The Founder’s Award in Honor of Eleanor Lambert
This story first appeared in the May 27, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
It took Bethann Hardison a good two to three weeks to get over being “quite stunned” by the honor of the CFDA Founder’s Award in Honor of Eleanor Lambert.
She was still getting used to the idea when the bouquets of flowers starting arriving at her doorstep and the congratulatory calls started coming in.
“When people said, ‘You are surprised?’ with their voices going up like they do — I’m stunned that they would think I wouldn’t be,” Hardison says. “I’ve known the CFDA since a lot of people in the CFDA today weren’t even in it. I couldn’t imagine that they would give me an award for helping them to recognize something that should be part of their daily bread.”
Once the surprise dissolved, a little fear crept in, but only temporarily. “You know, I don’t like to write speeches,” she admits, “so I will just speak.”
Over the years, she has had a lot to say, though always with a measured and even-handed approach. Less steadfast activists might have given up or retreated from their causes, when interest ebbed and flowed with societal diffidence. Seemingly unaffected by the degree of interest in diversity, Hardison has kept at it purely for a greater good than any act of ego.
Last year, she ratcheted up her efforts by alleging racism on the runways via e-mails to the The Council of Fashion Designers of America, the British Fashion Council, the Fédération Française de la Couture and the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana on behalf of her group, The Diversity Coalition.
“Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches design houses consistently use one or no models of color. No matter the intention, the result is racism,” the letter stated.
Difficult as it was to write those two sentences, Hardison also named names, citing designers and women’s wear labels that relied solely or too heavily on Caucasian models. The letter continued, “Not accepting another based on the color of their skin is clearly beyond ‘aesthetic’ when it is consistent with the designer’s brand. Whether it’s the decision of the designer, stylist or casting director, that decision to use basically all white models reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern society. It can no longer be accepted, nor confused by the use of the Asian model.”
Hard-hitting indeed, but Hardison insists that all of her efforts are meant to make people own up to their actions—and hopefully to change them.
“When the media holds people accountable, and I am not talking about blogging — I know they’re relevant, I get it, I get it — but when the media holds other people accountable and picks up the phone and asks, ‘Did you get this letter? What do you think about it?’ That helps to initiate change,” she said.
Championing change is what Hardison has built her life on — first as a breakout model in the Sixties and later as a modeling agency owner and activist. But progress has been uneven. “When we were coming up as models, they were good times. You could go into the clubs and sit next to Truman Capote if you had something interesting to say and if you looked good. You didn’t have to be pretty. You just had to have style,” she recalls. “When that freedom started slipping away, that was not cool. I never thought of myself as an advocate, or an activist or a revolutionary. That was just part of being part of the Sixties.”
In 1989, she cofounded the Black Girls Coalition with Iman “to celebrate all the black models who were working, and with our good fortune, we helped the homeless epidemic that was happening in New York City in the late Eighties.”
In 1993, they “addressed the advertising agencies by [requesting] that commercial advertising should reflect their consumers. The minority races were not being shown.”
Around 2004, while representing Tyson Beckford, Hardison started spending more time at her home in Mexico until her friend Kim Hastreiter of Paper magazine urged her to reignite the activism. “I just wanted to kick back in my hammock, have a tequila and say, ‘Hey.’ But Kim made me feel like I had to do something,” Hardison says. “And then Naomi [Campbell] kept calling.”
In 2007, when the New York runways looked too Caucasian to ignore, Hardison organized town hall-type discussions with casting directors, modeling agents, stylists and designers. But now more than ever in the blizzard of social media, Hardison wants them to realize how their ad campaigns and runway shows register with the public at large. But she does not want to pass the baton to a successor. “My whole objective is to get it to a point where it’s running on its own,” she says, “and people are being recognized for their talent and not as people of color.” — Rosemary Feitelberg
Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award
No one has ever received a Lifetime Achievement Award for urbane bravado. Yet that trait is part of the reason the CFDA is honoring Tom Ford with its 2014 distinction. He is the dashing personification of his explosive Tom Ford brand — both radiate sex, glamour and, increasingly, power.
If one looks at the Karl Lagerfeld-Chanel relationship as a Holy Grail unto itself, then it was Ford who established the template for the designer as storied-house employee, a force with whom a dusty brand could hit refresh and rejuvenate both its luster and its bottom line. Ford’s run at Gucci is legendary; together with Domenico De Sole he orchestrated an epic brand revival that begot a global powerhouse luxury group. As Gucci flourished, so did Ford, becoming one of the world’s most influential designers. Creatively, in the midst of the dour, deconstructed early Nineties, he brought sex back big-time. And he made the business-savvy designer not only acceptable, but cool. If the Gucci association didn’t end neatly, it remains one of the most remarkable transformation sagas in fashion history.
Post-Gucci, Ford indicated he’d had enough and would now channel his creative persuasions toward Hollywood. He delivered, awing skeptics with his directorial debut, 2009’s A Single Man.
Yet in time, luxury beckoned him back. Reteaming with De Sole, he started with eyewear and a novel approach to fragrance that has been widely knocked off. In 2006, he returned to fashion with men’s wear and, four years later, women’s. In a short span, the brand has exploded into a major celebrity favorite with deep global distribution. The prevailing aesthetic: a 21st-century update on sensual power dressing. For fall 2013, Ford went for dizzying optic fervor with lots of flash, dazzle and riotous patterns; a year later, for fall 2014, he opted for streamlined chic with a sporty undercurrent. Either way, his rededication is clear. The best thing about being a designer, Ford says, “is that I have a ‘voice’ in contemporary culture. This was the thing that I missed…I hated not having a ‘voice.‘” — Bridget Foley
While deeply connected to his Belgian roots, returning to Antwerp most weekends, Raf Simons looked to America for inspiration when he was growing up in the remote town of Neerpelt.
“The music I liked, the films I watched — I got so much from American pop culture,” the designer recalls. “The first Raf Simons fashion show I did had music from the Smashing Pumpkins — and that meant a lot to me. America has always been this dreamlike place for me.”
The shout-outs continue to the present day. Now Dior’s artistic director of women’s haute couture, ready-to-wear and accessories collections, Simons showed the French brand’s resort 2015 collection in New York, and said it owed a strong debt to the U.S.
“There is a freedom I admire in the way particular American women dress,” he explains. “American women have always been extremely responsive to Dior — it is something that goes back to the time of Christian Dior himself. Of course, it is very flattering for me that women in this country appreciate what I do. I hope people respond to that idea of freedom, reality, strength and energy that I have wanted to get across. It is also something I see in the American customers.”
The recipient of this year’s CFDA International Award has enjoyed a stellar fashion career, first earning attention for signature men’s wear steeped in youthful rebellion, and influential in its mélange of stark, skinny tailoring and gritty, streetwear touches. Then, hit collections for women at Jil Sander caught the eye of French business titan Bernard Arnault, and landed him one of the most powerful seats in fashion as Dior’s sixth couturier.
The designer wasted little time putting his modernist stamp on the august house, while remaining respectful of its signature “Bar” suit and association with an elegant strand of femininity. His first designs arrived in boutiques in February 2013. “I hope people feel that what we are doing has come together relatively quickly. I have had so much support from the American press and media as well as the buyers and customers — the award really marks a special period for me,” he confesses.
In a short time, Simons has injected the brand with youthful verve, and a daring streak informed by his personal penchant for cutting-edge music and contemporary art. He also passed his first fiscal year at Dior with flying colors. Profits from recurring operations increased 31 percent in the second half of 2013 to 108 million euros, or $143.1 million, while revenues in the six months to Dec. 31 climbed 14 percent to 758 million euros, or $1.02 billion, a 20 percent improvement at constant exchange rates.
The momentum continued in the first quarter of 2014, with revenues rising 13 percent to 357 million euros, or $489 million.
Asked if business success is a key measuring stick for him, Simons replies: “The company doing well financially always brings satisfaction. It means that people like what you are doing and are buying and wearing what you are producing. That is the biggest satisfaction you can have as a designer.” However, he adds, “I am not driven by money; the creative process drives me, expressing ideas and communicating with people. Hopefully, that’s what is making a connection with people.” — Miles Socha
Media Award in Honor of Eugenia Sheppard
Paul Cavaco, creative director of Allure, has accomplished a lot in his 38-year career, but one thing he’s never gotten over is his terrible stage fright. So when he gets up on the stage to accept his Media Award in Honor of Eugenia Sheppard from the CFDA, don’t be surprised if he passes out.
In a conversation with Cavaco at his Allure offices at 4 Times Square, he explains how he feels about winning the award.
“I was surprised that it actually made me so happy,” says Cavaco.
But getting down to the business of making a video, and then having to do a speech, has literally sent him into a tizzy.
“I’m mordantly afraid of giving a speech. I can’t even give a toast at a dinner. I start to cry. It freaks me out,” he says. “You just can’t say ‘thank you.’ You have to thank the CFDA. My career is not just me. What I do is completely a collaborative thing. My career is based on the fact of a photograph at the end. I’m not a photographer, I’m not a hairdresser, I’m not a makeup artist, I’m not a model. You need all those elements. I wouldn’t have that career if I didn’t have all those people. So you have to, in some form, acknowledge them.”
According to Linda Wells, editor in chief of Allure, “Paul has had a long, illustrious career because his eye is always fresh. He has a way of hitting the Zeitgeist right in the sweet spot. In this moment now, when beauty and fashion are intertwined, Paul understands and expresses that with such eloquence and deftness. You never see the effort.
“He’s the original champion of authenticity, and even though that word is so trendy now, he’s been at it for decades,” she adds. “His work in the images and design of Allure always expresses something real and beautiful.”
Cavaco began as a stylist and became co-owner of public relations firm Keeble, Cavaco & Duka before becoming fashion director of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, and now creative director of Allure, a post he’s held for 14 years. Cavaco says he likes his status of being a “behind-the-scenes” kind of person. “It suits my personality, for whatever psychological reasons. But if you sent me to a shrink, he’d say it’s because I grew up in the Fifties when you weren’t allowed to be Spanish, so you had to hide that from people….And to be gay, one was not allowed to show that.”
When he started his career, there weren’t many stylists, let alone male stylists. There weren’t many freelance stylists, either.
Cavaco says he owes his career to Kezia Keeble and Bruce Weber. Cavaco was helping Keeble style a shoot, and Weber kept saying, “Kezia, he’s really good at doing this,’” Cavaco relates. One day, Weber called and Cavaco was working at Brew Burger at 57th Street and Sixth Avenue, and said, “Will you do some ads with me?”
Keeble and Cavaco began living together and had a baby; they were married from 1976 to 1983.
“I started to go on shoots with her because she was nursing the baby. And I’m learning. She’s teaching me everything. Then Bruce started to hire me, then Bryan Bantry would call, and if Kezia couldn’t make it, they said, ‘Then send Paul.’”
He ended up working with Weber, Patrick Demarchelier and Richard Avedon.
Asked to describe his point of view, Cavaco says: “To me, I have great range. Michael Kors always laughs at me, I’m very American. I like America. I like American clothes. I like an American girl. I like the other things, too, but I have an American sensibility.”
At Allure, he doesn’t really separate fashion from beauty.
“You can’t do beauty without doing fashion. They’re so dependent on each other,” he says. “I’ve worked with the best hair and makeup people in the world. I’ve watched François Nars, Pat McGrath, Garren, Serge [Normant]: you watch them do hair and makeup and you just learn. I worked with Steven Meisel, who’s incredible at it. Bruce Weber, Avedon. They all have an incredible sensibility. They know how to look at beauty, and they know how to look at clothing. Unless you’re asleep, you’re learning. It’s just like the best school.”
At the end of the day, his most favorite thing is to be in the studio and to work on a shoot. “That’s always the thing I come back to. I like being on a shoot. I like that collaborative thing. I like creating something from nothing.” — Lisa Lockwood
CFDA Board of Directors Tribute Award
She was mentored by Eugenia Sheppard and Eleanor Lambert, befriended by Norman Norell and Halston, witnessed a nascent industry become a powerhouse, and along the way helped to organize—and discipline—Seventh Avenue designers for more than half a century.
For that, Ruth Finley, founder and publisher of the Fashion Calendar, will receive the Board of Directors Tribute Award this year from the Council of Fashion Designers of America—which, by the way, she also saw born.
“I was in college and I met two friends who were in fashion and they complained that they were invited to Saks and Bergdorf’s events the next week on the same day and the same time, and it basically planted the idea in my head that there should be a clearinghouse so that this would not happen,” recalls Finley. “They thought it was a brilliant idea. But I was still in college so I couldn’t do anything about it.”
After graduating with a degree in journalism from Simmons College in Boston, near where she was born and raised in Haverhill, Mass., Finley came to New York and was working at the Herald Tribune on the food section when she met the legendary fashion writer Eugenia Sheppard. “She took me under her wing and began to teach me about fashion,” Finley relates. “She’s the godmother of my youngest son. She was a terrific, wonderful person, and gave me a lot of background in fashion and guided me into what I wanted to do.”
Finley says that in the beginning, it was mainly stores like Best & Co. and Arnold Constable that hosted events and shows, and designers like Ben Zuckerman. “Then I got to know Eleanor Lambert, who had started Press Week — a forerunner to fashion week — in the 1930s. It was Eleanor who really made fashion important in New York and 51 years ago came up with the idea of the CFDA.”
Finley says the idea of centralizing New York’s fashion shows with 7th on Sixth in Bryant Park and then Lincoln Center “was great,” but she hoped it would be all the designers having runway shows at the same place for just a few consecutive days. That’s not exactly how it turned out. “Running around town is very difficult. I always say this, because it’s true, that every season is much more difficult.”
But Finley, who has three sons and 10 grandchildren, wouldn’t trade it for anything. “I have a very personal relationship with the people I work with. I think that’s why I never had any competition.”
There are a few designers with whom Finley became close over the years. There’s Diane von Furstenberg, to whom Finley fondly remembers giving advice in 1970 on how to show her line to retailers, such as sending them samples and having previews in her showroom. Finley calls Oscar de la Renta and Norell “very special. I really enjoyed working with Halston—he used to call me two or three times a week to discuss his plans for events and shows, timing, publicity, what he wanted to do.” She also has fond memories of Pauline Trigère—“I got my first wholesale dress from her, a beautiful cotton dress.”
Trigère began working with Finley on Citymeals-on-Wheels, and Finley has been on that charity’s board for 30 years. She’s also involved with the High School of Fashion Industries, Lighthouse for the Blind, the Martina Arroyo Foundation and the Waxman Cancer Research Foundation.
She still goes to her office at the Fashion Calendar every day—“we’ve always had the red cover, so it doesn’t get lost on a messy desk.”
As for the honor, Finley says, “The award is very exciting, particularly since I remember the birth of the CFDA. I’m very happy with what I’ve done, trying to keep the fashion industry in order.”
Asked if she would ever retire from the business she’s been running for nearly 70 years, Finley, who won’t tell her age, adds, “I tell people, ‘Maybe in 20 years.'” — Arthur Friedman
Fashion Icon Award
Rihanna is nothing if not ballsy. So when the pop megastar showed up to her own post–Met ball blowout at Up & Down in Manhattan wearing a slinky, pewter gown that deliberately exposed a sliver of butt crack, a delicate gold chain skimming across her tailbone, it didn’t really raise too many eyebrows.
“A lot of people dress for shock value, but she just loves doing her thing and being creative through fashion,” stylist Mel Ottenberg says, describing his client’s personal style—a term not nearly expansive enough for someone like Rihanna, which is precisely why she’s receiving the 2014 Fashion Icon Award.
“What is her mystique…?” Ottenberg trails off. It’s difficult—even for him—to put his finger on it. “It’s effortless but it’s layered, too. It’s exotic, mysterious, nonchalant, that’s all part of her thing. She never wants to be one note. Her style moves so fast that by the time someone suggests something to me and is like ‘That’s so Rihanna,’ she’s moved past it. She keeps it moving.”
Sitting front row at the Dior cruise show at the Brooklyn Navy Yard—Ottenberg at her side—Rihanna looked prim in a pale-pink quilted silk dress by the house paired with various pearl-laden jewels and a clean red lip. Her pitch-black tresses spouted out of a high ponytail. The bubblegum look (albeit, a tongue-in-cheek bubblegum look) couldn’t have been further from the vibe she was giving just two nights before in her butt-baring ensemble—but that’s sort of the point.
“She’s separated herself from the pack not only with her fantastic taste, and really knowing her body and how to move, but also because she wants to keep being surprised by fashion,” Ottenberg says. “Most stars know their angles and stick with a formula that works. She’s not that kind of girl. She always wants to know what’s new, what’s next. It’s fun to keep everyone guessing.”
It’s that unexpected, evanescent approach that has the fashion world so fascinated.
“Collaborating with her moves at rocket speed. She has an opinion and knows what she likes. She is always evolving, constantly,” Ottenberg says. “She always wants to take the risk, never the safe option. Never.” — Taylor Harris