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On Wednesday night, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) held its first in-person Fashion Awards ceremony since the pandemic took hold. The nominees included the usual list of high-profile names, including Thom Browne, Marc Jacobs, and The Row. Balenciaga’s Demna Gavasalia was awarded the International Women’s Designer of the Year award. However, the ceremony also featured many newer fashion designers like Theophilio, Maisie Wilen, and others.

After the CFDA was criticized for its lack of diversity, and the same designers who have been there before, the ceremony took place. Last year, some improvements were made. Christopher John Rogers won the American Emerging Designer of the Year award, Telfar Clemens became American Accessories Designer of the Year (after losing the previous year to The Row), and Pyer Moss’ Kerby Jean-Raymond took home the American Menswear Designer of the Year statue. The awards this year were a continuation of last year’s.

One, Telfar Clemens was honored again while Christopher John Rogers was awarded the American Womenswear Designer of the Year award. The former designer won in the same category while the latter was awarded the American Womenswear Design of the Year. This makes sense. The two designers have reached major career milestones in the past year. Telfar Clemens’ namesake company partnered with brands like UGG, Converse, and White Castle on collaborations, as well as the Liberian team on uniforms for this year’s Olympics. Meanwhile, John Rogers dressed Vice President Kamala Harris for the Inauguration ceremony, collaborated with Target, staged a fictional show on Gossip Girl, and created costumes for the New York City Ballet. Another nominee for the American Emerging Design of the Year to American Womenswear designer of the year category was Peter Do, a Vietnamese-born designer whose most anticipated collection was shown during New York Fashion Week Spring 2022.

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The American Emerging Designers of the Year category was a highlight this year with some of the most promising up-and-coming designers in the industry being recognized.

Thompson won the big prize after becoming a finalist in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund this year. Theophilio was launched in 2016 and is a tribute to Thompson’s childhood in Kingston. Air Jamaica was Thompson’s debut New York Fashion Week collection. It featured apparel in brightly-hued colors that reflected the Caribbean landscape of his youth. Thompson said in his acceptance speech that “Theophilio” is much larger than himself. This is how I speak to you as a young boy from Kingston, Jamaica. If American fashion is going to reach its creative potential, stories such as this must be the norm.

“I’m happy to be among a group of peers who are approaching business on their own terms and pushing boundaries as artists,” Jameel Mohammed said. Khiry’s founder also enjoyed a career peak this year, when his brand of Afrofuturist accessories was partnered with De Beers Group. De Beers Group is one of the largest diamond miners and retailers in the world. Kiki Layne, who starred in the Met Gala red carpet debut of the jewelry collection “Black Power International” made ethically-sourced diamonds.

Nicholson, like Mohammed, is excited to see his peers being recognized for their “variety in voices and views” within an industry that has long closed people out. “I think with this crop of nominees now, we’ve had to learn to shapeshift a lot,” Nicholson said referencing the political and social upheavals that have happened parallel to their success. “It seems appropriate, it almost seems like we’ve been groomed for success.”

Maisie Wilen was also included at the right time. After Kanye West’s approval and her launch of her own brand, Schloss is known for her bold use and color combinations and playful silhouettes. Many are now embracing her experimental designs after years of wearing sweatsuits. Eli Russell Linnetz’s ERL was nominated for its first nomination. It gained a cult following thanks to its California-cool brand, which focuses on skater-ready Tshirts and Jeans rather than designer wares.

The Brother Vellies designer was also honored at the awards. Aurora James, the founder of the 15 percent Pledge, a program that invites brands and companies to give 15% of their shelves for Black entrepreneurs and designers, was also featured. James was awarded the Founder’s Awards on Wednesday night, making him the first Black female designer to receive the CFDA Fashion Awards. Amongst them, Harlem’s Dapper Dan was awarded the Geoffrey Beene Founder’s Achievement Award. This award is a long-overdue honor given his many contributions in the fashion industry.

Emily Adams Bode won the American Menswear Design of the Year award, a win that will help ensure sustainable fashion’s future. Bode’s eponymous brand makes garments using antique fabrics, Victorian quilts and bed linens. This award should encourage more brands that embrace circularity in the design process. Patagonia was also awarded the Environmental Sustainability Award by the CFDA.

All these wins are encouraging, as we hope that American fashion will continue to evolve and embrace a vision of a inclusive, experimental, conscious industry.