Steven Kolb, president of American fashion’s governing body, talks to The Hollywood Reporter about why the star is the perfect choice for the honor, which will be presented during a June 3 awards event.
Red carpet watchers won’t be disappointed on Monday, June 3, when the Council of Fashion Designers of America presents its annual awards ceremony at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. The winner of the night’s Fashion Icon Award is typically the last person to walk the red carpet, and with Jennifer Lopez capturing the honor for 2019, an entrance-making moment that’s a total wow is all but guaranteed.
Previous winners include Rihanna, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and 2018 honoree Naomi Campbell, but if anyone can hold their own in that company, it’s J.Lo — though deciding who should be the year’s Fashion Icon is never an easy conversation, says Steven Kolb, the CFDA’s president and CEO.
“At the board meeting [in March], it’s always the most discussed and debated award each year,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “There are so many worthy candidates, and everyone has really strong opinions, because style is objective, in terms of what people like and what looks good. But Jennifer has always been a steady presence in fashion and continues to be bold and make statements, and she’s someone who’s always noticed and talked about, and that makes her a perfect choice.”
Lopez has been an unequivocal red carpet sensation since Feb. 23, 2000, when she wore a palm-print silk-chiffon gown that dipped below her navel, from Donatella Versace’s spring 2000 collection, to the 42nd Grammy Awards. It wasn’t Lopez’s first Grammys appearance, but it did propel her into the fashion stratosphere and also contributed to fashion’s evolution on the red carpet.
“When you look at fashion and style and the way celebrities dress, even when they embrace it they can sometimes look like they’re holding it at arm’s length,” Kolb says. “They embrace it for reasons of being photographed or noticed, but you wonder if they really love it. But you can tell that Jennifer really loves it. She would be a style icon even if she weren’t on the red carpet. There’s a true love there that comes across in her style, and you can tell she thinks it’s fun.” (Lopez reportedly still owns the original Versace dress, while a copy resides in the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.)
Since that seminal fashion moment, Lopez has enjoyed plenty of high-wattage appearances on the red carpet over the past two decades. From magenta Gucci at the 2011 Met Gala, to a nude tulle ballgown by Elie Saab haute couture at the 2015 Academy Awards, a cape-like Zuhair Murad gown at the Golden Globe Awards the same year and Balmain at the 2018 Met Gala, her choices in both labels and silhouette have exuded a vibe that’s equal parts democratic and chameleon-like, which suits this particular award, Kolb says.
“Sometimes when we dress we get super comfortable in our uniform or our go-to designers, right? But that’s not Jennifer. She likes to mix it up, and that has a lot to do with the reason she’s getting the award this year,” he explains. “Of course, we also know her as ‘Jenny from the block,’ and the idea of a local girl wearing these big, international brands is pretty powerful. But she’s also always been very supportive of American designers.”
This year’s CFDA Awards may feel a bit different, Kolb adds. Now in its second year at the Brooklyn Museum, the ceremony will make greater use of the space, for starters. “Sometimes you go into a space for an event, and you put up a wall and block things out, but this year I think we’ll take advantage of the beauty of the museum itself, both as a backdrop and to be seen throughout the night,” he says, noting that the CFDA also has enlisted New York-based digital studio De-Yan to create the night’s visuals. “They’re a cool, young digital company, so you’ll see a shift in both fluidity and the guest experience, and also with onstage moments, such as how we present nominees.”
Indeed, look for several awards categories to also feel somewhat changed up this year, with nominees like Brandon Maxwell, Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy and Sander Lak of Sies Marjan receiving the nod for Womenswear Designer of the Year, while Mike Amiri, Virgil Abloh of Off-White and Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss have been nominated for Menswear Designer of the Year.
“We’re really happy with the growth, the gender balance and the inclusivity of this year’s nominees,” Kolb says. “A lot of people like to put the nominees under a microscope, and there’s been criticism in the past that men have dominated the awards categories, but I don’t think that’s the case this year. There are quite a few fresh names as first-time nominees and a nice balance.”
Two names, however, have yet to be announced: the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award (Narciso Rodriguez took the honor in 2018) and the CFDA’s Board of Directors’ Tribute Award, last presented in 2017 to three women at the height of #MeToo and Time's Up conversations: Gloria Steinem, Janelle Monáe and Cecile Richards, then president of Planned Parenthood.
Honorees for the remaining 2019 categories will be announced “soon,” Kolb notes, and until then, he’s offering only a few hints. “They are both truly big, American names that most people are going to respond to and know and will really see as worthy,” he says. “It’s going to be a fun night.”