At Monday night’s CFDA Awards at the American Museum of Natural History, Thom Browne, the current chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, made the case that fashion has a place even amid times of world crisis.
In a powerful speech that kicked off the evening, Browne noted that CFDA members “thought carefully about the appropriateness of a fashion celebration in a time like this. But tonight is about so much more than celebrating individuals,” he said. “We’re coming together as a collective to champion creativity, diversity and inclusion in our American industry.”
That sentiment was reflected on the pre-event carpet as well, that an industry which exceeds $350 billion in global impact annually could create a moment of solidarity as they honor both established and emerging designers. “This event in particular gives a lot of exposure to young designers, and that gives young people across our beautiful country hope,” Chloë Sevigny told The Hollywood Reporter. “In this room you see an incredible amount of diversity and a celebration of all things America, and I think we need a little bit of that right now.”
Steven Kolb, CEO of the CFDA, agreed. “Thom’s remarks will address the state of the world,” Kolb said before the ceremony. “But in times of conflict and in times of great stress, art and creativity can be of great comfort to people. And as an industry, the second-largest industry in New York City, we’ve always had a great heart.”
The annual CFDA Awards indeed celebrate the best of American fashion; winners taking home 2023 honors include Catherine Holstein of Khaite for American womenswear designer of the year (her second consecutive year winning the prize); Willy Chavarria and his eponymous label as American menswear designer of the year; Jonathan Anderson and his J.W. Anderson and Loewe collections for international designer of the year; Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen, whose The Row collection captured American accessory designer of the year; and Rachel Scott, whose Diotima label took home the prize for American emerging designer of the year.
Previously announced winners also honored Monday evening included Serena Williams as the night’s Fashion Icon honoree and Gwyneth Paltrow, winner of the Amazon Innovation Award as she celebrates 15 years of her Goop brand. “I hope that the next generation of female entrepreneurs see that we all have the power to forge our own paths, to be multi-hyphenates, to create second, or third, acts in our own lives,” Paltrow told the audience.
Designer Mara Hoffman, meanwhile, received the CFDA’s first-ever sustainability award. “It was mixed feelings,” Hoffman told THR about her thoughts when she learned of the honor. “At this point, [an award for] sustainability is tricky, because we still have so far to go as an industry. But on the other side of it, I feel really honored, because it means the work we’ve been doing for the past decade has been seen, and that’s really beautiful. I hope it represents something of an inspiration to the industry as a whole, and maybe it will put eyes onto the work that’s still really needed.”
With the night’s dress code described as “American Black Tie” on the invitation, a wide range of interpretations were on view Monday evening. Host Anne Hathaway wore a Ralph Lauren denim bustier and long skirt from the designer’s Spring 2024 collection, while Emily Ratajkowski wore a draped minidress by American womenswear nominee Tory Burch.
Attendees who embraced bold color included Sevigny in a bright yellow gown by Christopher John Rogers — “I love that he’s an emerging designer,” she said of her choice — while Sergio Hudson, attending with Google executive Stephanie Horton, arrived in a fluorescent green coat of his own design. “I told the manufacturer, ‘Get the lime-green fabric from last season and make me a coat,’” he explained to THR on the carpet. And when asked about the importance of the red carpet to his own business, Hudson didn’t hesitate. “Red carpet is the cornerstone of my career; I wouldn’t be here if not for great red-carpet moments or a memorable Michelle Obama moment. They’re what brought me here tonight.”
The CFDA Awards indeed tends to create some terrific pairings, and that was equally true Monday evening, starting with Zac Posen, who arrived with Molly Ringwald, glamorous in a crimson Posen gown from 2017. Posen shuttered his brand and sold his archives in 2019, but among the few pieces he held onto was a dress perfect for the actress. “I got a text that said, ‘I want to wear red,’ and I thought, ‘Omigosh, what do I have?’” Posen said. “Luckily I had this from my personal collection, one of the few pieces I held onto.”
“And I fell in love with it,” said Ringwald, who caused a bit of a social-media frenzy with her combination of the dress, shag haircut and classic red lip. “It felt very glamorous.”
Nominated menswear designer Mike Amiri attended with his wife, Shirin, along with LaKeith Stanfield in an ivory look by the designer: “Lakeith looks good in everything,” said Amiri. Wes Gordon arrived with Demi Moore and Naomi Watts, both of whom wore looks from Gordon’s Spring 2024 collection for Carolina Herrera, while Christian Siriano was with model Coco Rocha, wearing a high-drama look comprised of pieces from the designer’s 15th-anniversary collection. “She looks good in clothes and she’s fun to hang out with,” Siriano said of his supermodel companion for the evening. “We wanted to feel old Hollywood and glamorous tonight.”
Law Roach sported a look by nominated designer Raul Lopez, whose buzzy Luar collection also has become a favorite among stylish stars. “I wanted to wear it exactly as he would style me,” Roach said. And in case anyone is wondering, yes, Roach is still perfectly content since his surprise retirement announcement in March. “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” he told THR. “It was the best decision I ever made, because it gave me a chance to be a person and get to know myself again, to love myself, be better to myself, and to find happiness.” Look for more from Roach, he hinted “at the top of the new year — there’s a lot of stuff coming, including a book.”
Bach Mai, a nominee for the CFDA’s American emerging designer of the year, noted on the carpet that sometimes he couldn’t believe he had achieved a long-held dream of working in fashion and helming his own label. “We’re in a room filled with people I’ve looked up to for so long — incredible, established, amazing designers,” he noted to THR. “To even receive the recognition [of a nomination] from them is surreal and so humbling.”
Mai attended with trans actress Tommy Dorfman, who called the designer’s work “inspirational and affirming. I had just come out as the woman I am before visiting Bach’s studio for the first time, and it was both whimsical and magical,” she said. “I was trying to create my new self in so many ways, and Bach let me play and try on pieces that weren’t even in stores yet.”
Better yet, the gown Dorfman wore Monday evening was the finale look of Mai’s first-ever runway show in September. “I never would have thought I could wear a sample from a runway,” Dorfman added. “It was an incredible feeling when I first tried it on.”
While the considerable economic impact of American fashion can be measured, by all accounts the intangibles — like Dorfman’s experience trying on a designer gown or the acceptance of peers in an industry a designer has dreamed of working in since their youth — matter no less. “I’m proud to be an American designer,” Browne said Monday night. “We must remember that the American fashion industry is the most diverse in the world, and through that diversity, we experience unique stories no one else in the world can tell. Unique and diverse stories are what make American fashion so special to the world, and we must never let anyone take that away from us.”
Scroll on for more photos of stars and designers at the 2023 CFDA Awards: