I feel like a broken record—I absolutely said this last year—but the world’s in shambles and the fashion industry is in…let’s call it “flux.” Seeing as the latter is part of the former, it’s not terribly surprising, but 2017—like 2016—was rough for both the human race and our ever-changing multi-billion-dollar business. Trump is President, North Korea is super on edge, sexual assault is the norm (surprise, guys!), I could go on, but I’m getting depressed. On the fashion front, retail is so, so confused; fashion houses are also confused and can’t decide how to present their collections in a productive manner; New York appears to be fizzling, with designers bowing out of NYFW faster than you can say commercialism; brands are resorting to clickbait-quality collections, dropping mindless merch every other week even though sales racks are overflowing—see-now, buy-now, why now?; heritage houses are losing their identities with a revolving door of creative directors; magazines are reducing their staffs and regurgitating content because publishing doesn’t pay; and on, and on, and on.
But now I’m going to pull a bait-and-switch because, for all the chaos and dumbed-down garb we saw in 2017 (streetwear may sell but you can’t all swap innovation for sweatshirts), fashion was kind of awesome this year. You had more designers using their platforms to voice an opinion and affect change than ever before. You had models joining the #metoo movement, with females and males speaking out about abuses suffered at the hands of industry titans that many have, for decades, been too afraid to confront; you had transgender catwalkers, curvy models, models of color, and men and women of all ages stealing the spotlight on runways and in ad campaigns, proving that inclusive is the new exclusive and, despite what history or our current President may suggest, there is more than one way to be beautiful; and, from a pure fashion standpoint, you saw creative talents—both seasoned and brand spankin’ new—rising from the ashes of monotony and disarray to prove that designers are still producing exciting, original work. Hot damn, how many other industries could cram all that into 365 days?
Over the past two weeks, we’ve extensively covered the year’s highs, lows, and most important takeaways. I encourage you to read about the progressive changes in the modeling world, the trends that swept the industry, the highlights of the beauty biz, the carousel of designer departures and appointments, and those we lost—like Azzedine Alaïa, who challenged fashion’s obsession with fast-paced fitting in and led by example, honoring craft over consumerism. But I’d like to use this opportunity to explore some moments that, after a handful of trips around the globe and more than a few late nights editing, have stayed with team FU and I throughout the year.
For starters, Raf Simons at Calvin Klein—what a perfect match. At a time when designers are leaving New York and it’s being criticized for it focus on commercialism over creativity, Simons has shown that he can balance both and then some. Since his Fall 2017 debut at the label, his shows have channeled the zeitgeist and provided poignant commentary about the American condition—the dream and the nightmare. Oh, and the clothes are great too—lush textures, structured silhouettes, a new collaboration with the Andy Warhol Foundation, and just the right amount of nostalgia mixed with gotta-have-it. This is what American fashion should be—provocative but approachable.
The Met’s exhibition, Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between, was a big personal highlight. It’s no secret that I’m a CdG junkie, but the fact that the Costume Institute spotlighted Rei Kawakubo—perhaps the most conceptually minded and forward-thinking designer of our time—and brought her work to the masses was exhilarating. “Rei is one of the few designers working today whose constant pursuit of creation and originality is always evolving,” curator Andrew Bolton told me during a preview of the show. “I think we need that today. The fashion system sometimes disallows people like Rei to create work that is purely based on creation. More than any other time, we need to be reminded of people like Rei, who fights fiercely, independently for her own space in the fashion world, without any compromise.” Indeed, now more than ever, when young designers are being pressured by the market to dull their passions for profits, we must embrace those who fearlessly follow their own creative vision.
The entire Paris Spring 2018 season was exhilarating, particularly watching the masses rally around Saint Laurent, experiencing Rick Owens combat conflict with beauty, and seeing emerging talents like Y-Project’s Glenn Martens and Andra Dumitrascu, whose second-ever show was a renegade romp in the Paris metro, usher the storied fashion capital into a much-needed new era. Fashion often pretends to love the “new” while remaining firmly planted in the past—this season seemed to mark an embrace of the next generation, while spreading some very welcomed optimism to boot.
It was the mass exodus from NYFW (Thom Browne, Proenza Schouler, Altuzarra, Rodarte, and more ditched the Big Apple for Paris) that stole most New York fashion headlines ahead of the Spring 2018 shows, but this year saw the city’s young blood and free thinkers come into their own. British talent Christian Cowan, for instance, staged his electric (literally) second show at New York’s Indochine just days after receiving his U.S. visa—he told me it was his dream to live in NYC since he was 10, and achieving it was essential. Earlier this month, Paris-based ANDAM finalist Koché paraded its Pre-Fall outing through The Strand’s rare books room. Eckhaus Latta and Vacquera impressed with their powerful, socially minded Spring showings, and Telfar Clemens, long a crusader for those on the fringe, took home the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Prize. It would seem that the establishment—for the moment, at least—is finally recognizing that, as Pat McGrath put it, “real insiders”—those who make our industry tick with their far-flung ideas—“are absolutely all outsiders.”
Seeing models find their voices and speak out about sexual harassment, trans issues, body image, race, and more was especially encouraging—these individuals have massive followings and thus the attention of today’s young minds. That’s a powerful position to be in, and the fact that they’re educating and empowering their fan bases—even if the catalysts were injustice and abuse—is something to celebrate.
And while publishing powerhouses continue to whittle their editorial staffs, the appointment of Edward Enninful as EIC of British Vogue, and his subsequent debut issue fronted by Adwoa Aboah, as well as the launch of Charlotte Stockdale and Katie Lyall’s independent magazine, Chaos, prove that traditional magazines can still cast a spell.
Times are terrible, sure. But as FCD’s Simon Collins said in his rebuttal to my (fairly critical) essay on New York Fashion Week, “Where the closed-minded see problems, the creative thinkers see opportunity.” It’s easy, for anyone, in any era, in any industry, to find heaps of things to complain about. But instead of jumping on the pessimistic bandwagon, let’s look at the progress that was made this year—at the issues that were brought to light in the traditional media, on social media, and yes, on the runway—and figure out how we can continue to move forward and resist small-mindedness in 2018. The future can be bright, but only if we make it so—and that goes for politicians and fashionistas alike.