CFDA Awards: Beyoncé, in a speech to the fashion elite, reminds them of when they wouldn’t dress her

Fashion icon.
Fashion icon.
Image: Getty Images/Theo Wargo
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Beyoncé made a surprise appearance at last night’s Council of Fashion Designer of America (CFDA) Awards in New York. The CFDA named her this year’s Fashion Icon—an honor that’s been bestowed upon stars such as Kate Moss, Rihanna, and Pharrell Williams in past years.

For Beyoncé, who wore a striped Givenchy suit and the broad-brimmed hat that’s quickly becoming a signature, the award was particularly poignant. Her fans are used to seeing the pop star sporting recognizable clothes by luxury labels: “I’m so reckless when I rock my Givenchy dress,” she growls in “Formation,” and fashion blogs write play-by-plays of every bodysuit, gown, and accessory Bey wears on stage, carpet, and screen.

But for the singer herself, that’s relatively new. She told the fashion royalty assembled at the awards show Monday (June 6) that designers wouldn’t dress her band Destiny’s Child—”four black, country, curvy girls.” Her mother, Tina Knowles, turned to her own “talent and creativity” to dress the young women (and even wrote a book about achieving that “bootylicious” style): “My mother and my uncle, God rest his soul, made all of our first costumes, individually sewing hundreds of crystals and pearls, putting so much passion and love into every small detail.”

“When I wore these clothes I felt like Khaleesi,” Beyoncé told the crowd. “I had an extra suit of armor. It was so much deeper than any brand name.”

Even as recently as two years ago, the New York Times’ fashion critic Vanessa Friedman wrote that ”Beyoncé hasn’t moved, or influenced, the direction of fashion writ large,” when several of the singer’s costumes were put on display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland:

She doesn’t worm her way into designers’ imaginations, the way Patti Smith and Courtney Love did. Her stylist has not become a well-known name in his own right, the way Nicola Formichetti has moved from working with Lady Gaga (who also won the CFDA Fashion Icon award in 2011) to becoming the creative director and frontman of Diesel.

Today, it’s hard to imagine that Beyoncé hasn’t “wormed her way into designers’ imaginations,” and Friedman herself recognized the deft way Beyoncé used fashion to support—but not overwhelm—her artistic message in this year’s visual album, “Lemonade.”

Here’s Beyoncé’s full speech, originally published on Vogue Runway:

Thank you so much, Diane, for the things you just said about me. I feel so much love and I feel so proud. As long as I can remember, fashion has been part of my life. Its effect on me actually started before I was born. Many of you guys don’t know this, but my grandmother was a seamstress. My grandparents did not have enough money, they could not afford my mother’s Catholic school tuition. So my grandmother sewed clothes for the priests and the nuns and made uniforms for the students in exchange for my mother’s education. She then passed this gift onto my mother and taught her how to sew.

Starting out in Destiny’s Child, high-end labels didn’t really want to dress four black, country, curvy girls, and we couldn’t afford designer dresses and couture. My mother was rejected from every showroom in New York. But like my grandmother, she used her talent and her creativity to give her children their dreams. My mother and my uncle, God rest his soul, made all of our first costumes, individually sewing hundreds of crystals and pearls, putting so much passion and love into every small detail. When I wore these clothes I felt like Khaleesi. I had an extra suit of armor. It was so much deeper than any brand name.

My mother is fabulous and beautiful and she’s here tonight. My mother, my grandmother, and my uncle are always with me so I cannot fail. My mother actually designed my wedding dress, my prom dress, my first CFDA Award dress, my first Grammy dress, and the list goes on and on. And this to me is the true power and potential of fashion. It’s a tool for finding your own identity. It transcends style, and it’s a time capsule of all of our greatest milestones. So to my mother, my grandmother, my uncle, thank y’all. Thank you for showing me that having presence is about far more than the clothes you wear and your physical beauty. Thank you for showing me how to take risks, work hard, and live life on my own terms.

I want to say thank you to every designer who works tirelessly to make people think they can write their own story. Y’all are fairy godmothers, magicians, sculptors, and sometimes even our therapists. I encourage you to not forget this power you have or to take it lightly. We have the opportunity to contribute to a society where any girl can look at a billboard or magazine cover and see her own reflection. Soul has no color, no shape, no form. Just like all of your work, it goes far beyond what the eye can see. You have the power to change perception, to inspire and empower, and to show people how to embrace their complications, and see the flaws, and the true beauty and strength that’s inside all of us. Thank you so much for this incredible award, I’ll never forget this night. God bless you all. Thank you.