The FGI 20th Annual Rising Star Awards

Fashion Group International’s Rising Star Awards celebrated their 20th anniversary luncheon yesterday — same bat time, same bat sponsors (Hearst Magazines, Saks Fifth Avenue) along with Hilldun, same luxe bat cave (Cipriani Restaurant on 42nd Street) — truly, the only difference was the amount of after-the-fact political rhetoric.  Following the bellini reception and step and repeat action, those assembled took their seats.

Winners Peyman Umay, Alejandra Alonso Rojas, Allison Mitchell, Kia Ragland, Dana Bronfman, Gabriel Hendifar, Jeremy Anderson, Jennifer Bandier
Photo: Laurel Marcus

Margaret Hayes explained that voting for the nominees was up this year (hopefully not due to voter fraud lol) and urged those who weren’t successful this time to try again — many winners are on their 2nd or 3rd attempt. Lunch was the usual Prosciutto and mozzarella followed by Chilean sea bass; as usual it was delicious. After a more leisurely meal than last year (we were left wondering if perhaps the guest of honor hadn’t yet arrived) but there she was: Keynote Speaker Whoopi Goldberg announcing that she was “Fashion’s worst nightmare.”

Whoopi Goldberg
Photo: Courtesy FGI

I actually do remember her in fashion weeks past, frequenting the Lincoln Center tents. Judging by what I’ve seen of her on “The View” I braced myself for an explosive political agenda, that miraculously never came. Instead she thanked the “young folks” who are designing “things that make you look amazing,” mentioned her recent Ugly Sweater collection with Lord & Taylor and Hudson’s Bay which she decided to do because she had ” a liking for it,” and differentiated herself from the up and coming designers. “You have a passion. Please don’t make us beige. Be innovative — you only get this amount of passion. Kick ass, do crazy stuff! Someone will wear it! I love what you all are doing. I can’t wait for your next ideas. Today’s weird direction is next year’s normal!”

Margaret Hayes & Whoopi Goldberg
Photo: Courtesy FGI

“People always need to feel good, feel better,” she continued. “You can’t change it, it happened, we’re here now. Whatever you can do to make it better — I sit with a couple of women every day — I smile at them. (Laughter from the audience)…”Thank God we all don’t think the same.” She urged everyone to try “a little bit of love” and to “cherish these moments — you only get one wow — get it, swim in it, then share it. We’re all here cause we got some help from someone else, so help whoever you can.” Great uplifting, nonpartisan speech, Whoopi! BTW, many presenters including Aerin Lauder, thanked her for her words when it was their turn to take the stage.

Roopal Patel in a pearl encrusted dress
Photo: Laurel Marcus

Along with dessert (lemon meringue and fresh fruit) and coffee came the awards. Roopal Patel of Saks presented the Accessories nominees (Aimee Kestenberg Elan of Aimee Kestenberg, Allison Mitchell of Allison Mitchell LLC, Frieda Rothman of her eponymous high-end fashion jewelry, sunglasses and leather goods line, Susan Easton of From The Road, Heather Hubbard of MR, Bruce R. Katz of Samuel Hubbard Shoe Company, and Tarryn Simone of Tarryn Simone LLC. The winner was Allison Mitchell for her handbag line.

Linda Wells
Photo: Laurel Marcus

Beauty/Fragrance Corporate award was presented by Linda Wells and the nominees were: Alexandra Besnard for Firmenich, Chiaki Nomura for International Flavors & Fragrances, Cate Powell for M.A.C. Cosmetics and Kia Ragland for Smashbox Cosmetics who wept when she won mentioning the “crazy shade ‘Punked'” that she introduced which became a bestseller even though people had looked at her like she was crazy when she first showed it.

Julie Wainwright gave out the Retail award to Jennifer Bandier of Bandier who won against Megan Berry of byReveal and Sarah Kauss of S’WELL. Bandier admitted to never having worked in retail or fashion before but “I was obsessed with leggings and I figured I can’t be the only one. I’ve never won anything before and I’d like to thank the academy,” she said jokingly.

In the Fine Jewelry category, nominees were Gourav Soni (64Facets), Dana Bronfman (Dana Bronfman), Meredith Marks (Meredith Marks and Lepa Galeb-Roskopp (Misahara Jewelry). Amanda Weiner Alagem presented the award to Dana Bronfman who thanked her staff for their help in “creating pieces that help people express their uniqueness.”

Isabel & Ruben Toledo
Photo: Courtesy FGI

Makeup guru Bobbi Brown may have a bit more time on her hands since recently leaving her brand; she presented the Beauty/Fragrance Entrepreneur award to Isabel & Ruben Toledo (Hot House Beauties by Isabel Toledo). They triumphed over nominees Matthew Waitesmith (Artis), Mark Veeder (Farmacy), Zanna Roberts Rassi (Milk Makeup), Elizabeth Gaynes (Strange Love NYC) and Holly Riddel (The Riddel Group LLC). “I can’t believe the legendary Bobbi Brown is giving us an award!” exclaimed Isabel Toledo. “I’m not legendary — just old,” quipped Brown. Ruben Toledo thanked their family adding “Like an old friend of ours Karl Lagerfeld told us, it’s never too late to start rising.” Or name dropping either…

The Menswear Award presented by Saks VP Eric Jennings to Peyman Umay who alluded to starting out with nothing but “a pocket full of dreams” and the need to maintain “the two most important things in life: “your beliefs and your values.” Other nominees were David Hart (David Hart), Carlos Garciavelez (Garciavelez), and Stephen Ferber (Stephen F).

Aerin Lauder
Photo: Laurel Marcus

Last year’s winner in the Home Furnishings/Product Innovation category, Aerin Lauder, was the presenter for this year. Gabriel Hendifar and Jeremy Anderson of Apparatus were the winners over Jason Miller (Roll & Hill), and Andrew Deming, Rachel Gant (Yield). Hendifar, in a somewhat political vein, mentioned his parents who left a war torn Middle Eastern country to come here to America.

Gary Wassner of Hilldun presented the Hilldun Business Innovation award to Christine Hunsicker (in absentia) of Gwynnie Bee, a vertical operation that began with four and is now up to 400 employees. They are the largest wholesaler/rental service for womens sizes 10-32. Earlier, during Whoopi’s speech, Wassner was thanked for the introduction to FGI.

Prabal Gurung with RTW winners Claudia Li & Alejandra Alonso Rojas
Photo: Laurel Marcus

The last award — the all important Womenswear — came in a bit late (after 2 p.m.), not sure about over budget (ha), and was presented by Prabal Gurung. Nominees were Alejandra Alonso Rojas, Claudia Li, Jeffrey Dodd, Ji Oh, Georgia Lazzaro of Protagonist, Romeo Hunte of Romeo Hunte New York and Emily Brady Koplar of Wai Ming. Firstly (and bigly), Gurung paid homage to FGI, Bobbi Brown and Isabel Toledo and then announced a tie between Alejandra Alsonso Rojas (who got very emotional asking us to “put a little bit of heart into equality and human rights,”) and Claudia Li who just smiled and said thank you.

Marilyn Kirschner of
Photo: Laurel Marcus

Congratulations to the 2017 nominees and winners. On next year’s ballot: how about voting on a replacement song used to play winners onstage? After two consecutive years, Sia’s “Alive” should be allowed to rest.

– 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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