In the spring of 2002, the Council of Fashion Designers of America decided to honor The New York Times' Cathy Horyn with the prestigious Eugenia Sheppard Award at that year's CFDA Fashion Awards. The vote, however, wasn't embraced by the board. Far from it. By all accounts at the time—on and off the record—it triggered a boisterous meeting that became a major controversy, which many still say was one of the most memorable conflicts for the council. "That was a shocker," then-president of the CFDA Stan Herman recalls.
The incident underscores the CFDA's history of conflicts and quarrels that sometimes flared up throughout its half-century, which is really no surprise, considering the organization is populated—and fueled—by a group of highly creative, ultrapassionate members who tend to do things their own way. Not the shrinking-violet types.
As Peter Arnold, who served as executive director from 2001 to 2005, describes the overall culture: "You had a board composed of leading designers in the country: Ralph, Donna, Calvin, Tommy, Oscar, Kenneth. These guys are not accustomed to being in a room agreeing with one another and coming to a consensus. I came from a law firm; I was blissfully unaware. It was kind of a baptism by fire."
Take Oscar de la Renta, for instance, a former president himself who nonetheless found himself at odds with the CFDA.
From its earliest days, the CFDA was associated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and, in 1967, staged an exhibition there called "The Art of Fashion." And in the late Eighties, during de la Renta's second term as president and through Carolyne Roehm's stint from 1989 to 1991, the awards were held at the Met. "I thought there was a natural link to the Metropolitan Museum," de la Renta says. "They have the biggest archive and are the most viable Costume Institute in the country. Then, the CFDA decided to break the relationship to the museum, which I thought was unbelievably wrong."
It wasn't the only time de la Renta was angry with the CFDA. "I left the CFDA for a while," the designer recalls. "I don't remember what the reason was —we always got angry about something—but I do remember I got out, and then I came back."
According to reports in WWD, after the 1999 fashion awards gala was widely panned for its six-and-a-half-hour duration and slipshod production, both de la Renta and Calvin Klein resigned from the CFDA board, de la Renta leaving the organization altogether. "I am really discontented with the way the awards have been handled," he told WWD at the time. "People whom I trust have told me they have lost the sense of style and seriousness. Fashion deals with style, not with bad taste."
Both he and Klein rejoined in 2001.
Marc Jacobs, too, had his rocky moments with the organization. In 2007, Jacobs' two-hour show delay backfired and Jacobs reasoned that it was because the New York shows had been pushed two weeks earlier in the collections season. "When we complain about the show schedule, our voice is not heard, nobody does anything about it, the CFDA does me absolutely no service whatsoever as an American fashion designer," he said at the time.
The wounds have since healed—Jacobs now sits on the CFDA board and was honored with its Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. He has also won the Designer of the Year awards in Womenswear, Menswear and Accessories, took home the International Award in 2009 for Louis Vuitton and captured the Perry Ellis Award.
Over the years, there were also plenty of gripes from companies whose labels didn't carry as much weight as Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.
"They rotate the CFDA Awards among the same three designers," Nicole Miller president and chief executive officer Bud Konheim told WWD in 1996.
This—like much else at the CFDA— has changed considerably since, particularly with the rise of a new generation of New York designers and the advent of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2004.
"I think the CFDA today is an unbelievably different institution than what it originally was," de la Renta says. "Diane von Furstenberg has been an extraordinary president. She brought a great vitality into the organization. We have a voice today. She is probably, in my book, the best president the CFDA has ever had. Far better than myself."
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast