little lost as to the distinction, since prizes had already been given for best men’s wear (Green) and best women’s wear (Waight Keller), so who do they think Piccioli is designing for, exactly?

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Strange, then, that the least confusing moment of the awards was due to the inspired decision to give the Swarovski Award for Positive Change to Vivienne Westwood, the original punk designer who, as everyone in this room would have known, does not conform to any sense of rules of decorum, let alone a 60-second time limit for her speech. She spoke for six minutes, and brilliantly, about the state of the world today, her plan to save the world with a deck of cards, Brexit, President-elect Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Emmanuel Macron and the failed gas tax of France, and the curses on society brought on by the money-grubbing 1 percent — all while standing before her presenter, who was, get this, Jerry Hall, wife of Rupert Murdoch. Her smile, shall we say with our pinkies up, was a bit strained.

But it was a nice moment, still, and evident of the general love and respect for Westwood, that when Rosamund Pike took the stage to present the women’s award, or rather to introduce Meghan to present the women’s award, she cited a quote by the legendary designer herself that served to remind the audience, or jaded old me, anyway, that the awards are not so frivolous as they may seem: “Fashion is very important. It is life-enhancing, and like everything that gives pleasure, it is worth doing well.”

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