From New York to Paris, leading designers reflect on sustainable fashion, champion emerging voices, and envision a more joyful — and more colorful — future.

The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in an unprecedented fashion month in 2020, as the “Big Four” cities saw wildly creative in-person runway shows, digital lookbooks, music videos, and live-streamed Q&As from labels around the world. This year, Fashion Weeks played host to a puppet show (Moschino), a backyard runway (Christian Siriano), a purpose-built cathedral (Dior), and much more to delight guests in-person and abroad.

The audiences were smaller, but a sense of rebirth and resistance permeated many of the shows — making for a historic few weeks. Here’s a look at just a few of the moments that caught our eye this year, plus some throwbacks from decades past.


New York Fashion Week (September 13-16)

Indya Moore Walks the Runway
Actress/model Indya Moore walks the runway during the Jason Wu Spring/Summer 2021 fashion show at Spring Studios during New York Fashion Week. Image via Evan Agostini/​Invision/​AP/​Shutterstock.

New York kicked off fashion month this year with a mix of virtual and socially-distant live shows, beginning with a Tulum, Mexico-inspired rooftop show from Jason Wu and culminating in a digital presentation from Tom Ford.

The Tom Ford Presentation
The Tom Ford presentation for the Spring/Summer 2021 fashion show during New York Fashion Week. Image via Tom Ford/​Shutterstock.

Harlem’s Fashion Row celebrated Black creatives in fashion, while Zac Posen took to Central Park to dress mannequins in couture ensembles. Hillary Taymour’s environmentalist brand Collina Strada brought climate change to the forefront in an inspired, colorful film, and Maxhosa Africa spread a message of hope: “Happiness is a new luxury.”

Designer Alexander McQueen
Blast from the past: Designer Alexander McQueen walks on water at the end of his 1999 show during New York Fashion Week. Image via Cavan Pawson/​Evening Standard/​Shutterstock.

In 1999, Hurricane Floyd hit New York City, but Alexander McQueen’s show at a West Side pier went on. There was water everywhere, including on stage, in the form of a shallow pool. “It was art for fashion’s sake,” The New York Times wrote at the time.

“And for his bow, Mr. McQueen dropped his trousers and flashed his stars-and-stripes boxers, evidently signaling his affection for New York.” That year, fashion week survived a category four hurricane, and McQueen made a lasting impression.

Canadian Fashion Model Coco Rocha
Model Coco Rocha swims in a pool during the Christian Siriano fashion show, held at Christian’s home, as part of New York Fashion Week in Westport, Connecticut. Image via Charles Sykes/​Invision/​AP/​Shutterstock.

This year, Christian Siriano did things a little differently. His show took place in his Connecticut backyard, with fashions inspired by some of his favorite childhood films, ranging from Clueless to The Wizard of Oz. From yellow tulle to red trains, the show wowed guests, who were seated six feet apart. Coco Rocha took a dip in the pool, while a show-stopping gown encouraged everyone to get out and vote in November.

The Christian Siriano Collection
The Christian Siriano collection is modeled at Christian’s home as part of New York Fashion Week, in Westport, Connecticut. Image via Charles Sykes/​Invision/​AP/​Shutterstock.
The Christian Siriano Collection
The runway for the Christian Siriano collection took place in Siriano’s backyard, as part of New York Fashion Week. Image via Charles Sykes/​Invision/​AP/​Shutterstock.

London Fashion Week (September 17-22)

From audience-free shows to one-on-one appointments to digital fashion films, this year’s London Fashion Week took an optimistic and uplifting tone despite current challenges. Michael Halpern celebrated frontline workers in a photoshoot featuring his collection, and Erdem Moralioglu filmed his latest work, made during lockdown, on the outskirts of Epping Forest.

Womenswear Fashion Week (London)
A model strutting a colorful ensemble during the Womenswear Fashion Week in London, from the house of Molly Goddard. Image via Molly Goddard/​SIPA/​Shutterstock.

Molly Goddard’s bright, neon hues lifted our spirits after time spent indoors, and Osman Yousefzada incorporated block-print fabrics from Pakistan. Meanwhile, Preen’s Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi upcycled previously unused fabric stocks to create something new.

Grace Jones at Philip Treacy
Blast from the past: Model/actress Grace Jones at the 2000 show for Philip Treacy hats. Image via Richard Young/​Shutterstock.

In 2000, Grace Jones arrived at the Philip Treacy show on the roof of her car, balancing on sky-high heels and dressed in all black, save for her gold glitter hat. Jones has been a longtime muse of the famous milliner. Almost a decade after this moment, she made him the art director and designer of her Hurricane tour. Earlier this year, he wished her a happy birthday by sharing a throwback video of her modeling one of his hats back in 1999.

Model Grace Jones
Philip Treacy’s muse, Grace Jones, arrives at his show, posed elegantly on the roof of her car. Image via Richard Young/​Shutterstock.

In one of the few traditional fashion shows of the year, Bora Aksu referenced the 1918 influenza pandemic, the period of loss following the war, and the rebirth that followed. The event, hosted in Covent Garden, marked the city’s first catwalk show since lockdown, as guests sat atop socially distant park benches.

Bora Aksu's Nod to 1918
Memorable moment 2020: Bora Aksu’s nod to 1918, hosted in Covent Garden, London. Image via David Fisher/​Shutterstock.
The Bora Aksu Catwalk
Models on the catwalk at the Bora Aksu show during London Fashion Week. Image via David Fisher/​Shutterstock.

The dresses themselves, paired with organza face masks, paid homage to the nurse’s uniforms of that time, before transitioning into 1920s-inspired dresses — a reminder of brighter days to come. “These times will pass, and we will make the future better than before,” the designer said.

The Bora Aksu Show
The Bora Aksu show, Spring/Summer 2021, during London Fashion Week. Image via David Fisher/​Shutterstock.

Milan Fashion Week (September 23-28)

Model Ashley Graham
Model Ashley Graham wears a creation as part of the Fendi 2021 women’s Spring/Summer ready-to-wear collection, during Milan’s Fashion Week. Image via Antonio Calanni/​AP/​Shutterstock.

Upwards of twenty labels were able to host in-person shows in Milan this year, more than New York and London, while dozens of showcases were held virtually. After months of quarantine in Nebraska, new mom Ashley Graham walked the runway for Fendi, while Irina Shayk, Precious Lee, Jill Kortleve, and Alva Claire brought Versace’s “optimistic, dreamy, positive” underwater-inspired collection to life.

Model Precious Lee
Model Precious Lee on the catwalk at the Versace show for Milan Fashion Week. Image via SGP/​Shutterstock.
The Marni Presentation
The Marni presentation, Spring/Summer 2021, at Milan Fashion Week. Image via Marni/​Shutterstock.

Moschino had a puppet show, with marionettes standing in for models, and Marni presented Marnifesto, a film featuring artists and creatives from around the world. Also this year, the designers Stella Jean, Edward Buchanan, and Michelle Francine Ngonmo (the founder of Afro Fashion Week Milan), chose five designers to be part of a showcase of Italian designers of color, an important first step in a larger conversation about inclusivity in Italian fashion.

The Versace Show (1991)
Blast from the past: The birth of the supers – Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington at the 1991 Versace Autumn/Winter Fashion Show in Milan, Italy. Image via Paul Massey/​Shutterstock.

Gianni Versace’s Freedom! ’90 show in 1991 brought together Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington, who rounded out the show arm-in-arm, lip-syncing the George Michael song of the same name. Michael himself sat in the front row.

Gianni Versace's Show (1991)
Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington walk down the runway singing George Michael’s song “Freedom! ’90.” Image via Paul Massey/​Shutterstock.

The dawn of the “supermodel” was officially in full swing, and as Evangelista put it, they didn’t “wake up for less than $10,000 a day.” In 2017, as an homage to her brother, Donatella Versace would reunite some of the supers — including Naomi Campbell, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Helena Christensen, and Claudia Schiffer — during the finale of her Spring 2018 show, again to the soundtrack of “Freedom! ’90.”

The Valentino Collection
A model wearing an outfit from the women’s collections during the Womenswear Fashion Week in Milan, from the house of Valentino. Image via Pixelformula/​SIPA/​Shutterstock.
The Valentino Collection
From the house of Valentino, a model wearing a colorful, floral outfit from the women’s ready-to-wear collections, Spring/Summer 2021, during the Womenswear Fashion Week in Milan. Image via Pixelformula/​SIPA/​Shutterstock.

For his first-ever Milan show — he usually travels to Paris — Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli chose the Macchi Foundry, which formed an unlikely, but inspired, industrial backdrop for his collection. Underscoring the romance of the collection itself were lush flora and wildflowers, including an installation from the Japanese artist Satoshi Kawamoto. Meanwhile, the singer Labrinth performed for the 200 (sparely arranged) guests.

The House of Valentino
A model wearing a monochromatic, frilly ensemble for the Spring/Summer 2021 Womenswear Fashion Week in Milan. Image via Pixelformula/​SIPA/​Shutterstock.

Paris Fashion Week (September 28 – October 6)

The House of Christian Dior
From the house of Christian Dior, models walking down the runway at the Spring/Summer 2021 Womenswear Fashion Week in Paris. Image via Pixelformula/​SIPA/​Shutterstock.

As of this writing, a hybrid digital-live Paris Fashion Week is in full swing, following a headline-stealing show from Dior, who transformed Jardin des Tuileries into a cathedral, complete with a choir and stained glass windows. Koché presented a show in Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, close to Christelle Kocher’s studio, featuring models across the spectrum of gender identities and expression. We can’t wait to see what else is in store.

The Koché Show
Models on the catwalk at the Koché show, Spring/Summer 2021, during Paris Fashion Week. Image via Elizabeth Pantaleo/​Shutterstock.

In 2014, Karl Lagerfeld transcended fashion convention by turning the Grand Palais into a supermarket-inspired set. Throughout the “store” were products purpose-made for the occasion — over a hundred thousand in total — bearing subtle nods to Chanel history, and Cara Delevingne was dressed head-to-toe in pink.

The Chanel Show
Cara Delevingne and Karl Lagerfeld at the Chanel Show, Autumn/Winter 2014, during Paris Fashion Week. Image via Marcio Madeira/​News Pictures/​Shutterstock.

Writer Tim Blanks delighted in seeing the fashion world elite transformed into “kids in a candy store,” while the fashion critic Suzy Menkes declared, “Not since Marie Antoinette played milk maid on her farm at Versailles has there been such a conjunction of high and low.”

The Kenzo Collection
Kenzo’s beekeepers: A model wears a lovely creation for the Kenzo Spring/Summer 2021 fashion collection, during Paris Fashion Week. Image via Vianney Le Caer/​Invision/​AP/​Shutterstock.
The Kenzo Beekeeper Collection
A model wears a beekeeper creation for the Kenzo Spring/Summer 2021 fashion collection, during Paris Fashion Week. Image via Vianney Le Caer/​Invision/​AP/​Shutterstock.

This year, Kenzo’s creative director, Felipe Oliveira Baptista, found inspiration in bees, “the regulators of the planet” for a show that was at once beautiful and resonant. Before the guests arrived, the stools were topped with pots of “Honey of Montmartre,” made as part of an initiative to protect the vulnerable bee population. Nods to bees could be found in the garments, as well — from the veils to the bubbles in the shoes — which many felt were evocative of beehives.

The House of Kenzo
From the house of Kenzo, a model wears a beekeeper-inspired ensemble for the Spring/Summer 2021 Fashion Week in Paris. Image via Pixelformula/​SIPA/​Shutterstock.

Cover image via David Fisher/​Shutterstock.

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