Reese Witherspoon at MOMA


Acceptance speeches are so last season. Accepting an award from WSJ Magazine on Wednesday night, choreographer Ryan Heffington let his body do the talking — twisting, turning and contorting before putting his hands over his heart in thanks.

The seventh annual Innovators Awards at the Museum of Modern Art in New York attracted an eclectic group of power players across the worlds of entertainment, fashion, art, design, technology and architecture including Marc Jacobs, Tory Burch, Gwyneth Paltrow, Maddie Ziegler, Candice Bergen, Rupert Murdoch and Joe Jonas.

Besides Heffington, perhaps best known for his choreography of Sia’s music video “Chandelier” and recognized for performing arts, WSJ honored Raf Simons (fashion), Mark Bradford (art), Reese Witherspoon (entertainment), Roman and Williams (Design), Musical.ly (tech), and Diller Scofidio + Renfro (architecture).

The night kicked off with an elaborate magic trick by Dan White, a well-known magician who has a show at The NoMad Hotel here, with the help of Karlie Kloss. The trick, which involved the audience, a Powerball ticket and a social media component, wowed the crowd.

Jacobs presented Simons with the fashion award, offering: “Raf’s acute, precise and inspiring collections for his namesake label, along with his work at Jil Sander, Dior and now at Calvin Klein, has created, and continues to evolve a particular and distinctive language of design.”

Simons returned his admiration for Jacobs upon accepting the award, calling out the designer’s work, which includes Perry Ellis’ grunge collection, a long stint at Louis Vuitton and his signature collection.

“The fashion business has dramatically changed,” Simons said. “Nothing works anymore the way it used to work….so we have big teams. It’s almost impossible to name the names.”

Simons called out PVH Corp. chief executive officer Emanuel Chirico and Steve Shiffman, ceo of the PVH-owned Calvin Klein, for the opportunity as creative director at the brand.

Closing out the night was another designer, Diane von Furstenberg, who presented the entertainment award to Witherspoon.

Von Furstenberg touted her acting career and her push to play strong female characters, as well as her mission at Hello Sunshine, an entertainment company she founded that promotes women and minorities.

“Reese was able to craft this incredible run of successes because she understands storytelling,” she said. “She feels the power of strong female characters in her bones.”

For her part, Witherspoon explained that her move to start her own company was linked to the fact that she read so many “crappy, insipid scripts.”

“Movies are very powerful. I witnessed that firsthand by women who come up to me and say, ‘I went to law school because of ‘Legally Blonde.’ Really, I’m not kidding,” she said to laughter. “Once I was on a panel with Sandra Day O’Connor and they kept coming up to me and thanking me. I said, ‘I’m not a lawyer.’ This is a Supreme Court justice! It doesn’t make any sense.”

Witherspoon, who recently divulged at an Elle event that she was sexually assaulted by a director when she was 16, addressed the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

“Recently, I don’t know if you guys heard, but there’s been a lot of stuff going on in Hollywood,” she said. “We’ve been dealing with some really ugly truths — sexism and sexual harassment and it has been rampant far longer than I have been an actress. It has brought back a lot of painful memories for people. It’s been a real time of reckoning for us. There’s a growing realization that we need to take the time to really examine the biases that exist in our industry and make much-needed change.”

Witherspoon explained that there aren’t enough female leaders in business or on boards, and that lack of representation inhibits change.

“This is not an issue about actors and actresses — we all know that,” she said. “This is a bigger issue about power.”

For More:

WSJ Parties at Innovators Awards Despite Hard Times at Company

WSJ Honors Innovators, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Miuccia Prada

WSJ Innovators Have Star Power

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