Jeffrey Banks, a Washington-born designer of sportswear and traditional menswear, and Adri, whose specialty is soft, easy sweaters for women, won the top American Fashion Critics' Awards at a black-tie ceremony at the Fashion Institute of Technology tonight. The awards are better known as the Coty Awards and sometimes dubbed the fashion industry's Oscars.
The 40th annual edition attracted some of the fashion industry's great old-timers, including Adele Simpson and Rudi Gernreich, past winners of the awards. Additional awards were bestowed on such other former winners as Norma Kamali, Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene and the designers for Anne Klein, Donna Karan and Louis Dell'Olio.
But the students at FIT, whose scholarship programs benefited by $50,000 from the evening, wanted mostly to catch a glimpse of Brooke Shields, who was cohost with Ben Vereen.
"Give me Brooke Shields and Calvin Klein and I'll be happy," insisted FIT freshman Sandi Bechtoldt, who was dressed in a Yankee baseball jacket and jeans. "But I'll clap for anyone who is well-dressed."
Just then, Pinky Wolman, dressed in a short, black, [poufed-out] taffeta dress and short punk hair, approached the auditorium. Students didn't recognize the designer, half of the design team of Pinky and Dianne, who were nominees for an award. But they liked her get-up.
The awards ceremony stumbled along on cornball commentary, mispronounced names and uncomfortable pauses that even the usually agile Ben Vereen could not sidestep.
Shields: "Gee, Ben, isn't this exciting? . . . I never knew there were so many designers."
Vereen: "And how about how talented they are? I'm glad I don't have to vote for a winner -- they are all winners in my book."
For an afternoon dress rehearsal that was open to students, Shields arrived almost an hour late. "Bet she's been kept after school," giggled a freshman in a black leather jacket and Oscar de la Renta jeans.
"I'm sorry to be late," Shields sighed as she slipped behind the podium next to Vereen. "That's okay, Brooke," screamed back one of the students, and the others cheered and clapped.
Norma Kamali, dressed in a football-shouldered coat and trousers, first brought the students to their feet, cheering, when she walked into the room. Bill Blass, who followed her, received very dignified but enthusiastic applause when he took the stage in a pin-striped suit, his tie loosened and cigarette in hand.
Both the students in the afternoon, and the evening audience as well, loved the presentation by Jeffrey Banks, who first took his art classes at McKinley High School and now teaches at FIT. Sometimes it was hard to tell if the students were cheering the clothes or the models themselves -- Jeff Aquilon, Renauld White, Charles Williamson and Todd Irvin -- faces the fashion crowd knows well from the covers of Gentleman's Quarterly and Esquire. "Now I know what I want for Christmas," quipped Shields as the last one left the stage.
But for all the awards, the biggest plum may have been the chance to design a dress for Brooke Shields. "Bill Blass and Geoffrey Beene were just dying to dress her," said her mother, Teri Shields.
Shields, in a new upswept hairdo, had opted for a black velvet jacket and cropped pants for the first half of the show and a black sequined dress for the second half, "both of them our own design," said Shields' mother. "Brooke isn't allowed to promote anyone else's designs until her contract with Calvin Klein expires this December." "Then," added Brooke, "I can't wait to wear every designer's clothes."
Shields doen't expect to endorse any more products afer the Klein jeans, except perhaps a collection of her own. Does she think a Coty Award is in her future?
"I find it a little hard to imagine," she said.