Fashion Group International’s 21st Annual Rising Star Awards Luncheon

If it’s late January it must be FGI’s Rising Star Awards — Thursday marked the 21st annual luncheon at Cipriani 42nd Street which recognizes emerging talent in the fashion and design industries. As always, nominees are selected and voted for by a jury of their peers — this year in particular it sounded like several winners had recruited their very own cheering sections. After the requisite and always welcome Bellinis and hors d’oeuvres which began at the eye-opening hour of 11:15 A.M., FGI President Margaret Hayes gave her welcoming introduction. She acknowledged that many nominees often win on their second or even third shot (if at first you don’t succeed…) while warning attendees now seated in the packed room that we had thirty minutes for lunch. This year tradition was broken with a delicious asparagus, cheese and pasta appetizer followed by filet mignon, beets and potato casserole, a departure from the usual cantaloupe and prosciutto followed by Chilean sea bass that I’ve come to expect. Even though it was heavy on the carbs (including some sort of meringue pie for dessert!) IMO it was a welcome change.

John Varvatos

Menswear Designer John Varvatos was this year’s keynote speaker — after last year’s Whoopi Goldberg appearance I was expecting someone from show biz, maybe like Oprah (ha). I was not wrong as Varvatos’s aesthetic certainly rings true to rock musicians and performers who support his brand. “Your path in life is probably the most interesting thing,” he explained while detailing his almost accidental rise to the top of the fashion pinnacle. “When I started my company in 2000 there was no e-commerce, there wasn’t even an iPhone.” Unbelievably, those didn’t exist until 2007!

Margaret Hayes

“I grew up in Detroit — in the late ’60s, early ’70s and it’s not a fashionable city. It was very industrial. I never thought about fashion until my teens when girls told me they loved what I wore. It became like a heroin addiction — I needed that fix,” he joked. At 15 he took a stock boy job moving to the selling floor at 16 and continued to work in a clothing store all the way through school while he sought a pre-med degree. “I still never thought about becoming a fashion designer. We were seven people living in a 1,000 square foot home with one little bathroom.” His thoughts on graduating with a degree in the sciences “I don’t use any of that shit now — maybe a little biology trying to get myself in shape.”

Elle McPherson
Photo Gerardo Somoza

When Ralph Lauren opened a men’s store in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Varvatos said “a light bulb went off” and he began taking fashion illustration courses. He worked for Lauren and in 1990 for Calvin Klein, taking over when his licenses were returned for the CK brand. “I learned to be a sponge. Just when you think you know it, you don’t really know it. I didn’t want to be a one-trick pony — I studied everything.” Varvatos said he was wooed back to the Ralph Lauren brand in 1995. “I was passionate about Ralph as a person and loved what his brand stood for.”

During a walk through Barneys when he was about 40 years old another “light bulb or lightning bolt went off. I’m going to start my own brand — I know the DNA of the brand. It was an epiphany. My brand launched this week in 2000 in Barneys, Bergdorf’s, Saks, Neimans — everywhere I wanted to be. I didn’t realize how hard it would be.” By 2005, Varvatos who describes himself as “passionate about music but not that good at it,” claims that “artists started coming to us. It kind of changed our whole world of who we are and what the brand is about.” Varvatos gave advice to the crowd particularly those starting out on their journey urging them that “staying true to your dream, never wavering from the path even though it may take you in winding directions,” would serve them well. “Surround yourself with people who you like and respect. If you believe in yourself and believe in your vision you can succeed,” he concluded.

The winners

Now that we’re all inspired and uplifted how about some awards?

Accessories — Presenter and fashion icon Kate Lanphear. Nominees: 1 Atelier — Stephanie Sarka and Frank Zambrelli; Alumnae — Kari Sigerson and Eliza Axelson Chidsey; behno — Shivam Punjya; Marion Parke — Dr. Marion Parke (the winner — a surgical podiatrist who developed stylish high heels that don’t hurt!); M. Gemi — Cheryl Kaplan and Maria Gangemi; Rory Worby Studio (Rory Worby); and Tarryn Simone — Tarryn Simone.

Fine Jewelry — Presenter Bergdorf’s Kelley Doherty, Nominees: 64 Facets — Gourav Soni, Anna Karlin Fine Jewelry — Anna Karlin (winner who was deeply touched and cried throughout her acceptance speech), CB Bronfman — Clarissa Bronfman (I predict she’ll be back as PR Maven Amy Rosi was wearing a stunning necklace of hers); and Misahara Jewelry — Lepa Galeb-Roskopp.

Beauty/Fragrance Corporate — Presenters Andrew Goetz/ Matthew Malin, Nominees: The Estee Lauder Companies — Elena Wood; Givaudan Fragrances — Natalie Brand; International Flavors & Fragrances — Fanny Bal (winner who apologized for her strong French accent which she claimed was made more so from emotion).

Home Furnishings/Product Innovation — Presenter E.I.C. of Elle Decor Whitney Robinson, Nominees: Charlie Sprout — Rebecca Bravin; Hawkins New York — Nicholas Blaine and Paul Denoly; Jacob Laws Interior Design — Jacob Laws (whose first words were “Oh, shit!) I’m an ex-child actor who shouldn’t be so nervous. Thank you to FGI for giving us weird creators a platform for doing what we do” and thanked his” style icon grandmother Winnie who’s no longer with us.”

Retail — Presenter Robert Burke, Nominees: byReveal — Megan Berry (co-winner who I chatted with briefly during the cocktail hour); — Amanda Hearst and Hassan Pierre; Queen of Raw — Stephanie Benedetto; and The Perfect Provenance — Lisa Lori (co-winner). The first tie of the day!

Isabel & Ruben Toledo

Beauty/Fragrance Entrepreneur — Presenters Isabel & Ruben Toledo, Nominees: Dr. Barbara Sturm Molecular Cosmetics — Dr. Barbara Sturm; Farmacy — Mark Veeder (winner); strangelove nyc — Elizabeth Gaynes; WelleCo — Andrea Horwood and Elle McPherson.

Menswear — Presenter former winner Todd Snyder, Nominees: Dyne — Christopher Bevans; Krammer & Stoudt — Mike Rubin (winner and ZZ Top frontman lookalike – lol); Private Policy — Haoran Li and Siying Qu.  Rubin who said he wasn’t expecting to win, started “trying to make clothes in LA about 5 years ago and I had no idea what I was doing.” He thanked his wife for “pushing me further than I could ever go on my own.” Winning this award “proves to me that coming to New York was the right thing to do,” he added.

Hilldun Business Innovation Award was presented by Gary Wassner to Trove — Mary Orton and Rich Scudellari for their digital marketing app that combines fashion and technology in a supporting innovation. “We couldn’t find anyone better for this award — it’s pretty fantastic,” remarked Hilldun urging attendees to check it out. “Browse ready-to-shop outfits from the world’s top fashion bloggers with styles to match every taste,” is how it’s described online.

Designer Asher Levine and muse Amy Fine Collins
Photo: Geraldo Somoza

Womenswear with Presenter Jason Wu (also a former winner and along with Gary Hilldun a huge fan of our hostess Margaret Hayes as they both sang her praises in their intros). Nominees: Asher Levine — Asher Levine (co-winner who brought along muse Amy Fine Collins wearing his designs); Chris Gelinas — Chris Gelinas; Cristina Ottaviano — Cristina Ottaviano; J. Dosi — Jenna Marie Piantedosi; Jeffrey Dodd — Jeffrey Dodd (co-winner); Romeo Hunte — Romeo Hunte; Tabula Rasa — Emily Diamandis.

Congratulations to the nominees and winners!

– Laurel Marcus

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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