Tuesday night’s WWD Honors was filled with poignant acceptance speeches, pledges that many fashion and beauty companies are on paths to even greater success, an invitation to Barcelona, and a presentation from Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence.

WWD awarded numerous designers and fashion, beauty and retail companies with WWD Honors, recognizing their significant achievement in their respective categories.

While some honorees were just getting started on their business journeys, Jeff Gennette, chief executive officer of Macy’s Inc., was recognized for his unparalleled 40-year journey to the top of the retail world as he prepares to retire in February and pass the reins to Bloomingdale’s executive Tony Spring.

Gennette, who received the Edward Nardoza Creative Leadership Award, studied creative writing and Victorian literature in college, but caught the retail bug while he was selling mopeds at 16 years old. He realized he could make $200 a day “just by matching customers to the needs of the products. And that was a huge intoxicating piece of my retail journey,” he said.

He entered the Macy’s training program in 1983, before starting out in the Tiger young men’s shop, where he “caught the fever and never left,” ultimately holding 19 jobs in five states for the company.

Reflecting back on his career, Gennette said he was most proud of being able to navigate the pandemic and help Macy’s “reset, get back to financial health, get back to a clean balance sheet, and be a more agile and customer-obsessed organization with new services and new platforms that would serve our diverse customer base.”

He also pointed to the development of the retailer’s inclusion and diversity program, Mission Everyone, which will invest $5 billion “to create a more equitable and sustainable future.

“So I didn’t accomplish all the goals that I wanted to under my watch, but I do believe that the business is very well poised to grow under Tony Spring,” he said.

Next up was On Holding, the buzzworthy Swiss brand founded in 2010 by former triathlete Olivier Bernhard and two friends seeking a more comfortable running shoe. Since then, the brand has gone public and grown to $1.2 billion in sales.

Britt Olsen, general manager of the Americas, accepted the award for Best Performing Fashion/Retail Company Large Cap, saying that when she started as employee number three in Portland, Ore., nine years ago, sales were under $10 million, and this year will hit $2 billion. “This award goes to a team full of challengers, designers, creative thinkers and planet caretakers,” she said, “and we’re only getting started.”

Elyse Walker, a Los Angeles-based multibrand retailer, was awarded the honor for Best-Performing Fashion/Retail Company, Small Cap, and singled out her family as key to her success. This included her husband, who supported her while she worked seven days a week to build her brand, as well as her father, who was a role model with tireless work ethic. 

“I love fashion and I love people and you’ve taught us how to treat and celebrate people,” she said of her father. “I love waking up each day and starting with a new clean slate. We’re one of the highest-grossing stores per square foot with record-breaking numbers, but I’m not here to break anyone’s numbers. I’m here to build something meaningful,” she said. 

Walker added that she tries to acknowledge her employees every day by sending early-morning texts thanking them for a job well done. And she always ends the texts the same way — a microcosm of the way she views her business as a whole: #justwarmingup.

That could also describe the career trajectory of Jacques Agbobly, who received the inaugural One to Watch award for their colorful African-inspired knitwear brand.

They started their company in 2020, and said as “an entrepreneur and fashion designer,” they strive to “produce work that defies industry norms and to make sure that I am pushing my own ideas and dreams as far as I can reach,” they said.

Although the death of their brother earlier this year nearly derailed their dreams as they found themselves mired in sorrow, they managed to recover by embracing what has always given them meaning.

“Creativity has always been my solace, providing an escape from life’s difficulties, and enabling me to paint a better vision of tomorrow,” they said. “Long ago, I made a promise to myself not to succumb to failure. And I have never looked back.”

Although they no longer has their brother, Agbobly credited the “educators who believed in me and helped encourage me to go after my dreams. Educators are the architects and shaping the next generation of ones to watch,” they said.

They concluded: “The One to Watch award is permission for all of us to believe in ourselves, to be unabashedly authentic and to stay true to our purpose.”

The next award for Best-Performing Beauty Company, Large Cap went to Puig, a third-generation family-owned fashion and fragrance business founded in 1914 and based in Barcelona. Its portfolio includes Carolina Herrera, Dries Van Noten Jean Paul Gaultier, Rabanne and Charlotte Tilbury. The company grew 40 percent in 2022 to more than 3.6 billion euros.

“It’s an honor to receive this award from such a reputable publication which I also read every day,” said Marc Puig, chairman and chief executive officer of Puig. He thanked the other honorees, especially Dries Van Noten, “who happens to be in the same family,” who won Designer of the Year.

The executive said he likes to think that Puig is “like a white page where brands can shine and a place where people can take risks.

“Puig is like the home of creativity, and it’s curious that the company, which many people have difficulty pronouncing, has grown so fast.” He said the right pronunciation is “Putch.”

He said next year, the oldest sports trophy in the world, the America’s Cup, will take place in Barcelona, where Puig is headquartered and acting as a global sponsor. “It will be the first time ever there’s a Women’s America’s Cup and it will be named Puig Women’s America’s Cup,” said Puig, who went on to invite the audience to Barcelona next year for the sailing competition.

Westman Atelier, a five-year-old independent beauty brand started by makeup artist Gucci Westman and her husband, entrepreneur David Neville, won the award for Best-Performing Beauty Company, Small Cap. Sales are said to be in the $100 million range, and that’s without killer categories such as lipstick.

“It’s so special to gain recognition for something you work so hard on. We’ve always had such tremendous support from WWD from the beginning, and that goes a long way,” said Westman. “We really are trying to make a brand that is so beautiful in so many ways, and we work super hard on the products, and when it resonates with people and it works, it just feels so good. I just feel like we have so much to do still, and we’re just getting started also. We’re just having so much fun. It’s also super tough, but it’s really rewarding; at the end of the day, we’re following our intuition and passion and there’s nothing that can really stop that,” she said.

Neville said when they started the journey eight years ago as a husband-and-wife team, “definitely a risky proposition, by the way — we have a very good couples therapist on speed dial — our objective was to create a beautiful brand that we would one day be proud of, but also to create something that really represents Gucci and her amazing career and her taste and her philosophy around ingredients.

“To see the success that we’ve had is really a testament to her vision and also the amazing work of our incredibly talented Gucci Westman team,” said Neville.

Accepting the Corporate Citizenship Honor was Chloé, which is collaborating with Angelina Jolie on her new clothing brand, Atelier Jolie, and also remains on the forefront using planet-friendly fabrics, lowering its carbon footprint and sourcing responsibly. Last March, Chloé became a mission-driven company under French law.

Franck Grandidier, president and chief executive officer of Richemont’s Americas fashion division, said, “We are very pleased and honored to receive this Corporate Citizenship award.” The business has transformed into a purpose-driven brand through ecological and social entrepreneurship… [and] this award means a lot to us and pushes us to do things right and do the right thing,” he said.

The Designer of the Year Award was presented to Dries Van Noten, a Belgian designer who was described by Miles Socha, international editor of WWD as “a gentleman, a Renaissance man, with the soul of a painter, the patience of a gardener, the hands of a tailor, and eyes wide open to all colors, cultures, periods and patterns.”

He was described as a generous designer, possessing a wide scope of expressions. Van Noten recently opened a boutique in Paris dedicated to his accessories and his new beauty line.

Van Noten thanked WWD for the “incredible honor.

“I also want to thank my team in Antwerp. They are amazing, they help create the connections and do everything that I’m dreaming of, and they help me translate my ideas into reality, which is not always easy.” He also thanked Marc Puig and the Puig family “who trust and believed in me, and continue to give me the possibility to realize my dreams,” he said.

He said a few months ago he would never imagine he would be standing in New York accepting this “amazing” award. “This award is the proof that fashion can exist is many different ways, from the small atelier fashion house to a big conglomerate, so thank you.”

The final award of the night went to Maria Grazia Chiuri, creative director, women’s haute couture, ready-to-wear and accessories collections, who received the John B. Fairchild Honor for career achievement. Working at Fendi, Valentino and now Dior, Chiuri has shown that she is more than just a creator of beautiful collections, but is a designer interested in subjects far beyond fashion and is able to tap into cultural issues to create shows, clothes and accessories that empower women and are also a commercial success.

Presenting the award to Chiuri was Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, whose films have grossed more than $6 billion worldwide. She is the second-youngest Oscar winner in history, and is also the winner of two Golden Globes and a BAFTA award, and has produced two films of her own.

“I have been a part of the incredible Dior family for many years, and continue to be inspired by Maria Grazia’s creativity, vision and dedication,” she said. She noted that as the first woman to lead the House of Dior, her commitment to artisans and knowledge “has truly defined what it means to be an impactful trailblazer in the industry.”

When her husband proposed to her, “the first thing that came to my mind was not ‘yes,’ it was ‘OMG, thank you.’ The second was ‘OMG, Dior is going to design my wedding dress,’” she said.

Chiuri was with her every step of the way, and together they looked over silhouettes and fabrics. After designing the dress, Chiuri gave her a book of sketches and photos of her fittings. “I can confidently say I had the most beautiful wedding gown in the entire world, thanks to Maria Grazia. She is truly more than her brilliance and over-the-top work ethic. It’s her thoughtfulness and care that makes her one of a kind,” said Lawrence.

Chiuri thanked Lawrence and the WWD team. “Women’s Wear Daily has been part of my life since I started to work in fashion. At the time, we were reading the news of the show on paper…I want take the opportunity to thank all the women who have inspired me. The women who have made me grow, who have collaborated with me, and have allowed me to find my voice. It’s with them that I wish to share this award.”

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