03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Big Fashion Night Out: Words of Wisdom at CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Awards

Last night the Council of Fashion Designers of America awarded their Fashion Fund Award (a year of mentoring and $200,000) to Sophie Theallet. After Anna Wintour and Diane von Furstenburg took the stage and made their thank yous, Nicole Kidman introduced Alber Elbaz, who, she said, graduated from the toughest fashion school: the atelier of Geoffrey Beene. She recalled the first time that she met him in Paris when he told her had something that would like wonderful on her. "It was a silk sack," she said. But once she put it on, "it was an extraordinary evening dress." That is great fashion. She said: "It looks like nothing until you put it on and then it is extraordinary art."

Alber Elbaz, who warmed the crowd up with jokes about his weight and references to the presence of "the Google lady," Marissa Meyer, emphasized what he learned from his mentors Geoffrey Beene and Yves Saint Laurent. That to be good you have to work hard and have talent. "Many designers are famous," he said, "so now people think all it takes is to be famous." He and the rest of his colleagues in the room know that hard work trumps celebrity, and they knew it before Lindsay Lohan sent her ridiculous creations down the catwalk last month. When Elbaz was working for Saint Laurent, he saw him before a show looking very stressed. "You are still stressed after all of these years?" Elbaz asked. "Yes," he replied. "It is because of all these years." Of course, when you are just starting out, it is hard to believe that with acclaim comes an attendant burden of high expectations.

From his years with Beene, Elbaz told of remarking to the designer that one of his creations was commercial. Beene pulled him aside and said, "Don't ever use the word 'commercial.' Say 'desirable.'" Finally, he warned all of the finalists: "Success is like a perfume. Smell it. Sniff it. But don't drink it." Perhaps, the wisest words, though, came from his grandmother who told him before she died to be big and small. He admitted that at first he didn't know if she was referring to his short round stature. No, she meant that he should be big in his job, with great success, but simple, humble and approachable in life.

Read about CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner Sophie Theallat and her responsible design.