At the Fashion Awards in London, Mourning and Celebration
Amid champagne and sparkles, designers paid homage to the late Virgil Abloh.,
It was bitingly cold in London on the evening of the Fashion Awards, Britain’s glitziest annual style event, and on the red carpet the model Jordan Dunn snuggled into the makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury for warmth. “Have you seen Maria Sharapova,” a producer barked, clipboard in hand. “Where is Sharapova?”
She arrived a few moments later in a dress created from recycled water bottles, a collaboration between Iris van Herpen and Evian.
Inside, Rick Owens, svelte in black, posed with the model Adriana Lima, in plunging white. Tommy Hilfiger, who was there to receive the Outstanding Achievement Award, sat close to Kris Jenner, wrapped in a satin shawl in the red, navy and white colors of Mr. Hilfiger’s brand’s logo.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in a Boss suit, sat between Anna Wintour and Edward Enninful, the editor in chief of British Vogue and European editorial director of Conde Nast. “Oh my God, that’s John!” said the designer Henry Holland, pointing to John Galliano, on Ms. Wintour’s right. Next to Mr. Enninful was the musician Dua Lipa, in somber black.
“I love Dua Lipa. She’s the best Londoner — don’t tell Adele,” Mr. Khan said, “‘Future Nostalgia’ got me through the pandemic.” He was feeling buoyant. “This shows that London’s back,” he said, gesturing to the throng of sequins, frills and tuxedos.
The jubilation has a frenetic air; the mood of a last party, a final blowout, with a fearful mania beneath the fun. A reflection both on the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant and the possibility of another lockdown, and on the news, received the day before the event, that the designer Virgil Abloh had died at 41. He was a lingering presence in the room, with almost every winner paying homage to him.
“Virgil told me that he didn’t go a day in high school without wearing my clothes,” Tommy Hilfiger said in his speech, just after a mini catwalk show of models, who lip-synced and strutted to hits including “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones and Naughty by Nature’s “O.P.P.”
The actor Idris Elba read Maya Angelou’s poem “When Great Trees Fall” in Mr. Abloh’s honor. Later, Mr. Enninful read a quotation by the designer from a manifesto given out at Mr. Abloh’s spring 2021 show for Louis Vuitton: “‘As a Black man in a French luxury house, I am well aware of my responsibilities. Rather than preaching about it, I hope to lead by example, and unlock the door for future generations. I believe in making my mark with poise, style and grace.'”
The words offered a rare moment of self-effacement in an evening rich with posturing that twisted and turned, uniting not just — as one would expect — the great and good of the fashion industry, but also often disparate characters that even the strangest dinner party dream couldn’t summon: the actress Demi Moore, striding arm and arm with the Olympic diver Tom Daley to present the award for Designer of the Year to Kim Jones; the soccer player Patrice Evra presenting an award to the former GQ editor Dylan Jones for Culture Commentary; and Kylie Minogue, performing a special rendition of her hit song “Slow” in bespoke Richard Quinn, while surrounded by dancers in full face-covering floral bodysuits (the only attendees, other than servers, who were masked).
The evening’s host, Billy Porter, used wit to puncture the pomposity, welcoming “the old, the young and the old who have made their faces young.” Between several outfit changes, he quipped, “I really didn’t think I was going to make it, but luckily I got a job as a truck driver and they let me in” — a nod to Britain’s supply chain issues and the fallout of Brexit, another of fashion’s many headaches.
The award categories, in the past simple and to the point (best women’s wear designer, best men’s wear designer, best model), had been expanded to include looser, and more grandiose, themes, including “Leaders of Change,” an accolade given to 15 industry figures, under three different categories: “Creativity,” “Environment” and “People.”
An absent Alessandro Michele, the creative director of Gucci, was the winner of the Trailblazer Award, presented and accepted on his behalf by the activist Sinead Burke, in pink feathers.
“I am physically disabled, I have dwarfism,” she said when she introduced herself, noting that the award was dedicated to those who “move hearts and minds.” She praised Gucci for its work in supporting L.G.B.T.Q. rights and the rights of the disabled. Mr. Michele, she said, has made a corner of the world “where people feel safe to be themselves.”
Other winners included the up-and-comer Nensi Dojaka, who was given the BFC Foundation Award, the stylist Ib Kamara (also absent), who won the Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator, and Simone Rocha, who took home the Best Independent British Brand and whose label recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary. The pandemic has been tough, she said, especially for those without a big group behind them and with a small, young team.
“It’s humbled a lot of people on a lot of different levels. It’s humanized the industry, and taken away a bit of the gloss and the sheen,” she said. “Anybody who shows, I respect them. Anyone who managed to keep going.”
Later, the dancer and internet phenomenon Lil Buck moonwalked and glided his way around the grand hall. His performance was apparently part of honoring Chanel for its contribution to art and culture. “Chanel: Creating the conditions for artists to dare,” announced the giant screens behind Lil Buck, before being replaced, inexplicably, by a quotation often attributed to Mother Teresa.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples,” it read, though most guests seemed primarily focused on the fancy footwork (also footwear). Even Ms. Wintour craned her neck to watch the slides and twists. When Lil Buck finished, she broke into one of her few claps of the evening.