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The Year’s Top Stories From the Fashion World

2016.12.16

Fashion may never quite recover from 2016. The most memorable thread of the last 12 months had less to do with clothes than existential self-doubt. When Jeremy Scott literally put a smoking — O.K., not a gun, but a graduation dress— on his Moschino runway, it proved to be the metaphor for the whole darn year. In the end, much of what we thought we knew was in question, and all we actually knew was to expect the unexpected. It came in many different shapes, and styles.Vanessa Friedman1. Fashion shows had an identity crisis.VideoTommy Hilfiger's See Now/Sell Now CollectionMr. Hilfiger's fall 2016 looks. Publish DateDecember 14, 2016. Photo by Diane Bondareff/Associated Press.

After years of complaining that the twice-yearly, four-city, ready-to-wear circus made no sense, for brands or critics or consumers, some designers decided to do something about it. Burberry, Tom Ford, Thakoon and Tommy Hilfiger declared that the problem was the time lag between shows and sales (usually about six months, after which everyone is bored with the old clothes and has moved on), so they switched to a see now/sell now system. Brands in Italy and France just said no to that idea, but not before putting forth a different one: Bottega Veneta, like Gucci and Burberry, said separate men’s and women’s narratives made no sense, and announced that they would combine both sexes in one show.Meanwhile, in order to drum up more excitement on Instagram — the kind that could be parlayed into sales — Mr. Hilfiger also built an entire carnival on a pier for his collection, a show-as-show approach also adopted by Kanye West, who carted his audience to Roosevelt Island, the better to see an outdoor performance piece by Vanessa Beecroft that seemed to involve models standing like statues and then drooping in the sun. Or maybe the fainting bit wasn’t part of the plan? No one knew quite what was going on, which pretty much summed up the whole experiment.2. Designer turnover went into hyperdrive.Photo

The designer Peter Dundas at Milan Fashion Week in September. He left Roberto Cavalli after less than two years in the top job at the fashion house. CreditAlberto Pizzo/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesHeadhunters must have had a banner year in 2016. If once upon a time the top job at a big brand was the ultimate prize for many designers — and once you got it, you didn’t let go till they pried the sketch pad from your withered hands — now the average term seems to be three years or less.Continue reading the main story

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It began with rumors that the trendsetter Hedi Slimane was going to leave Saint Laurent after one three-year term, which he duly did, just as Brendan Mullane and Stefano Pilati left their posts at Brioni and Ermenegildo Zegna after stints of just over three years. Peter Copping was out at Oscar de la Renta in July, after less than two years; ditto Peter Dundas at Roberto Cavalli and Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow at DKNY. It was Justin O’Shea, however, who set a record for turnover at Brioni, lasting a mere six months. Blink and you’d missed him.Is this the new normal? Creative whiplash awaits.3. But great designers still couldn’t get a job.Photo

Alber Elbaz, formerly of Lanvin, is among a number of formerly feted designers currently “exploring their options” after leaving a big brand post.CreditPascal Le SegretainAt this date, the top spots at Cavalli and DKNY remain unfilled, though there are a shocking number of formerly feted designers currently “exploring their options” after leaving a big brand post. Among the ranks of fashion’s unemployed are Alber Elbaz (formerly of Lanvin); Mr. Slimane (though the fact that he sued the YSL parent company Kering, demanding it reinstate his noncompete clause, may have made him a less attractive prospect); Marco Zanini (late of Schiaparelli and Rochas); Stefano Pilati (Yves Saint Laurent and Zegna); Mr. Copping; and Mr. Dundas.Someone, hire these guys. Or even better, back them in creating their own brand.4. The fashion outsider became the ultimate insider.VideoDemna Gvasalia's Debut CollectionIn 2016, Mr. Gvasalia was named creative director of Balenciaga. Here is his first show. By Video by COURTESY OF BALENCIAGA on Publish DateDecember 14, 2016. Photo by Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times.

When he burst into the public eye, slapping DHL and Champion logos on T-shirts and sweatshirts (and pricing them at astronomic levels), twisting and torquing proportions and otherwise challenging the definition of “good taste,” Demna Gvasalia, a.k.a. the co-founder of the design collective known as Vetements, was called a fashion “revolutionary,” “subversive” and other terms of that nature. Little surprise that the industry, which has always had a sort of masochistic bent, fell in love.Before you could say “Martin Margiela-inspired,” Mr. Gvasalia was named creative director of Balenciaga, where he made his debut last March. Then the Fédération Française de la Couture, French fashion’s governing body, announced that Vetements would be on the couture schedule, the most exclusive week in fashion. By November, Mr. Gvasalia was onstage at the Royal Albert Hall in London clutching two Fashion Awards: one for “international urban luxury brand,” the other as “international ready-to-wear designer.”Which raises the question: How do you challenge the establishment when you are the establishment?5. The hot new name in fashion was … Canada?Photo

From left, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, Michelle Obama, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and President Obama at a state dinner at the White House in March. CreditStephen Crowley/The New York TimesIn a year of electoral disappointments for fashion, as the industry aligned itself with losing candidates from Hillary Clinton to Matteo Renzi, there was one unexpected bright spot: Canada. The new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, seemed to symbolize modernity and cool, and the fashion world fell under their thrall. When they made their triumphant state visit to Washington, Mrs. Trudeau used the moment to showcase Canadian fashion, thus proving there was such a thing as Canadian fashion. New York, London, Milan, Paris … Toronto? It’s possible.6. The 1980s returned. So did oversize everything.Photo

From Yves Saint Laurent’s 2016 fall/winter ready-to-wear line. CreditValerio Mezzanotti for The New York TimesShort sheaths. Asymmetry. Giant sleeves. Oversize jackets and trousers. Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in 2016 any more. Maybe it was Donald J. Trump and his constant evocation of the Reagan years, what with his red ties and big, boxy suits; maybe it was the usual turning of the fashion wheel, after ’60s and ’70s revivals. Whatever the reason, on runways from YSL to Céline, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga and Rodarte, the 1980s were back, shoulders and all. Stranger things have happened. Wait! Stranger things did happen — complete with big hair, stonewashed jeans and Winona Ryder.7. Rihanna took Paris (Fashion Week).Photo

Rihanna took her second Fenty Puma show to Paris this year, the better to frame her “what Marie Antoinette would wear if she went to the gym” collection. CreditValerio Mezzanotti for The New York TimesThe deaths of David Bowie and Prince, in January and April respectively, reverberated around the world, but they also put fashion in an especially thoughtful frame of mind, as the industry considered what they owed the two performers, who transformed the way designers and consumers thought about gender distinctions, sex and a need for constant reinvention. And though fashion has had an ambivalent relationship with rock stars who try to design instead of inspire from afar (see: Kanye West, Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani), Rihanna proved to be an exception, vaulting from icon to power player by taking her second Fenty Puma show to Paris, the better to frame her “what Marie Antoinette would wear if she went to the gym” collection.Turns out we all want to be queen of the stationary bike. But she wears the crown.8. The end of plus sizes.Photo

The model Ashley Graham at the 2016 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in February.CreditAdrian Sanchez-Gonzalez/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesCareful who you call “plus size.” The model Ashley Graham, erstwhile poster girl for the larger sector, entered the mainstream on the covers of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue and British Vogue, where, according to the Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, some designers refused to dress her, as it would have entailed making clothes tailored to her proportions. Ms. Shulman used her Editor’s Letter to call them out (though she didn’t name-and-shame).Similarly, Amy Schumer took to Instagram to scold Glamour for putting her on the cover of its “Chic at Any Size” special issue, rejecting the idea that she was anything other than normal; and Leslie Jones posted on Twitter about her problems getting designers to help her with her red carpet looks for the “Ghostbusters” premiere. Christian Siriano came to her aid, and Michelle Obama came to his, catapulting his profile up to another level. Getting on the right side of history, IMG Models then christened its male bigger-bodied division — wait for it — Brawn.9. Department stores struggled while specialty boutiques began to expand.When Macy’s announced it was closing 40 stores at the beginning of the year, many “The End of the Department Store” articles ensued, which were reinforced when Neiman Marcus announced job cuts later in the year after falling profits and rumors of its sale (they have since died down). Reports of retail’s death are probably exaggerated, but what is certain is that their pain may be the specialty store’s gain.Ikram, in Chicago, threw itself a star-studded 15th birthday party (Mayor Rahm Emanuel showed up, as did George Lucas). In Dallas, Forty Five Ten opened a 37,000-square-foot emporium, and Milan’s destination store, 10 Corso Como, plans to open an outpost in New York. What do these stores have in common? They reflect an individual point of view. They don’t try to please all of the people all of the time. Perversely, it’s the new recipe for success.10. Melania Trump became a lightning rod.Photo

Melania Trump at the Republican National Convention in July. In a truly unprecedented move, several designers said publicly that they would not dress Mrs. Trump. CreditEric Thayer for The New York TimesIt is a truth universally acknowledged that all designers desperately want to dress first ladies, because of the resulting global exposure. Or at least it was. Mr. Trump’s election as president, however, sent shock waves through the fashion industry, which had thrown its support behind the other candidate, and in a truly unprecedented move, designers began saying publicly that they would not celebrity dresses Mrs. Trump.First up was Sophie Theallet, who posted a public letter explaining her position; she was cheered on by Humberto Leon, of Opening Ceremony. Then Marc Jacobs said he, too, might refrain, as did Tom Ford. Tommy Hilfiger and Carolina Herrera took the opposite tack. Fashion, like the nation, is divided; we’ll see how things turn out come the new year and the new administration. But even this sure thing is not so sure any more.

 

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