“Every Nigga Is a Star” read Issa Rae’s sash as she posed on the red carpet in her role as host of the 2018 Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards (CFDAs)—the first black woman in the event’s history to be honored with a hosting slot (by some reports, the first person of color ever).
Rae was wearing a Swarovski crystal-spangled jumpsuit by designer Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss, one of the night’s Emerging Designer nominees, who would end up winning the coveted CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award months later. This year, Jean-Raymond is also up for a well-deserved nomination for Menswear Designer of the Year, alongside Virgil Abloh (who is also nominated for 2019 Accessories Designer of the Year).
With the addition of Accessories Designer of the Year nominee Telfar Clemens of Telfar Global and Emerging Designer Nominee Heron Preston, the 2019 CFDA has bested itself by one, this year offering five out of its 20 competitive nominations to four black designers (last year, four nominations were given to three black designers). But conspicuously absent among this year’s nominees are black women.
“The CFDA Fashion Awards celebrate the outstanding creativity in American fashion,” said CFDA President and CEO Steven Kolb in an official statement. “There will be exciting changes to this year’s awards...”
Indeed, with the election of Tom Ford as the CFDA’s new chairman (succeeding Diane von Furstenberg), there are undoubtedly major changes afoot. But what hasn’t changed is the fact that high fashion is still predominantly the bastion of white talent—and of the black designers who are at last breaking through to the highest ranks (see: Abloh and Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing), none are women. In 2018, Aurora James was the sole black woman nominated for a CFDA award, as her footwear and accessories line, Brother Vellies, earned an Emerging Designer nod. She was the first since 2013.
In fact, while Pat McGrath, Naomi Campbell, Janelle Monáe, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Bethann Hardison, and Iman have all been given honorary awards by CFDA in the past decade, aside from James, only one black female designer has garnered a nomination in a competitive category in that same time frame. Carly Cushnie was nominated during her tenure as one half of the design duo Cushnie et Ochs. It remains to be seen whether she’ll earn another nomination since going solo in 2018.
So, what gives?
Mainly, lack of access. While black women remain consistent influencers of fashion trends, they are generally left to their own devices when it comes to garnering the resources, networking and capital necessary to launch successful brands. Despite black designers like Ann Lowe and Zelda Wynn Valdes breaking ground in the middle of the last century, to date, only a handful of black women—including Cushnie, Tracy Reese and Kimora Lee Simmons— have broken through to the mainstream. It’s incredibly telling, in terms of leveraging our uncontested influence into actual income and acclaim.
What can we do about it?
Well, it’s a small start, but the rise of social media in the past decade has also opened a new route of low-cost marketing for legitimate brands (though correct branding is still key). We can’t say it enough: Believe in and promote black women. Because, off the top of our heads, we can name several worth your follows and buys, aside from the aforementioned designers: Fe Noel. Maki Oh. Undra Celeste. Kimberly Goldson. Selam Fessahaye. Shanel Campbell. Brea Stinson. Carmen Webber. Korto Momolu. Support Harlem’s Fashion Row, who is not only black woman-led, but has consistently championed black women designers. And that’s literally just a start.
Purchase and promote. Because while we’re thrilled to see black male designers getting their well-deserved due, we outchea, too. And as much as we’d love to believe the CFDA selects its nominees based on integrity and talent alone, like any other awards ceremony, popularity and sales always help—they can’t nominate what they don’t know about.
As for this year’s CFDA Awards ceremony, it will once again take place at the Brooklyn Museum in New York on June 3rd. A host has yet to be announced. Additional nominees will continue to be revealed, as will the Fashion Icon, Lifetime Achievement and Influencer awards. The current list of nominees is as follows:
Womenswear Designer of the Year: Brandon Maxwell, Marc Jacobs, Kate Mulleavy and Laura Mulleavy for Rodarte, Rosie Assoulin, Sander Lak for Sies Marjan
Menswear Designer of the Year: Mike Amiri for Amiri, Virgil Abloh for Off-White, Kerby Jean-Raymond for Pyer Moss, Rick Owens, Thom Browne of Thom Browne New York
Accessories Designer of the Year: Jennifer Fisher for Jennifer Fisher Jewelry, Virgil Abloh for Off-White, Tabitha Simmons, Telfar Clemens for Telfar, Ashley Olsen and Mary-Kate Olsen for The Row
Emerging Designer of the Year: Emily Adams Bode for Bode, Beth Bugdaycay for Foundrae, Heron Preston, Catherine Holstein for Khaite, Sarah Staudinger and George Augusto for Staud
Valentino Garavani and Giancarlo Giammetti International Award: Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen
Positive Change Award: Eileen Fisher
Founder’s Award: Carine Roitfeld
Media Award: Lynn Yaeger