What Makes a Style Icon? Beyonce's Win at the CFDA Awards

Credits: Photo - Anonymous, Styling - Sarah G. Schmidt, Location - Sarah G. Schmidt's home


Last week the 2016 Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Fashion Awards took over New York City. The CFDA recognizes excellence in multiple categories including accessories, creative vision, journalism, menswear, womenswear and lifetime achievement. The complete list of 2016 nominees and winners are here.

The most popular award for mainstream culture is likely the Fashion Icon Award. Past winners include Rihanna, Pharrell, Lady Gaga, Iman, Kate Moss and most recently, Beyonce. Queen B. What a 2016 she has had so far.

Beyonce is a singular talent. Who else comes close to her entertaining abilities, appeal, and bank statement? She is a force. Her hard-earned star prowess is rarely challenged. The Beygency will come get you. Aside from the betrayal ridden subject matter of Lemonade the only other area she seems to have adversaries is whether or not she has great style. She now has access to the most luxurious brands. But high fashion doesn’t always ensure great style. To put it simply, items of fashion do not always equal great style.

Many have differentiated her as a pop culture icon; they argue that she’s not necessarily a style icon. Some state that her style is good but not great. I personally don’t get off on her often body skimming silhouettes. The body conscious look (Grammy’s, Met Gala, etc) for nearly every black tie event is just not for me.* But that’s my taste and I understand – at least by the amount of clicked hearts that particular silhouette gets on Instagram – that I am the minority. So yes, to me it’s a style, but not great style.

Then I considered, “Does it really matter what I – or anyone – thinks is great style? Or is it all in the one who is wearing it?”

On the one hand, fashion is a 3-trillion dollar annual market built around that very question. Leveraging the desire to possess great style keeps the fashion brands fast cycle churning. On the other hand of course we will all see beauty in different ways. In the end it may not matter what anyone else thinks about what you think is beautiful.

She appears to feel good in the clothes she wears so arguably that could be enough? Feeling good in ones clothes should be enough. This is especially true for everyday people. But I might argue that we’re not stars. Are the stakes for stars and their good-or-great style higher? There’s a sentiment that because stars are looked up to they should deliver a higher standard. I was torn.

After listening to her acceptance speech I realized that for her, it’s more than what she is wearing. There’s more to her story and her relationship with fashion than I knew. Clothing has been, at times difficult, journey. Here is an excerpt from the other night:

“…Starting out in Destiny’s Child, high-end labels didn’t really want to dress four black country curvy girls, and we couldn’t afford designer dresses and couture. My mother was rejected from every showroom in New York. But like my grandmother, she used her talent and her creativity to give her children their dreams…
When I wore these clothes I felt like Khaleesi. I had an extra suit of armor. It was so much deeper than any brand name...
And this to me is the true power and potential of fashion. It’s a tool for finding your own identity. It transcends style, and it’s a time capsule of all of our greatest milestones. So to my mother, my grandmother, my uncle, thank y’all. Thank you for showing me that having presence is about far more than the clothes you wear and your physical beauty…
I want to say thank you to every designer who works tirelessly to make people think they can write their own story. Y’all are fairy godmothers, magicians, sculptors, and sometimes even our therapists. I encourage you to not forget this power you have or to take it lightly. We have the opportunity to contribute to a society where any girl can look at a billboard or magazine cover and see her own reflection. Soul has no color, no shape, no form. Just like all of your work, it goes far beyond what the eye can see. You have the power to change perception, to inspire and empower, and to show people how to embrace their complications, and see the flaws, and the true beauty and strength that’s inside all of us.”

To me, that’s everything. It no longer matters if I or anyone else thinks she has great style. She says she does and so does the CFDA. Icon status: check!

*That dazzling pant suit she wore to accept her CFDA award with the Formation-esq wide brim hat most certainly gets me going.