Of the many fashion designers working today, it's hard to discount the influence The Row — the minimalist-leaning label known for its simplistic shapes and sumptuous fabrics — has had on its contemporaries. It was an influence the Council of the Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) voted to honor for the second time on Monday night with its biggest prize — the Womenswear Designer of the Year Award — for which Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Proenza Schouler and Altuzarra had also been nominated. (The Row, founded in 2006, won for the first time in 2012.) Accepting the award from actress Amanda Seyfried on stage at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, designers Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen repeatedly, and sweetly, congratulated the other on their win.
Their acceptance speech marked the end of the 2015 CFDA Awards, a glittering and, ever increasingly, celebrity-studded night where, once a year, the American fashion industry recognizes its rising stars and established legends. 2015 will likely be remembered as the year Pharrell gave a 15-minute speech about the evolution of his personal style. Or the year Betsey Johnson did a cartwheel on stage. It was also a year guests and honorees — cartwheels aside — played it safe. Though the speeches were long, they were uncontroversial, and there were no see-through dresses. In fact, there were no major fashion statements of any kind, though one appreciated Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's decision to wear flats two weeks after women were turned away from a film screening at Cannes for wearing heelless-shoes.
British comedian James Corden, the night's official host, got things off to a rollicking start, serenading the audience with a song that poked fun at the self-importance of fashion. ("To sew that unsewable dress/And the malls will be better for this.") He threw darts at the night's sponsor, Swarovski, whose name is affixed to many of the awards (eliciting many laughs); warned the Womenswear and Menswear award winners that Kanye West, sitting front row, was "going to interrupt both speeches to say that Beyoncé should have won both of them" (still more laughs); and joked that "asking me to host the CFDAs is like asking Terry Richardson to host your daughter’s birthday party" (awkward and uncertain laughter). "Without fashion we'd all be naked," he concluded, "[and] when you're standing next to me and Harvey Weinstein later you'll all be grateful."
In a surprise move, last year's Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Tom Ford, took home the first prize of the evening, for Menswear Designer of the Year. He graciously acknowledged the work of his head of menswear, Peter Hawkings.
Mickey Drexler then accepted the Founder's Award from New Yorker editor David Remnick, dubbing him "the merchant prince" and putting forth, incontestably, that Drexler has "changed in some definable fashion the look of things." Drexler said he believes there are no single methods for success, but that he has always worked hard at every job he's had ("even folding towels"), never accepted the status quo, and has always questioned authority and titles.
Urging the world to recognize the creativity of Italian designers, Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani handed the International Award to Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, who were recognized for making Valentino modern and relevant again while honoring its heritage.
A nearly tearful Tabitha Simmons, a shoe designer, accepted the award for Accessory Designer of the Year, and the three Swarovski awards for emerging design went to Shayne Oliver of Hood by Air (for menswear), Rachel Mansur and Floriana Gavriel (for accessories) and Rosie Assoulin (for womenswear). It was nice to see the women of Mansur Gavriel — who did not find their success through CFDA programs — acknowledged for the undeniable impact their unvarnished leather bags have had on accessory design. Assoulin said she was amazed to find herself on the podium, recounting how, just a few years before, she had tried to sneak in to the event to watch.
Kim Kardashian, wearing a semi-sheer Proenza Schouler dress patterned with grommets, stepped on stage to hand the Media Award to Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom. It was otherwise uneventful. Kelly Osbourne, talking mostly about herself, then introduced Lifetime Achievement Award winner Betsey Johnson, who joyously performed a cartwheel, split (not her first of the night) and then danced on stage before thanking her family and partners. Kanye West welcomed the night's second-to-last honoree, Style Icon award winner Pharrell Williams. West began talking about the difficulty of breaking the mold of the "celebrity creative" and of the fashion industry's repeated derision of his own work, but stopped short, choosing instead to let Williams take the spotlight. Ironically, it was Williams who ended up having the longest — and, it must be said, self-indulgent — speech, talking for roughly a quarter of an hour about his notable style moments and discovery of designers like Rei Kawakubo and Junya Watanbe.
It was still raining when the ceremony ended, and guests talked loudly into their cellphones, struggling to locate drivers parked blocks away. Vogue's Hamish Bowles, in a flowered suit, was fortunate enough to chase down a cab, though he had to run for it. It was fashion back in the real world.
This story was updated on Tuesday morning with links and additional quotes.