Prize Patrol—Deconstructing the CFDA Awards


We’d love to share some dishy, skanky gossip from the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers) awards the other night, but guess what? We weren’t invited. This despite the fact that we, along with a lot of other press people, are the ones who actually vote on who should receive these honors, a laborious process of nominations and balloting (OK, it’s not that laborious, just vaguely annoying). We’d like to think that we were tossed off the guest list because in the past we’ve suggested prizes for H&M and the fake-bag dealers of Canal Street, but the truth is we are just one little morsel in the wholesale purging from the CFDA’s invite list of ordinary types, like working journalists.

Back in the day—three or four years ago—we lowly scribes were invited to sip a cocktail and watch the CFDA ceremony. Even though we were dumped on the street just as the swells sat down for dinner, we were on hand to witness stuff like PETA dropping leaflets from a Lincoln Center balcony when Oscar de la Renta got his award. It’s a sad fact that major fashion events have lately become more and more elitist. It’s not just the CFDA party that invites only celebs, magazine moguls, and high-end garmentos who fork over big bucks for tables. The annual extravaganza to benefit the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute—the so-called “party of the year”—used to feature a rather free-wheeling after-party frequented by drag queens, desperate fashion victims, and other fun types who were willing to fork over $200 for a ticket. This year, the after-party was nearly as exclusive as the ridiculously pretentious dinner, and the only person remotely resembling a man in heels was a lost-looking Marilyn Manson, there as the guest of Marc Jacobs. It’s not just our own personal feelings that are hurt here: Fashion itself really suffers when life at the top becomes so sterile. Everyone knows that the occasional weirdo and freak is what makes style really interesting. Even the legendary Diana Vreeland knew that a salting of vulgarity is what keeps things lively.

Marc Jacobs won the CFDA award for accessories this year, which we suspect is primarily in acknowledgement of his metal-buckled handbags so hideously popular these days. Well, Jacobs certainly has the Midas touch. When Catherine Deneuve, who was at the ceremony to give an award to Gilles Bensimon, was asked what American designers she admired, she reportedly thought for a long moment and finally came up with Jacobs’s name. Of all the Americans honored by the CFDA, Jacobs is in fact the only one about whom there is genuine buzz in London—and even Paris. For that we guess he deserves some kind of recognition, though he probably wasn’t all that excited about this particular designer; he wins something from the CFDA practically every year. In other news, we were thrilled that Lanvin designer Alber Elbaz received the International award. Elbaz is finally being recognized for his genius with delightful, lightly deconstructed French classics. (Go see them on the second floor of Barneys—there’s no charge to look.) Plus he seems like such a nice guy, and we love that he looks like a regular person. (We always hated that hairy-chested quasi-model stance of Tom Ford.)

Other awards went to various industry stalwarts like Vera Wang, who made a fortune in bridal and has now branched out to regular clothes, and John Varvatos, who is backed by big bucks from Nautica. But for us the most exciting award is always the morbidly fascinating Perry Ellis prize for upcoming talent, because in so many cases it has proved to be the kiss of death. Just look at this roster of past recipients: Isaac Mizrahi in 1988 (went belly up but resurrected at Target); Christian Francis Roth in 1990 (out of business); Todd Oldham in 1991 (ditto); John Barlett and Richard Tyler in 1993 (both currently tottering); Marie-Anne Oudejans for Tocca in 1995 (long gone from the company); Miguel Adrover in 2000 (vanished in a blaze of glory). We wish this year’s winners—Derek Lam, Anthony Camargo and Nak Armstrong for Anthony Nak, and the wonderful Alexandre Plokhov for Cloak—all the best in their future endeavors. They are all extraordinarily talented.

But it’s a very, very tough, cold business.