Just when you thought it was safe to come out of the forest in your fur coat, an obnoxious animal rights protester comes along to ruin your whole evening. That’s what happened at the annual Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards gala at New York’s Lincoln Center on Monday night. Former First Lady Barbara Bush was presenting the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award to Arnold Scaasi, crediting him with transforming her from a frump into a stylish woman, when a young woman sitting in the balcony seats given to design students shouted, “Hey, Arnold! Shame on you for using fur.”
The black-tie audience of designers, media and fashion industry leaders screamed at the woman to shut up, but she continued a hail of obscenities, backed by a chorus of chanting students, while Scaasi and Bush waited patiently onstage for the commotion to subside. The protesters had carefully planned their attack, because no sooner had security removed two obstreperous women than two more continued the disruption.
According to our sources, the feeling among the crowd was that Scaasi’s moment of glory among his peers was ruined. For years he has been the darling of socialites for creating pretty, flattering gowns. “He’s old now, and finally received this nice recognition,” a fashion insider said. “It’s a shame that when he looks back on the evening, what he’ll remember will be something so unpleasant.”
The night’s other big winners were Ralph Lauren, as Menswear Designer of the Year, and Donna Karan, for womenswear. Although Lauren has won the women’s and lifetime achievement awards before, this was his first nod for men’s clothes. Karan’s prize acknowledged her designs for her top of the line signature collection, in which she’s experimented with precious fabrics, reflecting an increasingly artisanal bent.
A video about each winner was shown. “Unzipped” director Douglas Keeve’s black-and-white short about International Award recipient Helmut Lang featured fashion editor / character Polly Mellen explaining the beauty of Lang’s designs to a group of Venice beach people as she decked them out in nasty layers of Lang.
Sharon Stone presented the Humanitarian Award to shoe mogul Kenneth Cole, opening with, “If Kenneth Cole was in my shoes right now . . . he’d be a big old drag queen,” and invoking the legal limit of shoe puns.
Following the principle that before you say something mean about me, let me say it first, Stone admitted to suffering from clothes glut, and talked about how many designers she isn’t loyal to. “And you know who you are,” she said. Stone became friends with Cole when they each volunteered for the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
Elsa Peretti, accepting the award as Accessory Designer of the Year, gave the funniest acceptance speech, in which she confessed to fortifying herself with champagne in preparation for her moment onstage.
Even on a cold February night, short little lace nightgown dresses were plentiful, as were long tank dresses. Black ruled, but Maria Conchita Alonso stood out in a celery Donna Karan gown.
The evening’s fun couples included Calvin Klein and his estranged wife, Kelly, and newly engaged model Kirsty Hume with rocker / model Donovan Leitch.
George Stephanopolous, wearing a Ralph Lauren tuxedo, attracted a lot of attention. That’s not surprising, considering that the New York media has crowned him the city’s most eligible bachelor.