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A Ten for Ten

Keynote speaker Tom Ford puts the sizzle in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund's anniversary party

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"Someone's gotta keep starting things in this country, or else where are we gonna be?" pronounced Mike Feldman, the entrepreneur behind Parabellum, at last night's CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Awards. He and Jason Jones, the designer and cofounder of Parabellum, one of the evening's finalists, qualify as outliers on a lineup noteworthy for its relative lack of familiar names, but not even Diane von Furstenberg, the president of the CFDA herself, could've better summed up the guiding principle behind the Fund.

This year's runners-up awards went to jewelry designer Marc Alary and the eveningwear maker Juan Carlos Obando, who was also a finalist back in 2008. The big prize, all $300,000 of it, was picked up by Public School's Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, the winners of the Swarovski Award for Menswear back in June. Prabal Gurung, for one, was thrilled. "I've known them since the Incubator," he said of his onetime neighbors in the CFDA-subsidized studio space. "They have a unique voice, and they're their own customers. But more important, they're such nice guys. I always feel nice people win."

Chow and Osborne were one of four pairs among the finalists. "It was all about the twos this year," selection committee member Ken Downing, of Neiman Marcus, said earlier. In the end, though, the event was about the power of ten. "This year's Fashion Fund is perhaps even more special than any other, because this is our ten-year anniversary," declared Vogue's Anna Wintour. "The Fashion Fund was born out of a moment of great adversity for young American designers struggling post-9/11. Our intention was both to help them and to establish the next generation of American fashion." Now, $3.8 million and thirty winners and runners-up later, the next generation is thriving. Proenza Schouler's Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, Derek Lam, and Phillip Lim—Funders all of them—can count themselves as part of the American establishment. But who among them couldn't learn something from Tom Ford?

The evening's keynote speaker, Ford did not disappoint. After buttering up the crowd with a story about meeting the Vogue editor in chief on a nude beach and leaning in to kiss her good-bye, only to realize, "Oh, my god, I am absolutely naked," he launched into a nearly thirty-minute speech that was short on autobiography and long on designer advice. "You have to love what you do to the point that you can't imagine doing anything else with your life. Otherwise, you need to get out now, and that's not a joke," he began. "Fashion is tougher than all the other arts. We have to design and produce on a relentless, rigorous schedule. We have to have genius creative thoughts precisely four times a year, and on exact dates." Among Ford's tips: "Never sell a controlling interest in your name"; "Know your ideal client, and know your real client—they aren't necessarily the same"; "It's all about the entourage—surround yourself with the right people"; "Have a five-year plan, a ten-year plan…and possibly an exit strategy"; "Believe in what you do"; and, "this is absolutely key—Find a great business partner." To finish, he offered a final piece of advice from his father: "He once told me his secret to staying calm was to remember that we all have it in our power to say, 'Fuck it,' and go to bed. Somehow, the next morning, everything will seem much better."

"I want the transcript," Gurung said later. There's a reason they call Ford "Mr. Hollywood."

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