It’s a part of American fashion history that has been told many times; yet, one can never hear it often enough.
It was a crisp, sunny morning on September 11, 2001, a welcome break from the humidity and rainstorm that had marked the prior day. New York Fashion Week was kicking into high gear, with maternity designer Liz Lange set to make her debut in the Bryant Park tents followed by Oscar de la Renta’s show. Then, the unthinkable happened. Two commercial jets hit each of the Twin Towers – world-famous symbols of downtown Manhattan – causing them to implode, and all of New York to practically shut down. Fashion Week was canceled.
It was a devastating tragedy for the city, for the United States, and for the world. For American designers, especially the younger ones who were just starting out and had put all their savings towards the show, it was a major blow that only a few businesses were expected to survive.
Behnaz Sarafpour had just launched her collection with a small presentation in February 2001 – landing her the cover of WWD and an exclusive story in Vogue – and she was planning her first full runway show on September 12th.
“In one word, September 11th was shocking,” Sarafpour recalls. “We felt so blindsided, and no idea what our next step would be.”
With talents like Sarafpour and her peers struggling to stay in business, Anna Wintour and Carolina Herrera stepped in with An American View, offering Herrera’s showroom to designers for group and individual shows.
“Following 9/11, young designers who were just starting their ateliers and businesses really needed support,” Saks Fifth Avenue SVP and Fashion Director Roopal Patel remembers. “Suddenly there was no market, no way to place orders, no way to communicate. Designers did not have the means or the vehicles they needed to stay in business.”
Sarafpour remembers Meredith Melling calling and encouraging her to participate in An American View, as it presented a great opportunity to show the collection to editors and buyers who were already in town for fashion week.
“I was hesitant at first,” Sarafpour admits. “The last time I had been in a group show was when I was a student at Parsons, and was really looking forward to finally having my own solo show. But thanks to Mrs. Herrera’s generosity and the work of the entire Vogue team, it came together beautifully. Every single top model – are models none of us young designers could have gotten on our own for a debut show – walked the show for free because of the relationship they had with Vogue.”
An American View was a success – helping young designers with exposure and opportunity.
“Since most of our industry was in New York for fashion week when the Twin Towers fell, we saw the immediate impact of this terrible tragedy,” Saks’ Patel remembers. “Everything stopped and the city was at a standstill. I think it changed the way all of us look at business, understanding that unforeseen tragedies happen and we need to be resilient in times of devastation.”
WHILE THE CFDA/VOGUE FASHION FUND WAS BORN OUT OF ONE OF THE DARKEST MOMENTS IN OUR HISTORY, IT HAS ALWAYS ESSENTIALLY BEEN TO ME AN EXERCISE IN OPTIMISM AND POSITIVITY: A WHOLE INDUSTRY COMING TOGETHER TO BUILD A FUTURE FOR AMERICAN FASHION BY SUPPORTING NEW GENERATIONS OF DESIGNERS.
ANNA WINTOUR, CHIEF CONTENT OFFICER OF CONDÉ NAST AND GLOBAL EDITORIAL DIRECTOR OF VOGUE
An American View highlighted the urgent need for our fashion industry to do more to support its up-and-coming talents and secure the future of American fashion. The sentiment led to the 2003 creation of CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, a pioneering program providing funding and invaluable mentorship. The first winners of the Fund, in 2004, were Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler. Subsequent winners and finalists included Aurora James, Jonathan Simkhai, Greg Chait of The Elder Statesman, Joseph Altuzarra, Tanya Taylor, and Christopher John Rogers.
By placing the spotlight on emerging talent and nurturing their future, the Fund shifted the dynamics of American fashion. New York, in the early 2000s, became the go-to for emerging talent discovery in ways one couldn’t find in the European capitals at the time.
“While the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund was born out of one of the darkest moments in our history, it has always essentially been to me an exercise in optimism and positivity: a whole industry coming together to build a future for American fashion by supporting new generations of designers,” said Wintour, Chief Content Officer of Condé Nast and Global Editorial Director of Vogue. “That level of support isn’t so surprising, though. New York, perhaps more than any other fashion city, has long been built on the strength of community.”