The Fashion Awards have always been a celebrity-filled affair, and in that respect, this year was no different. In true style, the British Fashion Council, the organizing body behind the event, recruited Priyanka Chopra, Lewis Hamilton, Maisie Williams and Rosalia to act as presenters, sprinkling star dust on the proceedings and adding pop culture clout.
But if the faces were familiar, little else about this year’s ceremony was. With coronavirus ruling out an event at London’s Royal Albert Hall, the BFC replaced its usual gala ceremony with a 30-minute film, released on YouTube and the Fashion Awards website on Thursday.
Gone were the Swarovski-crystal trophies for the brands, models and designers of the year. Instead, 3D-printed columns of recycled ocean plastic, commissioned by Parley for the Oceans, were awarded to 20 designers, brands and organizations that have “inspired us to develop a better future and take action on issues that require our immediate attention,” Chopra said in the video.
“If this year made something obvious, it is that there are people and brands who lead the way when it comes to change, and it felt the right moment to recognize and celebrate them. We need to spotlight positive change and creativity to help encourage and inspire our industry and beyond,” Caroline Rush, the BFC’s chief executive, said in an email to CNN.
Winners, who were grouped into four broad categories — community, people, environment and creativity — recorded their acceptance speeches on camera in their own spaces. Among the most high-profile were British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful, who put uniformed front-line workers and activists on the cover of the magazine’s covers; sustainable fashion pioneer Stella McCartney; and Burberry, which redirected its supply chains to deliver 100,000 surgical masks to the NHS and committed one of its factories to the creation of non-surgical gowns and masks.
Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons, who became co-creative directors of Prada earlier this year, bagged a win for showing the power of collaboration with their joint Spring-Summer 2021 collection, while perennial Fashion Awards favorite Jonathan Anderson was honored for his Covid-friendly fashion show alternatives for his own brand, JW Anderson, and at Loewe.
The Fashion Awards’ change in format and direction comes at the end of what has been an unprecedented year for the industry, rocked by pandemic-related disruptions to supply chains and buyer spending, and increased scrutiny around widespread systemic racism in the wake of the reinvigorated Black Lives Matter movement. Reflecting that, the film appears as a sort of montage of the year that was, with clips of boarded-up shops, protests, landfills and addresses from world leaders spliced with digital fashion show segments, designer PPE factory visits, and interviews with creatives about how their lives and professions have been transformed.
“This year was extremely challenging for our industry, but it also allowed us to take a long hard look in the mirror and realize that we have still a lot of work to do when it comes to topics such as the environment, diversity and inclusion,” Rush said. “While the current pandemic will have long term effects on the industry, it is important that we view this as an opportunity to implement changes that have been long overdue. By elevating the voices of those who have succeeded in challenging the industry so exceptionally this year, we hope to maintain this momentum for change.”
Many of the winners were lesser known and emerging designers championing diversity and sustainable business practices through their work, including Nigerian fashion designer Kenneth Ize, who employs artisans in his home country to create his luxury collections; seasoned upcycler Christopher Raeburn; and A Sai Ta of the label Asai, a vocal diversity advocate who sold pieces to raise funds for charity after the killing of George Floyd.
Others were grassroots organizations borne from the needs of the moment, like Emergency Designer Network, a volunteer-led collective that united makers and NHS trusts around the country to create and distribute 50,000 surgical gowns and 10,000 sets of scrubs.
Meanwhile, Aurora James, founder and the shoe and handbag line Brother Vellies, was commended for launching the 15% Pledge campaign, calling on retailers to commit 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses, to match America’s racial demographics; and A-COLD-WALL* designer Samuel Ross earned his trophy for starting a financial aid program for Black Lives Matter protest groups, and another that awarded £25,000 grants to Black-owned businesses working in fashion, as well as other industries.
Top image: A model wears a design from Kenneth Ize’s Spring-Summer 2021 collection.