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Council of Fashion Designers of America's Annual Fashion Awards

2004 American Fashion Awards

2003 American Fashion Awards

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2001 American Fashion Awards

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The 1999 American Fashion Awards
"Not Ready for Prime Time Players"

-filed 6/8/99 by Diane Clehane
Special to The Look On-Line

(The CFDA's annual awards gala held this past Wednesday night at the Lexington Avenue Armory was the organization's latest - and most ambitious -- attempt to date to strattle the worlds of fashion and entertainment. Having found an audience in syndication for their shows co-produced with sponsor General Motors that highlight the New York Collections, the CFDA seems even more determined to find its place in the milieu of American pop culture and that all-important land of plenty, television. At last week's newly christened American Fashion Awards the results were uneven at best.)

The requisite cadre of stars turned out despite the stifling heat (the climate inside the cocktail party wasn't much better) to offer support - and payback --- to those designers who supply them with clothes for award shows and premieres. Among those who got the flashbulbs popping Angelica Huston (in and with Michael Kors), Claire Danes (in and with Narciso Rodriguez), Julianna Marqulies (also in Rodriguez), Rene Russo (in Celine) and Sarah McLachlan (who wore Betsey Johnson and came as guest of the designer).

As usual, paparazzi poster girl Liz Hurley caused the biggest stir when she showed up in her usual gravity-defying Versace gown. Hugh Grant briefly left the photo op queen on the red carpet and headed inside in a thwarted effort to dodge photographers. The Notting Hill star and his girlfriend were then followed all the way into the cocktail party and finally (and it's worth noting - very politely) stopped and talked to reporters.

Inside photographers all but ignored honoree Yohji Yamamoto when former Beverly Hills 90210 resident Tiffani Amber-Thiessen swept by in a pink strapless gown by Tuleh. Socialite Blaine Trump was forced to cool her heels when soap diva Susan Lucci inadvertently stood on the train of her dress while taking questions from reporters about post-Emmy life. When the parade of celebrities tapered off, the Conde Nast contingent --Anna Wintour, Linda Wells and Polly Mellen -- arrived fashionably late as did glamour gals Vera Wang and Pamela Dennis. Also arriving minutes before the dinner began: Donatella Versace who bolted from a group of reporters when USA Today's Jeannie Williams asked her to comment on controversy surrounding the recently shelved book about Gianni.

Despite an inspired and impressive guest list, alternately plodding and jarring pacing marred much of the show's best moments. Some presenters were introduced; others just appeared. Between presentations, the audience was left too often for minutes at a time to stare at a dark, blank stage. And as if to further drive home the point that this is an event for television, at the halfway mark that annoying and completely overexposed GAP a go-go commercial was recreated on stage seemingly out of nowhere.

There is no denying that over the last several years the CFDA's influence within the fashion industry has grown exponentially. But last night begs the question: just whom are they producing this event for? The audience who plunked down $1500 a ticket that sat through the often-interminable ceremony (which clocked in at about three hours) or the celebrity-obsessed television viewer who will see a mercifully shorter ninety-minute version on E! Entertainment Television later this month? Clearly, the former suffered in hopes of enthralling the latter.

Host Julianne Moore kicked off the evening by announcing to audience "we are what we wear" and then vanished until much later in the evening. Things began on a promising note with a Yohji Yamamoto fashion show and the acclaimed designer's charming (and brief) acceptance speech. But when Chris Rock came out next to introduce Menswear Designer of the Year Calvin Klein and said, "Hang out for the big finale: Yves Saint Laurent hems a pair of pants!" the joke seemed all but lost on the audience.

The evening did have several bright spots - however brief. The award for best performance by a presenter ended in a tie. Bette Midler and Martha Stewart displayed surprisingly good chemistry trading barbs and bouquets before introducing Simon Doonan who received a special award for "his windows on fashion." Josh Patner and Bryan Bradley for Tuleh, fresh from their cover story in Sunday's New York Times style section won the Perry Ellis Award for Womenswear and displayed the disarming charm that's sure keep them in the media spotlight for the foreseeable future.

Moore reappeared next to introduce Sophia Loren and present her with an award for "a lifetime of glamour." A well-produced video-montage of Loren through the years whetted the audience's appetite but when the lights came up, Moore told the crowd that Loren was not there and was met with audible grown. "Sorry," she offered and scurried off the stage.

The most emotional moment of the evening came when Rita Wilson, Calvin Klein and a very solemn Donna Karan presented Liz Tilberis with a posthumous Humanitarian Award. Wilson, who first met the late editor of Harper's Bazaar at Aids Project LA several years ago, said of Tilberis, "Once you've met her, you feel as if you've known her all your life." The audience got to its feet when Tilberis' husband came to the stage to accept the award and many were moved to tears by his poignant remarks.

By the time Bob Mackie introduced Cher (another no-show) who was honored for "her influence on fashion" much of the weary audience began making its way out the door -- leaving only the true die-hard fashionistas to see Yves Saint Laurent come to the podium to pick up his Lifetime Achievement Award. Afterwards, those who didn't go out for breakfast then headed to the after party at Club Ohm.
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