AMERICAN FASHION AWARDS
see additional photos of the hall,
the food, the party and entertainment
by Diane Clehane
What a difference a year makes. Having its star power dimmed considerably from last year's disastrous seven-hour event, the CFDA seemed to determined to produce a show that would help them recapture bragging rights for putting on the fashion industry's version of "The Oscars." And for the most part, last Thursday night at Avery Fisher Hall they succeeded. Ironically enough, having made the decision not to televise the festivities, the CFDA (with Kevin Krier at the helm) produced a slick, well-paced show (that clocked in at just under an hour!) that would be right at home on E! Entertainment Television or fashionistas' newest guilty pleasure - the Metro Channel.
Noticeably absent from the red carpet were the scores of Hollywood A-listers that accompanied designers last year. "Everybody is filming or on hiatus now," bemoaned Randolph Duke when asked why he wasn't accompanied by one of his many Tinseltown friends. Instead, he brought the model Ling ("No last name, just Ling"), who giggled shyly next to the designer while he explained, "My date had to cancel at the last minute because she was shooting." Ever the gentleman, he declined to name the MIA actress.
For the first hour of the arrivals with nary a star in sight the entertainment press who have come to regard the event as a good place to ask random questions of stars without having to bother going through their snarky publicists were left to cool their heels as the requisite bevy of socialites (Demi Moore lives! There was an inexplicable number of pregnant women under thirty-five sporting skintight evening dresses) and store executives walked by. Models Maggie Rizer (in Tommy Hilfiger), Alek Wek (in Helmut Lang) and Naomi Campbell (in Azzedine Alaia) provided the first spark of excitement while designers Jean-Paul Gaultier (who won the International Award), Pauline Trigere and Carolina Herrera graciously answered questions from journos who were often overheard asking each other, "Who was I just talking to?" More familiar faces ER actress Michael Michelle (looking stunning in Carolina Herrera) and Will & Grace's Sean Hayes were both enthusiastic about attending their first-ever fashion event. "I'm curious to see what this whole fashion industry is all about --- it's the other side of our business. It's my evening to meet the divas," said Michelle. Offered Hayes: "I came because they asked me to and because they said I'd get some free clothes. I said, 'Hello, Donna.'"
The pre-event buzz seemed to center around the CFDA's decision to withhold the names of the winners until they are announced from the podium. "I'm not sure I believe that they don't know," speculated The New York Times Cathy Horyn. "I'm sure these people coming from Europe would get some hint. They all have collections to finish and other things to worry about." Said Menswear Designer of the Year Nominee Kenneth Cole, "The fact that we don't know who won in advances adds a lot of allure to the evening. It's more inclusive."
While Anna Wintour, Vera Wang, Polly Mellen, Pamela Dennis (in a virtually see-through ensemble of her own design) sailed by, Perry Ellis Menswear Award nominee Sean "Puffy" Combs (in a pastel pink tuxedo and matching Adidias sneakers sans galpal Jennifer Lopez) posed briefly for photographers. Sandra Bernhard (in a dare I say a Madonna-like Gaultier) stood steps away from the rapper-turned-designer waiting her turn with the press. When asked how she planned to handle her hosting duties for the evening the former best friend of the Maternal Girl snapped, "I'll do what they asked me to do."
Minutes before the ceremony began, photographers went into overdrive when Valentino arrived with Liz Hurley in her usual eye-popping gown (this time it was a vintage Valentino style recolored in up-to-the-minute cotton candy pink to match her lipstick) and Claudia Schiffer (in a frothy polka dotted confection from the designer). While Schiffer showed off her engagement ring from Tim Jeffries (who stood silently by the blonde beauty), Hurley, who never met a flashbulb she didn't love, posed endlessly for the voracious photogs who screamed at the other members of her party to get out of the shot. Before being whisked inside, the newly single Hurley said she was focusing on enjoying her busy life. "I've just started my sixth year with Lauder and celebrated my birthday by having 20 friends over for dinner. I'm quite happy at the moment," she purred. Hugh who?
Although the ceremony started almost an hour late, Bernhard (in a black trench coat and fedora preening to the theme from Shaft) promised things would move swiftly. Things got off to a promising start when glamazon Giselle Bundchen stalked across the stage to present the evening's first award. Miguel Adrover bounded up the steps to accept the Perry Ellis Award for Womenswear. His five-second speech consisted of a mumbled "Thank you."
While industry rising stars John Varvatos (Perry Ellis Menswear Award) and Richard Lambertson and John Truex (Accessory Designer of the Year) displayed disarming charm and enthusiasm when presented with their awards, it was the salutes to the seasoned veterans who provided the evening's emotional high points. Light years away from last year's mind-numbing pacing; those moments seemed all too fleeting. CFDA president Stan Herman drew appreciative laughter and applause when he took to the stage to introduce the special tribute to Bill Blass by saying, "I'm glad to see all the familiar faces - and those of you who are not here are probably waiting at the Armory for Mr. Saint Laurent to get his award." But the mood quickly turned more serious when Herman informed the crowd that Blass, who has been ill, had chosen Peter Som to accept his award on his behalf. Som's brief, gracious remarks made the presentation all the more poignant.
When Robert Kennedy, Jr. took the stage to present Liz Claiborne with the Humanitarian Award. After giving the evening's longest (and preachiest) introduction, he turned the spotlight over to Claiborne who received a standing ovation. This was the 71 year-old designer's first fashion event in eleven years. She has been battling a cancer for the last three years but remarked earlier in the evening, "I'm getting over treatment and I feel great," tapping the top of her fedora (bought at Bergdorf Goodman's men's store) she wore to cover the effects of chemotherapy. As she strode up to the podium wearing her favorite Armani menswear tuxedo she looked as tan and as fit as she did when she retired in 1990. "I'm flattered," said a clearly touched Claiborne. "I thank you and the Foundation thanks you."
Given the fact that there's considerable payback that's owed between fashion's reigning royalty and their Hollywood fans (and vice versa) it was a bit of a disappointment when Ellen Barkin (who is better known for her relationship with Ron Perlman than for any of her work on screen) accepted the Special Award to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It's worth noting that Barkin didn't accept the award for AMPAS but rather "on behalf of the Hollywood community." Do we really need to be told again that the Oscars are "the world's most glamorous show?" We all know these two industries couldn't exist without each other in our celebrity-style obsessed culture, but does have to be a part of every single award show?
The biggest disappointment of the evening was that triple-nominee Helmut Lang was a no-show. When Ben Stiller announced Lang had won Menswear Designer of the Year, Ingrid Sischy - who did not offer any reason as to why Lang had failed to attend the event -- whispered some indecipherable remarks before exiting the stage. Next, actress Milla Jovovich presented Oscar de le Renta with Womenswear Designer of the Year who acknowledged fellow nominee Donna Karan and dedicated his award to his wife.
And just when the show's organizers (and the crowd) were about to breathe a sigh of relief that there was just one award left and there had been no technical glitch or other disaster to contend with, three PETA protesters tried to ruin it all. Ashley Judd swept on to the stage to present Valentino with the Lifetime Achievement Award and over thunderous applause the cat calls began. "Fur is dead" chanted three women from the top balcony (where students were seated). The designer tried to ignore them but they persisted and he finally relented saying, "Okay, okay." That's when the audience got in the act and took to their feet to applaud in an attempt to drown out the din. While security scrambled to wrestle the women out of their seats, one woman threw a handful of leaflets over the balcony. When they were finally out of earshot, Valentino said he was "very proud" to receive his award.
Afterwards, the crowd filed back
outside under the tents where supper had been served for "champagne and
sweets." A surprising number of celebrities including Barkin (holding hands
with a buzz-cut sporting Perlman), Billy Zane, Sean "Puffy" Comb sipped
post-show cocktails. Valentino arrived arm in arm with Judd, made one lap
around the crowd to receive congratulations and listen to people tisk-tisk over
the "unpleasant" outburst. "How did those people get in?" Judd was overheard
asking a friend. "Don't they know their message is so over?" answered the woman
who turned on hers heels in search of a glass of champagne as the crowd closed
in around them.