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Fashion industry pays tribute to first lady's 'meteoric rise'

AMERICA'S fashion industry made it clear at its annual awards ceremony on Monday night that it was looking to future stars to see it past the recession, shunning longtime favorites and honoring a largely new guard: Rodarte, Proenza Schouler, Alexander Wang - and Michelle Obama.

The Council of Fashion Designers of America's special tribute award went to the first lady.

Noting her "meteoric rise as a fashion icon," CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg said Obama had "a unique look that balances the duality of her lives" in her roles as trusted adviser to her husband, President Barack Obama, and busy mother to their two daughters.

Although she was missing from the crowd at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, Obama's presence was felt throughout the star-studded ceremony.

It took host Tracey Ullman less than two minutes to mention the new first lady of fashion. As complimentary as she was, though, Ullman, who is British, did say Obama shouldn't have worn a cardigan to meet Queen Elizabeth.

Obama accepted her award via a pre-taped video speech. Wearing a crisp white button-down shirt and two strands of pearls, she honored fashion as an American "art form" with "ingenuity and craftsmanship that contribute so much to our economy and culture."

Laura and Kate Mulleavy, the California-based sisters behind Rodarte, seemed surprised when Diane Kruger announced that they had won the big prize of the night as the nation's top womenswear designers. It was only last year that they won the award for emerging talent.

"It's so hard to be up here when we think where we started, making clothes in our house three years ago," Kate Mulleavy said. "We never thought we'd be a part of this world."

Rodarte beat industry veterans Narciso Rodriguez and Marc Jacobs, while Proenza Schouler's Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez topped Jacobs and Vera Wang in the accessories category.

Jacobs didn't go home empty-handed, though.

He was named the top international designer for Louis Vuitton.

Italo Zucchelli for Calvin Klein and Scott Sternberg for Band of Outsiders tied in the menswear category.

Alexander Wang beat Jason Wu and Thakoon Panichgul, both favorites of Obama, for the Swarovski Award as the up-and-coming womenswear designer, while Justin Giunta for Subversive Jewelry won for accessories and Tim Hamilton won for menswear.

Industry icon Ralph Lauren won an award after being chosen by 16,000 online voters as their favorite designer.


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