Beyonce steals show as surprise honoree at fashion awards

By | On June 07, 2016

In the end, it came down to Beyoncé. Well, it always does these days, doesn’t it?
The musician was one of the few surprises of the night atthe Council of Fashion Designers of America awards dinner — often referred to as fashion’s Oscars, though the event tends to feel more like fashion’s prom night (with celebrities).

Surprise is a relative term. Beyoncé was named Fashion Icon, the final award of the evening and one that had been kept secret. Or, at least until the point partway through the ceremony when Jay Z; Blue Ivy, their 4-year-old; and Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Knowles, were shown to their table.
Anyway, it was more surprising than Marc Jacobs winning Womenswear Designer of the Year, his sixth CFDA award (he already won the category in 2010, plus a lifetime achievement award in 2011); Thom Browne winning Menswear Designer of the Year for the third time (he also won in 2013 and 2006); and Rachel Mansur and Floriana Gavriel winning Accessories Designer of the Year for their label Mansur Gavriel, a mere year after winning the Swarovski Award for Emerging Accessory Designers of the Year (explain that logic to me).

And though it wasn’t necessarily a surprise that fashion would want to claim Beyoncé as its own, given her total dominance of the current cultural and female empowerment conversation, the award still sat sort of strangely on her shoulders. Admittedly, I wrote a column about two years ago calling her an icon but not a fashion icon so I would say that. But, she has always made sure that she is the dominant force in any fashion relationship; the clothes serve her ends, and the designer or brand is an addendum. The message is about her, not the frocks.

Just consider the fact that in a night to celebrate American fashion, where she was honored by the American fashion establishment, where the only international designer present was Alessandro Michele of Gucci, who won the International Award and whose clothes Beyoncé had featured in her visual album “Lemonade,” she wore … Givenchy. Also a giant hat.

Indeed, she addressed the issue obliquely in her acceptance speech (she actually spoke). “When we were starting out in Destiny’s Child, a lot of labels didn’t really want to dress four black, country, curvy girls,” she said. “My mother was rejected from every showroom in New York.”
Her mother, she added, designed her prom dress, her wedding dress, her Grammy dress; her grandmother was a seamstress. Beyoncé, of necessity, had to develop her own style outside the system with their help.

Then she added, “Soul has no color, no shape, no form.”

That was about as political as the night got, though Anna Wintour, Vogue editor and artistic director of Condé Nast, did ask for a round of applause after iPhones across the room flashed that The Associated Press had announced Hillary Clinton had enough delegates to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination. The room complied; you know where their sympathies lie.
The host Joel McHale did not have a Chris Rock at the Oscars moment — there was no talk of CFDAs so white, though there might well have been, and perhaps should have been. Aside from a brief appearance by Victor Cruz of the New York Giants, an opening film starring Sarah Jones as multiple characters (including a bike messenger named Rashid) and a finale song from Jennifer Hudson, Beyoncé was the rare award recipient or presenter of color.

Instead it was a night of great affection, and little challenge. Mr. Browne declared his love and appreciation of his partner, Andrew Bolton, curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, and encouraged everyone to see “The First Monday in May,” a documentary featuring Mr. Bolton. Winning the Swarovski award for accessory design, the shoe maestro Paul Andrew also called out his partner of 13 years, Siddhartha Shukla.

Donna Karan received the Founder’s Award from Calvin Klein and the two legends, who have been friends for decades, cozied up to each other. Norma Kamali, who won the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award, joked that she had asked Mickey Drexler, J. Crew’s chief executive, to make a “sex tape” with her, the better to get famous, but that he said it would be “a very long tape.” Tilda Swinton, who accepted the Board of Directors’ Tribute award for David Bowie on behalf of Mr. Bowie’s wife, Iman (it was their 24th wedding anniversary), read a letter she had written to him that she had signed, “Your Tilly.”

And in the most touching speech of the night, Brandon Maxwell, winner of the Swarovski Award for Womenswear, after thanking pretty much everyone under the sun, noted: “I was very gay in a very small town, and all I had were the women in my life who let me dress them up and put clothes on them. It gave me meaning.”

Perhaps that’s the way industry nights like this one should be: mutual appreciation and no controversy. But the CFDA had planned to televise the evening (that idea fell through at the last moment), and still is talking about it for the future. If so, the organization might consider the meaning it gives to others.

As Beyoncé said in her acceptance speech, “We have an opportunity to live in a society where any girl can look at a Billboard magazine cover and see her own reflection.”
The same was not true of the CFDA stage and, indeed, is not true of fashion over all — at least not at the top. But shouldn’t it be?
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