Good advice! Industry dinners run long, and the fashion industry’s, patina of glamour notwithstanding, are no different. After guests were herded to their tables at the Brooklyn Museum, where the CFDA awards were being held for the first time (von Furstenberg “feels like Brooklyn’s time has come,” said the museum’s director, Anne Pasternak), dinner was followed by an aimless hour of kibitzing and waiting.
Models milled; Juuls were discreetly sucked. Bottles of tequila sat on every table, with limes at the ready, and were restocked before they were even empty. In the spirit of merrymaking, Russell Westbrook, Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and her brother, Anwar, gamely took shots.
But then she appeared: Issa Rae, the evening’s host, in a lime green pantsuit. Rae brought a charge that the mugging hosts of years past — mostly white male comedians operating at a very comfortable distance from the industry — have lacked. Rae claimed she herself was far from fashion, and she opened with a montage of photos of her younger self in outfits less stylish than the one she was wearing.
“When left to my own devices,” she said from the stage, “I’m about as fashionable as Kanye is black.”
Kim Kardashian West, Kanye’s wife, sat front and center, waiting to receive the inaugural Influencer Award.
Rae pressed on, with a set that touched on diversity and inclusion, a theme several winners and honorees would return to throughout the night.
“I’m also the first person of color to ever host the CFDAs,” Rae said. “Which is crazy, especially considering the impact black culture has had on fashion. We’ve gone from having white designers study black culture to make black clothes for white people that are too expensive for black people to buy, to Virgil Abloh, the first African-American artistic director of Louis Vuitton.
“Now you’ve got a black man bringing black culture to a historically white fashion house and making clothes too expensive for everybody to buy.”
With that, we were off. Rae passed the mic to Oprah Winfrey, who presented the Media Award to Edward Enninful, the first black editor of British Vogue. (“He has a bold vision,” Winfrey said. “He is a bodacious man.”)
“Growing up in West London, I never knew it was possible to achieve something like this,” Enninful said. “And I’m not done yet.” He spoke of the importance of diversity and his commitment to changing the industry for the better.
“Change” is not always the watchword of the CFDAs, where the same designers may win multiple times (in some cases, year on year), and the grandees are not above honoring themselves and one another.
There was a stirring tribute to Ralph Lauren, a “CFDA Members Salute”: As von Furstenberg noted, he had already won more or less all of the available awards, so a new one had to be created for the occasion.
She herself then won an award for positive change in the industry, sponsored by Swarovski, which had bedazzled not only a faux Calder in the museum’s atrium, but also pairs of cherries and tangerines in the otherwise edible on-table fruit bowls. “I said, ‘I can’t accept this — people are going to think I’m nuts!'” she said of the backstory. “I had nothing to do with this.” Then she accepted it.
A few new winners did appear, most notably James Jebbia, the typically terse founder of Supreme, which won for Menswear Designer of the Year despite, as he said in his acceptance speech, the fact that “I’ve never considered Supreme to be a fashion company or myself a designer.” (He was appreciative nevertheless.) Sander Lak, the designer of Sies Marjan, won the Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent.
The social media moment of the night was likely when Kardashian West ascended to accept the new Influencer award, “kind of shocked,” she said, to be “getting a fashion award when I’m naked most of the time.” But she was brief and the moment muted. More moving was Naomi Campbell’s win for Fashion Icon, as she stood onstage, wiping away tears.
“I stand here today as a proud woman of color and will continue to push for diversity and equality,” she said. “They told me I’d only last 11 years. But I’ve been here for 32 years.”
What was there to say after that? All that was left was for Raf Simons of Calvin Klein to collect his Womenswear Designer of the Year award, the final trophy of the night, a surprise second consecutive win for which he hadn’t prepared a speech.
“To all of you real fashion lovers: love fashion!” he commanded. “That’s what keeps us going. Thank you, women!”
Rae returned to the stage.
“Thank you, women!” she said. “Shout out to women!”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.