“As long as I can remember, fashion has always been a part of my life,” the pop superstar, who was honored with the Fashion Icon award, told a glittery crowd of designers, TV stars and other celebrities. She went on to recount how her grandmother had been a seamstress, and then passed that skill on to Beyoncé’s mother.
“When we were starting out in Destiny’s Child, high-end labels, they didn’t really want to dress four black, country curvy girls,” she said. “And we couldn’t afford designer dresses and couture. My mother … used her talent and her creativity to give her children their dreams.” She spoke of wearing her first costumes, which her mother and uncle had designed and sewn, “putting so much passion and love into every detail.” It felt, she said, “like an extra suit of armor. It was so much deeper than any brand name.”
Usually, organizers announce the name of the Fashion Icon winner well in advance, but this year they kept it under wraps until the end of the ceremony, when designer Diane von Furstenberg took the stage to introduce Beyoncé, saying she represented everything women aspire to be. “The image of a woman in charge has never looked more glamorous,” the designer said.
The surprise honoree was one highlight of an evening that also included a touching tribute to the late David Bowie, from his friend, actress Tilda Swinton. Swinton’s speech took the form of a letter she’d written to the singer, telling him he was being honored “for all your colors, all your magic, all your vim and vigor.”
“This is a good thing: You have brought out the freak in everyone,” Swinton said. Her tribute was followed by a performance of Bowie’s song “Changes” by actor Michael C. Hall, a star of Bowie’s musical, “Lazarus.”
And another recently departed rock legend was also memorialized in Monday’s ceremony: Prince, who received a musical tribute from Jennifer Hudson to close out the show, including a rousing rendition of his song “Let’s Go Crazy.”
There was one brief, but enthusiastic reference to politics, when Vogue editor Anna Wintour took the stage to present the International Award to Alessandro Michele of Gucci. But first, she wanted to tell the crowd the news that had broken during the ceremony – reports of Hillary Clinton becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee based on delegate counts. Wintour, long active in Democratic Party fundraising, raised her arms in triumph.
In major awards, Marc Jacobs won the prize for womenswear designer of the year, accepting his trophy in a black T-shirt. “Marc, we have your tux backstage,” quipped the evening’s host, comedian and actor Joel McHale. The menswear prize went to Thom Browne, and the accessory prize to Rachel Mansur and Floriana Gavriel.
Norma Kamali, famous for her “sleeping bag” coats and her swimsuits – including the red one actress Farrah Fawcett wore in her famous poster – received the lifetime achievement award from presenter Michael Kors, and Donna Karan was handed the Founder’s Award from friend and designer Calvin Klein.
The three Swarovski awards for emerging designers went to Paul Andrew for accessories, to the Orley label for menswear, and to Brandon Maxwell for womenswear. Maxwell, Lady Gaga’s stylist, spoke movingly about growing up “very gay in a very small town” in Texas, where styling his female friends gave him a sense of purpose in life.
But the show’s finale was all about Beyoncé, who along with her glittering pantsuit wore a large, black wide-brimmed hat.
She praised fashion designers for being, in her words, fairy godmothers, magicians, sculptors – “and sometimes even our therapists.”
“I encourage you to not forget this power that you have, or take it lightly,” the singer said. “We have an opportunity to contribute to a society where any girl can look at a billboard or a magazine cover and see her own reflection.”