On Monday, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (“CFDA”) revealed the roster of celebrity presenters for its Fashion Awards, which will take place on June 5 at the Manhattan Center’s Hammerstein Ballroom. Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington, and Paris Jackson will attend in order to present awards to America’s foremost design talent. Additional celebrities will be on hand, as it is customary for designer nominees and attendees to bring big-name dates to pique the interest of the press.
With this in mind, the New York-based trade organization’s annual awards ceremony has always drawn celebrities to its red carpet. Nonetheless, there has been an undeniable push for big names in recent years, in particular. This was most clearly seen when the group - which boasts a roster of 1,500 members, ranging from littler-known emerging talents to Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford - introduced its “Fashion Icon” award. In the past, the ultimate award of the evening was the Womenswear Designer Award, but it has since been eclipsed by the icon award, which has been bestowed upon Rihanna, Pharell (who was given the award by Kanye West), and Beyoncé since it was first introduced in 2014.
Additionally, the CFDA has been working to boost the visibility of its Awards show in other ways over the past several years. This has taken the form of famous presenters and hosts (Seth Meyers will host this year); red carpet coverage by E!, a proposed live television broadcast in 2016 (it was subsequently called off); and a livestream, which will be hosted by Brad Goreski on Facebook, for the first time this year.
According to Steven Kolb, president and chief executive officer of the CFDA, “We have wanted to bring the CFDA Fashion Awards to a wider audience for some time and are excited to do this on Facebook Live this year. The broadcast will allow views from around the world to experience the fashions on the red carpet and to learn the award winners in real time.”
This push for publicity is sound, as the annual awards ceremony is "both a financial and marketing imperative" for the CFDA, as the New York Times' Vanessa Friedman put it not too long ago. Yes, the CFDA Awards is about the CFDA. It is an opportunity to raise awareness, to gain marketing buzz, to align itself with powerful industry players, and to gain prestige. This is why the New York-based organization aligns itself with the most profitable, most buzz-worthy, most famous designers, and nominates them for the same awards every year. (This year, some of those include Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Marc Jacobs, Kanye West cohort Virgil Abloh, and Raf Simons). This sounds harsh, but read on ...
By handing out a non-designer award, such as the Fashion Icon honor, the CFDA has been able to ensure truly big name attendees. Rihanna and Beyoncé certainly ensured maximum publicity their respective award years. These women had a significant segment of the population watching, including a huge number of individuals who had certainly never heard of the CFDA or of Joseph Altuzarra, who took home the evening's coveted womenswear prize.
Yes, by packing the red carpet with A-listers, the CFDA has, in fact, broadened the appeal of the evening and ensured widespread media attention. The byproduct of this is that the focus shifts from the vast majority of the designers being honored – to those that are the biggest stars. However, the Altuzarra’s of the industry, who stock worldwide and yet, are little known compared to the Chanel’s of the world, stand to gain from the growing fanfare associated with the “new and improved” CFDA Awards, at least in theory.
While industry insiders and truly devoted fashion fans know (or at least can appreciate by close observation) the value inherent in a brand that manufactures locally, uses the finest materials and/or puts forth an original aesthetic, the general public arguably does not. That is usually not what drives their interest and/or purchasing behavior. (Not convinced? Look at the success of Vetements, whose creative director Demna Gvasalia is up for the CFDA's International Award this year).
The average Joe often needs Rihanna or Beyoncé or Kanye or [insert your favorite star’s name here] to wear a garment by a designer that is not as established as Gucci or Louis Vuitton or Prada or Chanel in order to make it relevant or interesting or "fashionable" to them.
As such, there is a strong and valid argument that even if the evening’s award winners are overshadowed by Hollywood, it is in their best interest that stars show up, wear their designs, get photographed and cause a media frenzy. This is valuable exposure, and there is a very good chance that a fan or two or ten of these celebrities will now be a life-long fan of the fashion brand.
Red carpets are big-time marketing opportunities, after all ... but only if there are stars worth tuning in for.