We love fashion, but like most great love affairs, it occasionally disappoints. Monday night at the 2018 CFDA Fashion Awards was one such occasion, when, despite an unusually high number of nominations for black designers—four designers in three of the four categories—none were awarded what is widely considered to be an “Oscar of Fashion.”
The evening started off well enough; after all, it was hosted by Issa Rae, the first woman to host the awards, officially the Council of Fashion Designers of America Fashion Awards, in nine years. “I am here, holding it down for all the females,” she told model Candice Huffine, who hosted a Facebook Live from the red carpet at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. Rae also didn’t underestimate the meaning of being the first person of color to host the awards in its 37-year history, as reported by USA Today.
“I’m the first person of color to ever host this, so I really can’t fuck up—which is crazy, especially considering the impact our culture has had on fashion,” she said in her opening monologue, before referring to one of the evening’s double nominees, Virgil Abloh:
We’ve gone from having white designers study black culture to make black clothes for white people that are too expensive for black people to buy to [having] a black man bringing black culture to a historically white fashion house making clothes too expensive for everybody. ... A man making clothes too expensive for everyone, regardless of race; that is the future liberals want.
With her model-like beauty and irresistible charm, we’ve been eagerly anticipating what looks the stunner would bring as mistress of ceremony. But Rae also laughed off her growing reputation as a style icon, saying, “I’m about as fashionable as Kanye is black: only when it’s convenient.” The blistering comment turned out to be a one-two punch line, as Rae continued: “That joke was my choice, just like slavery.”
But unlike the CFDA voters, Rae did not disappoint, not only making three wardrobe changes but wearing only black designers over the course of the evening. Our favorite, of course, was the Pyer Moss-designed, jaw-dropping, one-shouldered jumpsuit Rae wore on the red carpet, coordinating with the CFDA step-and-repeat in Swarovski-crystal-studded (180,000, to be exact), sapphire-colored chiffon.
The pièce de résistance? A black satin sash (pictured above) embroidered with a play on the title of a Boris Gardiner song, “Every Nigger Is a Star,” which played during Pyer Moss’ Fall/Winter 2018 runway show (and has also been sampled by Kendrick Lamar and featured on the Moonlight soundtrack). The fashion statement was purportedly designer Kerby Jean-Raymond’s idea, but as worn by Rae, it was both confirmation that she is eternally “rooting for everybody black” and affirmation that awards will never define black excellence.
Good thing, because despite being nominated for both Womenswear and Menswear Designer of the Year, Off-White founder and undisputed man of the moment Virgil Abloh went home empty-handed, losing Womenswear to Calvin Klein’s Raf Simons (Simons’ second win in a row) and Menswear to urbanwear brand Supreme’s James Jebbia (who memorably thought it was an epic idea to emblazon hoodies with Martin Luther King Jr.’s visage this past Black History Month).
The competition for Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent was even more disappointing, since two of this year’s five nominees were black, including the first black woman ever to be nominated, Brother Vellies founder Aurora James. But, alas, both James and Pyer Moss founding designer Kerby Jean-Raymond were shut out in favor of Sander Lak for Sies Marjan.
It was a disappointing end to what seemed to be for black designers a “can’t stop, won’t stop” year, in which Abloh earned both a 2017 British Fashion Award and a post at the helm of menswear at Louis Vuitton, while Jean-Raymond debuted a buzzworthy collaboration with Reebok. But while nods were given by the the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the wins were, unfortunately, not so forthcoming.
But there were still honors given to black excellence Monday night; notably to British Vogue Editor-in-Chief Edward Enninful, who took home the Media Award for his decadeslong and still-thriving career in editorial fashion, presented to him by none other than the Queen of All Media, Oprah Winfrey. Enninful dedicated his award to late Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani, who recruited him to produce the iconic 2008 “Black Issue,” and told the crowd:
In a world that is increasingly divided, we must remember: We are more alike than we are different. British Vogue is about being inclusive. It’s not just the color of your skin but the diversity of perspective. That’s what drives us forward, not back. I have a bold vision of what the future can—and will—look like. Fashion has the opportunity to contribute now more than ever, to a more inclusive, diverse and tolerant society. I want my work to advocate this change.
Supermodel Naomi Campbell also received a well-deserved Fashion Icon Award, which she accepted from friend and director Lee Daniels. Wearing womenswear winner Raf Simons, she addressed the CFDA audience: “I was told many times that I couldn’t do certain things because of the color of my skin. But I never let that be an excuse. I let that drive me. I stand here today as a proud woman of color.”
In a surprisingly self-aware sidenote, an Influencer Award was given to Kim Kardashian West, who joked, “I’m kind of shocked I’m winning a fashion award when I’m naked most of the time.” (Yes, Kim. So are we.)
Other luminaries in attendance included Tracee Ellis Ross, Cynthia Erivo, Winnie Harlow and Lupita Nyong’o, several of whom were dressed by nominated designers and those being honored during the evening’s festivities, including International Award winner Donatella Versace, who dressed Nyong’o for the evening, and Founder’s Award winner Carolina Herrera, whose creative director Wes Gordon designed Ross’ dress.
An unexpected bright spot on the red carpet? Whoopi Goldberg, dressed by her go-to designer, Christian Siriano, in head-to-toe hot pink. “He’s one of the few people who has ever been able to get me in any color,” she remarked.
But while we may not have taken home the wins Monday night, we certainly took the 2018 CFDA Fashion Awards by storm, proving that when it comes to style—among other things—Issa Rae is right: Every one of us is a star.