The Early Days: A Look Back at FN Achievement Awards of Years Past

It’s the shoe industry’s biggest night.

The FN Achievement Awards, often called the “Oscars of Shoes,” brings together top names from around the industry for a celebratory night honoring the best designers, brands, retailers, shoes and new talents.

Since its beginnings in 1986, the awards show has grown tremendously both in size and scale.

At the first event — a cozy breakfast gathering in New York — five awards were given out to legendary companies Foot Locker Inc., Allen-Edmonds and Fisher Camuto (the precursor to Nine West), as well as visionary entrepreneurs Joan Helpern (co-founder of Joan & David) and Paul Fireman (founder of Reebok).

By comparison, today’s awards ceremony is vastly different. Often as many as 16 honorees are feted, and the evening cocktail gathering is now a must-attend, buzz-filled red carpet extravaganza.

In recent years, the FNAAs have hosted dozens of A-list celebrities including Kanye West, Rihanna, Hailey Baldwin, Sarah Jessica Parker, Fergie, Blake Lively, Jessica Alba and Jessica Simpson. It’s also counted many sports icons as honorees and guests, such as Serena Williams, Sugar Ray Leonard, Stan Smith and Grant Hill.

Though the early days of the awards were a quieter affair, they had no shortage of star power. In 1989, Sam and Libby Edelman received their first-ever FNAA for Company of the Year (Sam & Libby). And shortly after, the duo was named People of the Year in 1991.

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Libby and Sam Edelman at the FNAAs in 1991.
CREDIT: FN Archives

In the years since, Sam Edelman has twice won Brand of the Year (2009 and 2012). And in 2015, both Sam and Libby Edelman were co-inducted into FN’s Hall of Fame.

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(L-R): Sam Edelman, Libby Edelman and Jesse Edelman at the 2015 FNAAs.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

And before he was chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and an Oscar-nominated film director, Tom Ford received the Designer of the Year award from FN in 1995.

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Tom Ford at the 1995 FNAAs.
CREDIT: FN Archives

Another magical moment took place at the 11th annual FNAAs in 1997, where Manolo Blahnik (now a five-time FNAA winner) was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He sat poker-faced next to Vogue editor André Leon Talley as he collected his second FNAA. His first was the 1992 Designer of the Year honor.

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Andre Leon Talley (L) and Manolo Blahnik at the FNAAs in 1997.
CREDIT: FN Archives

Other early standouts at the FNAAs included Anne Klein (1989 Designer of the Year) and Nike founder Phil Knight (1989 Person of the Year).

In the 1990s, the FN editorial team honored Ralph Lauren (1993 Designer of the Year), Kate Spade (1999 Launch of the Year) and Miuccia Prada (1996 Designer of the Year), and inducted Diego Della Valle, Fiamma Ferragamo and Enzo Angiolini in to the FN Hall of Fame.

The FN Achievement Awards take place each winter in New York City and honor the best and brightest in the shoe biz. The 2021 event is scheduled to take place on Nov. 30.

Click through the gallery to see more highlights from the FNAAs over the years.

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