History

The CFDA was founded in 1962 by Eleanor Lambert, a true force in the fashion world. In 2001, an award was created in her name to give special recognition to other industry influencers.

Eleanor Lambert

Eleanor Lambert believed in destiny — her own destiny – predicted by a fortuneteller – that she would live a long life and know the greatest and most talented people of her era. Miss Lambert also believed in the destiny of American fashion and for that, she needed no fortuneteller. Eleanor Lambert lived to be 100 years old and she spent more than 70 of those years tirelessly creating the institutions, the legends and the spectacular events that put American fashion on the map and changed the way the whole world views and experiences fashion.

She was uniquely qualified for the job – coming from the world of art in the 1920s and 1930s – representing American artists who were considered on par with their European counterparts. Ironically, convincing American fashion editors would prove to be the hardest job of all!

Eleanor Lambert (Mrs. Seymour Berkson) was one of the outstanding publicists in America in fashion, interior design, and other areas of the arts, philanthropy and contemporary taste. She was a pioneer in bringing American fashion and fashion designers to their present international stature, and played a significant role in establishing fashion as an influential element of contemporary living.

Born in Crawfordsville, Indiana, Miss Lambert attended John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis and the Chicago Art Institute, studying sculpture and doing fashion sketches and fashion reporting to earn her way to a professional career in New York.

Her first job, with a Manhattan advertising agency, involved initiating publicity programs for book publishers, art galleries and artists. She was involved in the opening and was the original Press Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art in the early 1930s and was involved with founding the Museum of Modern Art. She represented such American Artists as Thomas Benton, Walt Kuhn, Jackson Pollack, John Curry, George Bellows, Jacob Epstein and Isamu Noguchi. She helped establish the American Art Dealers Association and represented it in its early years.

Her conviction that clothing design can be an art form in the hands of the extraordinarily talented brought her the opportunity to represent many now-famous and legendary designers. As Press Director of the American fashion industry’s first promotional organization, the New York Dress institute, she organized the semi-annual Fashion Press Week in New York as a coordinated schedule of designer collections for the international press. She initiated a similar schedule for the European fashion capitals establishing the coordinated centralized showings now followed around the world.

Miss Lambert originated the idea of the spectacular fashion show for charity and entertainment with memorable events such as the March of Dimes fashion shows, continuous shows at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, several Easter spectaculars at the Radio City Music Hall, and the Franco-American fashion show held in 1973 in the Palace of Versailles that became the defining moment in the acceptance of American fashion.

Eleanor Lambert helped conceive The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s first Costume Institute Benefit in 1948 as a midnight supper and dubbed it “The Party of the Year.”

The US Government departments of State and Commerce appointed Eleanor Lambert to assemble and produce official showings of American fashion in Russia (twice, in 1959 and 1967), Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Britain, Italy, and Australia. In most instances, these offered the first public view of American Fashion in each country. She also organized government-funded trade shows of American designer collections in London, Zurich, Dusseldorf, Tokyo, and other fashion centers, inaugurating America’s presence as a world fashion market.

Eleanor Lambert was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to the National Council on the Arts of the National Endowment for the Arts at its founding in 1965 and was the only member from the original National Council on the Arts to serve on the National Endowment of the Arts Board.

In 1962, she organized the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and was an honorary member until her death in 2003. In 1988, she received the Council’s CFDA Award for Lifetime Achievement in the cause of fashion and in 1993 she received the CFDA’s Industry Tribute Award.

In 2001, the CFDA created The Eleanor Lambert Award which is awarded for a unique contribution to the world of fashion and/or deserves the industry’s special recognition.

She originated and conduced The Coty Awards, the preeminent fashion honor from 1943-1968. She was the founder and coordinator of the International Best Dressed Poll, recognized as the authoritative annual record of contemporary taste in dress since 1941. She handed custodial duties of the list to Vanity Fair shortly before her death in 2003. In 1936, she was married to a well-known journalist and newspaper executive, Seymour Berkson, who died in 1959. Their son William Berkson, is a recognized poet and art critic.

Written by John Tiffany John Tiffany is currently producing a documentary and book entitled ELEANOR LAMBERT: EMPRESS of FASHION.

Past Presidents (1963 – Present)

  • Sydney Wragge

    1963-1965

  • Norman Norell

    1965-1973

  • Oscar de la Renta

    1973-1976

  • Herbert Kasper

    1977-1979

  • Bill Blass

    1980-1981

  • Mary McFadden

    1982-1983

  • Perry Ellis

    1984-1986

  • Oscar de la Renta

    1987-1989

  • Carolyne Roehm

    1989-1991

  • Stan Herman

    1991-2006

  • Diane von Furstenberg

    2006-present