Monday night’s CFDA Awards at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom was all about star power and the confluence of fashion and celebrity, though one of the most talked-about topics was the one A-lister who didn’t make an appearance on the red carpet.
“At 9:20 [p.m.], look for Twitter to go crazy,” hinted CFDA president and CEO Steven Kolb, wearing a custom tuxedo jacket by Jonathan Simkhai. CFDA chairman Diane von Furstenberg likewise was mum on the mystery, only noting, “I’m very excited because I’m introducing someone I totally admire, respect and love.”
Soon the news trickled through the press corps, thanks to a few celebs who missed the memo that the moment was supposed to be a surprise: Beyonce captured the CFDA’s 2016 Fashion Icon award — revealed in advance in the past (Rihanna and her naked-dress entrance as the 2014 CFDA Fashion Icon is a great example), but kept a secret this year. And why not? Queen Bey, wearing Givenchy, loves nothing if not an entrance — and ultimately, the announcement was saved until ceremony’s end at 10:45 p.m.
Those who heard about it on the red carpet thought the choice only fitting. “What’s not to love about Beyonce?” said Tracee Ellis Ross, who likewise loved the mermaid vibe of her metallic gown by Suno. “She does herself, and that’s what makes her iconic. Lemonade was incredible.”
“I saw her in concert in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend with all my girlfriends, and we just fan-girled out like crazy,” said Karlie Kloss. “Everything about Beyonce is just so incredible — not only her talent and her style, but she also comes across as very powerful and not afraid to make her own choices. All those things make her a true icon.”
Not unlike the annual Met Gala, one of the draws of the CFDA Awards is witnessing the pairing of designer and actress, a meeting of minds plus style, and how that translates to a red-carpet look. Sarah Paulson wore a Chantilly-lace dress by Joseph Altuzarra, while Rosie Assoulin brought Olivia Wilde, who wore an emerald knit gown by the designer, with strategic cutouts that oh-so subtly showed off her baby bump, Jessica Chastain accompanied Paul Andrews, who soon would win the Swarovski Award for Accessory Design.
“He thinks about comfort; not only is it exquisite in design, but you’re not cursing his name at the end of the night. I feel like I’m wearing a tennis shoe,” Chastain said of the strappy black sandals with hidden platform that Andrews custom-designed for her (in case you’re wondering, the shoe came first, and then was matched to a Prabal Gurung strapless brocade gown with high-low hem).
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley was on Michael Kors’s arm in a mint beaded gown he custom-designed for the supermodel, while Christian Siriano displayed his versatility with a sleek red crepe gown for Alicia Silverstone and a black satin tuxedo featuring a one-sleeved, asymmetrically hemmed jacket for Selma Blair. “His dresses are so beautiful and yet so different,” Silverstone said. “And he also designs exceptionally well for women. When I have a fitting with him, everything is perfect.”
Naomi Campbell turned up in a sleek, back-baring gown by Brandon Maxwell, who won the night’s Swarovski award for Womenswear. “Most of my designs are for strong, confident women, and you just don’t get more confident than Naomi Campbell,” said Maxwell.
Speaking of gorgeous black gowns, Vera Wang wore a design from her Fall 2016 collection, highlighted by a bodice inspired by fencing costumes. “I really wanted to wear something that represented what you see on the runway,” she said. Among the moments she was looking forward to most? “The International Award [to Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele]. I just love his spirit and his personality, and you see that joyful quality in his designs.”
Kloss wore a dress Assoulin custom-designed for her as part of a look that was all about Swarovski crystals, the night’s primary sponsor. “Look at my shoes!” Kloss exclaimed, showing off stiletto pumps by Stuart Weitzman, fully encrusted in pink Swarovski crystals. Of the collaboration with Assoulin on her dress, Kloss noted, “I wanted to feel like summer, I already have a little bit of a tan, so I wanted something white and very crisp.” The halter dress with keyhole detail also featured a peplum splashed with multicolored Swarovski crystals. “I love these little details, it felt really playful,” she added.
The night’s other hot topic? The CFDA’s Board of Directors tribute to David Bowie. “David was such a good friend to everyone in the industry, so it was a very natural thing that we wanted to remember and celebrate him, not just as a musician, but as someone who influenced style,” Kolb said. “He was not only a pioneer, but also someone who had great confidence and ease about himself, and that’s what fashion is all about.”
Indeed, many on the red carpet reminisced not only about Bowie’s influence on fashion, but his friendship as well. “I had Christmas dinner with him in Mustique years ago, and he had the most exquisite home, and was so charming and gracious and fun,” remarked Calvin Klein, who arrived with Donna Karan, who would soon receive a standing ovation as the winner of the night’s Founder’s Award. “David was pure to himself and was an inspiration to us all, as a man, as a singer, and as a father,” Karan said. “I had the highest respect for him.”
“David Bowie was a customer of mine; you just can’t put into words what made him so special,” agreed Thom Browne, who later would capture the night’s award for Menswear Designer of the Year. “He was a true individual, a gentleman and an icon. My work is very traditional, and I think that was something that attracted him.”
— CFDA (@CFDA) June 7, 2016
The carpet wound down at 8:30 pm, with Dwyane Wade among the last to arrive, wearing a fantastic wrap-style tuxedo by Public School designers Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, who accompanied the Miami Heat All-Star. Awards host Joel McHale (in a navy and black tuxedo by David Hart, which perfectly matched his Glashutte Original cushion-case watch with navy dial) sprinted down the red carpet — but not before dropping the last hint about the night’s surprise award: “I’m most looking forward to seeing Beyonce. She’s performing, but she’s not singing.” And with a sly smile, he was gone.
This article originally appeared in THR.com.