The fashion industry’s obsession with celebrities was on full display Monday night at the 2023 CFDA Fashion Awards presented by Amazon Fashion.
Crowding into the Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History were A-listers including Serena Williams, Mary J. Blige, Gwyneth Paltrow, Demi Moore, Martha Stewart, Jenna Lyons, Kim Kardashian, Coco Rocha, Ashley Graham, Chloë Sevigny, Jane Krakowski, Cynthia Erivo, Madelyn Cline, Molly Ringwald and Anne Hathaway, the host of the evening’s festivities.
The event, which began at 6:30 p.m. with cocktails, lasted until a little after 10:30 p.m., and included a sit-down dinner of Chicken Pot Pie, an Anna Wintour favorite that was for many years served at CFDA galas. After a brief introduction by CFDA chairman Thom Browne, there was a lot of sitting around before dinner was served — with people getting out of their seats and trying to mill around, although it was difficult to maneuver with so many people. Some guests felt that time might have been better spent getting the awards portion underway.
Among the big winners of the night was Catherine Holstein, designer and founder of Khaite, who was once again named the American Womenswear Designer of the Year. She won last year too.
Willy Chavarria took home the American Menswear Designer of the Year, while Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen of The Row, who were no-shows, were again awarded the American Accessory Designer of the Year, racking up their fourth win in the category. The Shop with Google American Emerging Designer of the Year award went to designer Rachel Scott of Diotima.
“I am so energized by all the new talent here in America,” Thom Browne, chairman of the CFDA, told WWD. “I took on the chairmanship to lead by example, and what I’m seeing in this new generation is so energizing.”
“How fortunate we are to do what we want to do everyday and that we get to surround ourselves with past and present designers of American fashion,” Browne said during his remarks, acknowledging former leaders of the CFDA, several of whom were in the room: Stan Herman, Diane von Furstenberg and Tom Ford.
Some 440 people attended the fashion awards, whose dress code was “American Blacktie.” Designers, executives and retailers, including Tony Spring, Lana Todorovich, Mindy Grossman, Todd Snyder, Reed Krakoff, Kenneth Cole, Tory Burch, Pierre-Yves Roussel, David Lauren, Aurora James, Stacey Bendet Eisner, Wes Gordon, Jason Wu, Christian Siriano, Jonathan Simkhai, Jeffrey Banks and Gary Wassner were in attendance.
Browne said he’s been to the CFDA awards many times, but as this was his first year presiding over the ceremony, he thought about the appropriateness of a fashion celebration during a period of global tumult.
“Tonight feels a bit different. For me it’s the first time I’m presiding over the ceremony as chairman of the CFDA,” he said.
“Tonight is about so much more than celebrating individuals,” said Browne, adding it’s about celebrating creativity, diversity and inclusion of the industry, noting that the American fashion industry is the most diverse in the world.
Once dinner was over, Anne Hathaway, the evening’s host, took the stage, joking that she was “Sarah Jessica Parker’s understudy,” or as the internet refers to her, “not Amal Clooney.” Hathaway took over the role after Parker had to step down due to unforeseen circumstances.
Hathaway noted the room was filled with many first-name stars, such as Gwyneth, Vera, Mary J., Tom, “Thom with an h,” Kim, Serena and Anna.
Naomi Watts gave out the Media Award in honor of Eugenia Sheppard to Alina Cho, the first Asian recipient of the award, calling her “vibrant and gregarious” and “super chic with incredible taste.” She said as a reporter, she’s dynamic and tireless and obsessive in finding the real heart of the story. Watts noted Cho has journeyed inside North Korea twice and has interviewed every notable name in the industry. Next year, Cho will celebrate her 10th anniversary of “Atelier Talks,” at the Museum of Modern Art.
“That video is a ‘This Is Your Life’ in hairstyles,” quipped Cho, saying she fell in love with fashion as a seven-year-old, and became obsessed with Olivia Newton John’s skin-tight leggings in “Grease.”
“The problem was they weren’t available in my size.…It was clear in that moment that fashion and I would have a lifelong love affair,” she said. She added growing up there weren’t many people who looked like her, and when she dressed up, she felt like she belonged.
In accepting his American Menswear of the Year award from J. Balvin and Greg Lauren, Chavarria said he wanted to thank everyone in the room for being part of the industry “which is so extreme, and so unforgiving, and we have so few of these moments that are glamorous.”
“What I do is design for the betterment of society. I design to lift people up. I design to incorporate love into the world,” he said.
He noted the event was taking place in the shadow “of some awful things happening in the world.”
“We all need to stand with those people who are being hurt in any way. We need to do whatever we can through our business or human contact to make others feel loved, empowered and feel good. We need to be good to one another,” Chavarria said.
“I was told tonight I had only 250 words to talk about Domenico De Sole. That is absolutely impossible,” Ford said. He recalled an intense meeting with François-Henri Pinault to save Gucci from a hostile takeover, when one of De Sole’s children called. The first words out of De Sole’s mouth was “You’re never bothering me.”
Ford said whenever he would call him, De Sole would tell him also that he never bothers him either, and that De Sole makes time for people and things that matter. “I would not be where I am today in both my personal life and my career without him,” Ford said.
De Sole said that their business life together was filled with challenges and great triumphs. “I owe my success mostly to your support and your partnership,” De Sole said. “I love you, Tom.”
“In business, it takes a village to be successful,” said De Sole, noting his colleagues and friends were in the room. “This award is a testament to a collective effort, and belongs to all of us,” he said.
Rosario Dawson presented Mara Hoffman with the Environmental Sustainability Award, and cited her thoughtfulness, kindness, integrity, connection and depth. She described how Hoffman had a successful swimwear line that she launched in 2000 that didn’t align with her moral ethics. “So she pivoted, she changed, she stopped and embarked on a journey for a more sustainable business,” she said. “Mara’s clothes are artful, inspired and deeply personal,” Dawson said. “Mara walks the talk.”
In accepting her award, Hoffman said she was proud of Maria Cornejo, whose video accidentally played instead of hers.
Hoffman said at first, she couldn’t wrap her head around a CFDA sustainability award, and called for improvement.
“Our industry accounts for up to 10 percent of global carbon emissions. Can we collaborate with one another to be better?” she asked.
Ayo Edebiri and Prabal Gurung presented the American Accessory Designer of the Year Award to Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen of The Row, who were not there.
Demi Moore, who was introduced by the president of Amazon Fashion, Muge Erdirik Dogan, gave the Innovation Award presented by Amazon Fashion to Goop, with founder and CEO Gwyneth Paltrow accepting.
Moore, a close personal friend of Paltrow, said Paltrow has always been driven by an adventurous curiosity, which started out with her Goop newsletter in 2008, featuring advice such as how to roast a chicken. Paltrow has gone on to build an empire of beauty, fashion, wellness, food and home, and discusses topics that were previously taboo, such as menopause, sex and aging. “You made a candle that smelled like a vagina,” Moore said.
Paltrow noted that Goop is celebrating its 15th anniversary, and it’s a business that started at her kitchen table and has grown along the way.
Laura Linney presented the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award to Maria Cornejo, and said that Cornejo didn’t want to be a designer and that she has “failed marvelously, and thank God. What would your loving friends wear without you?” she asked.
Cornejo said it’s so hard to celebrate right now and as a grandmother, she can’t help but be heavy. She said as a Latin independent designer, “you know how hard it is to be independent,” she said. “Thank you to my children for showing me the way of love.…I dedicate this award to peace and the innocent children who are voiceless right now,” Cornejo said.
Blige presented a special tribute to the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. “Thank God for hip-hop,” said Blige, characterizing the influential genre as “everything and everywhere all at once.” She introduced a film, directed by music video director Hype Williams, which featured Missy Elliott, LL Cool J, June Ambrose, Biz Markie and Salt-N-Pepa, with music by Pharrell Williams, made possible by New Era.
Charles Melton and Zac Posen presented Shop with Google’s American Emerging Designer of the Year to Rachel Scott of Diotima. The Jamaican-born designer said she didn’t think she’d win. She’s been in the industry for a long time, and launched her brand two and a half years ago, and her mom works on the line’s crochet in Jamaica. “I don’t think there’s anywhere I could have done this but New York,” she said. “For me to be seen means the people in Jamaica are also being seen,” she said.
Vanessa Hudgens presented the Board of Directors Tribute to Vera Wang, calling Wang “a fashion icon,” who has dressed such women as former First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Beyoncé. She called her a disrupter, a trailblazer and a true visionary. “She has made designs that are timeless and yet modern, fresh for the moment and still stand the test of time,” said Hudgens, noting Wang owns every piece of her business.
As she accepted the award, Wang said she barely made it to the altar until 40 years old. “This is such an unbelievable moment, as ironic as miraculous,” she said. During this turbulent and distressing time, “the wedding ceremony continues to inspire celebration, commitment and joy, and today, far more inclusivity.”
The evening also paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Versailles. On hand were Stephen Burrows, one of the five American designers in the event, and Bethann Hardison and Pat Cleveland, who modeled in the show. They recalled the event that forever changed the course of American fashion.
“We designers just wanted to have a good show and raise money for the preservation of Versailles,” Burrows said. “We were irresistible and victorious. I don’t think the Europeans had ever seen such unrestricted enthusiasm and color at a fashion show before,” Burrows said.
“We Americans were diverse and spirited,” Hardison added. “The Battle of Versailles was fashion’s greatest showing. We were all so thrilled to have been part of it. And I’m so proud today to see American designers continue to be the greatest force in fashion.”
Greta Lee gave the International Award to Jonathan Anderson for JW Anderson and Loewe. She recalled the first time she wore Loewe: a gray knit minidress with a hoop skirt built inside it. “The technical design term was a sculptural f–king masterpiece,” she said.
“His clothes are the answers to my prayers,” Lee said. “You are genius. Jonathan’s dedication to artisans and the arts is completely unrivaled,” she said.
Anderson recalled his surreal year, which started off when his parents Facetimed him while he was naked in bed, asking how they could watch the Super Bowl so they could see the outfit their son designed for Rihanna.
Anderson credited the teams at JW Anderson and Loewe. “These people are incredibly gifted,” he said.
A highlight of the evening was Kim Kardashian’s presentation of the Fashion Icon award to Serena Williams. She described Williams as “fearless, heroic, authentic and ‘greatest of all time.’” She called her the greatest player who’s ever lived, male or female, and said she’s always been herself. “From the moment she stepped on the court, Serena always made a statement, not only in the sport itself, but also in the world of beauty and sportswear.” At 17, when she won her first Grand Slam title with her hair in beaded braids, she gave women and young girls of color the representation they needed, Kardashian said.
Taking the stage, Williams said fashion has always been about more than clothing to her.
“I knew when I was a little girl I was different, so fashion and style was a way for me to distinguish myself. And in many ways, the tennis courts became my runway, and the U.S. Open was my own New York Fashion Week. I loved reimagining the traditional tennis outfits,” she said. She would wear purple tutus, bodysuits, knee-high boots, put beads in her hair and wore braids. “It was how I expressed my individuality, my confidence and my culture,” Williams said.
Over the years, Williams has collaborated with such designers as Thom Browne, Donatella Versace, Virgil Abloh and Gucci, and launched her own label, S by Serena, to inspire women to embrace their bodies and love who they are. “Creativity is in all of us. It’s a canvas. Through fashion we truly have the opportunity to paint our own tapestry and share our human perspectives with the world,” she said.
She said she stands here today as not only an athlete, but as a person “who has personally experienced the extraordinary power of fashion.”
Among the people she thanked was her mother who made those first tennis outfits when she was young “and teaching me and sewing it right in front of me,” she said. Watching her sew stimulated this creativity within herself, Williams said.
Hathaway (now in a different red outfit) and Narciso Rodriguez presented the final award of the evening, The American Womenswear Designer of the Year, to Holstein. Holstein was competing with Joseph Altuzarra, Christopher John Rogers, Raul Lopez for Luar and Tory Burch for the award.
“Last year I didn’t prepare anything, and I didn’t prepare anything this year. I am so beyond honored,” Holstein said.