2016 was, to put it bluntly, a complete and total clusterfuck. Brexit, Trump, ISIS, rampant mass shootings and no steps toward gun control, Aleppo, police shootings, sexism, racism, climate change, fake news, the increasing, toxic effects the illusions of social media and reality TV have on mass opinion and perception…this really wasn’t a banner year for the human race.
It’s easy to peg fashion as an elitist industry that exists in a bubble far removed from the pain, suffering, and tragedy mentioned above—easy, but incorrect. In fact, this year, more than ever, we saw that fashion and the creative industries at large are important and highly visible platforms for political expression, and vehicles for protest and change.
From Sophie Theallet spurring an industry-wide debate about the ethics of dressing Melania Trump, to Maria Grazia Chiuri’s call for feminism, to numerous fashion publications running thoughtful, opinionated stories about the current political climate, our industry took on the biggest issues of the year both on the runway and off. And why shouldn’t it? As Fashion Unfiltered’s news and features editor, Aria Darcella, pointed out in her essay, “The Politics of Fashion,” the fashion industry is inherently political. It is affected by immigration and trade legislation; it is an industry largely made up of the “others” that Trump’s campaign attacked so vigorously; it’s a multibillion-dollar business that has proven to be one of the biggest polluters in the world; and it’s highly visible with the power to influence public opinion and cultural norms. To that point, demands for diversity on the runway and in ad campaigns don’t stem from some imagined, liberal, hand-holding utopia. Rather, that long-overdue call to action can help further a culture of understanding, acceptance, and self-worth. Fashion touches all of us, and while this year has, quite frankly, been a terrifying one, it’s encouraging to see the fashion industry—even a portion of it—using its influence to affect change.
Speaking of change, there was a lot of that when it comes to the inner workings of the fashion industry. See-now, buy-now was the name of the game in 2016—sort of—with brands including Burberry, Tom Ford, Tommy Hilfiger, and Paco Rabanne experimenting with the new model. The jury is still out, but the immediacy fostered by the rise of social media and the internet is forcing us to completely rethink how our industry operates. Are fashion shows for insiders or the public? Do designers have time to produce anything worthwhile anymore? (Check out Viktor & Rolf’s Fall 2016 couture collection and Rick Owens’ Spring 2017 ready-to-wear outing for some insight.) Does everyone need to follow the same production schedule? Is it a bad idea to release images before a collection hits stores? Can brick-and-mortar retail survive? Why does any of this even matter? The polarizing opinions on all these questions and more lead FU to launch its “What the F#@%, Fashion?” series, in which everyone from Katie Grand and Linda Fargo to Dr. Valerie Steele and Hilary Alexander offered their two cents on fashion’s ever-changing landscape.
One person who stood out this year for breaking away from the industry’s hive mind and doing whatever he damn well pleases is Demna Gvasalia of Vetements and Balenciaga. Not only has he ushered in an era of anti-fashion, which seems a thoughtful-yet-irreverent commentary on youth culture and opinion, but he’s done away with the traditional show schedule—for Vetements, at least—leading the charge to present two collections a year, timed to the pre-collection buying schedule. Oh, and those collaborations he debuted during the couture shows? Well, Hilary Shepherd will explain that project’s significance and influence in her dissection of this year’s biggest fashion moments.
Yes, this year was a disheartening disaster, but it was a dynamic one for fashion. Over the next few days, we’ll be rolling out a series of features discussing the most important takeaways from the realms of beauty (written by FU beauty director Amber Kallor), modeling (contributing editor Brittany Adams shares her thoughts), designer switch-ups (Aria Darcella chronicles this year’s game of musical chairs), trends, and more. Before diving into 2017, we encourage you to read, reflect, and reminisce, because as much as we’d all like to forget 2016, we’ll only make progress if we learn from it.