DALLAS — Marking its 30th year this month, the Dallas Fashion Awards has brought a touch of glamour to the October market week here.
Designers, celebrities and industry icons have flown in over the years for the gala, including Hubert de Givenchy, Gianni Versace and Carolina Herrera. The program was launched in 1976 by the Dallas Apparel Mart’s board of governors to recognize the most popular resources among retailers.
“The event truly allows the retailers to select who they consider to be the best in their specific fields for that season or year,” said Bill Winsor, president and chief executive officer of the Dallas Market Center Co., which presents the awards. “We feel that being selected by your customers is probably the best compliment you can ever get.”
The first awards ceremony was a cocktail party, but the Mart elevated DFA to a black-tie gala the following year. Sales representatives saw it as a nice way to entertain their customers, and the event quickly sold out. Those without tickets crowded the balconies overlooking the Mart’s Great Hall to get a glimpse of the action.
“It was like the Oscars,” recalled Bonnye Sherman, a manager with Martha Foster Group who began working at the Mart in 1968. “The buzz was just unbelievable.”
Each year, a committee of retailers and fashion press has nominated three finalists in each of a dozen or more categories of women’s, men’s and children’s fashion. The lists of nominees and winners over the program’s life span are a Who’s Who of fashion.
In the dress category, Parade took the first prize in 1976, and winners since include Applause, Victor Costa, Miss O-Oscar de la Renta, Kathryn Conover, Liz Claiborne, Casadei, Jessica McClintock, Leslie Fay, Kenar, Chetta B and Maggy London. Howard Wolf, Leslie Lucks and Joseph Ribkoff each won twice.
Nominees often campaign in their showrooms during August market — when much of the voting is done — by offering treats and entertainment to customers. In 1989, large-size finalist Bonnie Boerer brought in Red Buttons, the actor and comedian, to meet buyers. She won the DFA trophy, a silver abstract shape of a woman.
Naturally, a DFA win — or even a nomination — might have an impact on the bottom line.
“It creates interest,” said sales rep Carol Quist, who has had two jewelry winners in her namesake showroom — R.J. Graziano and Carolee Designs. “Customers who have not shopped the line before will come because they are curious to see what the collection’s all about.”
In 1986, the Mart’s general manager, Donna Knox, ramped up the prestige of the ceremony by creating a prize for fashion achievement for designers of international stature. Originally called the Stanley Award in honor of retail legend Stanley Marcus, it was first presented to James Galanos. The trophy has since been renamed the Fashion Excellence Award. Stan Herman will accept the evening’s top prize at this year’s ceremony on Oct. 29.
The program periodically has highlighted a fashion Rising Star, and Derek Lam will earn that accolade this year. Past winners were Todd Oldham in 1991, Mark Badgley and James Mischka in 1992, Victor Alfaro in 1994 and Isaac Franco and Ken Kaufman for Emanuel Ungaro in 1995.
DFA also has presented style awards to celebrities, including Dixie Carter, Delta Burke, Carol Burnett, Kristi Yamaguchi and Jane Seymour.
The DFA gala became a charity benefit in 1986 and has since raised about $1 million for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the Dallas chapter of Fashion Group International’s scholarship fund, the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS and the defunct Fashion Industry Foundation.
Always featuring fashion shows and, in the last decade, video tributes, the party has been in the Great Hall of the International Apparel Mart for most of its life span. For a few years in the Eighties, it was held in a ballroom at the nearby Loews Anatole Hotel. Though the Mart closed last year and the fashion industry moved to newer quarters at the nearby World Trade Center, the gala is still held in the Great Hall.