By  on May 16, 2007

NEW YORK — For a fashion party, Monday night's American Image Awards sounded an awful lot like a political gala.

The American Apparel & Footwear Association's 29th annual event, held at the Grand Hyatt hotel here, raised $930,000 for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the favored charity of Anna Kournikova, who won the Spirit of Woman Award. Kournikova accepted her award with four girls from the New York chapter, who wore dresses they had designed themselves. Then the message portion of the evening began.

Fellow honoree Patricia Field stormed the stage — the first of several such appearances — to call attention to the girls. "These beautiful young women made these beautiful outfits," Field said. "Can we just take 30 seconds for them to walk across the stage to see what they made out of their hearts?" The answer, apparently, was no.

Field, who was presented with the Fashion Maverick award by "Sex and the City" star Willie Garson, took her acceptance speech in a political direction. "It grieves me as an American citizen that the entire shoe production industry is in China," she said. Field returned to the stage a third time after George Feldenkreis' acceptance speech for Man of the Year, adding, "We need to put our power in our hemisphere."

After being introduced by Sue Kronick, vice chairman of Federated Department Stores Inc., Feldenkreis made his own call to action. "We are not investing enough in the talent of the industry," said the chairman and chief executive officer of Perry Ellis International. "We need to improve the quality of our merchants."

Matthew Rubel, president and ceo of Payless Shoe Source, told a poignant story of a single mother and two daughters who had been able to "be like everyone else" thanks to three pairs of shoes bought for $42 from the moderate-price shoe chain. "Payless touches America in a way no one else can understand," Rubel said. "Our mission is to make sure we democratize fashion and style."

Tommy Hilfiger and Joel Horowitz introduced Rubel, whom they made president of Tommy Hilfiger when he was a 25-year-old "whiz kid."In lighter fare, Daily Candy founder Dany Levy won the Golden Pen. "I'm going to keep this speech short and sweet in the spirit of what Daily Candy is," said Levy. André Leon Talley introduced Kimora Lee Simmons, president and creative director of Baby Phat, as Designer of the Year. "She knows how to make glamour into power," the Vogue editor at large said.

Others in attendance included event emcee Jay Manuel, Lela Rose, Patrick McDonald and Heatherette's Richie Rich.

To accept New Balance's Innovation in Performance award, president emeritus John Larsen wore sneakers with his tux. "Inside the company, the word 'fashion' is referred to as the 'F word,'" Larsen joked.

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