It’s no easy feat gathering high-wattage stars Ciara, Tracee Ellis Ross, Demi Moore, Olivia Wilde, Paris Jackson, Paula Abdul, Hannah Einbinder and more for a gala on yet another rainy Tuesday night in Los Angeles, barely a week after the awards-race-capping Oscars.
But the inaugural Fashion Trust U.S. Awards did, putting the next young designer prize on the map in L.A., with help from celebrity board members and corporate sponsors Shop by Google, Farfetch, Code8 Beauty and St. John Knits.
“I’m excited L.A. is getting some fash-un, because there’s a lot of fashion here,” said Heidi Klum during the boisterous pre-awards cocktail hour at Goya Studios, where she was showing off her sculptural silver gown by up-and-comer Kate Barton, complete with fishbowl handbag.
“I am on the advisory board so I was a part of making the decision this morning and what we’re doing is so special, giving artists opportunities,” said Storm Reid, wearing a sparkly minidress by L.A. designer Jonathan Simkhai.
Not to mention shopping opportunities. “Today I was supposed to be voting, and I was like, um, where can I buy that?” she laughed.
From a pool of more than 400 applicants, six grants in amounts varying from $50,000 to $150,000 were awarded to a diverse group of American brands — knitwear designer Aisling Camps; L’Enchanteur jewelry; Agbobly (formerly known as Black Boy Knits); recent FIT grad Papa Oppong; Puppets and Puppets, and recent CFDA Award winner Elena Velez.
Fashion Trust U.S. is the brainchild of Tania Fares, who assembled a buzzy board of founders and advisers for the contest, including stylists Karla Welch and Law Roach; LB Media founder and former InStyle editor in chief Laura Brown; Harper’s Bazaar editor in chief Samira Nasr; fashion consultant Anne Crawford; Academy Award-winning costume designer Arianne Phillips, and designer/TV personality Tan France.
Hollywood stylists were key movers for the nascent event. They gave out awards onstage (“I can’t mess this up because I need this job,” joked Roach, addressing his much-covered retirees ). They called up their clients to participate (Welch enlisted Wilde and Ross, among others, and brought on collaborator St. John). And they proved their power in supporting young designers on stage and screen.
For example, stylist Zerina Akers was wearing fingers full of rings by L’Enchanteur, which she helped gain exposure by putting in Beyoncé’s “Black Is King” visual album.
Although none of the winners were from L.A., the awards underscored the importance of Hollywood in the fashion industry.
Sustainability award winner and Milwaukee-based designer Elena Velez, who incorporates Midwestern craft and industrial remnants into her collections, shared with WWD that during her L.A. visit she inked a deal to design some pieces for Beyoncé, as well as work on a few commissions for the upcoming Coachella Art & Music Festival. “It’s been a great trip,” the designer said.
“It was the coolest morning to meet all these designers, I was so blown away by the originality…I left feeling really energized,” said Kiernan Shipka, who is a Fashion Trust U.S. board member, of the judging process.
Fares confirmed that the awards ceremony will remain in L.A. And many of the city’s established designers and brands came out to support, including Mike Amiri, Greg Chait, Clare Vivier, Zaid Affas, Andrea Lieberman and Nick Fouquet.
“It’s the garage, man. The best things are made in the garage,” Amiri said of his passion for young talent, and why he is happy to meet up with anyone wanting advice “as long as they don’t film me,” he laughed.
“For us as one of the original American luxury brands, to come back and support young American designers, we thought it was the right thing to do and very circular,” said St. John chief executive officer Andy Lew of supporting the ready-to-wear award won by Camps, which will include a capsule collection and mentorship.
“I’m in a room with all these amazing people and I spend so much of my time in a 350-square-foot room with knitting machines, this is insane I’m getting acknowledged,” said Camps in accepting her award.
“We want to thank Fashion Trust for trusting us with this award.…We are really shocked. Our dad is in Nigeria and he said ‘call me.’ Even though he’s sleeping, we’re going to right now,” said the Brooklyn-based Ogun designer twins of L’Enchanteur. “This is dedicated to our mother who passed away two years ago.”
Hosted by comedian Phoebe Robinson, the gala was slickly produced with long banquet style dinner tables, hundreds of flickering candles, and a small stage and projections of the nominated designers on walls overhead.
“I want to send a lot of love to Tania Fares, because this is her baby, she believes in the up-and-coming generation…you guys need to know that,” said Ciara onstage.
Fares, who lives between Lebanon, London and L.A., has always had a passion for fresh faces. She created the U.K.’s BFC Fashion Trust in 2011, and Fashion Trust Arabia in 2018.
To establish the Fashion Trust U.S., she enlisted L.A.-based British heiress Jordana Reuben Yechiel, jewelry designer Jacquie Aiche, Juicy Couture cofounder Gela Nash-Taylor and 23 other founding patrons in the real estate, finance and art worlds.
“I met Tania years ago and I think she has a real passion,” said Nash-Taylor, with hubbie John Taylor on her arm, before turning her praise to winning designer Velez. “It’s made in the glamorous USA, which matters to me, and I love her story, wanting to build factories in her hometown, but she’s also really talented. The stuff looks great.”
Fares said there was no intent to set up a rivalry with New York; indeed, she has collaborated with the CFDA before and many of the designers and presenters have, too.
“There’s not enough money, $150,000, $175,000, those amounts don’t go very far. It’s just nice to show up and get recognize them, it builds their self-esteem, if they are smart they will know how to use it, that’s why I’m here,” said diversity activist Bethann Hardison, who serves on both the CFDA and the Fashion Trust U.S.’s boards. “We need more people to learn how to build a business, so prizes are always welcome.”
The sponsors seemed pleased.
“We’ve featured the designers all week on the site, are doing mentoring for them, incorporating them onto Shop Google, and will get them two months of training on e-commerce,” said Stephanie Horton, global consumer marketing director for Google Commerce. “We already added a second prize today because we couldn’t decide. I literally called my number two and said I just spent money I hope we had,” she said.
“I think it went very well, the talent was amazing, the room was so positive,” said Fares.
“It was very heart-centered with the messages that came through of humility, and the appreciation for opportunity…and appreciation for mamas,” said Demi Moore, whose daughter Scout LaRue Willis blew the crowd away with her husky performance of “Mysterious Ways.”
“I’m deeply humbled to be in this room and so in awe of the level of artistry and authentic unique expression,” said Willis, as she settled in with her guitar, sparkly pink dress and Barbie boots. “I’m grateful to be here to share the thing that I love.”