“You are definitely woke,” Gloria Steinem said, surveying the audience, in their sequins, frills, and furbelows, in the Hammerstein Ballroom at tonight’s CFDA Awards. As someone who has never finished a hem or participated in a design collaboration, Steinem might have seemed like an unexpected honoree for the night. But in 2017, even a glitzy fashion event can have the feeling of a unlikely political rally.
In her speech accepting the Board of Directors’ Tribute Award alongside fellow honorees and Women’s March stars Cecile Richards and Janelle Monae, Steinem swiftly took the audience through the importance of reproductive rights (“It turns out controlling women’s bodies is the first step in every hierarchy”), intersectional feminism (“part of being woke means that you can’t be a feminist without being anti-racist, and vice versa”), and even a nod to climate change (“Trump-like walls cannot stop poisoned air, or rising oceans, or even hungry and desperate refugees”).
In this charged environment, the mere words Planned Parenthood served as an applause line, as Richards dedicated her trophy to the one in five American women who have received care there. “At Planned Parenthood, our motto is ‘Care no matter what,’ which is either a promise or a threat depending on where you sit,” she said wryly. Monae finished out the night with a chant redolent of the Women’s March: “Women’s rights are human rights, LGBTQ rights are human rights, poor folks’ rights are human rights, minority rights are human rights.” The crowd went wild.
Considering the un-woke fashion industry’s missteps over the years and its reputation for being, shall we say, unenlightened at times, it was hard to adjust to the shift from starlets to social activists as the focal point of the event. But a lot can change in a year. “I’m not crazy enough to think this is individual. This is about a movement,” Steinem had told the Cut earlier on the red carpet. “It’s really symbolic of a movement, and in a way all three of us are.”
In the audience, which included other figures outside fashion, like Huma Abedin and Janet Mock, many were starstruck by the trio. The model Karen Elson personally thanked Steinem for introducing her to feminism, while Kerry Washington could be seen confab-ing with Richards. Even the fashion had an unusually militant feel: Lisa Mayock of the line Monogram sported her version of black tie: a T-shirt that read, “Resist, Persist, Insist.”
Still, the fashion wasn’t all strident. After thanking her fellow honorees, Steinem added, “And thank you to my friend, Michael Kors, for these.” She stuck a shiny bell-bottomed leg out from behind the lectern. “Are these not great pants?”
Additional reporting by Sarah Spellings.