Fashion, Fun, and Beyoncé: An Inside Look at the 2016 CFDA Awards

From winners and gowns to acceptance speeches and performances, everything you want to know about American fashion's biggest night

“Oh my gosh, I was in the car here from my place in the West Village and forgot it’s at Hammerstein Ballroom and not Lincoln Center,” said one editor during the cocktail reception before the CFDA Awards last night. “It took like five minutes to get here, it’s so great.” A closer commute for the CFDA’s downtown attendees was not the only positive change for this year’s venue. In years passed, the awards were held at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, one of the city’s larger auditoriums. This year, the program was replaced with a seated dinner, which gave the evening a more intimate, loungey feel.

Once the ceremony began, funnyman Joel McHale’s hosting left the room in stitches. “You people are some of the most creative, elegant people in the world,” he said, “and your work helps shape culture. But it will also invariably end up in a mall in Beavercreek, Ohio.”

The Swarovski Award for emerging designers in Accessories, Womenswear, and Menswear went to Paul Andrew, Brandon Maxwell, and the Orley family—Alex, Matthew, and Samantha—of Orley, respectively. “I was so nervous about putting on pants not with elastic waistbands to come here tonight,” said Maxwell in his speech. Seeing as his date was supermodel Naomi Campbell, it’s a good thing he ditched the sweats for a spiffy blue suit. “But I am so happy to be here and this is an incredible honor,” he continued. “Thank you.”

Thom Browne took home the top honor for Menswear Designer of the Year. “I have such an important and talented team that I wouldn’t be up here without them, and for the first time they are all with me tonight,” he said from the podium. Browne’s team cheered from their table, all wearing matching black Thom Browne tuxedos. “They’re waiting for me to do shots with them over there.”

The evening also paid tribute to David Bowie with a musical performance from Michael C. Hall, as well as a tribute to Prince with a performance from Jennifer Hudson. The nostalgia continued when four of New York’s most celebrated designers took the stage. Calvin Klein presented the Founders Award to his longtime friend Donna Karan, and Michael Kors gave Norma Kamali her much-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award. 

An International Award, presented by Anna Wintour, went to Gucci’s Alessandro Michele. (Earlier on the red carpet, Hari Nef, wearing Gucci, confessed the sample they sent didn’t quite fit her just right, but that when left unzipped, it made for some sultry over-the-shoulder photo ops).

Marc Jacobs surprised the crowd by not only winning Womenswear Designer of the Year, but also by bypassing the red carpet and most of the festivities completely. He swooped in to pick up his award, give a quick thank you, then rush back downtown to his studio to put the finishing touches on his Resort 2017 show. 

The evening’s biggest surprise, however, came when Beyonceé—dressed in custom Givenchy and accompanied by Jay Z and Blue Ivy—arrived mid-ceremony to collect the Fashion Icon Award, at which time she shared a poignant story about her personal connection to fashion. “Most of you guys don’t know this but my grandmother was a seamstress. My grandparents did not have enough money for my mother’s Catholic school tuition, so my grandmother sewed clothes for the priests and the nuns, making uniforms in exchange for my mother’s education.” 

There was also a time, Beyoncé recalled, when “high end designers”—no doubt many of the people in the room last night—“didn’t really want to dress black, curvy, country girls,” so her mother, Tina, ended up sewing all of Destiny’s Child’s early costumes. “My mother designed my first Grammy dress, my first CFDA dress, even my wedding dress… my mother was rejected from every showroom in New York, but like her mother, she used her talent to give her children their dreams.”

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