“The CFDAs are called the Oscars of the fashion industry,” said Seth Meyers, in his opening monologue at the Council of Fashion Designers of America Fashion Awards on Monday night. “But definitely just by you guys.”
It’s no secret that the designers he was addressing have always viewed their annual awards night with a great deal of self-importance, and to the credit of the fashion council, the event is still a big deal, at least to fashion designers. Despite its icky trappings since moving from New York's Lincoln Center to the Penn Station-approximate Hammerstein Ballroom last year, the Fashion Awards have managed to draw a more dynamic A-list audience, this year including presenters Nicole Kidman and Kerry Washington, hot-shot honorees Demna Gvasalia and Rick Owens, and even superstars like Lupita Nyong’o, Priyanka Chopra, and James Franco, who had no obvious obligation to be there unless they really, really love clothes.
VIDEO: See the 2017 CFDA Fashion Awards Red Carpet Looks
It’s also not a secret that the event has been in desperate need of purpose of late, having already handed out so many trophies to what seems like the same cast of characters year after year that there’s really no suspense left to the affair. So it was heartening to see that the CFDA is paying attention—by dedicating its Fashion Icon award not to a pop star but to Franca Sozzani, the groundbreaking editor of Italian Vogue, who passed away in December; by honoring a cast largely made up of outsider designers; and by paying special tribute to three women who exemplify the impact this year of the feminist movement: Gloria Steinem, Cecile Richards, and Janelle Monáe.
All told, this may not have been the most lively or exciting of awards nights, having dragged on for nearly two hours and with little comic relief, but it was nevertheless one of the CFDA’s finer moments, with a fantastic and inspiring call to action by Monáe and a perhaps inadvertent acknowledgment of the impact of immigrants in contemporary American fashion. Yes, it got political, and rightly so, as Steinem pointed out in her acceptance speech to a liberal-leaning audience that was filled with people who, in her words, are already woke.
While the winners are normally determined by a complicated algorithm of industry voting that is influenced by the political maneuvering of certain powerful editors, it is still worth noting that the top prizes this year went to designers who came to iconic American fashion houses from abroad. In a rare double victory, Raf Simons, the Belgian designer who previously headed Dior in Paris and Jil Sander in Milan, won both the women’s wear and men’s wear designer of the year titles for his debut season as the chief creative officer of Calvin Klein in New York this year. And Stuart Vevers, the British-born executive creative director of Coach, won the top accessories prize. Monse, the label founded by Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, won the Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent.
Simons, in his acceptance of the men’s award, acknowledged he was inspired by the American people and hoped he, in turn, inspired them. “It feels like a big welcome,” he said. When he won the second award, more than an hour later, he seemed overwhelmed—perhaps because it was Nicole Kidman who presented it.
“I don’t know what to say anymore!” he said. “I’m standing here next to someone who has been so inspiring to me.” Then he wisely paid homage to the design school students seated in the upper balconies, encouraging them: “If we as creators can be an inspiration for how the world should look, then I think it’s something we should take as a very important task in our existence.”
This sentiment was finally echoed in the board of director’s tribute to Steinem, Richards, and Monáe too. As Monáe concluded her remarks, “We’re all here as artists. I never wanted to be a politician,” she said, “because artists get to be honest. We get to tell it like it is.”