Models walk the runway at Fe Noel fashion show during New York Fashion Week at Capitale on September 4, 2018 in New York City.
Photo: Slaven Vlasic (Getty Images)

As the application phase for the 2019 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund (CVFF) launches Friday, the Council of Fashion Designers of America simultaneously announced two new judges: model Paloma Elsesser and Vogue.com Fashion News Director Chioma Nnadi.

The new appointments come in response to significant criticism for the lack of full diversity on previous judging panels, which came to a head in 2018. While the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund’s most recent two winners have been black designers (Telfar Global in 2017, followed by Pyer Moss in 2018), there were no black judges present on recent panels, compounding an already broadly discussed issue of marginalization and lack of representation within the industry.

Elsesser, also a body-positive activist, and London-born Nnadi, known within the industry as an advocate for inclusivity, join Anna Wintour, Diane von Furstenberg, Joseph Altuzarra, Eva Chen, Mark Holgate, Jeffrey Kalinsky, Steven Kolb, Roopal Patel, Andrew Rosen on the CVFF’s panel, which will select this year’s 10 finalists and ultimate winner.

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“I’ve always been super energized by the quest for what’s new and what’s next in fashion, even long before I worked in the industry,” Nnadi told the CFDA. “I also think it’s a real privilege for a designer at any level to open up their door and let you in on their process, so I’m really excited at the prospect of doing that with whole new generation of American talent.”

The CFDA also did the work of promoting black female design talent this week, partnering with Harlem’s Fashion Row on Monday morning to showcase three of HFR’s most promising talents, Fe Noel, Undra [Duncan] Celeste, and Kimberly Goldson with a pop-up showroom.

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Mentored and championed by HFR founder and CEO Brandice Daniel, the three women first made headlines last year as co-designers of the instantly sold-out HFR x LeBron 16 sneaker, which was both the first women’s shoe in the LeBron James franchise (with the NBA star on hand for its unveiling) and the first Nike shoe designed entirely by women.

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“The sneaker gave us a great push and momentum, so we want to continue to help develop this batch of talent,” Daniel told the CFDA newsletter, which noted:

HFR was created in 2007 as a support network for undeserved designers who encounter seemingly impenetrable barriers to entry in the traditional fashion matrix. This predicament is especially true for women of color who have, historically, created popular style trends and been simultaneously excluded from capitalizing on their innovations.

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Indeed, even as black male designers—including Virgil Abloh, Kerby Jean-Raymond (Pyer Moss), Telfar Clemens, LaQuan Smith and Romeo Hunte—are making long overdue gains within the fashion industry, black female designers still largely exist on the margins in terms of success, support and recognition. The CFDA’s recognition of this fact is a definitive step in remedying that disparity.

“Our designers need access and the CFDA is becoming a bridge,” said Daniel.