Top of the Rock’s quintessential New York view provided the backdrop for the designers who gathered there Monday night for the 2015 CFDA Awards kickoff party.
The Chosen (and The Not) huddled in with their well-wishers when CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg revealed who would receive this year’s four special awards and who is in the running for the other six. They were also informed about how this year’s big awards — for women’s wear, accessories and men’s wear — were meant to be more like the Oscars, with five nominees for each category. And like the Oscars, there were a few unscripted moments. Betsey Johnson bounced up to the podium when von Furstenberg named her as this year’s Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award winner. “I just want to say this is my ultimate beyond OMFG moment,” Johnson said. “I did not think I would ever want it because I didn’t want to be 72.” After Johnson told the crowd that the dress she was wearing was from 1965, von Furstenberg needed only an “OK darling” to deftly keep the program moving.
Millard “Mickey” Drexler, this year’s Founder’s Award winner, was also in the crowd, though after the announcements, the seemingly pleased J. Crew chief executive officer preferred not to talk about himself. “I’m off-the-record tonight,” he explained.
The Row’s Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen, who were nominated for both the Womenswear Designer of the Year award as well as the Accessories one, also kept things low-key. On their way out, the pair said they are “always surprised” to be nominated. Doing things differently and working with a very small team helps to keep them focused, they said. “This year is our 10th anniversary at The Row, which is quite exciting. So we’re just hoping for all good things and taking it slowly,” Mary-Kate Olsen said. “I think our vision is really clear right now and that translates to our customers the same way we always have.”
For women’s wear, they are up against Joseph Altuzarra, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez. In the accessories category, the Olsens’ competition is the Proenza Schouler team, Alexander Wang, Tabitha Simmons and Irene Neuwirth.
Menswear Designer of the Year contenders Thom Browne and Public School’s Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne were on hand Monday night. Like the Olsens, the Public School duo are double nominees this time — a fact that surprised even them. Having been nominated (and won) the Menswear Designer of the Year award last year, they mistakenly thought the pressure was off until the CFDA’s executive director Steven Kolb called Monday. “Last year we sort of got a call like the day before.…We didn’t have to think about being nominated,” Dao-Yi Chow said. “Then Steven called at 3:30 and said, ‘Well you’ve been nominated for men, which you guys won already, but one that you haven’t won is Swarovski women.’ We just lost it — it was totally unexpected. You know when you do your work or your collections, you never think about nominations.”
As for whether the workload ever gets easier, Chow said, “It’s pretty unrelenting when you think about how many seasons you do for men’s and women’s. It’s a lot. We’re trying to think of interesting ways to sort of break up the rhythm and not make it feel so systematic, formulaic, so that you actually look forward to the turn in the season.”
Public School’s fellow Swarovski Womenswear Designer of the Year nominee, Rosie Assoulin, also talked about the challenges of being a self-starter. As for the toughest part, she smiled at her husband and business partner Max and said with a laugh, “You name it.”
But with all sincerity, Assoulin spelled out their objective. “The business side is the most challenging part and we’ve had amazing support.…You’ve got to sell clothes at the end of the day, right?” (Ryan Roche is also up against Assoulin and Public School.)