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I guarantee there will be a mixture of cheers and tears when we host the FNAAs tomorrow night. There is always a certain magic (some would say crazy magic!) in the room — a palpable energy that comes from putting the best players from a very diverse yet increasingly connected business together on one stage.
The event is chock-full of emotion, part of the FNAA lore since the early days when the awards resembled more of a family gathering. Today, refashioned as a glam, red-carpet affair, the production values have been amped up, but the heart and soul of the awards still beats within, driven by the big personalities and the fascinating ties that bind a close-knit group of successful designers, retail giants, brand stewards and legends.
The 2012 winners, chosen by FN's talented editorial team, speak volumes about the state of the industry and the people who rule it. From young upstarts to industry legends, the lineup serves as a time capsule of what made this such a dramatic year.
The major link between winners can be summed up in two words: world domination. Grandiose as it may be, the truth is that the inspiring brand stories and the most talented executives and creative types play to a much bigger audience today by design and by demand. Their success is predicated on the ability to engage a more demanding and distracted global consumer.
The story of how each of the 14 winners reached the stage is nothing short of fascinating.
Icon Award for Social Impact
A relatively new award, this honor goes to industry players that have raised the bar in philanthropic endeavors. Those who know Bob Campbell understand that giving back is central to the fabric of his working life. A legend in shoeland, he has achieved remarkable success in business and has used those spectacular gains to make a real difference to those in need.
Vivian Infantino Emerging Talent
Sophia Webster is the name to remember. Under the impressive tutelage of none other than Nicholas Kirkwood, Webster has taken the industry by storm right out of the gate with fun, sexy shoes that reveal an artistry far beyond this young designer's years.
Retailer of the Year
Macy's didn't just elevate the retail stakes, it blew them away with a dazzling display of commitment that placed shoes front and center as the revamped flagship's signature offering. While other department stores remodeled and enlarged, Macy's nabbed bragging rights to one of the biggest selections of women's footwear in the world. Take that, Selfridges!
Company of the Year
Blake Krueger has the quiet, forceful determination that makes things happen — big time. When Wolverine acquired Collective Brands' wholesale division in one of the year's most talked-about deals, the newly formed powerhouse instantly commanded attention. For Krueger and team, the move took the well-respected firm from key player to defining giant.
Brands of the Year
Brooks assumed the No. 1 spot in running specialty stores by staying focused on the prize: the consumer. With smart product and technical innovation, the firm muscled in on the competition in a marathon grab for market share. And Sam Edelman, a bona-fide shoe legend, is riding the wave of his namesake success. This year found the brand in the zone, pushing all the buttons by opening its first store, starting a second line and, as the year wrapped, securing the Sam & Libby name.
Designer of the Year
Charlotte Olympia Dellal's bid for world domination rests on a mix of great business savvy, strong insider buzz and a flirty design sense. But the real hidden weapon is Charlotte herself, the best inspiration a designer ever had. With smoky charm, Ms. Dellal roams the globe exciting editors and retailers alike with her latest whimsical creations. Watch out, world. This is a girl who could steal your sole.
Marketer of the Year
Take Rebecca Minkoff's talent for design, add her brother's magic for branding and you have a powerful family act that hasn't missed a beat. Still young, the label has woven itself into the young shopper's consciousness via a clever and well-coordinated social media strategy that has driven measurable results far beyond its bigger and more-monied competitors.
Athletic Retailer of the Year
They've got game. A consistent and powerful financial performance has made Foot Locker a retail darling on Wall Street. But that's only part of the story. Ken Hicks and team achieve those results by constantly assessing the consumer's appetite for all things athletic and adjusting accordingly. They manage to be giant and nimble at the same time. No small feat.
Style Influencer of the Year
Our newest honor goes to one of fashion's hardest-working talents, Tabitha Simmons. For years, Ms. Simmons has been a key stylist, working with some of the biggest names in the business. But her ever-growing shoe collection brings her center stage. Simmons' sexy, minimal-yet-sophisticated style resonates with global "it" girls. She's only just begun to thrill.
Hall of Fame
How do you pay homage to three towering talents who are shaping the business today? Ron Frasch has been an advocate and mentor to every major young name in the business, while Ron Fromm continues to use his considerable power and clout to help the next generation of leaders. And Stephen Rubin's commanding position as the head of a family dynasty defines the intersection of fashion and sport around the globe.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Last year, this honor was named for its first recipient, Manolo Blahnik. This year, Stuart Weitzman is celebrated for his incredible career. It's fitting that the hard-charging designer is at the top of his game. With one of the first American shoe brands to fully understand and harness the global story, Weitzman has achieved a level of world domination envied by all.