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As definitively different as their work is, the 2011 National Design Awards’ winners were unwaveringly united about championing the inclusiveness of design at Thursday’s gala.
More than 600 guests turned up at Pier Sixty where emcee Natalie Morales and Pharrell Williams and Sigourney Weaver, who were among the presenters, provided the event’s star factor. And via a pretaped video, Bill Clinton, a proponent of all things sustainable, praised Knoll, winner of the Corporate and Institutional award. Sting and Trudie Styler were also beamed in, saluting Interior Design winners Peter Shelton and Lee Mindel, who once referred to the couple’s taste as a cross between Liberace and Versace. Lizzie Tisch, Ambra Medda, Lisa Airan, Linda Fargo and the Cooper-Hewitt’s associate director Caroline Baumann helped up the fashion ante by wearing gowns from Fashion Award winner Gilles Mendel. Prabal Gurung and Jason Wu were runners-up.
A fifth-generation furrier, the designer, who is equally known for his J.Mendel ready-to-wear, recalled how a proud salesman once told him, “Gilles Mendel, you make fur that doesn’t keep you warm.” Lighthearted as he was at times, Mendel compared the honor to “a true example of the American dream.”
In a David Stark-designed room with oversize numbers, symbols and graphics that seemed to reflect the hyperkinetic, Internet-happy world we live in, several honorees hinted at the compulsion that goes with their job titles. Interaction Design winner Ben Fry seemed to speak for many of the overachievers in the crowd when he said, “Design is not something that you either do or not, but rather you cannot help but keep making things.”
Other winners included Steven Heller, the author and editor of 130-plus books and a longtime New York Times staffer, who took home the Design Mind award; Debbie Millman, who has interviewed more than 150 designers for her podcast Design Matters on Design Observer, took home the People’s Choice award; Gianfranco Zaccai, whose Continuum consultancy picked up the Product Design prize, and Matthew Carter, who won the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Carter, whose 50-year career has resulted in some of the world’s most recognizable typefaces, sounded vigilant as ever about the power of design. And among other things, being a National Design Award winner, he said, would enable him to reduce his résumé to four simple words, and in doing so spares a few trees.