It was another of those nights in New York for the gathering of the fashion glitterati to honor their own with the Coty Awards. But the honorees weren't falling all over each other to get there.
First designer Calvin Klein decided to pass up both the competition for best menswear and a special award as an American designer with world influence. "Personal reasons," he said at first, then explained he didn't think the awards, as they are now awarded, were worthy.
Then Halston asked to be counted out. He blamed the Coty sponsors' "commercialism" in producing a line they called Coty Award cosmetics. He said he wouldn't show, and didn't.
Perry Ellis had another problem. He'd never gotten an award. And though he sided with big-league Halston and Klein, he thought it might be nice to have a Coty Award just the same. So he told the committee, "Maybe I'll come and maybe not," meaning he'd stay in the race for the award but stay at home waiting for a phone call to see if he won. He gave his tickets to designer pal Abbijane Schifrin, who popped out of her seat spontaneously when she saw no one else was picking up Ellis' award.
So Thursday night the fashion moguls from stores, magazines and fiber companies and some past and present winners put on their best -- which, in their businesses, meant a lot of gold and silver and sequins and feathers and a dash of mohair.
The ceremonies were held at the Fashion Institute of Technology -- the largest educational institution for fashion and soon to be a full-fledged university -- which also was the beneficiary, less costs, of the $175-a-head ticket price.
More than 1,500 fashion students, mostly in jeans, jammed both sides of the blue-velvet, roped-off entrance to the school, cheering wildly as the long, chauffeured limos pulled up and a man with a bullhorn announced the names of guests -- at least the names he was given. Pierre Cardin was announced and the kids screamed -- only it wasn't Cardin. Note pads were shoved at everyone -- even members of the press -- for autographs as they passed.
"Mary McFadden." It was she and the kids cheered and she nodded grandly but refused autographs.
The screaming was so loud you couldn't hear the announcement when Ralph Lauren arrived. He stopped to sign a few spiral-note book pages.
The young crowd wanted to see "the old ones" like Bill Blass and Halston (neither showed), while some of the Coty Award nominees for this year like Jhane Barnes and Lee Wright went unrecognized.
Inside, Ralph Lauren was saying that this was probably the last year for the Coty Awards. "The other designers got greedy. They killed it," he said regretfully. "It's very personal. It is nice to get an award from your peers." Lauren was accepting kudos from guests for his special award (with Geoffrey Beene, Halston and Klein) and repeating the reports of business success from a couple of store presidents.
"And (the Coty) is far more important than the Oscars," insisted Lauren. "Fashion people are more tasteful and well read. Oscar people are move people on a fantasy trip. We're serious."
While there are plenty of no-shows at Oscar events, Oscar winners can count on a financial boost through the added celebrity. The Coty Award is simply a nod from colleagues.
Ellis puts it more in the league of a "Photoplay Award."
In the last couple of years, Coty nominations have been made by a committee of New York fashion editors and publishers, with several of the names submitted as a slate.
"There's been a lot of controversy over these awards which some say you can get just by taking someone to lunch," said Conrad Bell, who got a special award for his men's fur designs. "I haven't taken anyone to lunch. I didn't know who to take to lunch. I gladly accept this award. For me it has lost none of its lustre."
Until this year the Coty Award evening has focused on an imaginative fashion presentation of recent works of all the nominees and winners. This year the 600 or so guests got to see only the designer -- if he showed up -- and took home a portfolio of limited-edition signed lithographs by artist Anotonio Lopez, depicting each of the nominees' style of work.
"It's a fashion award and therefore we need to see the fashions," said John Wanamaker Vice President Koko Hashim. While she sees many of the collections, there were many designers honored whose creations she wasn't familiar with. "Shows are part of our language," said last year's winner, Bill Atkinson. "We need them." Special winner Goeffrey Beene added, "Fashion is so visual. The strength of it should be shown."
It's ironic that the Coty Award should get such hard knocks this year. Conceived by Eleanor Lambert 37 years ago as a way to spotlight American designers, in a period when the only recognized fashion names were European, the Coty committee this year decided to salute the overall contribution of American designers. "The focus of world fashion today is on American designers," the special citation reads. And Geoffrey Beene and Ralph Lauren, as well as Halston and Klein, all part of the Coty Hall of Fame (as three-time Coty winners), were chosen for this special accolade. Both Beene and Lauren picked up their awards last night.
So did Mary McFadden, who was elevated to the Hall of Fame; knitwear creator Joan Vass and jewelry designer Barry Kieselstein-Cord, who got special awards. (Vass was introduced for her award by her children, including Sara Vass and Richard Mauro of Washington.)