Fashion Designers of America

There was no Lady Gaga wearing a spiked thong. And Johnny Depp, proclaimed a style icon by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, was a no-show. Thus, this year’s CFDA awards Monday night at New York’s Alice Tully Hall were a subdued affair spiced only by the willingness of host Seth Meyers to take a few lusty pokes at an industry that too often takes itself all too seriously.
“Fashion and comedy go together like bar mitzvahs and John Galliano,” Meyers joked in his opening monologue, referring to the former Christian Dior designer who was fired for his anti-Semitic comments. The audience responded with self-conscious groans and moans as if to suggest that Meyers had crossed some sacred line. But Meyers was not daunted. He took a swipe at Karl Lagerfeld for his obsession with weight. He teased Marc Jacobs for his eccentric ensemble—a sheer black lace dress worn over white boxers—at the recent Costume Institute ball. (He even strutted out in a version of the ensemble at the half-way mark for a moment of pure visual comedy.) And then Meyers essentially dared the audience not to laugh: “Fashion people like hating things more than they like liking things.”
Bravo to Mr. Meyers. He was spot on. The truth might hurt, but it was also mighty funny.
There was an abundance of truthfulness and realism to this year’s CFDA awards, and a lot less glitz. Those who were honored represented the often-ignored behind-the-scenes powerhouses, as well as the folks who make clothes that average consumers wear, not just the rarified few. The CFDA honored a designer who shuns the spotlight and is, perhaps, more admired because of it, along with a duo who redefined what it means to be celebrity designers.

The starlet presenters this year still sparkled and smiled, but they did not seem to shine as brightly as they have in the past. There wasn’t the sense of that powerful gravitational pull of big-name actors and actresses who tend to turn the evening into an homage to Hollywood rather than a celebration of Seventh Avenue.  Jessica Chastain may be a rising talent, but it’s still hard to remember exactly which pampered Southern lady she played in The Help. Jessica Pare serenaded Don Draper on Mad Men but the fascination with her rendition of “Zou Bisou Bisou” is still a bit baffling.  And Lily Collins is an adorable young actress, but a Google search was necessary before one was able to place her as the daughter of singer Phil Collins who also had a role in The Blind Side.

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CFDA Awards 2012

CFDA Awards 2012: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Anna Wintour.

Instead, the night belonged to the fashion industry. Billy Reid, who divides his time between New York and Alabama, was honored for best menswear. His clothes are grounded in a kind of Southern Americana. His jackets are roomy; his trousers have texture. He does not traffic in hipster attitude. Reed Krakoff was named best accessory designer for his signature collection—a group of tasteful handbags and shoes that evoke good breeding rather than the sort of in-your-face edginess that turns heads and has historically made editors swoon. The top women’s-wear award went to The Row, created by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. It is a decidedly grown-up brand, one that appeals more to a 30-something woman than a girl fresh from adolescence. (In the CFDA video celebrating the brand, the clothes were modeled by the 70-something writer and artist Beatrix Ost who appears in “Advanced Style”—an homage to older women.) The Row is understated, luxurious, and inattentive to trends.
Those industry veterans receiving special awards included Andrew Rosen—a name the average person probably has never heard—and Tommy Hilfiger, whose clothes are probably in Everyman’s closet. Rosen is a third-generation, garment-industry man, but his name isn’t on any label. In presenting his award, designer Kenneth Cole noted: “So often in fashion we celebrate the frontman. Tonight we honor someone in the shadows.”