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The Fashion Awards Sparkle in London

Get your Brit bling on

Last night, on a chilly winter evening in London, every pair of VIP high heels and sequins, along with men in tuxedos, headed to the Royal Albert Hall as the British Fashion Council invited a mix of 4,000 guests in their best attire to celebrate the annual Fashion Awards.

But to be inside, you had to earn your place. (Cue the Mission Impossible theme song.) The well-heeled had to first navigate an obstacle course, wiggling and shuffling in long dresses from their taxis through a no-car-access street, over the cobblestones, and up the red carpet—a sweeping staircase that was all photographers and flashbulbs with no banisters. The esteemed writer Colin McDowell was the first notable sighting of the night, and made an unwitting diversion while I, in a new pair of Manolos and a Galliano slip, jumped over the barrier rather than walking back the twisting length of the red carpet, even though this meant I missed my chance to see Miss Piggy, who was hosting the red carpet coverage for the evening’s sponsor, Swarovski.

The inside of the ceremony was bathed in glowing red. A catwalk stretched up the length of the auditorium with tables nestled on either side. Dame Natalie Massenet did the rounds, greeting everyone; Donatella Versace sat with a tartan-clad Lewis Hamilton on one side and Central Saint Martins MA course director Fabio Piras chatted to Julien Macdonald on another; Raf Simons, who took home the coveted International Designer of the Year Award, came over to introduce himself to John Galliano; Kaia Gerber sat shyly, taking it all in with Stella Maxwell at Edward Enninful’s table; and British Vogue cover girl Adwoa Aboah, who won Model of the Year, exuded Christmas-tree joy as she shimmied happily around in a blur of Michael Halpern sequins and a Stephen Jones turban. Meanwhile, the milliner himself talked to her parents, Camilla Lowther and Charles Aboah. There was so much to air-kiss that no one wanted to take their seats for dinner, but as the tiers and boxes filled, the event began, hosted once again by the British actor Jack Whitehall, only this year he was joined by platinum blonde Karlie-36-Vogue-covers-Kloss, who had an outfit change for every designer.

Some might say, Is this the British Fashion Awards? But, no. The “British” has been dropped as the awards celebrate both the homegrown and the fashion birds that have spread their wings, and they place British fashion—home of creativity—on the world stage alongside the biggest and best brands. The evening celebrated the idea that creativity has no national borders (or Brexit, for that matter) and supported future fashion stars by fundraising for the BFC’s education foundation. Under the five-year tenure of Dame Natalie Massenet, the British Fashion Awards has been groomed and gone global, and this was apparent from the turnout, from the awards to the hosts.  The vast social media reach of the names in attendance, even as a combined figure, is less than the billion-pound annual turnover of the British fashion industry. Selena Gomez, who accompanied Coach’s Stuart Vevers, has 130 million Instagram followers; Erykah Badu, who presented Model of the Year to Aboah (who got the biggest applause of the night), has 2.4 million; and Zendaya, who handed the British Womenswear Designer of the Year statue to Jonathan Anderson (his second of the night following his accessories designer win for Loewe) for his eponymous range, has a cool 45.9 million.

You can see a full list of the night’s winners below, but there were some definitive highlights. For starters, Off-White’s Virgil Abloh, winner of the Urban Luxe Brand honor, dedicated his prize to the “kids outside wanting to come in,” and was one of several who praised the legacy that the late Professor Louise Wilson instilled in her pupils—one of whom was Craig Green, who took home the British Menswear Designer of the Year honor.

Naomi Campbell’s heartfelt tribute to her papa, the late Azzedine Alaïa, was the most moving fashion moment of the night. It started with Ellen von Unwerth’s footage of the original supermodels in their heyday at Alaïa’s shows. Then, Campbell invited her super “sisters” onstage, and many of Alaïa’s muses—Farida Khelfa, Veronica Webb, Stephanie Seymour, Eva Herzigova, Imaan, Yasmin Le Bon, and more—lined the stage in their favorite gowns by the King of Cling. Webb said, “He never did advertising—we were his advertising.” His clothes, like him, were fierce, loyal, and made to empower. Seymour commented, “He clothed me, fed me, walked me down the aisle, and danced with me.”

Pat McGrath was the first makeup artist to ever be honored at the Fashion Awards, which, if you think of the size and power of the beauty industry, is an extraordinary thing. McGrath works with lipstick and shadows rather than cloth, and was presented with the Isabella Blow Award, which she dedicated to Alaïa and the legendary Steven Meisel. She also thanked her mother, Jean McGrath, for making her fearless.

Fashion folk like to pretend they’re a bunch of mean girls with peacock-preening feathers, but Charles Jeffrey ran up to hug his “idol,” John Galliano, as he was presented with the British Emerging Talent—Menswear honor. Moments later, Pamela Anderson, dipped in a rather modest black-sequin jumpsuit, presented Michael Halpern with best use of sequins, also known as the British Emerging Talent—Womenswear award. Halpern seemed to have inspired most of the paillette-drenched, best-dressed girls on the red carpet. For the Outstanding Contribution to British Fashion accolade, outgoing Burberry boy Christopher Bailey was surprised by Dame Anna Wintour, who spoke of how he’d transformed not only the brand, but fashion shows, achieving the latter feat because he “required guests to be seated on time at his shows.” In all seriousness, Bailey did change fashion shows during his time at Burberry via his dedication to the digital world. He was the first to live stream in London. “I’m a planner,” said Bailey of the accolade, “and I didn’t plan that.” The designer also left us guessing, not offering any clues about his post-Burberry plans.

As winner of the Fashion Icon Award, Donatella Versace dedicated her award to the students. She accepted her award in Versace style, with a surprise appearance by Rita Ora and a gospel choir performing George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90.” The Alaïa ladies leapt from their seats to lead an impromptu dance-off as the entire auditorium joined in. When all the awards were distributed, there was only one way left to thank Dame Natalie Massenet for her glittering tenure—with a finale she’d apparently always wanted. The London Gay Men’s Chorus marched onto the stage in Katharine Hamnett T-shirts emblazoned with the mantra “Choose Love” to sing Wham!’s “Freedom.” It was a fitting end to an evening of celebration and reflection that spotlighted both the industry’s emerging and enduring talents. After all, it takes both to make fashion sparkle as brightly as all those Swarovski crystals in the room.

The 2017 Fashion Award Winners

Accessories Designer of the Year: Jonathan Anderson for Loewe 

British Designer of the Year—Menswear: Craig Green

British Designer of the Year—Womenswear: Jonathan Anderson for J.W. Anderson 

British Emerging Talent—Menswear: Charles Jeffrey for Charles Jeffrey Loverboy

British Emerging Talent—Womenswear: Michael Halpern for Halpern

Business Leader: Marco Bizzarri for Gucci

Fashion Icon Award: Donatella Versace

International Designer of the Year: Raf Simons for Calvin Klein 

Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Curator: Pat McGrath

Model of the Year: Adwoa Aboah

Outstanding Contribution to British Fashion: Christopher Bailey

Special Recognition for Innovation: Stella McCartney

Swarovski Award for Positive Change: Maria Grazia Chiuri

Urban Luxe Brand: Off-White 

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