For the CFDA, Fashion Design was Art from the Start, Despite What the Designers Said About It

Anna Wintour wore a red, orange, green and white striped number by Geoffrey Beene. Marc Jacobs was the new kid on the block. Giorgio Armani was the lifetime achiever for menswear. The date was 23 years ago on this day in 1988, and anyone who was anyone in American fashion had come out to the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s (CFDA) seventh annual awards presentation. They were there not just to pay tribute to the individuals and brands that defined the fashion of 1987, but also to celebrate a milestone: the organization’s 25th anniversary.

Public relations magnate and champion of American fashion Eleanor Lambert conceived the CFDA in 1962, just 20 years after she helped to establish the Coty American Fashion Critics’ Awards (not to mention founding the very first Fashion Week, The MET’s Costume Institute and the “Best Dressed” list). Today we annually refer to the CFDA awards show as “the Oscars of fashion” and hopeful designers dream of one day being listed among its ranks, but the Coty Awards started it all. Cotys—particularly the “Winnie,” the equivalent of best Oscar—were the most prestigious awards in American fashion until the CFDA began to award their own honors in 1981. Read More »

A Youthquaker Gets Her Due

On June 22, 1971, Betsey Johnson won her only Coty American Fashion Award, an honor she shared with another seventies icon, Halston.

If any year was definitively Betsey Johnson’s, this was it. “Granny style” was the newest wrinkle (sorry; couldn’t resist that one) in an increasingly fickle style landscape. “Today’s girl looks like grandma did, sweet and covered up…” lured one advertisement for Johnson’s clothes. The heated mini-midi-maxi skirt debate had women turning their backs on designer labels in favor of piecing together their own brand of individualized wardrobes through vintage bins and less-expensive, off-the-rack brands. Johnson was just 28 years old, but already hinted at a personality that was defiantly anti-establishment while still being the life of the party. Read More »

Lettuce Hems and Disco Wear: Burrows Defines an Era

His loungey discowear defined Seventies fashion, and on June 21, 1973, Stephen Burrows became the first black designer to win a coveted Coty Award.

In the fashion world at the time, this was akin to Sidney Poitier winning the Oscar a decade before: groundbreaking. In the early 1970s black models were wildly popular, but black designers had little-to-no representation. (One exception was Ann Lowe, who designed clothes for high society, including creating Jackie Kennedy’s 1953 wedding dress, but Lowe was penniless by the Seventies). The Coty Awards, which were given to American designers from 1943 through 1984, were the Academy Awards of fashion (like today’s CFDA Awards), and the Winnie, given to Burrows for best womenswear, was its Best Picture. Burrows, 29, actually shared the honor with another rising star—Calvin Klein—but, still, in a world of white designers, Burrows’ win opened doors for blacks in the fashion industry. Read More »

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