The fashion world gathered at the WWD Apparel and Retail CEO Summit to meet — in person, again — and look into the future, but industry leaders managed to pause on Tuesday night to recognize their own and acknowledge accomplishments over the past year.
The in-person touch was certainly felt at the WWD Honors awards, which had some emotion, some humor and a little business advice to boot.
Supermodel Gigi Hadid presented her collaborator Tommy Hilfiger with the John B. Fairchild Honor, recognizing his career of influence and distinction in fashion. The honor is named after WWD’s legendary publisher and editorial director.
“He’s revolutionized the fashion industry by building a household-name label that continues to break boundaries,” Hadid said. “Tommy Hilfiger is a brand that I have been a fan of for as long as I can remember.”
And she became a fan with a very closeup view to Hilfiger himself once they started collaborating in 2016.
“I got to work with and see Tommy in many different situations,” Hadid said. “Yes, he gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, the most amazing introduction to the world of design, with the support infrastructure of a titan. But he gave me more than that. The experience and honor of watching a legend at work — from design meetings to red carpet events to him in the green room for the morning shows followed by a full 12-plus hour press day. No matter what, and I can attest to this in dozens of countries and time zones, he was always himself. Kind, professional, assertive, respectful, joyful and, may I say, a star.”
Those traits held true as Hilfiger accepted the honor, noting it had previously been given to Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, Leonard Lauder, Karl Lagerfeld and Miuccia Prada.
“I feel totally humbled to be here tonight,” he said. “And thinking back about how my journey started with my initial investment of $150 when I was 18 years old selling jeans from the basement. I dreamed and I dreamed big and I continue to dream and look at the North Star. I always thought that if I could dream, maybe someday I could come close to what the dream was. This dream has motivated and inspired me throughout my entire life. And I’m filled with gratitude, to be here tonight and to continue to realize the dream.”
He thanked Hadid, who jetted off to catch an overnight flight to a shoot, and also the many people who helped him build his empire, including his brother Andy; his former business partner Joel Horowitz; his “chief adviser” Joe Lamastra; Stefan Larsson, who is chief executive officer of parent company PVH Corp.; his wife Dee, and others.
Hilfiger was in good company at the podium on Tuesday night.
Burke explained that he usually does not accept such recognition. He then colored the emotional note with a reference to — and impersonation of — comedian Groucho Marx, adding, “I’d never want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member.”
He also thanked both his wife, Brigitte, and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton CEO Bernard Arnault, joking, “I got married to both about 44 years ago.
“Bernard, of course, I need to thank him for having instilled in every nick and corner of his empire, creativity,” he said. “That’s what we’re here to celebrate. I would not be here without his immense wish and desire to have a global organization that’s based simply on creativity.”
He concluded by thanking Vuitton’s four designers: Nicolas Ghesquière in women’s; Francesca Amfitheatrof in fine jewelry; Jacques Cavallier in fragrance. Burke paused, then added, “And Virgil Abloh in menswear,” before pointing upward and raising the award to the skies.
Jonathan Anderson received the WWD Honor for Women’s Wear Designer of the Year, marking his work at Loewe.
Anderson said the people at the brand have been “so generous to me” and accepted the award, “on behalf of everyone at Loewe, because I’m just a figurehead.”
The designer also thanked his parents: “Who deal with me — every problem and every nonproblem, and just being able to sort of keep [me] on the ground. I think sometimes this industry can make you take flight and be very confusing.”
Accepting the nod for Menswear Designer of the Year was Alessandro Sartori, artistic director of Zegna.
Sartori designed his first suit when he was 14, and it was “not as beautiful as I wanted,” he said, but it started him on a “long journey” that brought him to the top creative position at the Italian luxury brand that has been part of his life since the beginning. Sartori actually grew up in the town Zegna calls home.
Although he has been credited with transforming the company from traditional menswear to a more modern and luxury casual aesthetic, Sartori credited Zegna’s CEO, Gildo Zegna, as well as his team of artisans for helping him achieve the success. “Design is what I enjoy the most and I’m here because of that,” he said.
Companies were also honored for their progress and performance.
Burberry landed the Corporate Citizenship Honor, which was accepted by Thibaut Perrin-Faivre, president and CEO of the company’s Americas business. Perrin-Faivre said he was impressed by the company’s push “to do good and to be a better business” when it first joined a decade ago and that “since then, this feeling has just grown.”
He accepted the award on behalf of the company’s 9,000 employees and “for the better and the good we can bring to the world around us.”
Hermès International won the honor for the Best-Performing Fashion Company, Large-Cap and when Diane Mahady, executive vice president, accepted the award, she noted: “We’re 185 years old and we’re a sixth-generation company and we were founded on three principles that haven’t changed. And it’s creativity…craftsmanship and humanity.”
Mahady described the award as a testament to “not having to compromise on your values.”
Jacquemus CEO Bastien Daguzan accepted the award for Best-Performing Fashion Company, Small-Cap, thanking “a really inspiring designer, Simon Jacquemus” and noting that, Jacquemus is not really a brand, it’s actually a positive ecosystem.”
Turning to the beauty arena, the award for Best-Performing Beauty Company, Large-Cap was awarded to Ulta Beauty.
David Kimbell, who rose to CEO in June 2021, was on hand to pick up the honor. Ulta’s sales have risen 20 percent since Kimbell took over the top spot and the momentum has continued this year, with all major categories exceeding expectations in the first half and the company continuing to increase its market share in prestige and mass market beauty sectors.
Kimbell accepted the honor on behalf of the 45,000 Ulta associates “who are working every day to build our culture and deliver on the human experience. And it’s that human experience that makes the beauty category so special. Beauty is ultimately about self-expression. We believe our guests don’t come to us to get beautiful, they come because they already are, and our role is to help them embrace a life that only they have.”
The Best-Performing Beauty Company, Small-Cap was awarded to Amyris, a company that sits at the intersection of biotech and brand incubation, using clean chemistry to create products and sell to other companies.
CEO John Melo credited the team that has helped Amyris work to “make our planet a more sustainable and healthier place for all. At the end of the day, we’re all here on borrowed time, we’re borrowing the planet from future generations. And we all have a responsibility to leave it either as good or better than how we came to it. And the idea of making [products that are making] sustainability sexy is actually an exciting place to be.”
On the retail front, Macy’s Inc. was singled out as Best-Performing Retail Company, Large-Cap for its recent financial results — sales rose nearly 40 percent to more than $25 billion last year with a return on equity of 46.3 percent — as the company evolved its model from traditional department stores to off-price and digital options.
Jeff Gennette, chairman and CEO, said he and the Macy’s Inc. team, which includes Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury, have been successful by learning how to be “scrappy,” and pivoting to meet the evolving needs of today’s customers. “They learned how to focus on the customer experience, and how to get all costs out of the way to be profitable. And our story is not done. What we take from this night is a note of encouragement, we will continue to serve this customer and look forward to continuing to [post strong] results.”
Since its launch in 2003, Jenni Kayne, Best-Performing Retail Company, Small-Cap has made its mark selling fashionable minimalist separates along with beauty and home products and developed a loyal following, with some 65 percent of revenues generated by repeat customers.
Julia Hunter, CEO, accepted the honor and said Kayne is “the creative of our generation. And I’m so inspired working with her.” Hunter pointed to Kayne as well as the other female executives in the industry who are helping to establish a new standard for women in business by setting new rules about pregnancy, child care and other issues.
“There are so many amazing, women who led the way for us to build this business that we’re so proud of.” And while it’s not easy, the plan going forward she said is to keep building that momentum.