The top tier of the fashion world keeps its ranks pretty tight, filled mostly with established names known to fill retail racks and shoppers' closets. But the Council of Fashion Designers of America each year gives three designers a chance to break through with prizes in womenswear, menswear and accessory design for emerging talent.
Those awards will be handed out Monday night at a glitzy show at Lincoln Center where the up-and-comers will share the stage with the likes of Vera Wang, who is being honored for lifetime achievement, and Oscar de la Renta, who is being celebrated for being even more fabulous. (He won the lifetime achievement award back in 1990.)
Alexander Wang and Proenza Schouler's Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez are previous emerging-talent winners who are now in the running to be named the year's best overall creator of American womenswear.
The new newbies, some attending the awards for the first time, are up for the Swarovski awards, so named because the company not only sponsors the award but also helps provide the winners with financial support and access to their crystal products.
In interviews with The Associated Press, the nominees introduced their looks, claims to fame — so far — and how fashion makes them feel:
—Cushnie et Ochs, designed by Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs.
Signature style: "It's creating this 'modern sexy' that's alluring, that's seductive, but that's also sophisticated, and highlights the female body. ... We are two female designers designing for women," says Cushnie.
The silhouette tends to be sleek and architectural, with slashes of skin replacing bells and whistles.
Claim to fame: "The first time we were in Vogue, we were shot as part of the 'new guard,'" Cushnie says.
Fashion makes me feel: "Confident."
—Suno, designed by Erin Beatty and Max Osterweis.
Signature style: "Prints" is the easy answer from Beatty. Suno launched using only Kenyan fabrics to boost that local economy, but Osterweis says to keep the brand growing, there also are knits from Peru, embroideries from India and even some handicraft from New York. "We have found other ethical places to source from and other good traditions."
Claim to fame: "Still working on it," says Osterweis.
Fashion makes me feel: "Happy today," Beatty replies. "It depends on the day. We finished our resort lookbook today."
—Creatures of the Wind, designed by Shane Gabier and Christopher Peters.
Signature style: "That's a hard question for us to answer. We're always concerned with creating an atmosphere more than a single look. We're still kind of young as a collection, and we're trying to stay nimble, and trying to avoid being pigeonholed early on," says Gabier.
The duo seems to purposely swing from one end of the pendulum to the other, creating couturelike "lady" pieces one season and masculine leather ones the next.
Claim to fame: "Being in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2011. We don't live in New York, so we're not really in the thick of things, so it's hard to really know how it's being perceived and who even knows about it — which I kind of like — but that let us grow."
Fashion makes me feel: "It makes us feel like we're doing what we're supposed to be doing."
ACCESSORIES. All nominees this year are jewelers.
Signature style: "Big bold pieces," describes Neuwirth. "I wanted it to feel like a costume jewelry line and be playful and colorful, but with the finest materials. The biggest compliment is when people say I know it's yours before I see your name."
Neuwirth has grown her business in fits and starts, beginning with one-of-a-kind pieces more than a decade ago, but it's now a bona fide collection sold in multiple retailers.
Claim to fame: "Julianne Moore wore custom emerald cuffs for the Met gala, but I really love meeting women who buy my jewelry, so the most exciting thing is when I see people wearing it on the street."
Fashion makes me feel: "constantly surprised, but in a good way."
—Jennifer Meyer Maguire.
Signature style: "My signature look is that there is something for everybody." Meyer Maguire says she's her customer, as is her neighbor and childhood friend. She aims for pieces that busy women can wear as part of their body, not a specific outfit.
Claim to fame: Jennifer Aniston wearing her necklace, fashioned with a leaf pendant, in "The Break-Up." ''She was the perfect canvas for my jewelry. I couldn't have gotten any luckier."
Fashion makes me feel: "Like there's a family with consistent fashion people who want to see their fellow fashionistas grow and get better and better.
My thing about fashion is that I had such a different idea about fashion until I became a part of this fashion world. Being part of the world is such a beautiful feeling. It embraces new talent — like a new member of the family, like I was a new baby."
Signature style: "It's eclectic, definitely bohemian while still being modern. Powerful. I think it's something that's my aesthetic anyway, but I purposely do it with my jewelry."
Jewelry brings confidence to women, Love says, and she hopes people wear her pieces as "a good luck charm." Personally, her daily jewelry wardrobe includes the engagement ring she designed with a friend and the wedding band she created with her husband.
Claim to fame: "Making sustainable jewelry here in New York City."
Fashion makes me feel: "Strong and beautiful."
Signature style: "We do bomber jackets very well, and our outerwear is very intricate. We do interesting details and fabric combinations, and find solutions for tailored jackets and suiting and execute them in a different way that what's already out there," Coppens says.
Coppens experimented with many forms of art as a child, including painting, sculpture and toyed with architecture. He says he hopes he brings all those elements to his clothes.
Claim to fame: "Up until now, it was when Barneys (New York) bought the collection before I produced anything, and the fact that we were then on the floor with known labels — all the big ones — Balenciaga, Lanvin and Thom Browne. They were all there."
Fashion makes me feel: "Like I can use fashion as a way to express myself."
Signature style: "I like to see something antique with something modern, and make something new."
Snyder sees his role as a designer a little like bit a chef, an architect, an engineer and an artist. "All the ingredients you work with are known. It's about the mix," he says.
Claim to fame: "My dad taught me at a very young age to dress well."
Fashion makes me feel: "It completes me. I've always felt fashion is an outward expression of your personality. I've always had an affinity to dress well. I was voted best dressed in high school. Whatever happens in high school becomes your mantra for the rest of your life."
—Public School, designed by Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne.
Signature style: "Taking something pretty and making it not pretty — and that sort of makes it pretty again. That's really what it is: making what's predictable unpredictable," says Chow.
Claim to fame: "We haven't claimed fame yet," says Osborne, "being nominated is the biggest thing that's happened to us thus far."
Fashion makes me feel: "special," says Chow. "I'll qualify that: Beyond clothes, it gives people identity, confidence and a leg to stand on to feel special and different than the next person."