CFDA: Defining American Style at Sotheby’s Goes Hollywood

Featured red dress by Norma Kamali. All photos Laurel Marcus & Marilyn Kirschner

Sotheby’s received the Met gala exhibition treatment, and a cast of fashion’s finest CFDA members helped usher it in at a cocktail party last night. Ahead of its January 23 auction featuring American style (bidding is already open, and viewing starts today), a relatively small but dramatic (high ceilinged) gallery showcases 37 examples of mostly recent fashion and a handful of vintage pieces.


“Am I in The Met or at Sotheby’s?” I asked myself due to the dramatic lighting, lettered signage, and overall presentation of most of the accompanying Met gala exhibitions I’d seen. It’s a safe assumption that CFDA President Thom Browne sought the counsel of his partner Met curator Andrew Bolton in putting this little endeavor together. Surprisingly, Mr. Bolton was nowhere to be seen.

Steven Kolb,Thom Browne, & Anna Wintour

In attendance long enough to snap a few photos but not long enough to remove her coat or shades, Anna Wintour made an appearance perhaps to visit her contribution: an Oscar de la Renta floral gown which she wore to 2021’s Met Gala “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.”

Attendees included Thom Browne, Anna Wintour, Steven Kolb, Alina Cho, Linda Fargo, Ken Downing, Stan Herman, Marilyn Kirschner, Mary McFadden, Stacey Bendet, Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne of Public School, Carly Cushnie, Ralph Rucci, Amy Fine Collins, Lauren Levison, Sharon Coplan Hurowitz, Nina Garcia and many others. Many guests either wore their own label (if they had one) or deferred to the “Head Principal” and wore head-to-toe Thom Browne.

Mary McFadden

Perhaps a subtext in this version of “defining American style” should have read “evening wear” as there seemed to be a focus (which several attendees remarked on) predominately on gowns or at least a celebrity connection needed to exist to make it memorable. I would have loved to see a cool embellished denim or suede look, but alas, Ralph Lauren donated a nondescript green silk charmeuse evening gown from 2022 – its claim to fame — Jessica Chastain wore it in her self-produced film “The 355.”


I understand that they wanted to claim each item with a “provenance,” but that doesn’t always have to equate to a red carpet appearance at an award show or having been stapled to the back of a Kardashian (note Kim K.’s 2015 Proenza Schouler black chiffon and eyelet dress).

Geoffrey Beene collection

That being said, one of the most show-stopping pieces of the collection is a more vintage offering from way back in 1986: a red rayon matte jersey Statue of Liberty Centennial Dress by Norma Kamali for Barneys New York. Another outstanding ensemble is Thom Browne’s White Unicorn Chesterfield wedding dress from 2018, worn by Erykah Badu for the 2017 Soul Train Awards. Christian Siriano’s red pouf dress worn by Jennifer Lopez while accepting her 2020 People’s Choice Awards award is also an attention-getter.

Pauline Trigere collection

If it’s the ’70s that gets your motor running, there’s a stunning Trigere orange wool cape, a sad-looking Halston suit, and a pink Stephen Burrows blouse – neither of which represents the respective designer’s genius, sorry to say.

Marilyn Kirschner “Me and my Anna Sui”

Of course, the highlight for us here at Lookonline is the Anna Sui black satin and white imitation fox fur jacket from 1994-95 graciously donated by our Editor-in-Chief Marilyn Kirschner’s private collection. Not only was Kate Moss photographed wearing the jacket, but Marilyn also appeared in Bill Cunningham’s New York Times “On the Street” column. It’s a genuinely iconic piece that could be worn today and undoubtedly ten years from now.

Laurel Marcus in Patrick Kelly

I wore a vintage piece which was also on auction donated by Philadelphia-based Keesean Moore of The Moore Vintage Archive – a 1989 stretch velvet leopard Patrick Kelly dress — acquired about 10 years ago from a vintage dealer’s apartment along with another Patrick Kelly dress and jacket which I wore to the Philadelphia Art Museum’s retrospective of his work. I added a vintage Chanel chain belt to represent the Parisian angle of Patrick Kelly’s short but extraordinary life. Anything for a photo op –should I now pose the question of who wore it better — me or the dummy?


The lewks are on view until January 20 – all proceeds from the sale will go to the CFDA Foundation, benefitting CFDA scholarships and business mentoring. The auction takes place “alongside the first edition of Visions of America sale and exhibition showcasing an unprecedented selection of American craftsmanship from important private collections and institutions across a week-long series of auctions, events, and experiences, putting fashion directly in conversation with the finest art and objects spanning more than 400 years” according to CFDA materials.

Amy Fine Collins, Lauren Levison

Side note: It was recently revealed that Sotheby’s will vacate the iconic York Avenue building in September with a move to the Met Breuer Madison Avenue location. Would they have put all the money and effort into the 2019 renovation if they had known they’d be turning it over to Weill Cornell barely five years later?

Unlike many fashion events, this one began in full force at 6 p.m. It was scheduled until 8 p.m., and most VIPs had magically disappeared by 7 – off to a celebratory dinner held downtown or maybe just to visit the other floors containing the furniture to be auctioned. They were all gone in a New York minute — not a Hollywood feature-length film.

Latest Comments:

  1. Great article! I enjoyed every sentence–so true, unfortunate as it may be. I even learned some new jargon. Hopefully, it…

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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