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New York Times / Life - Entertain

In London, Empowerment and Emotion at the Fashion Awards

The big winners were Donatella Versace, Jonathan Anderson and Raf Simons, but the message was political.

Donatella Versace, left, accepting the Fashion Icon award, and Naomi Campbell. Stuart Wilson/BFC, via Getty Images

LONDON — Fashion has often been known to stick its head in the glitter-dusted sand. But as the great and the good of the international industry descended on the annual Fashion Awards in London on Monday evening (a glamorous event positioned as Britain’s answer to the Met Gala), politics was the most popular accessory of the night.

Hollywood may be avoiding hard subjects as its awards season kicked off, but as the style set’s members made their way up the vast, floodlit red carpet at the Royal Albert Hall, shimmering with scattered crystals (the lead sponsor was Swarovski), slipped into velvet banquettes, sipped Champagne and picked at beef tenderloin, they seemed determined to strike not a pose but a stand.

Adwoa Aboah, winner of the Model of the Year award. John Phillips/BFC, via Getty Images

Maria Grazia Chiuri, artistic director of Dior women’s wear, clad in black velvet, took to the stage to receive the Swarovski Award for Positive Change and declared, “This moment we are living in isn’t actually about sex, it is more about power. Fashion has a duty to speak out for and support and empower women, to help them express themselves.”

Then came Adwoa Aboah, the recipient of the Model of the Year award, and the cover girl on the first issue of British Vogue under its new editor, Edward Enninful.

Maria Grazia Chiuri of Dior accepting the Swarovski Award for Positive Change, which was presented by Bianca Jagger, right. John Phillips/BFC, via Getty Images

“After 2017, and everything that has happened in the film industry, I’m excited for 2018,” she announced, resplendent in a gold turban and kaleidoscopic sequin mini-shift by the British brand Halpern (later, the designer Michael Halpern was on stage to collect the prize for best British Emerging Talent in women’s wear). “I know all of us in fashion will work together to push out the bad energy; there is no place for that here anymore,” Ms. Aboah said.

And, in a 14-model tribute to Azzedine Alaïa, the legendary designer who died last month in Paris at 82, Naomi Campbell said, “I would never have become the woman I am today without him.”

Ms. Campbell recalled how Mr. Alaïa had not only “fed, clothed and watered” her in the early days of her career, but had also stepped in to defend her in a street attack outside his shop in 2012. “Papa was a protector and a teacher, a seeker and defender,” she said.

Yasmin Le Bon added, “If we wore Azzedine, we could do anything.”

And so it went, with an emphasis on female empowerment and achievement. Stella McCartney was given a Special Recognition Award for Innovation. The makeup artist Pat McGrath radiated delight (and nerves) as she accepted the Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator. And Donatella Versace, in a spectacular diamante-encrusted bustier gown with giant panniers, was named Fashion Icon, 20 years after she assumed control of her brother Gianni’s fashion empire following his murder.

The London Gay Men’s Chorus performing at the event. Jeff Spicer/BFC, via Getty Images

Still, men scooped many of the blockbuster prizes of the night. Jonathan Anderson was the only name to go home with two awards; Accessories Designer of the Year for his work at the Spanish house Loewe and British Designer of the Year in women’s wear for his own line. Charles Jeffrey, in full makeup, wept as he accepted the British Emerging Talent in men’s wear award from John Galliano, the man Mr. Jeffrey called his “idol.” And Raf Simons won the Designer of the Year award for his work at Calvin Klein, five months after receiving the same accolade at the CFDA Fashion Awards in New York. He started his speech with two expletives and talked through tears.

He wasn’t the only emotional one. Even Anna Wintour’s voice wavered as she presented the Outstanding Contribution to British Fashion Award to Christopher Bailey, the departing creative director of Burberry, speaking of “a quiet bravery” that Mr. Bailey had called upon to construct his empire.

“I am sad to see him take his bow, but happy that he will have the time to see his children take bows of their own,” she said.

Then there was one final goodbye: to Natalie Massenet, the longtime chairwoman of the British Fashion Council, who is leaving the position at the end of the year. A troupe from the London Gay Men’s Chorus, all wearing Katharine Hamnett T-shirts emblazoned with “Choose Love,” belted out a song as glitter cannons spurted gold sequins.

What was the song?

“Freedom,” by the ’80s pop group Wham, of course.

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