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2021 - A Fashion Year in Review

Updated: Mar 8, 2022

There have been two major influences upon fashion this year. The first and most obvious is the continuing pandemic. When the pandemic began in 2020, most spring collections, except for athleisure, went unsold, so many manufacturers simply reissued their 2020 collections in spring 2021. Fall 2021 fashions however, were conceived, produced, and presented during the pandemic. For the most part, the fashion industry has been focussed this year on surviving; keeping supply chains productive as market demands shift. The business is particularly focussed on reinvigorating the luxury market, which has been in the doldrums since the pandemic began.

The other fashion influencer this year has come from the Black Lives Matters and gender identity movements. While different approaches to balancing racial diversity in fashion have been already put into practice, fashion has been blurring the lines between male and female identity. Historically, masculine styles have been adapted into women’s wear for centuries, however feminine styles being adapted into men’s wear have had less success and longevity. Although skirts are still not commonly worn by men, it is not unusual now to see men sporting nail polish.

Left: Gender neutral suit by Toronto's Spencer Badu - the 2021 FHM 'Fashion in the Making Collection' addition.

Everyone is experiencing pandemic fatigue, and as weddings and parties have been postponed over the past year, there is, I think, an anticipation to get back to a social life with the opportunity of wearing something made of anything other than fleece and elastic. As on-again/off-again face mask edicts respond to spikes in COVID variants, there have been attempts to pretend the pandemic is over, but despite the Sex and the City reboot that acts like the pandemic is history, wishful thinking isn’t going to make this go away...

The following fashion shows really sum up different but valid approaches to fashion in 2021: Schiaparelli has pulled off two magnificent collections this year that are pure art. The clothes are heavily inspired by Elsa Schiaparelli’s aesthetics that often finds beauty in unexpected places. The clothes and jewellery are original and inspirational.

The Chanel spring collection is unapologetically nostalgic, immensely wearable, and a touching homage to the late Karl Lagerfeld’s legacy. Amidst arches of roses and fallen petals, wistful music and gentle smiles, there was a hint of a hopeful future that brings tears to the eye.

The wokeness of the Fall 2021 Balenciaga show is painfully obvious to the point of being humourless and gimmicky, but in spite of the bad hair, repetitive hubcap hats and oversized clothes on ridiculously thin models (many of whom look uncomfortable), the collection has Easter eggs of clever designs that are on point.

Perhaps the most creatively intellectualized pandemic collection is Jonathan Anderson's Loewe collections. Anderson's silhouettes are creative, fresh, and frequently cross the gender-line successfully with a sense of joy.

Last year’s inability to visit the hairdressers resulted in more women embracing their grey hair, a trend that has largely remained. However, for men, the two options of either a selfie buzz cut or aesthetic shag slowly gave way to styles requiring a barber when mask rules subsided midyear. A popular look with young men is the ‘Tik Tok’ hairstyle, as it has been called, of curled hair brushed forward onto the forehead.

In memoriam, the fashion industry lost two active designers this year: Virgil Abloh and Alber Elbaz, as well as designers who, now retired, have been influential in the past: Carla Zampatti, Bern Conrad, Elsa Peretti, Jessica McClintock, and Harry Parnass.

What should we expect when things get back to normal? Let's hope it's not entirely 'business as usual', as climate activist group Extinction Rebellion reminded us this year when they interrupted a Louis Vuitton fashion show when they held up a sign that read "Overconsumption = Extinction". Fashion has to change how, and how much it manufactures.

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