On the Runway: The Biggest Night in American Fashion You’ve Probably Never Heard Of


Everything you need to know about the CFDA Awards — how much it costs to go, who picks the winners and what Kim Kardashian West may wear.

At the CFDA awards last year, from left: Gloria Steinem; Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood; and Janelle Monáe.CreditNina Westervelt for The New York Times

Another month, another awards drum roll. But while you may know all about the Academy Awards and the Golden Globe Awards and the Emmy Awards and the Tony Awards and the Grammy Awards and the MTV Video Awards and the Country Music Awards (more awards than there are spangles on a Britney Spears Vegas outfit), do you know about the CFDA Awards?

They take place Monday night — they are always the first Monday in June — and you should, because they are nominally the biggest night in American fashion.

Wait. I thought the Met Gala was the biggest night in fashion. What is this CFDA thing?

The Met Gala has become arguably the biggest night in public fashion — that is, famous people dressing on the red carpet for social media consumption and brand marketing. But the awards known officially as the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards are about the industry itself.

It’s the fashion equivalent of the high school prom, complete with crowned king and queen (O.K., Designers of the Year) and assorted BMOCs. There is no real Anna Wintour equivalent controlling everything like the Wizard of Oz, but Diane von Furstenberg, who is chairman of the CFDA, comes closest.

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Seth Meyers. host of the 2017 CFDA awards.CreditLandon Nordeman for The New York Times

What happens?

There’s a red carpet. There’s a dinner. There’s a celebrity M.C., most often a comedian poking (very gentle) fun at fashion’s oddities. There are statuettes. There are four big awards: designer of the year for women’s wear, men’s wear and accessories, and an emerging designer of the year for a newcomer, who can also be any of the above, all chosen from a list of five finalists (you can find it here). Oooh, the nail-biting anticipation!

Then there are also six special honorees, for lifetime achievement, media, good works (officially known as the Swarovski Award for Positive Change), contributions to the industry (the Founder’s Award), international designer (Donatella Versace is getting it this year), and — most exciting of all — Fashion Icon.

That last one goes to a celebrity, who gives the whole thing a frisson of paparazzi pizazz. There are speeches, but with luck they are not too long. (In 2015, Pharrell Williams would have won the award for longest acceptance speech ever, if it had existed, for a monologue that went on for about 15 minutes.)

The evening is underwritten partly by Swarovski (which also has the new designer award named after it) and is a fund-raiser for the CFDA, which is the trade and lobbying organization for the fashion industry, and its various programs. Tickets cost $10,000 and tables about $70,000; last year the event was attended by 600 industry members and 400 students (they go free), and raised $4 million. That’s nowhere near the Met Gala, which clocks in at about $13 million, but in line with many cultural fund-raisers in New York.

From left, Jack McCullough (in back) and Lazaro Hernandez, the designers of Proenza Schouler, with Chloë Sevigny in 2017.CreditNina Westervelt for The New York Times

Who goes?

Designers, of course, and all the folk that love them (or depend on them for their livelihood), including retailers, stylists, photographers, fashion magazine editors and … celebrities!

The awards show has turned into a mutual back-scratching publicity opportunity thanks to a glitzy red carpet and presenter gigs. As at the Met Gala, nominees are expected to come with starry escorts, dressed in their fashion, the better to grab attention and get photographed.

So far, for example, we know that Cate Blanchett (star of the coming fashion heist film “Ocean’s 8”), Trevor Noah (occasional front row guest at Calvin Klein and star of “The Daily Show”), Lupita Nyong’o, Claire Danes and Busy Phillips are all presenting.

And Kim Kardashian West is getting the Fashion Icon award, which could mean very interesting things in the nude dressing category. In 2014, Rihanna got the same award and owned the night in sheer rhinestone-speckled Adam Selman and a white fur boa.

Ms. Kardashian West could also shock everyone and demonstrate how seriously she takes this honor by wearing a black pantsuit, as she did on Wednesday during her White House visit. We will see! We will see if Kanye comes as her date. If he does, who knows what he will say?

Also represented: Caroline Kennedy (who will give a Founder’s Award to Carolina Herrera, and wore Herrera to her wedding) and the Parkland student Delaney Tarr, who is presenting Diane von Furstenberg with the award for Positive Change. As for watching, the CFDA will stream the red carpet and the awards on its Facebook page.

Issa Rae in May. She is the first person of color to be the M.C. of the awards.CreditRebecca Smeyne for The New York Times

So, other than the celeb ogling, why do I care this year?

A few things. Issa Rae is hosting, which will be the first time a person of color has served as M.C. (in the past, Seth Myers, John Waters, James Corden and others took the stage) and the first time a woman has done so since 2009 (that was Tracey Ullman). That, and the precedent of “Insecure,” could lead to potentially more pointed comedy than we have seen in the past, especially given fashion’s less than stellar track record with diversity of all kinds.

Then there’s the fact that both Virgil Abloh of Off-White and James Jebbia of Supreme are nominated as men’s wear designer of the year, and Mr. Abloh is also nominated as women’s wear designer of the year, the first acknowledgment by the establishment that street wear has well and truly made it into the high fashion pantheon. If either of them win (or both), it could signal a turning point in fashion, and a change in the definition of “designer.”

Also, the awards are at the Brooklyn Museum, yet more proof that the borough, already home to numerous designers, is having a real fashion moment.

That sounds like a big deal. Who decides the winners?

It’s kind of like the Oscars. Ballots go out to everyone the industry considers stakeholders: not just CFDA members but also people in related industries. They get to nominate anyone for the big awards (the criteria are a little vague, especially when it comes to defining the difference between “emerging designer” and “designer of the year”).

The ballots come back, get tabulated by the CFDA, and the finalists are the names that get the most votes. Then the ballots go out again to the same crowd to decide the winners. The special honorees get selected by the CFDA board.

(In case you are wondering, The New York Times does not participate because it is against our rules to choose sides.)

Virgil Abloh of Off-White and Bella Hadid at last year’s awards. Mr. Abloh is nominated for men’s wear and as women’s wear designer of the year.CreditNina Westervelt for The New York Times