September 11th changed the world and its devastation affected families, communities, and industries, the garment industry among them. Episode 5 of In Vogue: The 2000s charts the history of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, established in the aftermath of the tragedy to support new generations of American designers.
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The towers fell in the midst of Fashion Week, and in the weeks following the tragedy one of Vogue’s initiatives was to organize a group show, called An American View, in a space donated by Carolina Herrera. This gave emerging talents a chance to still show their spring collections in the hopes of generating business and staying afloat. It was a step in the right direction, but “what we realized about a year later was almost everyone was out of business,” says Sally Singer, Vogue’s former creative director. “It wasn’t enough to just give a space to show.”
As a more organized, in-depth, support system was clearly needed, “we created the Fashion Fund,” explains Vogue’s Global Editorial Director Anna Wintour. “We launched it with a very generous donation from S.I. Newhouse. Calvin was involved. Donna was involved. Ralph was involved. Vera was involved. Everybody was very, very generous in supporting the initiative.” And, she continues, “over the past 20 years, we have given out substantial sums to three winners and mentorship to three young designers every year.”
From hundreds of applicants, 10 brands are selected to go through the multi-step program. The CVFF, as it’s familiarly known, is no lottery where a number is pulled and a name called out; rather, the designers must present their visions, designs, and business plans face-to-face with a jury of editors, retailers, and business people. “It was very nerve-wracking and very scary,” notes Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte (the brand was a runner-up in 2006), “but it meant the world because it meant people believed in you at your infancy.”
One of the things the jury is looking for is a strong point of view. “From the get-go, you’ve got to be completely sure of who you are and what your brand is about,” says 2008 finalist Jason Wu. “So in some ways it’s the ultimate bootcamp.”
The fact that there are other brands training at the same time can ease the stress, believes Global Director of Vogue Runway and CVFF juror Nicole Phelps. “The relationships that the designers make with each other, their fellow finalists, I think are probably the greatest part of the fund.” Connections are key to success in any industry, which is why the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund is as much focused on mentorship as it is on money, knowing both are vital to small businesses. The prize allowed 2019 winner Christopher John Rogers, who had been working from home, to rent a studio and hire friends who had been working for free as employees. Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, the first designers to receive the prize, in 2004, were paired with Rose Marie Bravo, the businesswoman who masterminded the turnaround of Burberry and Gucci in the 1990s, and she’s still in touch with the pair.
Not everyone walks home with a prize, but all participants get exposure. Wu’s experience with the CVFF was exceptional: He ended up dressing Michelle Obama for the 2009 inaugural ball, a historic event that took his brand global, while signaling to the world that New York’s got talent.
9/11, says Mark Holgate, Vogue’s Fashion News Director, “made the industry aware that new talents don’t just happen, that we actually have to have some sense of responsibility and investment in their future. Because it’s important to invest in the future of the industry, and I think that we’re able to see the fruits of that now in America.”
In Vogue: The 2000s is presented by Anna Wintour, and produced by Vogue. Episode 5, “Stitched Back Together: The Birth of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund,” features interviews with, in order of appearance, Kate Mulleavy, Sally Singer, Andrew Rosen, Jason Wu, Laura Mulleavy, Christopher John Rogers, and Meredith Koop. Vogue’s editorial team is Anna Wintour, Virginia Smith, Mark Guiducci, Mark Holgate, Nicole Phelps, Laird Borrelli-Persson. Hosted by Hamish Bowles.
Originally Appeared on Vogue