Impact: 50 Years of the CFDA

A ‘FIT’ ing Way To Make An Impact

I can’t possibly think of a more ‘fitting’ way to kick off New York Fashion Week, than with Impact: 50 Years of the CFDA, a perfectly timed collaboration between the CFDA and the Museum at FIT (which opens to the public today and goes through April 17th). Conceived by CFDA President Diane von Furstenberg, it is the first museum exhibition to celebrate The Council of Fashion Designers of America. Included are approximately 100 garments and accessories designed by the CFDA’s most ‘impactful creators’ of the last fifty years, along with visual images and acknowledgment of the nearly 600 designers who have been members over the last five decades.

Giorgio di Sant’Angelo

Each living designer participating in the exhibition was asked to select “one object or ensemble that best represents his or her impact on the fashion world”. Work by historical CFDA members were selected by Patricia Mears, deputy director of The Museum at FIT, (not to mention a well respected authority on American fashion past and present), and Fred Dennis, the museum’s senior curator. I, of course, was very curious as to what the choices would be and unsurprisingly, many were indeed the signature or iconic items associated with each designer. For example, there was Ralph Lauren’s definitive prairie look, dated 1981; Rick Owens’ all black goth look comprised of a skinny sleeved leather biker jacket, hooded top and long narrow skirt with fishtail hem; Donna Karan’s famous black cashmere sarong skirt and fitted bodysuit, accessorized with Robert Lee Morris’ sculptural gold jewelry from that groundbreaking 1985 collection; Diane Von Furstenberg’s leopard printed wrap dress from 1974; Mary McFadden’s beautiful water color printed Fortuny pleated coat over a pale blue pleated gown (1979); Geoffrey Beene’s rayon and silk gown with metallic trim (1990); Norma Kamali’s black parachute cloth and feather skirt, and turban (2011) and a Traina-Norell camel cashmere coat and gold beaded cocktail dress (1958).

Geoffrey Beene

Pauline Trigere’s graphic black and white cotton cloque coat and dress (1964); Stephen Burrow’s gold mesh halter top and bronze mesh pants (1977); Thom Browne’s flamboyant feather/wool suit and gray felted bowler hat (2008); Marchesa’s red carpet worthy black and nude illusion lace gown (2012); and Narciso Rodriguez’s red and black embroidered silk dress worn by Michelle Obama on election night in 2008. When I asked Dr. Steele if she had any favorites, she said she thought that two of the most impactful looks were the beautiful Ralph Lauren ensemble and the classic Donna Karan, and she also felt the Rick Owens and Tom Ford were also very strong.

The installation was unveiled during the course of a press preview/press conference on Thursday morning which included opening remarks by Dr. Joyce Brown followed by Diane von Furstenberg, who acknowledged the good turnout despite the ungodly early hour (9am). Not to mention the fact that many of the designers involved were also busily working on their fall collections, which they would unveil in the coming week. (Regardless, several designers turned out to check out their individual installations, including Donna Karan, Yeohlee, Tory Burch, Nicole Miller, Oscar de la Renta, Mary McFadden, and Herbert Kasper).

Norma Kamali

Diane recounted the time, about 18 months ago, when Steven Kolb reminded her that it was the organization’s 50th anniversary. Her immediate thought was that she wanted to have an exhibition to celebrate the milestone ( Dr. Valerie Steele and Patricia Mears immediately said, “yes”). She also knew the exhibit needed a name. She kept thinking of the words ‘impactful’ and ‘impact’ (as a young girl growing up in Belgium, she thought it sounded like the name of an American car from the late 50’s: something that illustrated the “American Dream”). She she also thought that the word impact illustrated what American fashion is all about: product design and pragmatism. As she put it, “the worlds of design and commerce blend into the highway of success”. (She said she always reminds her staff that ‘commercial’ is not a dirty word; it means, success!)

She then went on to give credit and thanks to the “lady who lived at 1060 Fifth Avenue” – the legendary Eleanor Lambert. “Some loved her and some feared her but because she was pragmatic and tough, she made it happen”. The ‘it’ in question, is the CFDA, which she created back in 1962, literally taking the then unrecognized designers “out of the back rooms and giving them recognition”. “We’ve come a long way since 1962” Diane observed (no kidding!).

Narciso Rodriquez

DVF then went on to note that “we’ve had wonderful presidents and a few are here: Kasper, Oscar, Stan Herman. And we are so proud that a lot of our members are here. Can all of you come up and show us what you look like now?” That got a laugh and FYI, they all looked great. And so, up came Mary McFadden, Oscar de la Renta, Stan Herman, Yeohlee, Tory Burch, Jeffrey Banks, and Donna Karan, who was clad in her signature all black with touches of gold (similar to the iconic outfit from 1985 which she chose for the installation). This prompted Diane to exclaim, “And Donna wears the same clothes!”

By the way, Mayor Bloomberg could not be there in the morning, but he did send along a proclamation (Diane held it up and joked that it looked like a large blue menu), congratulating the fashion industry on being the second largest industry in New York. She then told all the reporters and bloggers present to write glowing remarks about the exhibit and make sure they tell everyone they know to come. “And if they can’t come, buy the book” – Impact: 50 Years of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, published by Abrams, is written by Patricia Mears with a preface by Diane Von Furstenberg and a forward by Cathy Horyn).

Diane thanked everyone who was involved and who helped: the exhibit’s sponsors (American Express, Barbie, Diet Coke, and QVC), everyone at the CFDA (singling out Steven Kolb), and then gave special thanks to the ‘incomparable’ Dr. Valerie Steele (“we all seek her approval and when we get it, we know we’re alright”), and Patricia Mears, who she hailed as “the least corruptable person in fashion – pure as can be!”, She also spoke about the importance of the CFDA, and how united as a family the group is “even though we compete for the same dollars, we all support one another and we are unified”. This got a lot of chuckles from the group.

Of course, the morning’s activities were only Part 1 of the exhibition’s celebration. Later that evening, a cocktail soiree turned into quite the happening. To say it was well attended would be an understatement. It was wall-to-wall people with guests like Kate Winslet, Anna Wintour, Vera Wang, Norma Kamali (looking great and all American in faded denim and a fluffy raccoon coat), Tommy and Dee Hilfiger, Robert Lee Morris, Prabal Gurung, Stephen Burrows, Stan Herman, Fern Mallis, Derek Lam, Maggie Norris, Carlos Falchi, Betsy Johnson, Zang Toi, Julie Maclowe, Zac Posen, Yigal Azrouel, Yeohlee, Adrienne Landau, Ed Filipowski, Steven Kolb, Linda Fargo, Patrick McDonald, etc.

-Marilyn Kirschner

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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