Superstar — Vera Wang
Vera Wang’s name is nearly synonymous with all things bridal, but her body of work is much more than that.
And this year’s Superstar award winner has experienced different sides of the industry that others may have only observed secondhand. Her Sarah Lawrence years included a semester abroad at the Sorbonne in Paris and culminated with a degree in art history. That appreciation for art is evident in her collections and her homes. An accomplished figure skater, Wang hung up her skates professionally to take her first job at Vogue magazine, where she remained for 15 years before joining Ralph Lauren as design director for accessories.
A few years later, as she was nearing 40, her father “really pushed the agenda,” encouraging her to start her own company, a decision that she wasn’t gunning to do at that time, Wang has said. “I remember the day I signed my lease for my Madison Avenue store, I had such a feeling of dread and fear of failure. My father was downright fanatical about this. He was a businessman. He said, ‘Bridal’s a good business. There will always be brides, and it’s something you can control. You’ll be working just a few fabrics, you won’t be working in wide range.’ He was right about all those things,” Wang told WWD in 2013.
The designer has been right about her share of things, too. A self-described “much more of a T-shirt, legging, layering kind of thing, outerwear” girl, Wang was selling her own sophisticated version of ath-leisure years before it became a category killer. She was onto bicycle pants several years ago, and was an early believer in short films instead of runway show. She also started spending more time in Los Angeles before many design-minded New Yorkers saw its appeal. As a former athlete, Wang has used her understanding of movement to suit up Olympic skaters like Nancy Kerrigan, Michelle Kwan, Evan Lysacek and Nathan Chen. Even the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders have worn her designs on the field.
Hilary Duff, Jennifer Lopez, Lily Aldridge, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey and first daughters Chelsea Clinton, Ivanka Trump and most recently Barbara Bush are on her roster of well-known brides. She’s also raked up her share of A-list celebrities with red carpet dressing. After conquering the bridal industry with minimalist, modern gowns that freed women from more princess-worthy creations, Vera Wang delved into sportswear and then accessories, shoes, jewelry, fragrance, home products and a bevy of other products, many of which are now on display at her revamped store on Madison Avenue in the same building as the Carlyle Hotel.
In 2007, she was among the first big-name designers to add a mass market collaboration to her repertoire with the Simply Vera Vera Wang collection at Kohl’s. Unlike some, who give the high-low equation a try and then move on, Wang still offers her more affordable label. A similar story has unfolded with the White by Vera Wang collection, which debuted in 2011 and is still offered at David’s Bridal. Her many collaborations have included designing a luxury hotel suite in Honolulu at the Halekulani on Waikiki Beach, Vera Wang Love jewelry for the Zale Corporation and tuxedo rentals with Men’s Wearhouse among other things.
Unfailingly frank, Wang doesn’t play the party scene. She does mentor other designers — Alexander Wang among them. It is safe to say, she doesn’t sugarcoat the mettle needed for this line of work. “The journey of trying to be a designer and creator, and wear my other hats — I’m an owner, an operator, a chief executive officer — to continue on that journey takes so much effort out of me. I love fashion, but it isn’t easy,” she has said. Her many accolades include last year’s award of the prestigious Legion of Honor from the Republic of France. She is also on the cusp of another milestone – her company’s 30th anniversary will be next year.
Wang selected two of her designer friends to present her the award: Donna Karan and Calvin Klein.
Fashion Star — Olivier Rousteing
Olivier Rousteing has experienced skyrocketing fame since being tapped to lead Balmain’s design team in 2011. That ascension happened after starting out as part of the house’s design team. With the help of Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner and other members of the “Balmain Army,” his social media reach is far and wide — 5 million followers worldwide, to be exact. “We are living in a world where we understand what the younger generations need, and that’s what excites me the most. When we talk about Millennials, it’s not just about putting a Millennial hashtag on Instagram, it’s about thinking like the new generation,” he has told WWD.
His plans include rolling out virtual reality elements in Balmain’s stores, including the yet-to-be-opened Miami flagship. After studying fashion at Paris École Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode, Rousteing spent five years learning the ropes at Roberto Cavalli, where he went on to design the men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collections.
The exposure Rousteing has gained through Balmain has allowed for other collaborations including a luxe-meets-mass one with H&M in 2015. More recently he has appeared in global ads for Rosewood Hotels and Resorts. In May, he used his stature to make a bold statement at the Cannes Film Festival, dressing 16 actresses for a press call for the project “Noire N’est Pas Mon Métier,” or “Black Is Not My Profession,” to expose discrimination in the French and American entertainment industries. Rousteing will soon have his own documentary, with a release tentatively planned for next year although the distribution channels have not yet been confirmed.
Fashion Star — Anna Sui
Anna Sui hails from Detroit, but in many ways she is the quintessential New Yorker. A daughter of Chinese immigrants, she held fast to her dream of becoming an American-made success story. Like many other designers, Sui’s entry into the city’s fashion scene started at Parsons School of Design, where she studied for two years. A global traveler and a vintage lover, Sui has always blended these ever-changing and tough-to-pinpoint sensibilities into her designs. Culturally astute, she understood early on how photography, art, music, design and fashion collide. Her friend, the photographer Steven Meisel, first put her skills to use as a stylist, and she later designed for sportswear labels. Since launching her own company in 1981, Sui forged into Manhattan’s SoHo with a store in 1992 before the streets were chockablock with designer and big-brand stores. She also was quicker than most to do business in Asia and to build a global designer beauty brand, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year and now covers color cosmetics and fragrance.
As her signature collection gained popularity through the Eighties, she debuted her first runway show in 1991, thanks in part to supermodel pals like Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista. Fast-forward to 2018 and Sui has over 50 boutiques in eight countries, and a myriad of products sold in 300-plus stores in more than 30 countries. This summer the prints-loving designer revealed plans for an ath-leisure collection with a China-focused launch next year before rolling out the styles in other parts of Asia and globally.
Marc Jacobs will present the award to Sui — the two have been friends for decades.
Fashion Stars — Carol Lim and Humberto Leon
Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, the creative team behind Opening Ceremony and Kenzo, have a shared history that would be tough to match. They first connected as students at the University of California at Berkeley. A zeal for travel not only led them to all sorts of globetrotting adventures but also the seeds for a business. Sixteen years ago the pair decided to plunge into fashion with their own company Opening Ceremony. Their first store on Howard Street in New York was supposed to serve as a fashion Olympics with small designers from countries around the world sharing space with the big brands.
Opening Ceremony has an unusual vantage point in the industry, acting as brand, retailer and collaborator, recently with Disney. Four years ago Berkshire Partners provided an investment to beef up its operations. The founders have also collaborated with such creatives as Yoko Ono, Robert Mapplethorpe, Rob Pruitt, Ryan McGinley, Tom Sachs, Rene Magritte and Aurel Schmidt. In 2011, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton recruited Leon and Lim as creative directors of Kenzo. Just last month, the pair showed off their own creative strengths with the 25-minute film “The Everything,” which was released alongside Kenzo’s fall collection.
The actress Natasha Lyonne will join the duo on stage to present them with their award.
Luxury Lifestyle — Moncler
Moncler’s chairman and chief executive officer Remo Ruffini is a seriously adept image maker. He transformed what was a dusty collection of utilitarian down-filled jackets with mostly local distribution into a luxury fashion label with more than 200 stores around the world. After buying the company in 2003, his reign has included spearheading global expansion, publicly listing Moncler in Milan in December 2013 and reaching the $1 billion in sales milestone in 2016, while wiping out its debt. A rare left-brain/right-brain executive, Ruffini has created strong ties with private equity funds and has also aligned the brand with such designers as Nicolas Ghesquière, Junya Watanabe, Giambattista Valli and Thom Browne. Just two weeks ago, he hosted an igloo-adorned event and welcomed guests like Liya Kebede, Simone Rocha and Adut Akech to take a closer look at the floor-skimming puffers designed by Pierpaolo Piccioli for Moncler.
Having parted ways with Valli and Browne, Moncler last February launched its Genius Project of working with a rotating group of designers to do collaborations, which are then sold in Moncler stores as well as pop-up stores worldwide. The most recent openings of pop-ups were in Tokyo and Milan earlier this month.
Olympic fencer Miles Chamley-Watson will hand over the award to Ruffini.
Fashion Oracle — Maye Musk
As a septuagenarian, Maye Musk will pick up this year’s Fashion Oracle award decades after she first started modeling at the age of 15. The Canadian-South African influencer and dietitian has chalked up her rebooted career to Instagram. She also has the bonus of three thriving children — SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon, filmmaker daughter Tosca and food entrepreneur Kimbal. While social media has gotten her son Elon into hot water recently, the matriarch of the family spoke about her savvy social media skills with WWD last year, saying, “I think I am the most on Instagram, I’m pretty savvy. I’m also more on Twitter than my kids. They don’t need it much. But they’re very good at it. Elon just coughs and he has another million followers, it’s hard to compete with that.”
Her book “Feel Fantastic” centered on wellness and the beauty advice that she gleaned through her years of modeling. Musk has also spread the word about good nutrition by speaking publicly internationally.
Her stylist Julia Perry will present her award.
Humanitarian — Barbara Bradley Baekgaard for Vera Bradley
Barbara Bradley Baekgaard cofounded Vera Bradley with Patricia Miller in 1982 in Fort Wayne, Ind. The fashion accessories brand associated with Middle-American stylistic preferences is now based in nearby Roanoke, Ind. The Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer was created 12 years later, after the duo lost a mutual friend, Mary Sloan, to the disease. The company’s clearly defined philanthropic program has focused on breast cancer ever since. The foundation has raised about $32 million for breast cancer research at Indiana University’s Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. Baekgaard, who attended Marymount College and Barat College, currently serves as a member of the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center Development Board, as well as on the board of the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer.
Richard Ellenson will be on hand to honor Baekgaard.
Architecture — Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch for Roman and Williams
Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch teamed up to create Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors, a New York-based agency, in 2002. Hotels, restaurants, stores, homes and product design are all part of their wheelhouse. While their projects can be found around the globe, some of the more recognizable ones are in New York. They include the Ace Hotel New York, The Boom Boom Room, the Standard, High Line and Le Coucou. The summer crowd on Nantucket might know the firm for its interiors at Greydon House. Roman and Williams will be bringing its design sensibilities to the fore through its commission to redesign the British galleries in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The former set designers know how to stage a room, and are inclined to combine an assortment of ideas, materials, objects and references. At the end of last year, Roman and Williams created an emporium of design, so to speak, with the Roman and Williams Guild NYC. The downtown space houses an array of lighting, furniture and accessories designed by the firm. At the store and café, customers can buy a dining-room table, antiques, lunch, wine, flowers and books all in one swoop. Many make the trip just for chef Marie-Aude Rose’s French café La Mercerie where they can enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner. Guests are catered to by a wait staff decked out in uniforms created by Slow and Steady Wins the Race’s Mary Ping.
Architecture Digest’s Amy Astley will hand over the award to the winning pair at Thursday’s awards.
Media — Vanessa Friedman
Four and a half years after taking on the fashion director and chief fashion critic roles at The New York Times, this year’s Media Award winner Vanessa Friedman leads the charge for global fashion coverage for both The New York Times and the International New York Times. Friedman often looks at trends from a societal standpoint. The Princeton graduate joined The Gray Lady from The Financial Times, where she became fashion editor in 2003. In addition to a weekly column, she created the FT’s annual Business of Luxury conference. Her portfolio has also included writing for Vogue, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Entertainment Weekly. As her Twitter followers can attest, her talents include “flying trapezer.”
In a video for The Female Lead posted last year, Friedman said, “Fashion is a tool for people to use, and it should make your life better. It should help you, as women, as men, as anyone. We should just think of it that way. We should think, ‘How does this work for me? How can this work better for me?’ You should never let it rule you.”’
The New York Times’ executive editor Dean Baquet will present Friedman with her award.
Sustainability — Maria Cornejo
Sustainability award winner Maria Cornejo has long been a supporter of environmentally friendly goods. In fact, when she started her brand 20 years ago, sustainability was one of her founding pillars well before it was remotely fashionable. Her design-forward styles were made from simple geometric shapes, frequently cut and draped from a single piece of fabric, and in leftover fabrics to eliminate waste and excess — no extra stock and samples. Whether supporting New York City’s garment center to help save jobs and keep carbon emissions low or serving as brand ambassador for this year’s New York Première Vision textile show, Cornejo stands up for sustainable causes.
In recent years she has only magnified her eco-friendliness, making her Zero + Maria Cornejo label one of the most sustainable ones among upper-tier designers. Cornejo told WWD earlier this year, “The idea is to always make it modern and make it desirable. It doesn’t have to be granola or beige. And people are not going to stop shopping for clothes, but at least let’s be mindful about how we’re creating so what we’re producing is not wasteful.” She will pick up her prize from “Avengers” actor and fellow environmentalist Mark Ruffalo.
Design Technology — Billie Whitehouse for Wearable X
Design Technology victor Billie Whitehouse for Wearable X has a team of five people working in her company’s “activity rich” environment. Working across several time zones, they aim to be as accessible as possible, tackling such subjects as fiber science, engineering, marketing and events. Given the competitiveness among brands in the wearable sector, she does not publicize brands that her team consults or works with. Blending software, hardware and apparel is Whitehouse’s specialty. Last year the company debuted yoga pants embedded with electronics that are designed to help the wearer improve their alignment. With the help of 50-plus yoga instructors, Wearable X spent two years developing the $299 leggings. By using the companion iPhone app and “Pulse” battery that connects to the Nadi X pants via Bluetooth technology, yoginis of all abilities could use them to work on their technique.
Design is part of the Australian-born founder’s heritage. Whitehouse’s mother Leanne Whitehouse started the Whitehouse Institute of Design in 1988 in Australia and it is still going strong. “Design to me is a way of life. It’s about more than just aesthetics, it’s about seeing a version of the future you believe in and designing your paths to get there. Always with an appreciation for many different methodologies, styles, functions and blending this into something that is meaningful,” said Whitehouse, whose award will be presented to her by Rebecca Minkoff.
Corporate Leadership — Deirdre Quinn for Lafayette 148
This year’s Corporate Leadership Star recipient Deirdre Quinn of Lafayette 148 New York is dedicated to helping people around the world. Twenty-two years ago her goal was to create a vertically integrated fashion company that would cater to the lifestyle needs of professional women — women of all shapes and sizes who wanted to look good in order to feel good and ultimately do good. Along with her forward-thinking leadership, the founder and ceo has built a reputation for her down-to-earth management style and commitment to customer service. With its own workshop and production facility in Shantou, China, Lafayette 148 New York has met her objective of being a vertically integrated fashion brand. Her efforts include serving on the board of the School of Dreams, the elementary school funded by Lafayette 148 New York that offers a free private education to Shantou children.
Neiman Marcus Group’s Jim Gold will give Quinn her award.
Beauty — Frédéric Malle
Beauty Star honoree Frédéric Malle is the third-generation of perfume specialists in his family. He has gained a reputation for putting perfumers at the forefront of his fragrances from his namesake brand, Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, which he started in 2000. Malle’s own lineage is dotted with other creatives including relatives like film director Louis Malle and producer Vincent Malle. His grandfather, Serge Heftler-Louiche, was the founder of Parfums Christian Dior, and his mother oversaw this department for the duration of her career. He has collaborated with numerous perfumers and has become known for giving them creative freedom to create his brand’s fragrances. “Portrait of a Lady” and “Carnal Flower,” two of his company’s bestsellers, resulted from collaborations with Dominique Ropion. Other perfumers brought their own pre-existing formulas to Malle, as was the case with Edmond Roudnitska’s “Parfum de Thérèse.” Last year, he teamed with former Lanvin designer Alber Elbaz to launch their fragrance collaboration, called Superstitious, at Barneys New York. And Barneys New York’s Danielle Vitale will honor him with his award.