“Revolutions always begin fragmented,” said Prabal Gurung, a CFDA board member and designer who was raised in Nepal and who has been a champion of inclusivity. “Then, when united, the real change happens and history gets made.”
But can these distinct groups work together to reshape the American fashion world, or will the ideological and strategic differences that this singular moment has exposed diffuse their long-term effectiveness? It may seem like an inter-industry problem, but because of fashion’s position as a cultural touchstone, the answer has broad repercussions.
“This is not a time for compromise”
Virgil Abloh, the founder of Off-White and the men’s wear designer of Louis Vuitton as well as a CFDA board member, said that as far as he was concerned, the CFDA needs “to stand for the rights of black people in the fashion industry.”
“Anything less than that is a compromise,” he said, “and this is not a time for compromise.”
For decades, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which was founded in 1962 by the publicist Eleanor Lambert to promote American fashion, has functioned as a central industry body. It is most famous outside of fashion for the annual CFDA awards, which tend to be called “the Oscars of American fashion.”
The organization has been active, as well, in lobbying for such fashion issues as intellectual property protection and immigration rights, as well as raising money for scholarships, breast cancer and H.I.V./AIDS-related issues. In recent years, it has also focused on issues of model health and safety.
But though the CFDA is often thought of as fashion’s “governing body,” it is not. It has no power to regulate its almost 500 designer members. Nor does it have authority over retailers or associated industry creatives, like beauty professionals. As a result, Mr. Gurung said, the “CFDA is doing the job it always does, and while they offer support to the industry, in the face of so much raw and immediate feeling, that job might not be enough anymore.”