A user guide to advanced fashion: a review of the CFDA emerging designer award

On Monday 3rd of June, the Brooklyn Museum played host to what has been described as the ‘Oscars of Fashion’, the Council of Fashion Designers of America awards. But what the CFDA awards has over the Oscars is a dedicated category for ‘emerging’ designers. The benefit of this is not only to identify and appreciate smaller designers but also to get the drop on the style oppo so you can look extremely ‘advanced’, which is really the goal here.

To begin with, Catherine Holstein, for Khaite, is the most ‘American’ designer of the nominees, leaning into the masculine strength and feminine chicness that US style has produced. Viewing her collections, I am reminded of that time Ralph Lauren wore jeans with a double-breasted dinner jacket, absolutely iconic and distinctly American. It is that tension between structure and softness that sets Holstein apart, for example an elegant, white gown might be paired with a large over the shoulder bag. Or, a denim two piece and a duster might be cut so well to the body that it becomes elegant.

Two things to know about me: I love workwear and I hate litter. So, one might think that I would be the world’s biggest fanboy for the next designer on the list, Heron Preston. However, I think he is the weakest of the designers nominated. Preston is passionate about workwear and the environment, as shown through his collections (particularly his “Uniform” collaboration with the NYC Department of Sanitation, to support their 0x30 initiative to make the city zero-waste by 2030). Nevertheless, much of his designs (at least his menswear) lack innovation in cut and silhouette, meaning that his collections are limited to highlighting “the beauty in the everyday uniform”, rather than saying something particularly new. I don’t wish to sound too negative, as I love workwear and enjoy some of his pieces, but Preston was against extremely stiff competition.

Competition such as Sarah Staudinger and George Augusto, for Staud. The LA-based brand was founded with the ethos of both empowering women while maintaining accessibility. It’s no wonder then, that much of Staud’s pieces make reference to the 20th century, a great period of women’s liberation. SS19 was peppered with billowy silhouettes straight out of the 60s, head wraps and big sunglasses from the 40s and 50s, even swimming bonnets from the 20s! FW19, likewise, brought together fabrics and cuts from the 70s, 80s, and 90s with the occasional 1910s ball gown for good measure. So, pop ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’ on the stereo and stand on the shoulders of (style) giants in salute to your female fashion forebears.

Finally, Emily Adams Bode, for Bode, who took home the gong. How to describe Bode? Imagine if the 70s happened only in Morocco and all the fabric they had was corduroy or pyjama stripes and those Chanel jackets that old rich women wear. This almost iconoclastic mix simultaneously rejects the living logo conformity of the hypebeast and the bland platitudes of the #menswear crowd, to create beautifully new yet nostalgic pieces. It is Very much of the same ilk as natural wines, nose-to-tail eating, and holidays to obscure parts of Castille. Yet, Bode remains completely unpretentious but still highly advanced, as we should all aspire to be- a worthy winner.

So what we can we take from this cohort of nominees? Well, it seems nostalgia is a pervasive force throughout. Not only nostalgia for times past, as Staudinger and Augusto, but also for a kind of simple working life, such as Holstein and Preston. Crucially, however, we see that it’s not just about copying a particular era or job, but rather to take them and mix them together to create something unique and (of course) truly advanced.

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