“New talent and new points of view are what drive our industry forward,” said Maryanne Grisz, president and CEO of Fashion Group International as she welcomed nominees and guests to the 23rd Annual Rising Star Awards yesterday at Cipriani 42nd Street. “You are our future.” Grisz, who was the late Margaret Hayes’ right hand, is striving to bring FGI au courant. Case in point: she’s added two “of-the-moment” award categories: All Gender and Sustainability and two new FGI chapters: London and Africa. Also, two new scholarships: one in Hayes’s name and another for the designer Isabel Toledo’s who also passed away last year.
After the cocktail hour and much FOC (Fear of Coronavirus) air-kissing, we sat down to a lunch of chicken breast or branzino. As dessert and coffee were served, we heard from keynote speakers AKA the dynamic duo of Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim (they head Monse, their own label, as well as Oscar de la Renta). They each talked a bit about their friendship and working relationship. Kim remarked on how she got her internship with de la Renta after being twice nominated for a Rising Star, winning on her second try. Oscar introduced them, believing that they would work well together while counseling them to “always have fun when you’re at work. You have to enjoy what you’re doing.”
Well, known interior designer, Jonathan Adler took the stage next to present the two-part accessories awards. “You’re all so young and beautiful. I hate you,” he said as nominees (Bentz – Kim & Melissa Bentz; David J. Guarino, David’s Collection; Tina Lutz, Lutz Morris, and Parisa Wang) were asked to stand for applause. Alida Boer, for Marias by Alida Boer, won for her colorful traditional huipil textile bags combining artisanal traditions with contemporary shapes. “Fashion has become a vehicle to provide 600 people with jobs,” she said.
For the second accessories category, Adler quipped that the full jewelry title was cut off. “It only says Scarves/Fashion Jew. That’s me, and I’m the fashion Jew,” he quipped. Nominees were: Alejandra Burguette; Gretel Going, Fortune & Frame; Lori Weitzner, Lori Weitzner Design. The winner was Stephanie Omens for Stephanie Bijoux, who designs chunky, beaded jewelry with a three-dimensional quality in Atlanta.
There were only two nominees for the Fine Jewelry category, which Stellene Volandes, EIC of Town & Country, presided over. Runner up was Rachel Katz for Rachel Katz Jewelry while the winner was Harakh Mehta of Harakh, who dedicated his award to the craftsmen of Mumbai, whose ancient techniques of “craft, beauty, and knowledge” inspire his gold and diamond jewelry.
The Beauty Entrepreneur award was presented by Dana Oliver, Beauty Director at Yahoo Lifestyle. Nominees were Maureen Case of Augustinus Bader; Emily Trower-Young of Em & El Organics; Rochelle Weitzner of Pause, and the winner was Melissa Jochim of High Beauty. “I was here last year,” Jochim said, “but I did a lot more this year. To quote Eleanor Roosevelt: The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.’” Very appropriate as Eleanor Roosevelt was a charter member of Fashion Group.
Next up was the Menswear category featuring Loris Diran, a former winner (2011) of the Rising Star award. “There’s nothing like being acknowledged by your peers,” he said. “May this award bring you the luck that it brought me.” Nominees were Phillip White, Phit Clothing; Todd Hessert; and winner Niyi Okuboyejo of Post-Imperial who originally hails from Nigeria. “I brought culture into the zeitgeist into the global village. Hopefully, this is just one chapter of many chapters,” he said.
Nancy Berger, SVP of Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, and Seventeen took the podium next to present the Beauty Legacy/Product Development award. She mentioned that “innovation doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel each time” as she bestowed the award on Chloe Leeds of Estee Lauder Companies. Runner up was Caroline Dumur of International Flavors & Fragrances. “Estee Lauder is the best place on earth to work,” Leeds said with a smile. “I was planning on going into the medical field, but the science of beauty is way more fun.”
Guess who was on hand to present the Hilldun Business Innovation Award? Yes, you are correct—it was the omnipresent Gary Wassner who likes this category as there is “no envelope, no stress. I’m thrilled to be able to honor Felita Harris of Enform.” Enform is a mobile app that informs retailers and salespeople about the brands they’re selling “enhancing and authenticating the customer experience,” according to Harris.
Rob Garrett Smith (CEO and Founder of the Phluid Project) and Cory Wade (Musician/model/activist) introduced (can you guess?) the All Gender award. “Why should a skirt be only for a woman or a blazer only for a man?” asked Smith. This category had two awards: Apparel and Beauty. Alex Bossi of Bossi Sportswear was the winner for apparel (“Hey, I gotta text my mother” and “Gary, I hope you brought your checkbook,’ he said, possibly to Wassner?)
Michelle Pfeiffer (yes, the actress) won for Henry Rose, a genderless fragrance. Her co-founder Melina Polly accepted the award, saying, “thank you for believing in us and not telling us we’re crazy. We make products that people can love – it’s not up to us to decide who that person is – man or woman.”
Francisco Costa, formerly of Calvin Klein, was up next to present the Womenswear award. Nominees were Christian Juul Nielsen, Aknvas; Amir Taghi; Sheri Turnbow, Bespoke Southerly; Lela Orr, Ferrah; and the winner was Project Runway Season 17 alum Rakan Shams Aldeen of Rakan. The Syrian native studied architecture but moved around the Mid East quite a bit when the war started, eventually ending up in Chicago. “Three years ago, I landed here in the U.S., and everything changed,” he said emotionally.
Finally, the last award – Maison-De-Mode Sustainability – encompassed some nominees from other categories as well as some new ones. Hassan Pierre and Amanda Hearst of Maison-De-Mode presented the award to Tina Lutz of Lutz Morris. Other nominees were Ileana Quinones, Artisans of IQ; Emily Trower-Young, Em & El Organics; Lela Orr, Ferrah; Harakh Meta, Harakh; and Michelle Pfeiffer, Henry Rose.
Winner Lutz spoke of her time in Germany tending to sick parents and discovering that leather accessories inspired her. You may be familiar with her first company: Lutz & Patmos, known for knitwear. She spoke of the “three pillars” of her work: supporting artisans and their craft, producing responsibly (knowing her suppliers), and giving back. Ten dollars from each handbag sold is donated to Every Mother Counts, an organization that works to prevent maternal mortality.
As I lined up to take a final photo of all the winners on the red carpet, the platinum blond, faded denim, rhinestone Korn t-shirt clad Alex Bossi (All Gender winner) exchanged some witty banter with Robert Verdi, the Goth black-clad television personality/stylist/ red carpet critic who was now sporting a handlebar mustache. “Do you still listen to Korn?” asked Verdi. “Yeah, every day. Hey, where’d you get that?” Bossi said, indicating Verdi’s facial hair. “Moustachio? Something I found swept under the bed,” retorted Verdi.