NEW YORK - JUNE 07: (L-R) Designers Jason Wu, Richard Chai and Alexander Wang pose at the 2010 CFDA Fashion Awards at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center on June 7, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Jason Wu;Richard Chai;Alexander Wang
Nominations for each category are submitted by the CFDA Fashion Awards Selection Committee, which is comprised of the more than 300 CFDA members, along with a group of hand-picked fashion retailers, journalists, and stylists. The non-CFDA voting public runs a wide gamut from Anna Wintour, to Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren and bloggers like Racked.com's Danica Lo.
Nomination forms are sent out in February and returned in early March, then the nominees are selected based on the plurality voting system--meaning each committee member can only nominate one person for each category. Designers are restricted in this part of the process and can only nominate in their respective specialty (like accessories) and for the special awards like the Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Board of Directors for the CFDA (including President Diane von Furstenberg) then meet to ratify the selection and to choose who is going to receive the Board of Directors’ Special Tribute Award (this year, famed Vogue photographer Arthur Elgort was picked).
Beginning in May, Ernst & Young deliver the final ballots to the Selection Committee members to cast a vote in each of the six categories, and then the results are at last announced at the awards in June.
Quite a bit of lobbying goes on behind the scenes (similar to the Oscars) in terms of who is nominated and eventually awarded a CFDA. Vera Wang told WWD last year, "Campaigning has been the rule, not the exception, forever—and I’ve been in fashion for 40 years." PR firms often send letters out on behalf of their clients to editors and buyers on the committee urging votes to go to their client, or a designer’s powerful friend will make the rounds on his or her behalf.
Despite the CFDA politics--Hey, its fashion: What do you expect?--this way of doing things is a pronounced shift from the early days of the CFDA awards when CFDA founder Eleanor Lambert, Oscar de la Renta, and other board members would decide on the year's honorees over lunch. The CFDA was founded in 1962, and the first awards were held in 1981.
And who pays for it all? Swarovski is now in its tenth year of underwriting the awards and also sponsoring the three Swarovski awards for emerging talent (where winners get prize money, crystals to use, and mentoring from Swarovski). It’s an effort and pet project of Nadja Swarovski, Vice President of International Communications and Creative Director of the Austrian brand. Attending the awards also isn’t free (the CFDA uses it as a fundraising tool) and tickets cost more than $4,000 a person.