Posted: June 11th, 2012
Kate Bosworth in Altuzarra at the CFDA Awards
The CFDA, the Council of Fashion Designers of America headed by Diane Von Furstenberg (as President) is one of the strongest structures of American fashion. It is evident that the CFDA is centered around promoting fashion as part of American art and culture and has made its core focus the supporting of emerging distinct American (and international) talent. The key word is Talent. Many years ago when you thought of American designers, the names Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Diane Von Furstenberg, Michael Kors, and even Marc Jacobs were your idea of quintessential American designers. In the recent past, a new wave of designers are America’s new generation of Talent – designers with a distinct voice, an eye for global design in a particularly American way, a strong business acumen guided by private conglomerates and friends in Press. Such designers are the likes of Philip Lim, Alexander Wang (a complete phenom), Proenza Schouler, Derek Lam, Jason Wu, Thakoon, Rodarte, and more recently, Prabal Gurung & Joseph Altuzarra.
These designers and quite a few others have either been nominated or have won CFDA awards in design categories. Winning a CFDA award will mean many things for a designers career; it may mean Anna Wintour is your fashion god-mother, but in all seriousness it’s a certified stamp of approval that says, we’ve watched you, and now we recognize you. My admiration with the CFDA is that aspect of defining, nurturing, building, and affirming the careers of so many young and emerging American designers. Initiatives such as the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund honor designers who in that particular year are seen to be the “next-big-thing”. I read an article by author Robin Givhan a while back that sums it up perfectly, “the point [of the fund] has always been to try and give talented U.S.-based designers the best shot at a long, satisfying career”. Winners are chosen after rigorous applications that end with $300,000 for the winner and $100,000 each for two runners-up. I know how crucial it is for new brands to get financial support. Don’t underestimate the power of friends in high fashion places – an insider support is all you need, but even more influential is the funds to get you there.
The winners also receive business mentoring in forms of collaborations with existing retail brands, which I believe in time even proves more significant than the cash award. Joseph Altuzarra collaborated with J. Crew this year, as did Prabal Gurung last year. It’s no wonder the winners do eventually become “big-things” in the world of fashion.
Last week, designers, models, actresses and trendsetters in fashion’s book of cool attended the CFDA Awards as it celebrated 50 years and awarded another group of fortunate nominees, in the categories of Womenswear (Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen for The Row), Menswear (Billy Reid), Emerging Talent for Ready-to-Wear (Joseph Altuzarra – Womenswear; Phillip Lim – Menswear; Tabitha Simmons – Accessories), Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement (Tommy Hilfiger), and International (Rei Kawakubo for Commes des Garcons).
What I love is how inherently American these brands are, and how positive (in my opinion) the CFDA’s efforts are to protect and preserve “America” within fashion, so much so that US based brands always reflect a modern American sensibility within their collections even when influenced by other continents, tribes, ways of life. I would love to see this replicated in Nigeria. A lot of brands have built their aesthetic visually around Africa. Some of them are inherently Nigerian or Ghanaian or South African – however in our case, to complete globally we need to in a sense, “dumb-it-down” and create completely modern aesthetics that will translate internationally. It’s almost the reverse. Is it safe to say that perhaps its not always a positive thing to be seen as an “African or Nigerian” brand? That’s a question for the international market and for brands that seek international recognition. However, locally, being inherently Nigerian/African or not, the desire is to replicate the American model, where a governing fashion body can represent African/Nigerian fashion in forms of growth (think financial growth that will lead to growth within the economy)and development, financial funding and initiatives, as well as business support in retail, strategy, investments and communications. It is safe to say that with recent events we have less and some no hope in our nation. Sometimes it is hard to see far ahead but I am one of hope. We worry, but still hope. A bit of a contradiction isn’t it? Maybe we need to stop hoping that something positive will happen, maybe we can stop waiting for the government to help, maybe we can be the positive change that we seek. Maybe we can get up and do something, anything.
Photo Courtsey: www.style.com