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)
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Milan Fashion Week (September 23-28)
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Paris Fashion Week (September 28 – October 6)
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Cover image via David Fisher/Shutterstock.
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