The CFDA Awards ‘Are a Bit Like the Cool Group in High School’

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Last year's CFDA awards ceremony. Photo: Patrick McMullan

As with any awards determined by the votes of a select group of people, nominees lobby to win their CFDA awards. Though the campaigning is not as intense as what Hollywood goes through leading up to the Oscars, designers do work at it. The politics begin before the nominations are announced. Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts, for example, sent a "very passionate" e-mail on behalf of Burberry creative director Christopher Bailey, who will be awarded the international award in June, to all her contacts in New York. “I told him I was doing it. I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving of it,” Ahrendts told WWD.

Vera Wang said that though she has never personally lobbied for herself, her PR people encouraged voters to choose her for the accessories award when she was nominated last year. (She didn't win.) Wang says she carefully considers who she votes for, and asks around about designers she's unfamiliar with.

“It’s political. Of course, there are politics involved,” Wang said. “It’s also emotional. People have a vested interest in who they support. They’re often friends.”

Depending on who they're dealing with, the campaigning can work against them! Marcus Wainwright of rag & bone said he's received plenty of e-mails from designers campaigning for a win, but would not reveal who. He said, "You don’t ask for an award just as you don’t ask for a tip. But the other side to it is they could be deserving of it."

That said, Wainwright said he has not voted for anyone who has campaigned, and considers personal appeals to be “more of a turn-off than a turn-on.”

Wainwright said winning the menswear award in 2007 was a turning point in the business. He thinks that after a designer is nominated, there's nothing they can do to win. Though his label is nominated for menswear again this year, he says he didn't try for it.

After all, not trying is the cool thing to do. And isn't effortless coolness what a label like rag & bone is all about anyway? And just looking good and fashionable in general? Besides, as many anonymous fashion executives pointed out, the same people are routinely nominated for these things. Marc Jacobs, for example, has been nominated for womenswear before — and is again this year — but has never won.

“It’s not as if Marc Jacobs needs the recognition. At this point, they could nominate him for a Lifetime Achievement Award,” said one executive, who requested anonymity. “There is this little group of designers and they just switch around the names every year. It’s a bit like the cool group in high school, which is so self-congratulatory.”

Former CFDA executive director Stan Herman dismissed the notion that Anna Wintour wields the most control over these awards.

Herman said, “So many people accuse the CFDA of being in the pocket of Anna Wintour. Yes, she’s an influential person. Yes, she’s a dominant force in the business. But we have a five-pocket jean, and she’s not in all the pockets. But she is an important factor….I wish we had more people who would step up to the plate and put their money where their mouth is. Nurturing talent is a very complicated issue.”

So she must occupy a big back pocket, and the bloggers who were invited to vote this year might occupy that tiny useless pocket that barely fits a finger.

Designers Lobby and Nudge for CFDA Awards [WWD]