The CFDA awards Monday night brought out the usual cast of characters for a fashion event: Ralph Lauren in starched acid-wash jeans and a tuxedo jacket, Michael Kors in his sunglasses, Anna Wintour presiding silently over the crowd as several young designers thanked her in their speeches—and even the now ubiquitous Leandra Medine, the voice behind the fashion blog Man Repeller, who wheeled around the cocktail hour.
But there, in the middle of it all, was Hillary Clinton, who stood majestically on stage in a glittering navy pair of pants and jacket, along with matching earrings.
“Now that I have some more time on my hands,” she told the crowd, “I am going to be pitching Andy [Cohen, Bravo executive and the evening’s host] and others, a new show for Bravo ... We can call it Project Pantsuit.”
The remark received wild applause from the crowd. Clinton went on to pay tribute to her friend Oscar de la Renta—and to present him with the Founders Award. “I first met Oscar de la Renta in December 1993,” she said. “I was hosting, along with my husband, the annual gathering for the Kennedy Center Honors. We were in the receiving line, and people were coming through, and they were making small talk. Along came Oscar and Annette, his fabulous wife. So I reached out to shake Oscar’s hand, and he looked me up and down and said, ‘That’s one of my dresses.’ I said, ‘Really?’” She paused, and then deadpanned: “I always have been, as I am now, such a fashion icon.”
When de la Renta took the stage, he called Clinton his “best friend” and suggested that she might become our next president—earning a raucous reaction from the audience, but Clinton just stood there, laughing, and shook her head.
The evening continued: a mixture of fashion-industry luminaries—and their famous fans—honoring (and poking fun) at each other. It was an event that sent a strong message about the current state of American fashion. Not only is it alive, it’s really kicking.
Fittingly, the Council of Fashion Designers of America paid tribute to the big guns—but also stopped to support the industry’s young talent. There was a sweet moment, sometime between Jessica Chastain’s and Kerry Washington’s cameos on stage, when the council’s CEO, Steven Kolb, honored the work of three talented young design students from around the country who received special fashion scholarships. The crowd cheered as the three students, blinded by a spotlight, stood and waved in a mix of awe and excitement and total terror.
The Swarovski Award honored young talent, too, though this kind more established. This year it went to Max Osterweis and Erin Beatty of Suno for womenswear, Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne of Public School for menswear, and Pamela Love for accessories.
The biggest categories, however, were Menswear Designer of the Year—which went to Thom Browne, who accepted his award in his signature tuxedo with shorts—and the Womenswear Designer of the Year award, a competitive face-off between Alexander Wang (whose own success has, in the past year, helped launch his career at Balenciaga); this year’s pajama king, Marc Jacobs; and the wildly popular Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCullough of Proenza Schouler.
In the end, the Proenza boys took it, giving a humble and rough-around-the-edges speech that conveyed a real sense of surprise and humility. The pair thanked all their business partners and mentors before Hernandez wheeled around to thank McCullough, “the love of my life.” It was a rare moment of sweet candor amid more than a few canned speeches. Another touching scene came at the end of the night, when Lauren took the stage to present the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award to his friend—and former employee in the 1980s—Vera Wang.
Outside in the lobby, the hallowed Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic surveyed the crowd in a head-to-toe look by Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy, a close friend and the evening’s International Award recipient, for whom she is the face of a recent campaign. “I’ve never seen more fashion in one place,” she said, putting on her glasses to inspect the crowd. “This is very, very different from art.”