The CFDA Awards

- By Leena Sanzgiri -

There’s no better red carpet to look forward to than the one that collectively unites those who will go on to create the best red carpet looks of the year (okay, perhaps that is merely one fashionista’s humble opinion). Clearly, we at OliviaPalermo.com are buzzing with anticipation over this evening’s Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards (CFDA) in New York that will honor the best of the best in American fashion. Here, we profile the nominees that have truly awed us this past year with uncompromising innovation, vision, and evolution.

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen for The Row.  Nominated for: Womenswear Designer of the Year

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You’ve come a long way, baby! When the Olsen twins transitioned from media mogul, preteen idols to savvy, inimitable fashion icons, it was at the dawn of the era of street-style frenetic blogging that currently drives the pulse of fashion. Undoubtedly, these were two young women who had an ahead-of-their-time, provocatively muse-worthy understanding of how to effortlessly dress to impress throughout the day, for any occasion or errand. What they have demonstrated with their own charmingly differing personal styles has been seamlessly—no pun intended—infused into the tailored collections of The Row, founded in 2007. Named after London’s Savile Row, the label brings together both designers’ strong suits—Ashley’s eye for classicism and Mary Kate’s progressive intuition of the avant-garde urbanite. In 2011, the sisters wowed the fashion world with collections that exuded a level of workmanship and precision rarely found in such a commercially successful, relatively young brand. From Spring’s tunic-and-trouser ensembles to Fall’s luxe foray into accents of mink, cashmere, and alligator, The Row’s most recent collections mark a year of design feats that both celebrate and challenge the heart of modern sophistication.

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Marc Jacobs.  Nominated for: Womenswear Designer of the Year

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Ah, MJ. It’s a telling tribute when 2011’s winner of the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award returns the next year with a Womenswear Designer of the Year nod (and all the more telling when this isn’t the least bit surprising). Jacobs has swept the category three times, along with six other CFDA awards in varying categories. What can we note that isn’t already well-known about the enfant terrible of New York, who first exploded the fashion world in 1992 with the infamous grunge collection at Perry Ellis? Admittedly, probably not much. Still, suffice it to say that Jacobs has since managed to uniformly go forth and prosper because he has craftily “grown up” that ’90s grunge addict into a striking woman who melds wit and irreverence with elegance and femininity—and who has attracted legions of a new generation of women to emulate her grace. In so doing, Jacobs has become the modern couturier (read: king) of American fashion that has unparalleled authority on knowing what fashion will be feeling for seasons to come. In 2011, Jacobs not only revived the ’70s silhouettes and textured prints that are the current go-to looks of everyday fashionistas, he also reimagined polka dots and peplum skirts in lusty fabrics of latex and leather. Hail to the king, indeed.

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Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez for Proenza Schouler.  Nominated for: Womenswear Designer of the Year, Accessory Designer of the Year

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One often hears Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler referred to in “cutesy” terms—as the darlings of fashion that have been maintaining seriously focused momentum for several seasons now. It’s probably a testament to the fact that the design duo is just as fresh-faced and bright-eyed as they were when they literally “busted” onto the scene with the season’s most celeb-coveted bustier in 2004. Or perhaps it’s that the same year, the two were the recipients of the Vogue/CFDA’s inaugural Fashion Fund, cementing their role forever as the first officially endowed young designers to watch. They’ve taken the prize in womenswear in 2007 and 2011, and their explosive last few collections have fallen nothing short of the expectations of such a meteoric rise. They have completely overhauled the way we work with print and texture; they are responsible not only for making today’s ubiquitous geometric printed trouser the pant of the season, but also for deftly weaving neon knits and developing new techniques in digitizing textile patterns. The buck doesn’t stop there—the two have also received their first nod for accessories, having gained incredible traction in the handbag space by designing the cult-astic, anti-It It bag of the year, the PS1. Nothing cutesy about that.

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Alexander Wang  Nominated for: Accessory Designer of the Year

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I will openly admit that when Alexander Wang won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award in 2008, I was skeptical at the choice—that is, until I tried on (and promptly bought) my first dress from his fall collection that year. It fit and flattered with exactly the kind of sporty refinement that I didn’t know I had long been missing. Wang has had the kind of career trajectory that all young designers aspire for, and it’s in no small part due to his intensely accurate knack of appealing to a very hip demographic whose styling philosophies cover a roster of ironies—downtown chic, athletic dressiness, and affordable luxury, to name a few.  Already a veteran winner of the Swarovski award in both womenswear and accessories, Wang returns to the CFDA nominees’ circle in the latter category following a year of impressive productivity. No stranger to working with hardware, Wang expanded his repertoire of handbags from the studded Rocco satchel to include beautiful top-handle totes, quirkily studded clutches, and more casual shoulder bags. He also introduced elegant heels and booties into his footwear line, adding edgy uptown alternatives to the existing array of combat boots. Wang is nothing if not adept at keeping things fresh and current, and he’s maturing alongside his customer with admirable clarity.

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Erin Beaty and Max Osterweis for Suno.   Nominated for: Swarovski Award for Womenswear

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Appeal for the trendy, urban sophisticate? Check. A nobly inspiring cause behind the label? Check. A nomination for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award? Check. Erin Beaty and Max Osterweis have covered their bases in establishing a high-profile, excitingly newsworthy brand. Founded in 2008, Osterweis and Beatty committed their label to supporting the Kenyan economy by sourcing locally produced textiles. Their first collection was sold in none other than Opening Ceremony, the barometer boutique for communicating what’s hot in the industry. Since its inception, Suno has become a label that has led the redefining of what it means to be ladylike. The design duo has made an indelible mark on the industry with their youthful take on combining floral brights with Dior-like tailoring. It’s a new version of glamorous retro that hasn’t been executed with such skillful subtlety in a very long time. Fall 2011 epitomized this trademark of the designers with a collection that reworked the hodgepodge of a grandmother’s wardrobe as a somehow cohesive layering of print, plaid, and knit textiles. The resulting looks were as whimsical as they were edgy, and they furthermore very obviously relayed that the designers are becoming happily seasoned at making this their niche in the industry. A recipe for success? Double check.

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Joseph Altuzarra.  Nominated for: Swarovski Award for Womenswear

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“Always stand up for what you believe in.” So Joseph Altuzarra articulated the biggest lesson he has personally learned in fashion. Having worked for several established fashion houses (Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler, Givenchy) before launching his own eponymous label in 2008, the designer knows a thing or two about maintaining a personal point of view when working with the heavyweights of the industry. As the most recent recipient of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, Altuzarra also has the laurels to prove that his contemporary vision is both timely and applause-worthy. His Fall 2011 collection was not only a throwback to the aforementioned Marc Jacobs grunge collection at Perry Ellis, but it also accomplished both aesthetic and commercial feats—it updated the ’90s with a refreshingly modern spin, and it established the designer as a fantastic creator of outerwear. He will likely find enormous financial success as the go-to designer for luxury coats of his generation, but he has also shown the editorial world in his most recent collections that he has mastered an enviable trifecta of skills: knitwear, tailoring, and prints. With that kind of versatility, he should have no trouble standing up for his beliefs in the years to come. You can certainly call us believers.

Best of luck to all the nominees!

The CFDA Awards will be held tonight, June 4, at Lincoln Center in New York. They will additionally be broadcast online from 12 pm EST tomorrow, June 5 on Style.com.

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Leena Sanzgiri is a Manhattan-based management consultant from Dubai, where she grew up loving fashion, art, music, and theater. She strives to balance writing, traveling, cooking, painting, socializing, and hunting for vintage finds with watching abnormal amounts of reality television. Stay tuned for her forthcoming personal blog and for more posts on oliviapalermo.com/author/leena, or follow her on Twitter: @leenasanzgiri

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