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Proenza Schouler designers Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough won the top prize of $200,000 from the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.

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Fashion is a tough business and getting ever-more competitive, as Isaac Mizrahi can attest. Having only recently relaunched his signature collection, he must be forgiven if his warm-up act for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund awards dinner on Thursday night came across as a tad harsh, even toward Anna Wintour, who had taken great pains during the night to champion the struggling young designers of America.

“I can’t afford to champion the new guard — I am the new guard,” said Mizrahi. “For such a glamorous business, it’s such a hard and arduous task. There are a lot of easier ways to get laid or get famous.”

With such adversities in mind, Wintour and her fellow judges in the competition had their work cut out for them, an emotional process that whittled down 170-plus applicants to the final three award recipients: Proenza Schouler designers Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough won the top prize of $200,000 and a year’s worth of mentoring from industry experts, while two runner-up prizes of $50,000 apiece were presented to Habitual designers Nicole and Michael Colovos, and Cloak designer Alexandre Plokhov.

“The process alone helped us think about our business more seriously,” Hernandez said. “To have people who pick you up and support you, it’s such a cool thing to do.”

Several of the finalists, such as Peter Som, Derek Lam and Dean Harris, similarly described the application process as a real eye-opener when it came to figuring out their long-term business plans. Doo-Ri Chung, who demonstrated her discipline in keeping expenses down by dragging some of the Vogue staff out to her studio — in Ramsey, N.J. — fondly recalled the application as “a huge book we had to fill out, but at least we brought a little class to Jersey.”

When the establishment of such a fund was conceived, in a conversation between Wintour and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, its organizers had no idea just how badly the designers were in need of financial assistance. As Michael Colovos described it, “Fashion, like poverty, is the great equalizer — we’re all struggling,” and even old souls like Zac Posen agreed that times have been especially rough since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
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