American fashion is a big family—we all compete, but we love each other at the same time—and it’s been family to me since I arrived in New York with a dress and a dream that made me the woman I wanted to be.
In the early days, way before I came here, New York fashion mostly had a reputation for copying the Europeans. There was a lot of talent on Seventh Avenue, but those designers were hidden in back rooms until Eleanor Lambert created the Council of Fashion Designers of America and brought the talent out of those rooms and into the spotlight. The American fashion designer was born, and all of a sudden, everyone knew who James Galanos, Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, and Norman Norell were. Then Andy Warhol appeared on the scene, and so did the next group of stars: Halston, Giorgio di Sant’Angelo, and Stephen Burrows. They became celebrities. Diana Vreeland and John Fairchild, the dictators of fashion, ruled over New York and Paris, and celebrated creativity in both cities. Then came the superstars: designers Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Marc Jacobs; supermodels Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, and Claudia Schiffer; and the super-editor, Anna Wintour. When 9/11 happened, Anna turned into a fairy godmother and created the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund to help young designers struggling to stay in business. Thanks to the fund, a new generation of stars were born: Jack and Lazaro from Proenza Schouler, Alexander Wang, Joseph Altuzarra, Rag & Bone, Rodarte, and so many other young American designers influencing fashion everywhere.
How does the world look at American fashion? Often with criticism sparkled with a little bit of envy. It is true that we are often called too commercial. And yet, everyone respects the influence we have. The truth is that commercial is another way of saying popular. And popular means successful. It means people want what you make.
New York Fashion Week is considered the most pragmatic of all fashion weeks, and the clothes reflect the lifestyle of the moment. It’s a filter of what happens in our country, and fashion here is a combination of art and commerce. This season, Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren, and Tommy Hilfiger showed collections you could buy instantly, something we expect many more designers will be doing in the future. And at the CFDA, we are not afraid to break rules—council president Steven Kolb and I are the first to encourage designers to do what is right for them.American fashion reminds me of the provocative young woman people love to criticize while copying everything about her, from her look to the way she speaks and the places she likes to go. Wherever she goes from here, they’ll all be watching.