Open Thread: Let’s Talk About Who Will Be Designer of the Year

Open Thread: Let’s Talk About Who Will Be Designer of the Year


Hello and happy spring. Wednesday was its official start, though whether that means anything anymore given the state of the world’s weather is unclear.

Besides, spring clothes have already been in store for at least a month. If you haven’t been shopping yet … panic!

Just kidding. I am the kind of shopper who tries to buy bathing suits in June, so I am not really one to talk. (Except sarcastically.)

Besides, I’d rather take a moment to discuss the big fashion news this week, which was all coming from the CFDA. On Tuesday, Tom Ford was appointed its new chairman; he will take over from Diane von Furstenberg. (Not surprisingly, I had some thoughts on this.) That same day the nominations for the June fashion awards came out. Here’s a full list, if you want to see.

Tom (I used to call him The Great Stubbled One, but let’s be more relaxed) officially begins his job right after the associated gala evening, and despite what I am sure is a long to-do list, I can’t help but hope that getting to grips with the increasingly confused prize-giving is on it. This year in particular it seems to make very little sense.

I’m not talking here of the special awards, you understand — the ones chosen by the CFDA board (the whole gild makes suggestions) that acknowledge specific personal contributions to the industry, and that this year honor Eileen Fisher (for her work in sustainability), Lynn Yaeger (for media), Carine Roitfeld (for shaping the industry) and Sarah Burton (the international award, for her work at Alexander McQueen). Those have been well-earned over time, and the winners thoroughly debated.

I’m talking about the women’s wear/men’s wear/accessories awards, for each of which five brands are nominated. The problem is that they are businesses of such varying size, influence and power that the criteria for inclusion seems almost Dada-like (or a little desperate).

I mean: For women’s wear designer of the year, how do you begin to compare Rosie Assoulin and Brandon Maxwell, two relatively young and unknown names, with Marc Jacobs, who has already won 10 — 10! — CFDA awards across multiple categories. When I asked his publicist how many times Marc had been nominated, he replied that he wasn’t sure, but “I’ve been with him for 12 years, and I can’t really recall a year he wasn’t nominated for something.”

That says something about Marc’s talent, but it also says something about the depth of the American industry, or its insularity.

For men’s wear designer, how do you compare Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss who has 10 employees, and Thom Browne, whose company is now owned by the Italian group Ermenegildo Zegna, and for whom this is his 10th men’s wear nomination (he has won three times)?

Beats me.

I have long had an issue with these awards — it’s the same problem in Britain — and think perhaps it’s time we all reconsidered the situation. Why not choose designer of the year every five years? Or just have the special honors that recognize achievement over time? It could still be a glamorous, glitzy fund-raiser, and it wouldn’t feel so much like a high school popularity contest.

Anyway, we’ll find out the winners in a few months — followed by Tom’s plans. While we all bate our breath, take a moment to read about why your shopping on Instagram is about to get a lot easier, get the inside scoop on the Levi’s IPO, and delve into the world of watches as, over in Basel, Switzerland, timepieceapalooza gets underway.

Have a good weekend. And eat your kale salad. The Mueller report is coming. At some point!

Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.

Q: Stories of women and designers of color like Mary Quant and Stephen Burrows are often hidden from the public eye. Who is your favorite fashion designer whose story has been written out of history? Elizabeth, San Francisco

A: There are so many! First, though, let me say that while we complain a lot about the revival of old houses, one positive side effect of the trend has been to keep alive names that might otherwise fall into the shadows of history. See, for example, the soon-to-be-revived House of Patou, which LVMH is readying for a comeback.

Also, I think Mary Quant is actually one of the designers whose name and most famous contribution (the miniskirt; she either invented it or popularized it, depending on who you listen to) may still be pretty well known, and will only become more so because next month the Victoria & Albert Museum is opening a major retrospective of the designer. If you are in London, definitely go.

By contrast, my guess is that few armchair fashion watchers may necessarily have heard of Patrick Kelly, my nomination for a designer everyone should know. Vice called him “the Jackie Robinson of fashion,” and that’s not an exaggeration.

A child of Jim Crow Mississippi, he got himself to Parsons (briefly) and then Paris. His was a story of struggle and make do and mend, but by 1985 French Elle had discovered an aesthetic that was joyful, fun and a little surreal, marked by crazy buttons and riotous combinations of print and color. (He also reclaimed the golliwog and made it his own, which given what happened with Prada last December should maybe be more than a fashion footnote.)

Three years later, he was the first American and the first black person to become a member of the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter. He also dressed everyone from Princess Diana to Madonna. He died in 1990 of AIDS-related causes, and at his memorial, Gloria Steinem said “He unified us with buttons and bows.” I encourage everyone to look at his work, because his legacy is one to honor, especially now.





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