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At CFDA Awards, Fashion Entertainment Put to the Test

This year's ceremony honoured Donna Karan and Norma Kamali, as well as BoF's very own Imran Amed.
Imran Amed accepts the 2016 CFDA Fashion Awards | Photo: BFA
  • Lauren Sherman

NEW YORK, United States — "Some of you may be looking at me and thinking, 'Why is this guy hosting?' The answer is simple: Because I love fashion. And also, Neil Patrick Harris, Hugh Jackman and Blac Chyna were unavailable," deadpanned comedian Joel McHale to an audience of fashion designers, retailers, and business executives, on Monday, June 6, at the annual CFDA Awards, which took place at the well-loved Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. It might've been the biggest laugh the star of the cult television comedy Community received all night. Although, to be fair, awards show hosts rarely win over their audiences.

McHale and his off-colour jokes were just one of the elements that made the 2016 CFDA Awards look more like a traditional awards show than ever before. There were also star presenters like Tilda Swinton and Alexander Skarsgård, musical performances by the likes of Jennifer Hudson and actor Michael C. Hall — who performed a tribute to David Bowie — as well as more than a few cheers when Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour announced that Hillary Clinton had clinched the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.

Beyoncé, who seldom speaks publicly beyond her lyrics and performances, was the evening's surprise guest and recipient of the CFDA's Fashion Icon Award, relaying a rarely heard story of her grandmother's work as a seamstress.


Michael Kors and Norma Kamali. Photo: BFA


Of course, what is different about the Council of Fashion Designers of America's annual event from other awards shows is that clothes play a starring role beyond the red carpet. Along with Beyoncé, honourees included Norma Kamali (Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award), Donna Karan (Founder's Award), Gucci's Alessandro Michele (International Award), as well as Marc Jacobs (Womenswear), Thom Browne (Menswear) and Floriana Gavriel and Rachel Mansur of Mansur Gavriel (Accessories).

The evening's Swarovski Award winners — which offers financial support and mentorship to emerging designers — were Paul Andrew (Accessories), Orley (Menswear), and Brandon Maxell (Womenswear).

Last but not least was BoF's founder and chief executive Imran Amed, who accepted the Media Award in honor of Eugenia Sheppard. "Ten years ago, as I embarked on this journey to learn about the business of fashion, I had no idea where it would take me," he said after being presented the award by Alexa Chung. "Over the past 10 years I've met with thousands of you on six continents in over 30 countries. Everywhere I have gone, you have treated me like an old friend. You have been so generous with your time, insights, knowledge and creativity. But the single best reward of having founded BoF is to be part of this talented community."

To be sure, from Beyonce’s words of wisdom to Hudson’s emotional tribute to Prince, the event was slick — and satisfying, too. After a decade or so of theatre seating in Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, guests were once again treated to dinner, where the wine — and occasional tears — flowed.

This year's CFDAs were more like a raucous Golden Globes ceremony than a drag-out Oscars broadcast. Not a surprise given that Hollywood veterans from the Weinstein Company produced the show, a move that indicated the trade organisation's commitment to reaching an audience far beyond the confines of the American fashion industry. "The challenge with all of this is that, once you start to let [the consumer] in a little bit more, give them more access, you still have to have the hook that is going to engage," said Steven Kolb, president and chief executive of the CFDA, in an interview with BoF before the show.

Originally, the idea was to parlay the Weinstein partnership into a television broadcast, which would give the American fashion industry a similar platform afforded to television, music, theatre and film’s dozens of annually broadcasted awards shows, from the Emmys and the Grammys to the Tonys and the Oscars. (Not to mention the Golden Globes, People’s Choice, Screen Actors Guild...) But in mid-May, Kolb released a statement announcing that it “decided to not move forward with a television broadcast opportunity this year.”

The CFDA hasn’t commented further on the matter, but it’s clear that the organisation has not closed the door on the possibility of televising the show in the future. (Behind the scenes, it was suggested that the opportunity was there— just not the right opportunity.) Indeed, while this year’s effort may not have materialised, the groundwork is laid.


Alessandro Michele and Anna Wintour. Photo: BFA


As in the past, the evening’s most entertaining bits will be packaged into videos. “Me thanking sponsors isn’t going viral,” Kolb said. On the other hand, past segments — male models lip-syncing to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” in the 2013 menswear nominees’ wares, or Lady Gaga confessing to accidentally using unsavory language in a text to Anna Wintour in her 2011 acceptance speech — have garnered more than 200,000 views.

This year, those clips will be amplified by a larger social media push at every angle: A CFDA Awards Snapchat story, an onsite photo backdrop powered by Instagram, Facebook Live streaming in partnership with Samsung — which is also sponsoring the after party — and consistent updates on every channel, all dutifully tagged with #CFDAAwards. For many of the attendees, the evening began with a walk down the red carpet, where fashion editor-turned-television presenter Zanna Roberts Rassi was holding court, waiting to quiz the designers and their muses — from Michael Kors and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley to Rebecca Minkoff and Broad City stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson — on their wares.

The full-court press is reflective of a broader trend in fashion to turn these traditionally business-to-business events out. Just as runway shows are now as much for the consumers as they are for press and buyers, fashion awards shows have been deemed worthy of attention, too. The Met Gala now rivals that of the Oscars in terms of media coverage and also consumer interest: This year, market sources suggest it was a significant driver of May traffic — often the largest driver — for numerous publications far beyond the confines of Vogue. But the Met and the CFDAs are only the beginning: There are the InStyle Awards, the LACMA Art + Film Gala and, the Fragrance Foundation Awards, too. Recently, the British Fashion Council announced plans to reinvent the British Fashion Awards as an international event, which will be "a mix of the Academy Awards and the Met Ball, on a global scale," according to Dame Natalie Massenet, chairman of the BFC.


Imran Amed with Liu Wen | Photo: Lachlan Bailey

For fashion, bringing these insider love fests to the masses can be a good thing, especially if they help sell more clothes. A notable addition to the run of show was a catwalk presentation that featured looks from recent American collections. In the background, clips from runway shows were interspersed with pop culture moments, like a scene from The Royal Tenenbaums or American Horror Story.

“I think it’s really the continuation of the democratisation of the industry. Technology has changed the nature of fashion shows, making designers celebrities,” Kolb reasoned. “The CFDA Awards has a lot of history, it’s been around for more than 30 years. It’s not something we created for a digital or content play. It’s an opportunity to support our mission.”

The full list of winners and honorees:

Womenswear Designer of the Year: Marc Jacobs


Menswear Designer of the Year Award: Thom Browne

Accessory Designer of the Year Award: Mansur Gavriel

Swarovski Award for Womenswear: Brandon Maxwell

Swarovski Award for Menswear: Orley

Swarovski Award for Accessory Design: Paul Andrew

Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award: Norma Kamali

Media Award in Honor of Eugenia Sheppard: Imran Amed of The Business of Fashion

Founder's Award: Donna Karan

International Award: Alessandro Michele of Gucci

Board of Director's Tribute: David Bowie

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