Highlights: 2017 CFDA Fashion Awards

This year's coveted awards saw Raf Simmons scoop two prizes, as well as honouring activists including Gloria Steinem and Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards

  • Winners of the Board of Directors' Tribute Gloria Steinem, President of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards and Janelle Monáe
  • Winner of the Womenswear and Menswear awards, Raf Simons
  • Raf Simmons giving his acceptance speech
  • Anna Wintour presenting her speech on the late Franca Sozzani
  • Kenneth Cole accepts the Swarovski Award for Positive Change from Jon Bon Jovi
  • Winners of the Board of Directors' Tribute Gloria Steinem gives her acceptance speech
  • Amber Valletta and Karen Elson

Honouring the best and brightest achievers in the fashion industry, the annual Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards - in partnership with Swarovski for the sixteenth year - is a celebration of creativity, contribution and collaboration. The glittering gala dinner, held at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, saw a flurry of famed attendees from both inside and outside the fashion sphere, including actors, musicians, activists, designers, editors and fashion industry insiders. With global political and social climates becoming increasingly volatile in recent months, patrons of this year’s event used the evening as an opportunity to speak out about the current state of the world transcending social activism, cultural criticism and political commentary - transforming the affair into an inspirational platform for awareness and empowerment.

CFDA chairwoman, Diane Von Furstenburg, set the precedent for an evening that commemorated design talent as much as it did the spirit of activism. The coveted Board of Directors’ Tribute was given to three exemplary honorees; author, activist, and feminist icon Gloria Steinem, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, and actress and musician Janelle Monáe who spoke out on behalf of Black Lives Matter during a recent performance at the Women’s March in Washington.

“The fashion industry has long celebrated bodily autonomy and bodily expression, and the right of every person to live their life on their own terms,” voiced Richards in her acceptance speech. Gloria Steinhem expressed how she believed “Trump-like walls cannot stop poisoned air or rising oceans or even hungry and desperate refugees”, while Janelle Monáe reminded attendees to “continue to speak out against the sexism, the racism, the homophobia, the Islamophobia, and all those things that are constantly trying to divide us. As human beings, it is going to be our responsibility to take care of one of another. Women’s rights are human rights. LGBTQ rights are human rights. Poor folks' rights are human rights. Immigrant rights are human rights. Minority rights are human rights.”

Over the years, the CFDA and its 500-some members have weighed in on a host of politically fueled topics, ranging women’s health to immigration policies. In January, shortly after Trump took office, the trade group convened to discuss streamlining visa processes, creating domestic industry opportunities for international students, post fashion education, and how to develop paths to legal statuses or citizenships for the many undocumented workers who remain essential to the local production of many fashion houses and designer studios. In February, during New York Fashion Week, the council sponsored a consciousness-raising campaign in support of Planned Parenthood, in light of President Trump’s propositions to strip all funds to the organisation.

This year’s ceremony marked the debut of the Swarovski Award for Positive Change, in recognition of social contributions beyond the runway. The first ever recipient was none other than designer Kenneth Cole, whose company has been synonymous with activism for over 30 years, drawing attention to all sorts of issues including AIDS, gun control, homelessness, capital punishment and female health care, among others.  

Designer Raf Simons of Calvin Klein won not only one, but two top honours on the night. The Belgian-born designer won both the womenswear and menswear designer of the year awards. As Simon’s first Calvin-related CFDA Award wins (previously receiving the 2014 International Award for his work at Dior), the victories mark only the second time in the awards’ history that the same designer has scooped both men’s and womenswear prizes in the same year. The only other designer to ever reach this achievement was none other than Calvin Klein himself, who took home the two awards in 1993.

Winners of the other categories included designer Rick Owens, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award; Demna Gvasalia, who took home the International Award for his work at Vetements and Balenciaga;  and Coach creative director Stuart Vevers was recognised as Accessories Designer of the Year.  Monse’s Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim scooped the Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent, while makeup artist Pat McGrath was given the Founder's Award in honor of Eleanor Lambert.

Finally, the prestigious Fashion Icon Award was posthumously presented to the late Franca Sozzani by Vogue’s Anna Wintour, which was accepted by Sozzani’s own son, Francesco Carrozzini. In a bittersweet speech, Wintour honoured Sozzani’s unflinching contributions to the fashion industry, saying “think of her portfolio on domestic violence. Or her pioneering issue featuring only black models. Or her plus-size cover. She was not just ahead of our time. She was ahead of our courage, in so many ways”