Paula Abdul, stylists Elizabeth Stewart, B. Åkerlund and Maryam Malakpour, Gela Nash Taylor and John Taylor, Jonathan Simkhai and more crammed the rooftop bar of The Edition Hotel in West Hollywood Wednesday night to toast a new young designer prize that will bring even more fashion clout to L.A. this spring.
Fashion Trust U.S. is the brainchild of Tania Fares, who has assembled a buzzy board of advisers for the contest, including Kate Hudson and Miranda Kerr, stylists Karla Welch and Law Roach, LB Media founder and former InStyle editor Laura Brown, Harper’s Bazaar editor in chief Samira Nasr, Academy Award winning costume designer Arianne Phillips and designer/TV personality Tan France.
Fares and friends hosted a cocktail party to raise awareness for the Fashion Trust U.S., which is accepting entries until Monday. The group will announce 15 finalists in February, and winners during a star-studded event at Goya Studios on March 21 in L.A., joining the newly announced Green Carpet Fashion Awards on March 8 as another example of the city’s style ascendence.
“We are excited to bring Fashion Trust to the U.S. for designers across the country,” she told the crowd at the event. “So far, we’ve had many hundreds of designers apply but if you know any more, please encourage them.”
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. (Those competitions have awarded prizes to Erdem, Christoper Kane, Huishan Zhang, Marques Almeida and Hussein Bazaza, among others, with Thom Browne, Marc Jacobs and Naomi Campbell among the judges.)
“I thought this was needed in the U.S. back in 2019; I think it’s needed everywhere,” Fares said over lunch at San Vicente Bungalows, explaining that she and Laura Brown first started talking about launching Fashion Trust U.S. four years ago, but got waylaid because of the pandemic, which only made the initiative more urgent.
“What the pandemic did is diluted peoples’ interest in young designers,” said Fares. “A lot of my friends I never thought would are wearing big brands now because they feel there is more value in them,” she said, reflecting on the reality of the resale market that values known luxury brands above new names.
Fares began immersing herself in L.A. when she and her husband purchased a house in Trousdale Estates in 2017, and in 2019 she published “L.A. Scene,” a book about young designers with Vanity Fair’s then West Coast editor Krista Smith. (She published a similar book, “London Uprising,” in 2016 in the U.K. tapping Vogue journalist and BFC ambassador for emerging talent Sarah Mower.)
Using seed donations from the L.A.-based British heiress Jordana Reuben Yechiel, jewelry designer Jacquie Aiche and 24 other founding patrons in the real estate, finance and art worlds, she set up the nonprofit Fashion Trust U.S. in 2022, with the goal of awarding prizes in amounts determined by a designer’s need.
“The event is in L.A. because we feel like New York is saturated, and even since I did my book, there’s more and more designers here,” she said, adding that next year’s gala could be held in another city, perhaps in Texas.
Those with businesses set up in the U.S. who have two to seven years’ experience can apply for the St. John Knits Ready-to-Wear Award, which will include a financial award and opportunity to collaborate on a capsule collection with the Irvine, California, based heritage brand.
There is also a Jewelry Award, a Graduate Award and two Google Awards sponsored by the tech giant, worth $25,000 each. Inclusivity and Sustainability awards will also be given.
“We have an amazing advisory board and it’s not just L.A….Laura, Bethann Hardison, Proenza Schouler, Fernando Garcia…they will all hopefully come to L.A. to decide who the winners are,” said Fares, who has brought on Farfetch as a retail partner.
“We will give a substantial amount of money but it depends on the size of the business because you could have someone who’s been three years in business but has a $500,000 turnover and you can have someone who’s been in business for seven years who has a $200,000 turnover. I’ve always done it this way with all the awards,” she said, adding that mentorship is also part of the deal.
“It was a big change to us as a brand, the mentorships, exposure, the leadership of Tania, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, and Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani,” said L.A. designer Zaid Affas, who won Fashion Trust Arabia in 2021, referring to the Qatar royals who are chairs and co-chairs of that event.
“The end gala is like the Oscars, it’s a week of parties, dinners, celebrities,” added Affas, who was able to apply because he is British-Iraqi and grew up in Kuwait.
“I want to be part of it because I want to be able to to offer a more inclusive perspective,” said France, who is of Pakistani descent, started his brand in the U.S. when he was 25, and has risen to fame on TV in “Queer Eye” and “Next in Fashion.” “I know that Tania is a white lady, but what I have seen in American fashion is a lot of white people making decisions so I want to say, ‘maybe consider this instead,’ maybe there are other groups who can contribute something different.”
For Fares, one of the most gratifying moments of her career was at the 2020 awards in Qatar, when Yousef Akbar won the eveningwear category. “He didn’t have any financial resources and he said in his speech he had considered changing his career. Then the FTA came along and now he’s flourishing, he’s at Harrods, he’s selling to a new store in the Middle East, a new store in Paris, a new store in Australia. So for me, that’s why I’m doing it.”
The Council of Fashion Designers of America’s young designer prize has been linked to Vogue magazine since its inception, but Fashion Trust U.S. will not have any media partner, Fares said, although W magazine editor Sarah Moonves, Vogue contributor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson and ID magazine editor-in-chief Alastair McKimm are on the advisory board.
“For us, it’s all about being very inclusive, we all want to support each other and we want to work together,” said Fares, who actually partnered with the CFDA in 2021 to distribute five grants to Black and brown designers, including Sergio Hudson, Sami Miro and Omar Salam.
While the CFDA has faced criticism over the years for being so tightly bound to one publication, Fares was reluctant to criticize the organization or say that she’s out to compete.
“Everyone is doing their best, they are helping and they are supporting, good for them for trying. It’s easy to criticize in life, it takes two seconds. But it’s a lot of work what [CFDA chief executive officer] Steven [Kolb] does. I’m also part of the British Fashion Council, so I hear that criticism directly, but I feel everyone is doing their best,” said Fares.
“What I appreciate about Tania is she is looking outside the norms of how things have been done,” said Brown, who was first going to partner with Fares on the trust back when she was at InStyle, only to have parent company Meredith Corporation later pass. “It should exist on its own, and be independent anyway…I want everybody to be able to come,” she said of the outcome.
“We bring a community together, and I want to do that in L.A.. By the way, whoever applies who does not win is always welcome to apply again. The other thing is we don’t ask them to do a collection, because I don’t believe a young designer can afford to do that. And we fly them. They don’t pay for the flight,” she added.
“If we raise more financial support, I’d like to award prizes for accessories, shoes and bags, but it’s a question of how much support we get. We’re starting with this and we see where we go.”