All You Need to Know About the Purpose and History of the CFDA Awards

Despite a shortened format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CFDA Awards celebrated fashion designers and icons at the night’s ceremony. The winners represent an optimistic future for American fashion.

This year’s honorees are diverse and influential.

What is the Purpose of the CFDA Awards?

The CFDA is the council of America’s foremost fashion designers and has a membership that includes the likes of Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta. It’s also the group behind the annual CFDA Awards, called the “Oscars of Fashion.”

The organization isn’t just about its award show (which was dubbed by fashion journalist Cathy Horyn last year as a six-and-a-half ordeal of dinner and speeches). The Adam Kimmel CFDA Awards works to promote designers at all stages of their careers, from students to emerging designers to industry stalwarts, through a series of initiatives.

These include business support, scholarships, and a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in fashion. The CFDA has also been working to expand its Fashion Manufacturing Initiative, which aims to nurture and elevate garment production. It also runs educational programs for high school and college students. It even offers support to designers during shows.

Who are the Honorees?

The CFDA Awards is a gala that honors defining members of the American fashion ecosystem, from designers to stylists and influencers. This year, the night was sponsored by Klarna—the payments and shopping service committed to “helping drive business growth that supports fashion.”

Previously, the CFDA has been criticized for its lack of diversity and reliance on same-old faces as winners. However, this year’s awards saw significant improvements. 

What is the History of the CFDA Awards?

The CFDA is an industry trade association with 500 members who are America’s foremost womenswear, menswear, jewelry, and accessories designers. The organization owns New York Fashion Week: Men’s and produces the CFDA Awards to recognize top creative talent in fashion. The CFDA also promotes the business of American fashion through initiatives like Fashion Targets Breast Cancer and 7th on Sale, raises funds for HIV/AIDS organizations with its Fashion’s Night Out campaign, and addresses model health issues with the CFDA Health Initiative.

This year’s CFDA awards, co-hosted by Rihanna and hosted by international supermodel Iman, reflected a rejiggered vision for the future of fashion. In addition to honoring traditional categories such as menswear and accessories, the CFDA has introduced a Swarovski Award for Positive Change, which celebrates those in the fashion world who champion diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry.

What is the Future of the CFDA Awards?

The CFDA has long worked to nurture young American designers. In 1996, the organization launched the Target/CFDA Design Initiative, which provides student fashion designers with paid internships at mass retailer stores. The CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund was established to help support emerging talent, and the association has worked with several non-profits on projects like the “Fashion Stands With Planned Parenthood” pins that raised money for the organization.

However, the CFDA’s most visible work came from the annual awards ceremony. Known as “The Oscars of Fashion” or, more recently, for its glitzy dinner, speeches, and no-show celebrity hosts (fashion journalist Cathy Horyn once referred to the six-and-a-half-hour ordeal as “a wilting oaf of a party”), the event is an important marker of American fashion’s success.

And while a lot of lobbying goes on behind the scenes—PR firms send letters to editors and buyers on the committee pleading for their clients to win, or a designer will call in favors from powerful friends—the CFDA has been able to make some real changes.

Scott is the editor-in-chief of Spice Market New York. He is also an author and publisher of his own craft.