Winds of change were blowing through the halls of Casa Cipriani on South Street at the tip of Manhattan the night before the midterm elections, rushing over the step-and-repeat of celebrity entrances at the 67th annual Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards, more commonly known as “the fashion Oscars.”
They whizzed by Trevor Noah, a presenter in blue velvet, and Keke Palmer, another presenter, in ballooning blue florals; the entire Kardashian family, there to support Kim, who was receiving the Amazon innovation award for Skims with her co-founders Jens and Emma Grede; and Chrome Hearts’ friend, Drake.
Despite the “Archival American” dress code, there is a new breed of American designers making waves in the industry who aren’t interested in looking back, who came to the fashion industry through unconventional means, and who don’t necessarily agree with the norms and conventions that have long held sway in the industry. Awards ceremonies, which for years looked stuck in a rut of repetition due to the same people being nominated and awarded, have caught up with the times. Last but not least, we value variety.
And just one winner, menswear designer Emily Adams Bode Aujla, was a repeat: the other half of the honours went to designers of colour. (She took home the prize for men’s wear in 2018 and the prize for best newcomer designer in 2019.) After learning that Khaite’s Catherine Holstein had won the prize for women’s apparel, she was so taken aback that she proclaimed she was speechless and quickly left the platform.
For instance, Mr. Roach related how, as Zendaya’s stylist in 2016, he watched the CFDA awards from the kitchen as busboys rushed past with trays of food, vowing himself that one day he too would be on the stage. Someone warned him he wouldn’t amount to anything, yet he was there to tell the young Black homosexual child in the ghetto that “everything is possible.”
The winner of this year’s emerging designer award, Elena Velez of New York and Milwaukee, discussed her upbringing by a single mother who worked as a ship’s captain on the Great Lakes and the need of broadening the definition of “fashion capital” beyond the two major cities on the coasts.
After accepting the Positive Social Influence award on behalf of the “Slaysians,” Phillip Lim encouraged the crowd to “help us in fighting for democracy” by casting a ballot. Included in this group of fashion insiders who fought to resist escalating anti-Asian prejudice during the epidemic are names like Prabal Gurung, Laura Kim, Tina Leung, and Ezra William.
So, as Cher put it, “it took a long time for others to catch up” to the Chrome Hearts’ brand of high-fashion biker wear. The first reception was mixed, to say the least. Cher, decked up in buckle-heavy Chrome Hearts black leather, is a prime example of the need of deviating from the norm in order to create something new.
Mr. Abloh earned multiple nominations for CFDA awards during his career, but he was never a winner. The council gave him a special Board of Trustees award after his death to honour his contributions to the fashion industry.
The silver statuette was given to Mr. Abloh’s widow, Shannon Abloh, by Brother Vellies’ designer Aurora James, who said that her late husband had permanently altered the parameters of “who gets to be a fashion designer.”