Carson Kressley Wins the Jefferson Spirit of Design Award

Lisa Lockwood and Marni Manko

PHILADELPHIA — Emmy-Award winning style pundit, TV personality, fashion designer and New York Times best-selling author Carson Kressley was on hand Thursday night at Moulin at Sherman Mills, where he received Thomas Jefferson University’s 2019 Spirit of Design Award. Previously awarded to Stuart Weitzman, John Varvatos, Nicole Miller, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein’s Francisco Costa, the honor is presented to designers who have made outstanding contributions to the fashion and design industry through innovation.

The audience, filled to capacity with students, parents and industry insiders, knew that that night was set to be anything but staid when the festivities were kicked off by Thom Filicia, Kressley’s original interior design cohort in their breakout show, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” and costar of their current show on Bravo “Get a Room With Carson and Thom.”

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“Carson kind of tricked me into this,” said Filicia. “He originally told me this was the Spirit Awards. I was so excited! Ketel One vs. Grey Goose, which one’s going to win? And then I thought, wait, this is Spirit of Design Award. That’s great, too.” After a few minutes of good-natured quips that kept the audience in hysterics (“Carson told me he has an honorary doctorate from this university and he’s on the board — but I’m not buying it. Is there a fact-checker in the house?”), Felicia spoke of his friend’s efforts and accomplishments — at one point needing to take a pause because he was brought to tears. “The reason that he’s here tonight is because he’s so committed to this University and to you, the students. Carson is who he is, and he encourages everyone to be who they are, and to be comfortable in their skin. And that’s why there’s no one more deserving than Carson to receive the Kettle One Spirit Award, I mean, The Spirit of Design Award.”

Before Kressley accepted the award, a quick video was played featuring Jefferson students, professors and administrators, all paying homage to the honoree. (“Carson is magic” said one student). And true to form, the vibe in the room was truly magical once Kressley bound on stage. After thanking the University for the honor, telling Filicia that he owes him an extra $20 for crying so convincingly, and jokingly imploring all 2,000 people in the room to message Bravo that they love the new show, he settled in and spoke of his love for design. “Design is about making life better. It’s a chance to express ourselves, to be authentic and have fun. And always enjoy the process because we’re really making the world a more beautiful place — and we need that more now than ever before,” he reminded the students. “And remember to always be ambitious, creative and scrappy.”

The capstone fashion show followed, featuring more than 350 looks created by design and textile design students. Thomas Heidebrecht’s FlamBOYant won best senior collection, featuring tasseled garb inspired by the Birds of Paradise and notions of masculinity.

Two student collections previously shown at New York Fashion Week at the Emerging Designer’s Collective runway show were standouts, including Noel Watt’s Leftovers, showing oversized puffer jackets and ruched pants, and Vanessa Fath’s I Believe You, an experimental collection of hand-printed, upcycled denim that featured portraits of sexual abuse survivors. Fath also nabbed best of show for her Serenity Submerged mélange of ethereal pastel-shaded dresses and gowns.

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