By David X. Prutting/BFA/Rex/Shutterstock.
Beyoncé has done it again. First, she caused a stir with another surprise album drop (Lemonade), and now the superstar stunned the crowd of fashion-forward celebs, designers, and models at the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards Monday night by popping up at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom with Jay Z; their four-year-old daughter, Blue Ivy; and her mom, Tina Knowles, by her side.
The Grammy winner made a rare and candid speech about her family as she was honored with the C.F.D.A.’s Fashion Icon Award before a crowd that included Jessica Chastain, Ansel Elgort, Michael Kors, and Karlie Kloss in awe.
“I feel so much love and I feel so proud right now,” Beyoncé told the crowd just moments after she received a standing ovation. “As long as I can remember fashion has always been a part of my life. This effect on me actually started before I was born. Most of you guys don’t know this but my grandmother was a seamstress. My grandparents did not have enough money. They could not afford my mother’s Catholic-school tuition, so my grandmother sold clothes for the priests and the nuns and made the uniforms for the students in exchange for my mother’s education. She then passed this gift down to my mother and taught her how to sew.”
Dressed in a one-of-a-kind, glittering pinstripe couture Givenchy suit by Riccardo Tisci and accessorized with an oversize brimmed black hat, Beyoncé pointed out that her mother’s sewing talents were vital in launching her career in the late 1990s as the lead singer of the R&B group Destiny’s Child.
“When we were starting out in Destiny’s Child, high-end labels didn’t really want to dress four black, country, curvy girls. And we couldn’t afford designer dresses and couture,” she said. “My mother was rejected from every showroom in New York. But like my grandmother, she used her talent and her creativity to give her children their dreams.”
Beyoncé’s mother, Tina, and uncle Johnny designed all of Destiny’s Child’s costumes and made each piece by hand and spent countless hours sewing crystals and pearls and making sure every detail was perfect, the singer said.
“When I wore these clothes onstage I felt like Khaleesi,” she continued. “I had an extra suit of armor. It was so much deeper than any brand name.”
She wrapped up her nearly five-minute speech with words of gratitude for her family members. “So to my mother, my uncle, my grandma, thank y’all. Thank for showing me that your presence is far more than the clothes you wear and your physical beauty. Thank you for showing me to never take no for an answer. Thank you for showing me how to take risks, work hard, and live life on my own terms.”
As for the night’s other top awards, Menswear Designer of the Year went to Thom Browne (his third win), and Womenswear Designer of the Year went to Marc Jacobs. Designer Brandon Maxwell, Lady Gaga’s stylist, moved the crowd and left Naomi Campbell in tears when he delivered a touching acceptance speech about how fashion saved his life while he collected the Swarovski Award for Womenswear.
The 31-year-old talked about his difficult experience growing up gay in a small Texas town, and how designing clothes gave him a sense of hope and opportunity to be true to himself. “I only had women in my life to stay in with me on the weekends and make me feel normal and let me dress them up,” he said. “It gave me a purpose in life and it made me feel like I could get by and be myself.”
Backstage, Maxwell told Vanity Fair that he created his own world with his female friends to feel safe from gay bashing. “I was scared to go out because I was afraid I was going to get beat up, or people would talk badly about me. So I stayed in, and that’s how I discovered my love for fashion and for creating things,” he said. “That saved me.”
Another highlight from the evening included a moving tribute to the late David Bowie. The iconic rock star’s friend, actress Tilda Swinton, accepted the Board of Directors’ Tribute—the C.F.D.A.’s highest prize—on his behalf and delivered a speech in the form of a letter she had written to him. “You have brought out the freak in everyone, and this is a good thing,” she said. “We honor you for all your colors, all your magic, all your vim and vigor.” Her tribute concluded with a performance of Bowie’s hit song “Changes” by actorMichael C. Hall, who starred in Bowie’s Off Broadway musical, Lazarus.
“David was such a good friend to everyone in the industry, so it was a natural thing that we wanted to remember and celebrate him, not just as a musician, but as someone who influenced style,” C.F.D.A. president Steven Kolb said on the red carpet. “He was not only a pioneer, but also someone who had great confidence and ease about himself, and that’s what fashion is all about.”