A Night at the Museum: The 2023 CFDA Fashion Awards

The Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda – Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

The 2023 CFDA American Fashion Awards, fashion’s biggest night, were held at the American Museum of Natural History on Monday evening. While a few designers have staged fashion shows here (Brandon Maxwell for fall 2020 and Tory Burch for spring 2024), it’s the first time the grand New York City venue was used for this event.

After walking up the dramatic stairs, guests entered The Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, best known for the iconic dinosaur exhibit at its center. In a dramatic representation of an imagined prehistoric encounter between predator and prey, a Barosaurus rears up to protect its young from an attacking Allosaurus.

Designer Melitta Baumeister, winner of the 2023 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Prize – Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

Forget “the elephant in the room”; it was impossible to escape the dinosaurs. I could also use the word to affectionately describe some of the seasoned fashion pros in attendance, such as the former CFDA President Diane von Furstenberg, Jerry Lauren (Ralph’s older brother) and the ageless 95 year old Stan Herman.

Willy Chavarria. winner of the CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year Award, center – Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

Call me old fashioned: I understand events like these need major sponsors and high-profile stars in attendance to garner global attention, but I long for the days when the CFDA Awards, held at the New York Public Library, were a more intimate affair and it was more about real fashion insiders getting together and celebrating.

Left: Todd Snyder, Center Steven Kolb, & Right: Reed Krakoff – Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

Speaking of dinosaurs and fossils, when you’ve been covering fashion for as long as I have, many things are laden with symbolism and irony. For example, when you click on the American Natural History Museum’s website, you are beaconed to “explore the natural world and the known universe.” That’s pretty funny, given that the fashion universe could not be more phony, unnatural, and artificial.

Media star Emma Chamberlain wearing Thom Browne – Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

It was fashion gridlock as hundreds of honorees, nominees, and guests waited in line to walk through the all-important Step & Repeat. FYI, KCD, who handled the press for the event, saw to it that everything went seamlessly. Attendees then headed to another room, where they sipped champagne against a backdrop of the museum’s famous dioramas which feature animals set in a specific location, cast in the light of a particular time of day.

Coco Rocha in Christian Siriano – Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

According to Evon Hekkala, a professor at Fordham University and a Museum research associate, when the first dioramas were built, they were “an opportunity for people to see a world that most didn’t get to travel to.” Again, I see the irony in this as well. The fashion world exists in its insular orbit, which the rest of the world does not get to partake in.

Richie Shazam wearing Emerging Designer of the Year nominee Puppets & Puppets – Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

The evening’s official dress code was “American Black Tie.” This means nothing for fashion people who are notorious for ignoring dress codes completely and wearing whatever they please. Remember the 2021 Met Gala in honor of the exhibition “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion”? The official dress code was “American Independence,” yet many guests, including high-profile celebrities, wore European designers.

Anne Hathaway – Photo by Joshua Kamei

Last night, it was an authentic, eclectic New York fashion crowd. Most really did stick with the theme, beginning with host Anne Hathaway, who opted for the most American fabric of all: denim, fashioned into a long skirt with train and strapless top from Ralph Lauren’s spring 2024 collection.

Marilyn Kirschner – Photo by Joshua Kamei

I was on a similar wavelength with my Alice & Olivia denim jacket encrusted with pearls and crystals and a Vaquera denim skirt with an exaggerated train. David Lauren, Ralph’s son, did not wear denim, but his belted jacket had a Southwest American feel.

Serena Williams wearing Thom Browne – Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

Unsurprisingly, CFDA Chairman Thom Browne dressed the most guests, including Fashion Icon honoree Serena Williams, actress Cynthia Erivo, Jordan Roth, and media star Emma Chamberlain.

Danielle Bernstein and Kobi Halperin – Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

The evening celebrated fashion, but it’s impossible to escape reality and world events. Designers Kobi Halperin and Danielle Bernstein, who share a Jewish heritage, are both committed to keeping the conversation going until all the hostages are returned safely to their families. Kobi had the idea of adorning their black jackets with a yellow flower as a tribute to their ancestors.

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Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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