As the world continues to become increasingly divided, Marc Anthony, Whoopi Goldberg and the Fashion Group International’s “Night of Stars” award winners amplified the power of “we.”
During the course of the 39th annual event Tuesday night at The Plaza Hotel, collective thinking surfaced in different ways — whether that be acknowledging teamwork, emphasizing gratitude or pledging scholarship support. Before the seated dinner could get underway, Anthony and his wife Nadia Ferreira unintentionally bottlenecked the main thoroughfare as photographers encircled them for “just one more shot.”
Meanwhile, guests like Instagram’s Eva Chen, Martha Stewart, Narciso Rodriguez, Shiseido Americas’ Ron Gee, Candace Bushnell, Amy Fine Collins, Ken Downing, Nicole Fischelis, Fern Mallis and others chatted at their tables. FGI’s president and chief executive officer Maryanne Grisz deftly addressed the shaky state of geopolitics by opening the program with a moment of silence “to send peace and safety to those affected.” That message of universality was one that carried through during the acceptance speeches.
Wearing his signature shades, musician and actor Marc Anthony picked up the Humanitarian Award from his friend of 30 years Narciso Rodriguez. Anthony was honored for his foundation Maestro Cares, which has helped more than 10,000 children in 13 countries with orphanages, counseling, scholarships and other education-driven programs. He vowed that as of next year he and his foundation would entrust a scholarship program for the next generation of designers. That will be set up through a partnership with FGI.
Acknowledging how every person in the room has a team of people behind them, Anthony said, “They’re not nameless to us. They’re faceless to the world. We can stand up here and accept such an honor, but there are so many people behind us. Appreciate those people who made us, who we are, right? On behalf of everyone who has made my life what it is today, I want to thank you. And I want to urge everybody here that is as privileged as I am to wake up and thank them.”
Accepting the “American Icon Award” from Hilldun’s Gary Wassner, Goldberg said she was feeling like “a bit of a fraud” in such a creative crowd. Referring to a recent private audience with Pope Francis, “The View” host said she told him that she was going to get this award, and “he said, ‘Bless you, Whoop.’ So I take all the goodness that he gave me and I am sending it out to all of you so that you can send it out to other people.”
She continued, “Who’s luckier than me? I’m from the projects. I’m in a room with people who do and think remarkable things. Thank you for letting me be in your presence and welcome and not a freak.”
Recalling how FGI began with a group of women 95 years ago, Goldberg said, “I don’t think many of them looked like me. Changes have happened. You all have made changes happen. I thank you for that more than anything because without that I couldn’t be here with you. I couldn’t look as I look and be as I am.”
Before signing off for the night, Goldberg thanked Wassner for helping her to stand on her feet, “when she was slipping into the darkness.” (Wassner has thanked Goldberg earlier for being there every step of the way for him and his whole family, when his wife Cathy recently battled a very serious illness.)
Martha Stewart talked up “Lifetime Achievement Award” winner Dennis Basso’s accolades — 70,000 faux fur throws sold on QVC last year and a newly opened 10,000-square-foot 57th Street atelier and store in a former Victoria’s Secret space — before he took the podium. After 40 years in business and 30 years of selling on QVC, Basso said he still “only wants to talk about clothes, which is a little boring. When the world is upside down, I’m looking at fabric swatches. But somebody has to make everybody pretty, OK?”
By his own admission, Basso’s zeal for fashion can wear a little thin on his husband Michael Cominotto, whom he thanked. “Every day for the past 31 years, he has said to me, ‘Can we talk about something else today besides deliveries, clothes, what’s happening? There are other subjects,’” Basso said.
The crowd learned that FGI’s foundation was creating a fund in Basso’s name for the inaugural “Rising Star” grant program. That was made possible with a percentage of proceeds from Tuesday’s “Night of Stars” event.
“Agent of Change Award” winner Antoine Phillips, who works with Gucci’s Changemakers’ social impact initiative, was also all about thanks starting with a round of applause for The Plaza’s wait staff. Accepting the award from his “fashion godmother,” Bethann Hardison, he thanked her and another early supporter, Matthew Trent. Phillips helped to bring the Changemakers program, a $6.5 million fund, to 12 cities. “I have worked so hard throughout the years to beat the status quo to promote creatives of color all around the table. The result has been magical,” he said.
Phillips dedicated his award to “his forever first boss,” the late George Kolasa from their days working together at Giorgio Armani. “He was supposed to be here tonight with [his husband] Justin [Tarquinio.] I want to say, ‘Thank you, George, so much and this one is for you.’”
After fashion critic Cathy Horyn handed over the “Fashion Stars Awards” to Proenza Schouler’s Lazaro Hernandez, he praised her respected and educated opinion before mentioning the “simple, but brutal” New York Times headline for their second show: “Proenza Schouler Separates in Search of a Collection.” Explaining that Horyn was right, Hernandez said, “You knew we were better than that even before we knew it ourselves.” Still going strong 20 years later with cofounder Jack McCollough, he thanked Horyn for her honesty and willingness to talk through big ideas season after season, “has made us better designers, more nuanced and mature.”
The Wendy Yu curator in charge of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Andrew Bolton also offered a message of unity while accepting the “Superstar Award” from Chen. He said after his partner Thom Browne, fashion really is his greatest passion. “There are so many things that I love about it. I love its accessibility, its democracy, its magnality and how it is often the first to welcome the outsider into its midst. I love its immediacy and how it can react to the zeitgeist so quickly and so nimbly. I love its ability to shock and provoke and reject the status quo, which is something that we need now more than ever. And I love how it can convey extremely complex ideas about identity, race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality,” Bolton said.
Bolton also saluted the many designers he met through the Costume Institute’s “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” exhibition, as well as The Met’s director Max Hollein and the Costume Institute’s entire team, Anna Wintour and Browne. “Living with a designer, I know what it takes to succeed in this business — all the hard work and all of the sacrifices. I mean it wholeheartedly, when I say that the designers really are the true superheroes.”
Not wanting to exit the stage without speaking about the importance of mentoring, the “Beauty Innovation” winner Gail Boye said that she had been very fortunate to have been raised by “some of the best and the brightest in the industry, including a few that were among the guests.” The Shiseido Americas executive promised to do the same for others.