As guests meandered through a lounge in Manhattan’s Seagram Building on Wednesday night, the legendary Harlem designer Daniel Day, known to most as Dapper Dan, remained perched near a row of banquettes toward the back of the room. Day was slated to receive the lifetime achievement award at the CFDA Fashion Awards, and a seemingly endless line of fashion editors, muses, and fellow designers took turns approaching him.
“I’m looking forward to accepting the award from Valerie Steele and being honored at a place where Tom Ford is at the helm,” Day said as cameras flashed on him. “That’s the biggest moment in my life right now.”
Day closed his famous Harlem boutique in 1992 after a series of lawsuits from fashion houses over his use of their logos, but in recent years his work has received the belated support of establishment fashion. He reopened his atelier, this time backed by Gucci, and his designs have become a steady presence on red carpets.
As for his own look on Wednesday, Day explained, gesturing toward his pink pants, “I wanted to do Gucci, but I wanted to be Harlem. So I had to bring the two elements together.”
“You dress for success in your own field, in your own space,” he continued. “This is the space people like to see me in.”
This year’s awards were the first in-person version of the event since the coronavirus pandemic began, and as with other similar returns at the moment, the evening was presented as a kind of renaissance. “This is an important moment in American fashion,” CFDA CEO Steven Kolb said in a statement when he announced the awards in August. “There is much excitement about the return of New York City and New York Fashion Week, as well as the top caliber of diverse talent making their mark on the city and the global fashion landscape.”
In more immediate terms, the resumption of such industry events has meant people seeing one another for the first time in however many months.
“I should’ve said hi,” one guest lamented to another.
“Hi, we’re Instagram friends,” said another who did take that initiative.
Ashley Olsen, true to form, mostly stayed in the quiet corners of the bustling room. Aminé, Simon Rex, and Kehlani chatted by the bar, where Drew Barrymore took a seat next to Christian Siriano. J Balvin broke away for a moment from his conversation with Mike Amiri and Jerry Lorenzo to discuss what drew him to the event.
“I came here to support my brother Mike Amiri but also to get to know about the new designers,” Balvin said. “Learning every day. I’m a student.”
As with so many other musicians, the Colombian artist’s live act has been on hold amid the pandemic, and he was happy to recall a triumphant show he played at Madison Square Garden in 2019.
“You gotta be ready for the next tour,” he promised. “It’s crazy.”
After the awards guests headed downtown to a series of after-parties. At the recently reopened Temple Bar, around midnight, Emily Bode Aujla walked in holding the award she had just won for American menswear designer of the year. Day followed shortly after, pausing for a moment to profess his excitement about keeping the night going.
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