The fashion circus somersaulted its way through 2015, its merry-go-round spinning ever faster, its social media feeds ever more elastic, its jaw-dropping acts increasingly … well, jaw dropping as the year went on: Paris re-created in Rome! Performance artists on a pier! A show as a music video!
What stood out amid this year’s silk-draped, star-spangled carnival? Let us count the defining moments and memories on two hands.
1. The trending topic was time: By summer, time was all anyone could talk about: the lack of it, the impossibility of being creative without it. Too many collections, too much travel, too much social media, too much shopping, went the refrain. Woe is us; there is no moment to reflect. Does this sound familiar? Time has been a fashion bugaboo before, but this year the pressure reached a new intensity, cited as the culprit for various designer departures. Still, no one seems to know how to slow down the cycle. Not even Apple.
2. Gucci achieved total front-row domination: When Alessandro Michele took the reins at the house the horse-bit loafer built in January, Gucci was widely regarded as having lost its oomph, creatively and commercially.
Jump ahead one season, and the newly renovated store in Milan was being pillaged by rampaging editors, and seemingly half of the front row was turned out in looks from Michele’s debut collection, from his kangaroo-fur-lined house slipper loafers to his green and burgundy floral suits. (When both Harper’s Bazaar editor Glenda Bailey and blogger Bryanboy wear the same print, you know something is going on.) One brand hasn’t so thoroughly caught the fashion flock’s imagination, or pocketbook, in years.
3. Caitlyn Jenner and Taraji P. Henson raised the celebrity style stakes: With Caitlyn Jenner’s Zac Posen bustiers and her Versace gown, her emergence as a fashion figure and her embrace of old-school glamour spurred a new debate, on style and opinion pages, about what it means to be “feminine.” At the same time, dominating the small screen and the red carpet was Taraji P. Henson, whose breakthrough character, Cookie Lyon of “Empire,” unabashedly embraced hi-bling (think Moschino, Versace and Tom Ford), while the actress portraying her strutted her own brand of understated, streetwise cool. When Henson appeared at the Emmys in September in Alexander Wang’s chain-bedecked black gown, she won the night even before the awards were announced.
4. Age did not affect influence: One of the fastest movers of product turned out to be Princess Charlotte. The latest addition to the British royal family proved she was as much a fashion influencer as her mother and older brother, causing a sellout in smocked floral dresses by the Spanish label M & H when her latest pictures appeared, much as Prince George did for Rachel Riley smocked rompers and Petit Bateau overalls. Malia Obama was a close runner-up, proving it’s not just Disney stars who set the tone for the younger set. Can Saint West be far behind?
5. Gender nonconformity went from reality to runway: The divide between menswear and womenswear is seeming ever more pointless, as labels like Vetements, Telfar and Public School mix boys and girls on the runway and in the wardrobe. Fashion reflects society, after all, and we are in a gender-nonconformist age. Why shouldn’t all consumers be able to dress the part? And this is no fad: Pantone’s color of 2016 is a duo – rose quartz and serenity – where pink fades into blue and vice versa.
6. There was an earthquake in French fashion: It all started with such stability, but come August, French fashion was rent by change. Alexander Wang and Balenciaga agreed to part ways after three years, Wang to concentrate on his own brand, and Balenciaga to hire Demna Gvasalia, the frontman of the in-your-face upstart collaborative Vetements, known for its gritty Margiela-influenced deconstructed streetwear.
Mere weeks later, Raf Simons and Dior announced they were splitting (a personal decision on the part of the designer), and only a week after that, Lanvin fired Alber Elbaz, its designer of 14 years. Both of those houses have yet to name replacements, and expectations are high that another round of fashion dominoes is about to fall.
7. Generational change hit New York: The big three that defined and dominated New York fashion for decades (Donna, Ralph and Calvin) are down to one – or maybe even 0.75. This was the year Donna Karan joined Calvin Klein in jumping off the hamster wheel, although unlike Klein, Karan was not replaced, and her namesake main line is no more. Instead, LVMH, the owner of Donna Karan International, has doubled down on DKNY, literally: appointing Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow, the buzzy designers of Public School, to the label.
That leaves Ralph Lauren as the last tent pole standing, though even he is thinking, “What’s next?” and ceded the CEO title to Stefan Larsson, the ex-chieftain of Old Navy, for the first time. Waiting in the wings is Proenza Schouler, which took on investment (and a new chief executive) from the private equity firm Castanea Partners in June with the aim of vaulting to the truly global level.
8. Fast fashion became a hot mess: It was an annus horribilis for the old American standbys Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch and J. Crew, with falling sales and what seemed like a disappearing consumer base. The bright spot was Target, which broke the Internet with its Lilly Pulitzer limited edition, as did H&M with its Alexander Wang and Balmain collaborations. Apparently there is no limit to the lengths we will go to grab a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bargain, no matter how hackneyed the form has become.
9. Nudity was the new black (tie): From the Met Gala to the Grammys, the newsmaking looks on the red carpet looked awfully see-through. Beyoncé, J. Lo, Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus duked it out in the barely-dressed stakes, suggesting that when it came to statement-making entrances, less was more. Someone get those women some clothes.
10. And some said goodbye to all that: It’s a Darwinian fashion world out there, and not every brand survives. This was the year we said farewell to Band of Outsiders (at least as we knew it under the founder, Scott Sternberg; apparently it will be revived next year in a different form), as well as the namesake labels of Reed Krakoff, Kris von Assche and Jonathan Saunders. Marc by Marc Jacobs was absorbed into Marc Jacobs, and Burberry London, Burberry Brit and Burberry Prorsum are being merged into Burberry. Farewell, multiple lines; hello, simplified offerings with multiple price points. But if you think that means anything will slow down in 2016, I have a gold-plated bridge I can sell you.