Hal Lawton

There’s a need for new talent in the fashion business but the issue is being addressed.

On Thursday, in one of those crowded, feel-good, chicken-dinner industry events, 1,500 retail and fashion executives raised $3.5 million for the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, at the organization’s benefit, held at the Hilton New York.

This year’s top eight student finalists, together with over 200 scholarship recipients, were celebrated at YMA’s 82nd annual scholarship gala. The guests of honor were Hal Lawton, Macy’s Inc. president, who received the “retailer of the year” award; Ryan Seacrest received the “style icon of the year” award, and Martha Stewart received the “lifetime achievement” award.

The two big scholarship winners were Jennifer Junker of Iowa State University and Isabella Mendez from Savannah College of Art & Design. They each won $35,000.

Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart  Lexie Moreland/WWD

Stewart recapped her multidimensional career as a stylemaker, a designer, TV celebrity, author, Wall Street executive and as a model posing for numerous photographers, one of which she singled out. “I should have married Frank Coburn.” She said she’s published more than 90 books. “My autobiography will be my 100th. I don’t know when it will happen, but it will happen.”

Her advice to the scholarship winners: “Never stop learning. Never stop reading. Never stop looking forward and never stop trying…Stoke your curiosity, absorb technology and take calculated risks. Never foolish chances.”

And she had some pragmatic advice to the aspiring fashion designers in the crowd: “Clothes have to be well made, fit, serve a purpose, feel good and have to last.”

“I still consider myself a bit of a novice in this world,” said Seacrest. But he said he got into the fashion business “driven by business opportunity and a long-time fascination with fashion…I just wanted to feel good in my clothes.”

“Ryan is dapper, well-groomed, modern but not ultra-modern and very approachable. He wants to be the fashion curator for young Americans so they can always dress well for an occasion,” said David Katz, vice president and chief marketing officer of Randa, which co-created the Ryan Seacrest Distinction men’s collection with Seacrest. The collection is sold at hundreds of Macy stores exclusively.

Among those at the event: William Susman, Peter Sachse and Michael Setola, president, chairman and treasurer, respectively of the YMA. Also spotted: Gary Sheinbaum, John Tighe, Liz Rodbell, Abbey Doneger, Tom Burns, Karen Murray, Morris Goldfarb, Sam Haddad, Danielle DiFerdinando and a bevy of Macy’s executives including Jeff Gennette, Paula Price, Justin McFarland, and Marc Mastronardi, who serves as vice president of the YMA.

Peter Arnold, executive director of the Fashion Scholarship Fund, said, “I’ve been on the job just eight weeks now, but I’ve learned the YMA is changing young people’s lives in profound ways.”

Ryan Seacrest

Ryan Seacrest  Lexie Moreland/WWD