Every year the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) and Vogue team up to host a competition for up-and-coming American fashion creatives. Since being established in 2003, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund program has mentored and selected handfuls of prominent talent as winners including Proenza Schouler, Alexander Wang, Brock Collection, Derek Lam, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Altuzarra, Prabal Gurung, and Public School. What makes the Fashion Fund so unique and cherished is not the high-powered Vogue endorsement or panel of even higher-powered noteworthy judges, it’s the appreciation for young emerging talent from all aspects of fashion and all aspects of America. Oh, and the first place winner receives $400,000 and a lasting mentorship from esteemed industry experts. No big deal.
They’re more than likely names you’ve never heard before. But not to worry, that’s one of the sole reasons the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund exists. Every spring more and more applications roll in from young designers across America for the chance to show their talent in front of some of the biggest names in fashion such as Steven Kolb of the CFDA, Diane von Furstenberg of DVF Studio, LLC., Eva Chen of Instagram, Jeffrey Kalinsky of Nordstrom, Joseph Altuzarra of Altuzarra and 2011 Fashion Fund winner, and of course Anna Wintour of Vogue. The original list of accepted contestants gets cut down after rounds and rounds of evaluations until there are only ten finalists. The initial presentations are mostly kept under the radar and until the final ten are chosen, the public is excluded from seeing the vetting process. This year the 2018 Fashion Fund finalists were: Batsheva, Bode, Christian Cowan, Hunting Season, Jonathan Cohen, Luar, Matthew Adams Dolan, Pyer Moss, Rebecca de Ravenel, and Scosha.
Rather than just young designers, Anna Wintour notes in a Vogue article that, “This year’s ten finalists will more than ably follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before them. They’re not only talented, they’re engaged with a rapidly changing world, reflecting a whole new set of values and beliefs about what fashion can and should be.” What makes the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund thrive is that it creates an environment where risk is encouraged, the norm needs to be challenged, and traditional fashion ways are threatened by evolution. Year and year again new ideas and revolutionary tasks are brought to the table keeping both the competition high and the judges on their toes. “I want my clothes to make people feel how they do at their happiest moments. There’s a lot of happiness in my clothes; people smile when they wear them. I just want it to be about celebration,” states 24-year old, green-haired England-born designer Christian Cowan in an interview with the CFDA. Cowan, one of the ten deserving finalists, has an approach to clothing that seems distant in today’s atmosphere. Fashion has recently sunk into a peculiar seriousness when it comes to means of self-expression. Lazy silhouettes, neutral palettes, readapted styles all topped off by being displayed on a model who seems to have a face cemented in dullness are plastered across Fashion Weeks all around the world. Cowan is just one of many Fashion Fund finalists who are breaking the boundaries around transparency within the industry and the CFDA and Vogue are the ones providing that platform.
After careful deliberations and poignant cuts, ten finalists were cut down to three finalists; one winner and two runners-up. On November 5th at a CFDA and Vogue hosted fashion show and gala event in the Brooklyn Navy Yards, several months of studio visits, critiques, presentations, and hard work were boiled down into tiny printed Times New Roman text on a paper with the winner’s names. In the iconic British accent of Emily Blunt, Jonathan Cohen and Bode were both awarded the runners-up prize of $150,000 each. Jonathan Cohen and Sarah Leff started their label Jonathan Cohen in 2011 and are notable for the use of texture and print incorporated within their womenswear collections. Bode, founded by Emily Adams Bode (New School Alumni who attended Parsons School of Design and Eugene Lang), came to prominence in 2016 as one of the first women-run menswear brands. Bode’s menswear collections have been applauded for their sustainable and efficient craft. While the first place spot could have been awarded to any of the ten incredible designers, the next name read off by Emily Blunt was none other than Pyer Moss. With his praised collections celebrating black culture in America, founder Kerby Jean-Raymond also got to celebrate a cool $400,000 for the growth of the label he created in 2013.
Fashion easily gets caught up in the idea of glamour, exclusivity, hierarchy, and distaste. And while an aspect of that does exist deep within the industry (not something society is proud of but also something I feel the fashion-powerhouses pride themselves on), programs and platforms such as the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund are proving to be invaluable when it comes to diversifying the deeply-rooted ways of the industry. Over 30 winners have been awarded since the Fashion Fund’s humble start in 2003 and there are still so many yet to be recognized. I give applause and credibility to both the CFDA and Vogue for their strides in making the Fashion Fund possible, and an even bigger thank you for them recognizing and embracing the change that is critical to the fashion industry in the coming years.
Pyer Moss – Spring 2019 Ready-to-Wear
Jonathan Cohen – Spring 2019 Ready-to-Wear
Bode – Spring 2019 Menswear