The CFDA shakes things up.
The CFDA Awards are fashion’s biggest night—as close as the industry gets to its own Oscars, they’re designed to celebrate the best in American design. Last night, the nominations for Menswear Designer of the Year were announced, and they include the usual suspects: Thom Browne, Tom Ford, Raf Simons for Calvin Klein, and, because even the CFDA can’t ignore streetwear’s ascendance, Virgil Abloh for his label Off-White. But the industry group didn’t stop there—one more, and more surprising, name scored a nomination, too: the New York-based hype factory Supreme and its founder James Jebbia.
A skate brand picking up a CFDA nomination is an anomaly, to say the least. To understand why, it helps to know the type of designers the council has celebrated in the past. If you were looking at men’s fashion through the pinhole of the CFDA’s awards, you might think American menswear worships three men and three men only: Browne (nominated six times since 2013, two wins), Simons (2017’s winner), and Ford (2015). Smaller brands have been nominated, but the heavy hitters have been basically immovable.
The closest precedent to Supreme is Public School, the streetwear-meets-fashion label, which won in 2014. But Public School has put on runway shows (although it’s currently shifting to a direct-to-consumer model), was sold in Barneys, and at one point its designers were at the helm of DKNY. Supreme, meanwhile, is a world apart: the brand comes from the world of skateboarding, collaborates with groups like Public Enemy, and its most desirable items are almost all graphic hoodies and T-shirts. And, yes, Supreme occasionally puts out suits and collaborates with other brands on expensive leather jackets. But the brand’s most significant contribution to the world is still a logo tee. It’s not the kind of quote-unquote proper fashion that typically excites CFDA voters.
But where Supreme has previously thrown a middle finger to the powers at be in the fashion world—in the past ripping fashion houses off wholesale without permission—it’s shown a willingness to play nice (or at least nicer) over the past 12 months. In 2017, the brand took on a massive investment from the Carlyle Group, collaborated with Louis Vuitton, and even opened an extra store in New York City so more customers would be able to shop the famously hard-to-actually-buy brand. From this angle, then, it’s barely surprising that Supreme has drawn the CFDA’s attention. Streetwear brands like Off-White are huge sellers at department stores, and designer houses like Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, and Versace are elevating mainstays of streetwear culture, like sneakers, and tacking on $800 price tags. Why not throw Supreme into the mix?
In its announcement of the nominees, WWD reports that Steven Kolb, the head of the CFDA, sent an email last month to the more than 500 voters, urging them to consider a wider pool of brands than they had in the past. “We truly want the event to celebrate the full creative spectrum and richness of American fashion,” Kolb reportedly wrote. “Just think of how much fashion is changing, and the diversity of our industry. Designers with broad cultural backgrounds and political ideas are expressing their experiences and beliefs in their collections. Their work deserves greater acknowledgment, acceptance, and visibility.” Nominations for the likes of Abloh and Supreme founder James Jebbia (the latter an executive, not a designer) mark a step in the right direction for American fashion’s most prestigious award. We just hope the famously reclusive Jebbia decides to turn up to hobnob with the rest of the fashion world come awards night.
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