It’s been a funny, mixed-up year in fashion.
Simply consider the fact that the biggest trendsetter of September’s fashion month was neither a fashion brand nor one based in the big four fashion capitals (New York, London, Milan, Paris). It was Apple, and its unveiling of the Apple watch in Cupertino, Calif.
Or consider the fact that in June a celebrity not known for her irony got up to receive a “fashion icon” award wearing effectively nothing.
Rihanna wasn’t, as it happened, implicitly making a searing Emperor’s New Clothes commentary about the ready-to-wear universe when she accepted her prize from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in a see-through “dress” by Adam Selman, but she was creating an Instagrammable moment. As for the rest of us, we were caught between celebrating social media and bemoaning what it might mean for style.
And so it went: up and down and back and forth. During the resort shows, brands were split straight down the middle between those that opted for a mega-moment, complete with traveling collection and flown-in supermodels (Louis Vuitton, unveiling its resort collection in Monaco; Dior coming to Brooklyn), and those that refused to even allow a photo out in public until the clothes went into stores (Céline).
You might blame it on the seemingly irreconcilable standoff in Washington, one side pitted against the other, or even the unpredictable weather switcheroos from hot to cold and back again, but the oppositions were enough to give you conceptual whiplash. No wonder by the time the pre-fall collections rolled round in December, the biggest trend was a mélange of contrast print in black and white.
Fashion reflects reality. The proof is in the pattern.
Influencers: In and out
In a Kardashian world, where it often seems the bigger and blingier the better (at least for the blogosphere), the debuts of Lupita Nyong’o and Amal Alamuddin as sartorial tastemakers stood out for their sheer elegance and refusal to play the over-the-top game. Rather, they proved that restraint and exquisite taste (and a refusal to pander to the common social media denominator) can have its own explosive effect.
From her red caped Ralph Lauren at the Golden Globes to her “Nairobi blue” Prada gown at the Oscars, Nyong’o offered an ode to the memorable effects of saturated color and simple lines. The new Mrs. Clooney, a human rights lawyer, used her three-day Venetian wedding as a showcase of what it means to look smart, in every sense of the word. As role models for a new generation, both women demonstrated that powerful achievements and celebration of fashion can go hand in hand, but the latter looks ever so much better in the service of the former, as opposed to as an end in itself.
By contrast, the ubiquitous presence of Rihanna at pretty much every single fashion event in various flesh-baring outfits started to be more yawn-inducing than exciting (proof positive that, as Graydon Carter said, “The greatest asset in the world is unavailability”). Of course, she did finish the year by being named the creative director of Puma women’s collections, which in theory could mean that 2015 will herald a more selective Rihanna-for-Puma parade, but it remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence’s deal with Christian Dior, which requires her to wear the label at most red carpet events, took much of the joy out of watching her dress and suggested that, as a concept, the “brand ambassador” relationship, while it may work for the brand, can backfire for the ambassador. Lawrence clearly knows her own mind in her work. Wouldn’t it be nice to see her put it to work for her wardrobe?
Trends to wear, and to wish away
As far as trends go this was, hands-down, the year wearable tech broke through. After months of potential, in quick succession Apple, Samsung and Intel all unveiled their wrist-bound smart-band devices — the latter inking deals with not just Opening Ceremony, but Fossil (for watches) and Luxottica (for eyeglasses), too. Ralph Lauren introduced a smart shirt and smart Ricky bag, and designers from Tory Burch to Vivienne Tam to Michael Kors got serious about the techie accessory. It was about time: Finally, we no longer had to walk around looking like refugees from a “Star Trek” convention when we wanted to measure our heart rates or charge our phones.
Admittedly, there’s still a way to go before someone truly cracks the tech-chic code, but at least it’s close to item No. 1 on the style agenda. For those who preferred their trends reductive rather than additive, however, there were the twin absurdities of normcore and athleisurewear, attempts to make fashion moments out of thin air. Just because you give something a fancy name does not mean it merits any attention, and these faux “movements” were a case in point. After all, normcore effectively translates as basic nonfashion clothes, and athleisurewear is workout stuff. There’s nothing wrong with letting jeans be jeans and leggings be leggings. Can we just leave it at that?
Designer comings and goings
Even in fashion terms, it has been a year of designer musical chairs to an extent the industry has rarely seen. Some designers left brands to go to other brands, some simply left, and one returned. In February, Nicole and Michael Colovos left Helmut Lang; in June, Olivier Theyskens left Theory; and in July, it was announced that Christophe Lemaire would have his last HermÃ¨s show. In September, Jean Paul Gaultier announced his retirement from ready-to-wear; in November, Ralph Rucci said he was leaving the label that bears his name, and Marco Zanini was out at Schiaparelli; and in December, Kering announced that Frida Giannini would depart Gucci after 10 years at the label come February 2015. (Deep breath - there’s more.)
In October, Peter Copping left Nina Ricci to become the creative director of Oscar de la Renta, and Guillaume Henry announced he was leaving Carven to take Copping’s place at Ricci. Mulberry finally found a new creative director in the form of Céline’s accessory maestro, Johnny Coca (though he won’t start until next year), while HermÃ¨s appointed NadÃ¨ge Vanhee-Cybulski as the artistic director of womenswear, and Brooks Brothers signed up Zac Posen to be its womenswear designer.
The most splashy creative appointment of 2014, however, has to be John Galliano’s return after three years in the wilderness at the helm of Maison Martin Margiela. Though Anna Wintour, aka the most powerful woman in fashion, publicly embraced Galliano onstage at the British Fashion Awards in December, the jury is still out on whether the retail world, and consumers, have forgiven him for the drunken alleged anti-Semitic rant in 2011 that led to his firing from his former post as the artistic director at Christian Dior. The response to his first show, which will take place in London in January, will give us a clue.
As for the most wrenching farewells, they were to L’Wren Scott, who committed suicide in March at age 49, and Oscar de la Renta, the New York Fashion Week pillar who died in October at 82. Both sent the fashion world into mourning, though de la Renta’s death had repercussions far beyond. Often pigeonholed as the chief couturier to the ladies who lunch, de la Renta actually had an aesthetic whose influence defined multiple political regimes, celebrities and generations, from Jacqueline Kennedy to Laura Bush, Marissa Mayer to Nicki Minaj. His memorial, held in November, was the equivalent of a state occasion, with speakers that included Hillary Rodham Clinton, Henry Kissinger and Michael Bloomberg. When it comes to both designers, we know will not see their like again.
Brands as patrons, brands as plaintiffs
With its one-two punch of a transformative new designer (Nicolas GhesquiÃ¨re bowing at the March shows) and a landscape-changing new contemporary art museum (Fondation Louis Vuitton) debuting during the October shows, Louis Vuitton pretty much overshadowed every other brand at Paris Fashion Week, even counting spectacles like Dries Van Noten’s déjeuner sur le catwalk, Chanel’s supermarket sweep, Undercover’s “Swan Lake” in 51 looks and Comme des Garçons’ ode to blood and roses.
Exciting as GhesquiÃ¨re’s work was, however, it was the Fondation that may have the longest-lasting effect. Indeed, it is representative of a new movement in the luxury world, wherein brands increasingly assume the role of patron of the arts and preserver of heritage. As recession-hit central governments tighten their purse strings and direct money away from arts and toward infrastructure, luxury has stepped in to close the gap.
Aside from Vuitton, Prada also announced the creation of its modern art complex, the Rem Koolhaas-designed Fondazione Prada, which will become Milan’s first contemporary art museum when it opens next year. Versace pledged to help restore the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and Salvatore Ferragamo donated funds to renovate galleries at the Uffizi in Florence - all following earlier commitments by Fendi (the Fountain of Trevi), Tod’s (the Coliseum) and Diesel (the Bridge of Sighs). It’s proof that the next big battle in the luxury wars may have less to do with product than the promise of doing good.
Certainly it is a more productive use of time and money than the less salubrious trend toward settling problems in court, which suddenly seemed en vogue, with names like LVMH, Kering and HermÃ¨s, and which had the result of airing all sorts of dirty laundry in public. Happily, by year-end most of the squabbles had been resolved or sent home by the magistrates in charge, the relevant parties tasked with settling their differences out of court. Sometimes, a suit is just not a good look.
Long the neglected little brother of womenswear, menswear has become the hottest, fastest-growing segment of the industry, with the London Collections: Men so successful that New York Fashion Week is considering its own version. Hood by Air was among the most-discussed brands of the year, receiving a special award as part of the LVMH Young Designer’s Prize, and Estée Lauder created its first stand-alone men’s skin-care group.
Little wonder men reached new fashion icon status, with Pharrell Williams coming in at No. 5 overall — and the first man — on Google’s most searched red carpet list of 2014 thanks to his continued allegiance to the oversize Vivienne Westwood hat look, and his short-suited statement at the Oscars. For the more traditionally minded, Neil Patrick Harris followed up his award-winning Broadway stint as a cross-dresser in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” with a contract as the face (and body) of London Fog, and a job as the host of the 2015 Academy Awards.
Not that there were no missteps, chief among them President Barack Obama’s choice of a tan suit during a White House news conference in August. Until Kim Kardashian took off all her clothes for Paper magazine, the outcry came close to breaking the Internet. Proof positive, if there was any doubt, that these days, what men wear matters.
As menswear shot into overdrive, however, teenage fashion hit a major speed bump, with favored brands like American Apparel, Abercrombie & Fitch and Delia’s all facing major strife. The latter declared bankruptcy, while the former two, riven by corporate turmoil (and, in the case of American Apparel, alleged sex offenses) lost much of their appeal - and their consumer base. By December, Abercrombie’s chief executive, Mike Jeffries, had left the brand, and Dov Charney, American Apparel’s controversial founder, had been fired.
Where will the powerful economic subset of 13 to 21-year-olds turn next? At the moment, the field looks wide open. Something to watch for, in 2015.