“Because business as usual just doesn’t happen for us anymore,” said CEO and president of the accessories council Karen Giberson, kicking off the 2023 ACE awards. Wednesday night was the awards’ 27th edition, held at Cipriani 42nd Street with industry veterans, creatives, emerging talent and legacy executives coming together to fete individuals and companies who have furthered the awareness and use of accessories.
“While we celebrate tonight’s achievements,” Giberson said to a packed house, highlighting the serious longevity of some of the brand’s present, “we know looking back is not an option. We must plan forward and do it together.”
Giberson lit a match to what was a big theme throughout the night: the resiliency of modern brands in an ever-changing landscape.
“These days my style is always meant to be elevated and effortless,” Julianne Hough, who took home the award for Style Ambassador, said, speaking on how her style has evolved from a childhood in the States, living in London to study dance and her time in New York City. ”There is always an accessory for each of my many personalities,” she said, creating a laugh throughout the room.
Mickey Drexler received the Visionary Award, which was presented by his son Alex and daughter Katherine, who spoke on what they have learned from their father in both life and in business. Drexler spent time telling stories and making the crowd laugh, so engaged that when leaving the podium, rather than going backstage, he walked right into the crowd to continue his conversation at a few tables.
Sustainability evolution was another big cornerstone of the night, with the Sustainability Award going to House of LR&C, a brand from Russell Wilson, Ciara and Christine Day, presented by chairman of the Accessories Council Frank Zambrelli. Ciara spoke about sustainability as a conversation brands need to continually have when making choices about what they create, thinking on it as an organic part of business. She, too, said she is interested in some face time with Drexler to talk business, a sentiment shared by many in the room.
Toward the end of the night Alexis Bittar, who sold his namesake business in 2015 to focus on family and philanthropy but bought it back in 2021, took home the award for Brand Innovation. Elle fashion director and stylist Alex White presented, speaking about knowing Bittar since his early days in business and their longstanding friendship. “In less than a year and a half, he has bought back his business and has six freestanding stores,” White told the crowd, pointing out that what really strikes her is his passion for diversity and inclusion. “It’s good to be back,” Bittar sheepishly said to applause.
“I’ve been emerging for 11 years,“ designer Dee Ocleppo said to WWD backstage, when asked about receiving the Emerging Designer Award. She was quick to point out the amount of legacy brands in the room compared to her young namesake label. In a little over five years, her take on affordable luxury has resonated, while still growing the business. “We’re selling a lot of shoes now,“ she said, with more to come. “We’re looking to expand into apparel and other things.”
Ocleppo’s speech highlighted that she doesn’t do this alone, thanking her team and her husband Tommy Hilfiger, who continue to guide her way.
“I’m just so inspired by her every single day,” Kris Jenner, who presented Ocleppo with her award, said backstage. “I really am. She’s got the most amazing work ethic. She’s creative and talented and beyond that, I never know what she’s going to do next. She never stops. I can’t even keep up with her.”
The two share a special friendship and make showing up for each other a priority. “You spend so much time with each other’s family and her husband Tommy. He’s one of my dearest friends as well,“ Jenner explained. “And I really feel like he’s been a mentor to me. And they both have [been a mentor,] so that’s something really special that you don’t often find in life and you get maybe one time like that very special blessing that comes along and I just never take it for granted.”
Other awards during the night included the Legacy Award for Echo New York; Retail Innovation to retailer Fashionphile; Couturier to Judith Leiber Couture; Retailer of the Year to Von Maur, and Brand of the Year to Wolverine.
“I’m amazed at the remarkable ability the industry has had to refocus, adjust and position themselves to thrive in today’s environment with a sustainable focus,” GIberson said.
This year’s event sponsors included Marchon Eyewear; Brosway Italia; FashionGo; Hammitt; Caleres; EssilorLuxottica; Informa — Magic, Project, Coterie; Judith Leiber Couture; Safilo Group; Signal Brands; Steve Madden; The Jewelry Group and Wolverine.
This story was reported by WWD and originally appeared on WWD.com.