Awards carry little cachet unless they are handed out by someone who has been on television. The pop-culture savant questions the validity of any honor bestowed without the benefit of famous people at least looking on as witnesses. Did it really even happen if there wasn't someone wearing free clothes and borrowed jewelry in the audience?
The awards given out Monday night by the Council of Fashion Designers of America must have been important because Catherine Deneuve was there. So was actor Liev Schreiber who just won a Tony Award for his work in "Glengarry Glen Ross." So were David Bowie, Seal, Joan Allen and that brunette who was in the film version of "Phantom of the Opera" and seems to be making far more appearances at fashion events than in movie scenes.
As guests arrived at the New York Public Library, photographers shouted for them to stop, smile and turn this way and that. But instead of the deafening, guttural roar that ensues when the entryway is awash in cover-story celebrities starring in current films or tawdry romances, there were only spasms of tumult followed by long lulls. Photographers had to fill their time between Deneuve and Bowie, Schreiber and Seal.
Which is worse, to be red carpet filler -- Nicole Richie, Gretchen Mol, Claire Danes, Mandy Moore -- or be ignored altogether?
Folks who had already run the Nikon gantlet sipped champagne and tried not to sweat their silk inside the library's steamy Astor Court. They could also watch others complete the red carpet dance thanks to a live video feed beaming their image onto a door-size, crystal-framed monitor. It was a bit like being in on a "Punk'd" joke after having survived being the butt of one.
The CFDA Awards celebrated the year's best designers as proclaimed by their peers as well as editors, photographers and stylists. This year's event was again underwritten by Swarovski, which produces the Austrian crystals that give so many frocks their sparkle. The company also sponsors the Perry Ellis Awards, which go to distinguished new talent. All of this is worth mentioning because, despite the ubiquity of Swarovski and the importance of getting the sponsor's name right, presenters looked like they were chewing their cud as they tried to pronounce it.
Donna Karan and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs gave out all three of Swarovski's Perry Ellis Awards and took advantage of their many opportunities to mispronounce the company's name. Swavsky? Sooarsky? The two put on a spectacle of malapropisms, non sequiturs and self-indulgent babble during which the teleprompter rolled on without them. Combs tried to engage the audience in a debate over which pair of sunglasses he should have worn with his black-tie ensemble. Should he have chosen A? Or B? Since the early evening ceremony was preceded by a rain shower that left the sky gray and since he was now inside a darkened ballroom, the correct answer would have been C -- neither.
The designer Derek Lam, whose clothes presidential daughter Barbara Bush wore to the 2005 inauguration, won the Swarovski award for his sophisticated-but-girlish womenswear. Alexandre Plokhov, who designs under the label Cloak, won for his tailored menswear that is both melancholy and romantic. (Use your imagination to guess how Combs mispronounced Plokhov's name.) And the team of Anthony Camargo and Nak Armstrong won for accessories with their Anthony Nak jewelry. The Austin-based designers work with semiprecious stones entwined with fine gold chains.
The teleprompter seemed to be the devil that stymied almost everyone. Deneuve was so outdone by the scrolling sentences that she ultimately gave up, offered an apology for her failure and presented Gilles Bensimon, Elle magazine's publication director, with the Eugenia Sheppard award for fashion journalism. Fans of "America's Next Top Model" will recall that a shoot with Bensimon is part of the "fabulous" and "amazing" array of prizes the winner receives. Part of Bensimon's talent as a photographer, according to the abandoned bits of Deneuve's speech, comes from his outsize admiration for women. Bensimon delivered a thank-you in such a thick French accent that subtitles would have been helpful.
CNN's Anderson Cooper presented Diane Von Furstenberg with a lifetime achievement award. His credentials for doing so appeared to be that he is Gloria Vanderbilt's son, is friends with Von Furstenberg and can read a teleprompter in a manner that is natural and amusing and doesn't sound like he is reading a storybook to a group of 5-year-olds. (Next year, can Cooper hand out all the awards?)
The top womenswear award went to Vera Wang, who noted that "how we feel in clothes" is just as important as how we look in them. John Varvatos received the menswear award. And Marc Jacobs was honored for his accessories. Norma Kamali was given a special award for her longevity and influence. Model Kate Moss was honored for her style -- vintage meets couture on a really skinny body. Bowie read a note from Moss's friend, designer John Galliano. (A shower accident prevented him from attending.) "You will always be my Lolita," Bowie read. One wonders if Galliano has actually read the Vladimir Nabokov book because that sentiment is more than a little creepy.
Designer Alber Elbaz received the international award for his work at Lanvin. In his remarks, Elbaz shared his design philosophy, which in turn explains why his collections have been so celebrated. "I love dolls. And I love women," he said. "But I don't love women who look like dolls." The sentiment alone is worth a trophy.