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Warming Up to the CFDA

NEW YORK — If the latest crop of individuals to enter the ranks of the Council of Fashion Designers of America seems a little familiar, it’s a reflection of a changing attitude toward the industry group among even the most recalcitrant of...

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NEW YORK — If the latest crop of individuals to enter the ranks of the Council of Fashion Designers of America seems a little familiar, it’s a reflection of a changing attitude toward the industry group among even the most recalcitrant of designers.

Of the 21 new members elected into the CFDA this year, several of them said they had intentionally avoided the organization in past years either because they didn’t feel the group did enough to support American designers or they just didn’t care to take the time to fill out an application. But since the organization was split from its fashion show production arm, 7th on Sixth, three years ago, they felt the CFDA had become more inclusive in its efforts and also a more critical point of support during a difficult time for fashion firms.

“I never knew it was about anything besides giving out awards,” said Francisco Costa, the women’s designer of Calvin Klein, who was among the new members to turn out for a cocktail party at the Manhattan showroom of Michael Kors on Tuesday night.

“I never knew what the CFDA meant,” he said, adding that he had become aware of recent initiatives to support young designers, including the new CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and other fund-raising efforts.

Costa also was involved in a contretemps in February when Calvin Klein moved its fall runway show in a last-minute change that upset other designers, including James Coviello, who also was included in this year’s new membership. The ensuing debate led the CFDA to create written guidelines in an effort to prevent future disputes over show schedules.

Jerry Kaye, creative director of Perry Ellis International, said the industry has gone through such difficult changes since the 2001 terrorist attacks that the sense of a fashion community has become more important.

“I should have joined six or seven years ago, but the politics that were involved weren’t for me,” Kaye said. “But now people are in business for two years and then they go away. It’s more important to stand behind them as a group and see what the CFDA can do for young designers.”

To that end, those who have come to define New York’s promising class of “young designers” also were included as new members, including Yigal Azrouël, Zac Posen, Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler, Eugenia Kim, Brian Atwood and Behnaz Sarafpour. Sarafpour noted she’d been asked to apply to the CFDA for several consecutive years, but hadn’t bothered since the applications are generally due around the same time as her spring sample deadlines.

“Michael Kors really was the one who finally got me to apply,” she said. “He was like my big brother, giving me a speech about how important it was to be part of a community of the industry.”

The influx of members, swelling the group’s ranks to about 280, is not without its risks, however, as all the attention on new designers may come at the expense of those with some seniority. James Purcell, who lost 60 pounds in a diet over the past year, was put off when another designer asked him what had happened. “I told them I had plastic surgery,” he quipped.

Halston’s designer, Bradley Bayou, was confused when he arrived at the party and was congratulated on joining the organization, snapping at a CFDA staffer, “I’ve been a member for about eight years.” (Tuleh’s Bryan Bradley, however, is the newcomer.)

For others, it was simply a matter of timing.

“I was always traveling on trunk shows and never bothered to apply,” said Edward Wilkerson, the designer of Lafayette 148. “But then if I didn’t, every other designer said they were going to beat me up.”

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