The 2021 CFDA Fashion Awards: Reigniting the Power of American


It was an intimate, feel-good affair Wednesday night at The Pool + The Grill in the landmark Seagram Building celebrating the CFDA Fashion Awards.

Returning to a live format, the evening recognized the creativity, ingenuity and resilience of the fashion industry before an audience of 315 people. Guests included Karlie Kloss, Drew Barrymore, Christian Siriano, David and Lauren Bush Lauren, Kenneth Cole, Precious Lee, LaQuan Smith, Tracy Reese, A$AP Ferg and Michael Kors.

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Tom Ford, chairman of the CFDA, said that in previous years, the ceremony was much bigger but they deliberately kept the attendance down.

“We felt that this year we should have a more intimate event that focused on all of you who never lost faith in the power of American fashion,” said Ford. “When I began my role as chairman, my goal was to help the American fashion industry become more globally recognized for its importance and for the talent that is here. Little did we know that a pandemic would shut the world down and change the course of our lives and the course of our business forever.”

Tom Ford and Steven Kolb - Credit: Lexie Moreland/WWDTom Ford and Steven Kolb - Credit: Lexie Moreland/WWD

Tom Ford and Steven Kolb – Credit: Lexie Moreland/WWD

Lexie Moreland/WWD

“But with COVID-19 came incredible creativity. It forced us all to think in a different way, to think about our brands, what we stand for, to think about our customers and our employees, more than ever before,” added Ford.

He noted that the fashion industry is a $3 trillion industry that employs millions of people: designers, seamstresses, patternmakers, models, editors, hair and makeup artists, photographers, sales associates and many others.

Speaking about the various ways in which the CFDA reacted to the pandemic, he said they created A Common Thread with Vogue, raising $5.1 million and granting funds to 161 designers, retailers and manufacturers. Seventy-nine percent were businesses owned by women and people of color. The CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund gave $500,000 in mentorship to 10 finalists, and they developed Runway360 to serve as an innovative digital platform for designers to show and sell their collections.

After ongoing racial injustice and worldwide unrest, the CFDA created Impact, where it identifies, connects and supports talent through its diversity, equity and inclusion work and partners with brands to provide access to hundreds of jobs, opportunities and mentorships. It also doubled its scholarship fund, in its 25th year, to $500,000 and added new scholarships.

Emily Blunt, who was dressed in Michael Kors, served as the evening’s host. She said she’s always loved the artistry of fashion and the power of transformation, “which great design can bring into your life, and it’s nothing short of magical.”

Emily Blunt - Credit: Lexie Moreland/WWDEmily Blunt - Credit: Lexie Moreland/WWD

Emily Blunt – Credit: Lexie Moreland/WWD

Lexie Moreland/WWD

In presenting the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award to Dapper Dan, Valerie Steele, fashion historian, curator and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, said, “Daniel Day, better known as Dapper Dan, is one of the most inspiring, influential designers of our era.”

She explained that when Dapper Dan opened his boutique in Harlem, he put big logos (Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi) on his clothes and luxury brands began to file lawsuits against him. He had to shutter his business and reinvent himself. The companies that once sued him now pay homage, and he and Gucci paired for the Gucci-Dapper Dan collection.

Dapper Dan - Credit: Lexie Moreland/WWDDapper Dan - Credit: Lexie Moreland/WWD

Dapper Dan – Credit: Lexie Moreland/WWD

Lexie Moreland/WWD

“This is the biggest symbol of my life,” said Dapper Dan. “I’m taking this back to Harlem. I can’t tell you enough how important this is. I used to ride up and down Madison Avenue and say, ‘There’s Gucci, that’s my partner.’ I was at Gucci, before Marco [Bizzarri, president and chief executive officer of Gucci] was at Gucci. When Gucci said I could have my own atelier in Harlem, Gucci and Marco came to Harlem. They let me do a collection. Next thing I know I’m walking the red carpet with Marco, I’m at the Grammys with Marco, and tonight I’m sitting with Marco.”

Handing out the inaugural Face of the Year award, Cara Delevingne said she was privileged to talk about the face that captivated the world this year, noting that Anya Taylor-Joy is recognized not only for her extraordinary performance in “The Queen’s Gambit,” and her numerous ad campaigns (including a global brand ambassadorship for Dior), but for being the person to launch the shipment of thousands of chess sets.

Anya Taylor-Joy - Credit: Lexie Moreland/WWDAnya Taylor-Joy - Credit: Lexie Moreland/WWD

Anya Taylor-Joy – Credit: Lexie Moreland/WWD

Lexie Moreland/WWD

Taylor-Joy said she was happy to be in such illustrious company, and thanked her team for always supporting her and the fashion industry for teaching her so much. “And since this is the face, I guess I have to thank my parents,” said Taylor-Joy.

Ciara announced that the Accessories Designer of the Year Award would go to Telfar Clemens of Telfar, last year’s recipient as well, who couldn’t attend.

Emily Ratajkowski presented the Media Award in honor of Eugenia Sheppard to Nina Garcia, editor in chief of Elle. “Nina is a genuine trailblazer. In 2017, she became the first Latina to lead a major American fashion title,” she said. She said Garcia puts fashion in the context of culture and is fiercely devoted to giving a platform to new voices, including emerging creatives from under-represented and marginalized communities.

“What an honor to be on this stage with all of you tonight,” said Garcia, noting that it was her mother who taught her that fashion could be transformative. “Throughout my career, the connection to my roots has been very powerful….looking back I see myself as a 10 year old, setting up and creating my own fashion magazine. I was so lucky to know back then that this was my passion.” When she started out, she was one of very few Latinas in the magazine industry. “Today, I’m one of the editors in chief. I’m proud to see so many faces like mine in this room today. To see more diverse voices reflected in fashion media, and to see more talented individuals being given the space to tell their stories,” said Garcia.

Nina Garcia - Credit: Invision/AP ImagesNina Garcia - Credit: Invision/AP Images

Nina Garcia – Credit: Invision/AP Images

Invision/AP Images

In accepting the Environmental Sustainability Award from Carolyn Murphy, Rebecca Goodstein, Patagonia’s environmental and community programs manager for North America, said that when Yvon Chouinard founded Patagonia nearly 50 years ago to sell rock-climbing equipment, he could never imagine he would be receiving a CFDA Award today. And in 2018, the company changed its reason for being. “The shift was the expression of the emergency of the climate crisis and every person has to work toward that goal,” said Goodstein. She encouraged people to vote in every election and to break the cycle of endless consumption — the reason Patagonia started their resale business.

Turning to the international awards, Paloma Elsesser presented International Men’s Designer of the Year award to Grace Wallers Bonner of Wales Bonner. Jeremy O. Harris accepted the award on behalf of Bonner, who couldn’t attend. She sent word of how honored she was and thanked the CFDA and her collaborators and Black artists, past and present, who have created the space for her company.

Elsesser also presented the International Women’s designer of the Year award to Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga.

“It’s been 10 years ago since I got my first design job in Paris, and ever since I’ve always felt I’m on a mission to challenge the rules and bring fashion forward,” said Gvasalia.

In one of the more poignant moments of the evening, Carre Otis and Beverly Johnson, presenting the Model Alliance and its founder, Sara Ziff, with the Positive Social Influence Award, spoke about how they were personally abused as models throughout their careers and the vital role that The Model Alliance has played in advocating for the rights and wellbeing of models.

Otis spoke about the day she was first raped as a teenager by Gerald Marie, president of Elite, who was a known serial sex offender. She said she remembers the day her female agent knowingly sent her to Paris to live with him and the nightmare that ensued. Her agency didn’t protect her, she said, and she was traumatized and buried her trauma to have a successful career. Things changed when she joined The Model Alliance, learned her legal rights and received the support she needed to receive justice in court.

Johnson spoke about her experience with Bill Crosby, who drugged her in his home during her audition of the “Cosby” show. “It was by the grace of God and the fact that I screamed at the top of my lungs that I wasn’t raped,” said Johnson. Her modeling agency recommended she audition and she found out later during the trial that her agent had been setting up innocent models to audition “for that predator.”

She spoke about the work The Model Alliance does, including passing laws to establish workers’s rights in the fashion industry; extending child labor protection; and safeguarding talent from sexual harassment. They are now fighting to pass an Adult Survivor Act in New York. “For models of color, the pressure is even more intense. Their accusations of sexual harassment are less likely to be believed,” said Johnson.

Ziff recalled that she was 14 years old when a photographer instructed her to pose nude. “It was the first of many times I was put in wildly inappropriate and dangerous situations throughout my modeling career,” she said, noting that The Model Alliance hears these stories every single day. She called on everyone in the room, as leaders in this industry: “You have the power to make things right. Not in a few years, but right now,” she said, indicating that they need Elite World, every agency, publishing company and brand to join the Respect program to set a new industry standard.

Sara Ziff - Credit: Lexie Moreland for WWDSara Ziff - Credit: Lexie Moreland for WWD

Sara Ziff – Credit: Lexie Moreland for WWD

Lexie Moreland for WWD

Michael Kors gave Yeohlee Teng the Board of Directors’ Tribute award. Teng came to New York City from Malaysia to attend Parsons School of Design and was discovered in 1981 by Dawn Mello, “the legendary fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman.” This year marks Teng’s 40th year in business. “Since then Yeohlee has proven herself a devoted New Yorker and great flag waver for American fashion,” said Kors She has served on the CFDA board for many years. “Her passion for sustainability was part of her DNA long before it became a fashion buzzword. She is also a great fighter for the Garment Center and for producing beautiful products here in New York City. Her designs are both architectural and user-friendly. She is innovative and creative and is always always looking at new ways of creating her vision of ‘clothing as shelter,’” said Kors.

Yeohlee Teng - Credit: Lexie Moreland/WWDYeohlee Teng - Credit: Lexie Moreland/WWD

Yeohlee Teng – Credit: Lexie Moreland/WWD

Lexie Moreland/WWD

Teng recalled that Mello gave her her first order for 200 pieces for a genderless, zero-waste cape. She turned around the order in 10 days. “How we grow and make things will determine how long we can sustain ourselves. In truth, life as we know, has changed, and to endure, we have to re-invent. I’m optimistic,” she said.

HoYeon Jung presented the American Emerging Designer to Edvin Thompson for Theophilio, who said the feeling is “triumphant,” and that “Theophilio is bigger than myself.” He thanked the CFDA, his late grandmother Margaret, who encouraged him to leave Jamaica and see the world, his family, his partner and friends.

Anna Wintour presented the Founder’s Award in honor of Eleanor Lambert to Aurora James for the 15 Percent Pledge.

Aurora James and Anna Wintour - Credit: Lexie Moreland for WWDAurora James and Anna Wintour - Credit: Lexie Moreland for WWD

Aurora James and Anna Wintour – Credit: Lexie Moreland for WWD

Lexie Moreland for WWD

In accepting the award, James explained that a few days after the murder of George Floyd her inbox was flooded with retailers telling her that Black Lives Matter and she wasn’t truly believing them. The outlook suggested that 42 percent of Black-owned businesses would close due to the pandemic and she believed that if Black people in America make up 15 percent of the population, then Black-owned businesses deserve 15 percent of shelf space — and this would force venture capital to take notice. She posted her thoughts on Instagram an hour later; launched a petition Monday at noon; by Tuesday she had over 100,000 signatures; by Wednesday they were a nonprofit, and by day 10, Sephora became the first major company to commit to the 15 percent pledge.

To date, the 15 Percent Pledge has 29 of the largest and most influential companies in the world have signed the pledge, shifting over $10 billion to Black-owned businesses. In the first six months of this year, they put 385 Black-owned businesses on the shelf of its pledge takers. “The 15 Percent Pledge is the largest economic driver for Black people that this country has ever seen. And it all started with some of the people in this room having the willingness to say yes,” James said.

She also spoke of launching her accessories brand, Brother Vellies, with $3,500 at the Hester Street Fair on the Lower East Side. She has remained independent since and there’s a reason for that — she said investors were never willing to make a bet on her: “I didn’t look or sound like the people they were used to placing bets on.”

Iman, who presented the Fashion Icon award to Zendaya said, “The last time I was here offering remarks for the CFDA Fashion Icon award, I was the recipient. Tonight it’s my immense privilege to pass the baton to Zendaya.”

“Zendaya is one of the youngest icons to inspire and excite the world with her great sense of style,” said Iman. Her instincts and confidence on the red carpet have defined glamour for a new generation of fashion lovers, including Iman’s own daughter, Lexi. She cited Zendaya’s collaborations with Tommy Hilfiger, Valentino and Lancôme, as well as her partnership with trademarked image architect, Law Roach.

Dressed in a red Vera Wang bandeau and column skirt, Zendaya said: “Fashion has been a creative outlet and an extension of all the reasons I love acting. Fashion gave me the extraordinary gift of transformation, and to be anyone I wanted to be.” She spoke of meeting Roach at 14. “Every time we get dressed we treat it like a film,” she said. Zendaya went on to speak about how she utilizes fashion so that the shy little girl in her can live out all the things she dreamed, and that the more she does, the more she’s discovering all the different facets of the woman she already is. “Fashion and many of the people in this room, and especially the smaller brands that dressed me before anyone else did, helped me find that and for that I am forever grateful,” said Zendaya.

Blunt then got back on the stage and turned to Zendaya, saying, “Zendaya, you are so delicious, I can’t even handle it.”

Wrapping up, Blunt presented the American Menswear Designer of the Year award to Emily Bode Aujla of Bode.

Aujla thanked the CFDA for giving her $2,000 for her first show. “Everything I do comes back to this feeling of unrest that I have. I have a deep concern that people will forget the history that has shaped us, our materials and the technique and everything about textiles….and what has shaped who we are as people and our culture,” said Aujla. She said she just lost a mentor in the textile world, and this award is dedicated to her.

Emily Bode Aujla - Credit: Lexie Moreland for WWDEmily Bode Aujla - Credit: Lexie Moreland for WWD

Emily Bode Aujla – Credit: Lexie Moreland for WWD

Lexie Moreland for WWD

Christopher John Rogers - Credit: Kendall BessentChristopher John Rogers - Credit: Kendall Bessent

Christopher John Rogers – Credit: Kendall Bessent

Kendall Bessent

Finally, Blunt presented the American Womenswear Designer of the Year Award to Christopher John Rogers, who won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award in 2019 and the American Emerging Designer of the Year in 2020. Accepting his award, Rogers spoke of coming to New York in 2016, when “nobody would hire me” and he bought some fabric and made some clothes for his friends. He thanked the CFDA and the people who took a chance on him and said “go see this guy.”

FOR MORE STORIES:

Christopher John Rogers Wins CFDA’s American Womenswear Designer of the Year

Live From the CFDA Awards Red Carpet 2021

Getting Ready for the CFDA Awards With Theophilio Designer Edvin Thompson

Christopher John Rogers Celebrates CFDA Win at The Blond

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By fashonana

Fashonana is a fashion blog for the fashionable woman of this era.

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