Karl Lagerfeld succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 86 on February 19, signaling the end of an era. Lee Radziwill died at the age of 86 on February 15, and Mariella Agnelli passed away at the age of 91 on February 23. The year began with the passing of three fashion icons, and it is ending with the liquidation of Barneys New York. Of course, the year isn’t over yet.
Among the other casualties: Manolo Blahnik suddenly closed his only free-standing boutique in the U.S., a small jewel of a shop on West 54th Street. Forever 21 and Zac Posen also shuttered their businesses. On the other hand, Bernard Arnault could not stop spending. This year’s acquisitions include Rihanna’s luxury fashion brand Fenty, a partnership with Stella McCartney, and most recently, the purchase of Tiffany & Co. and 2019 is not over. Who knows what else Arnault will add to his impressive repertoire.
During the course of the year, Cardi B turned the Queens Criminal Court into a runway with her pricey designer clothes and accessories. The sartorial choices of our politicians and heads of state were a source of endless fascination and speculation. ‘Classic Blue’ might be the Pantone color of 2020, but in 2019, it was all about ‘Going Green.’ It’s been quite a year.
Looking back, these are some of the good, the bad, and the ugly fashion images that remain indelible in my mind.
The Pyer Moss Spring 2020 runway show was held at the historic Kings Theatre in Brooklyn this past September. It was a celebration of black history, music, and fashion and was unquestionably THE highlight of NYFW: symbolic, meaningful, right on the money. Kerby Jean-Raymond’s first show in a year was titled “Sister,” and it was the third in a series of collections celebrating the way Black people have shaped the building blocks of American culture.
Mary Katrantzou pulled off the impossible. She held her spring 2020 show among the ruins of the historic Temple of Poseidon in Athens. Katrantzou was inspired by ideas from ancient Greece, such as the findings of Socrates, trigonometry, physics, biology, and theology.
Beginning with a sequined and fringed column embroidered with a quote from Socrates, each of the 30 spectacular couture-like dresses bore a different reference to Greece. The Greek-born designer said she wanted to make the clothes “completely unique and live a life of their own,” The spectacular show was for a great cause. Proceeds from the ticket sales were donated to the children’s charity Elpida, of which she is a patron.
Collaborations are a dime a dozen nowadays, but some do stand out. There was nothing banal about the combined efforts of Dries van Noten and Christian Lacroix for Spring 2020. Dries’ unexpected and inspired collaboration with the legendary couturier provided one of the highlights of fashion month. The collection had unforced ease, and the overall effect was couture-like without the stiffness and formality. It was the epitome of modern, a match made in heaven.
Another brilliant collaboration is the ongoing melding of the minds between Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli and Moncler Genius. For fall 2019, Pierpaolo invited his friend, model-designer Liya Kebede, to join forces. Graphic patterns from her socially responsible Ethiopian label Lemlem were added to the voluminous couture designs, creating something entirely new. Just fabulous!
Artist turned designer Sterling Ruby’s magnificent debut collection, S.R. Studio. L.A. C.A. was shown in Florence, Italy last June. There is an overwhelming hunger and thirst for clothes that are joyfully exuberant yet brooding, streetwise, and wearable yet artistic and highly idiosyncratic. It also points to a wide-ranging appreciation for the craft that is authentic and not just appropriated.
Immediately following the unisex show, Suzy Menkes remarked, “That was the best new-person collection I have ever seen.” Unsurprisingly, much of this show had vestiges of CALVINKLEIN205W39NYC under Raf’s tutelage, and there were many parallels. For those who lamented Raf Simons’ exit from Calvin Klein, there was a reason to rejoice.
Seventeen years after Ralph Rucci had the rare privilege of becoming the first American designer since Mainbocher to show a couture collection in Paris, he was back where he belongs to doing what he does best. Rucci, who left his high-end namesake label in 2014, presented his RR 331 Fall/Winter 2019/2020 Couture Collection at the Ritz Hotel late Sunday morning, June 30.
Rucci once said that he believes one piece of wood worn around the neck can be more dramatic than a pound of diamonds. He describes his customer as a woman who has style and a certain degree of eccentricity. Ralph dedicated his collection to the perennially chic Elsa Peretti, one of his longtime muses.
This was the year of Billy Porter. He was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and won the 2019 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, becoming the first openly gay black man to be nominated and win in a lead acting category at the Primetime Emmys. When it comes to making a grand entrance, and making a grand statement, Billy Porter doesn’t mess around. There is always a message behind his astounding, head-turning outfits. At the 2019 Academy Awards, the actor wore a Christian Siriano tuxedo dress. He said at the time, “I wanted to create a space where we can have a dialogue about the masculine and the feminine and everything in between.”
At the 73 annual Tony Awards on June 9, Billy, who won a Tony Award in 2013 for his performance as Best Actor in Kinky Boots, arrived in a head-turning red and pink tulle gown-suit combo designed by New York-based Celestino Couture. The gender-fluid evening suit featured a floral pattern on the train, which subtly portrayed female reproductive organs. The actor wanted to make a pro-choice statement about women’s reproductive rights, which are under attack right now. “I am an advocate for all who are disenfranchised,” he said.
In August, Renee E. Tirado joined Gucci as its first global head of diversity, equity, and inclusion. In March, Harlem designer Dapper Dan, who is now an official Gucci collaborator, created the Gucci Changemakers Initiative on behalf of the Black community and fashion as a whole. Alessandro Michele enlisted American photographer Bruce Gilden to shoot the Pre-Fall 2020 Collection look book in Rome. His diverse set of characters included 76-year-old Italian fashion legend Benedetta Barzini and 60 something model, producer, and activist Bethann Hardison.
The Bad & The Ugly
Last February, Gucci was forced to issue an apology and withdraw a polo neck sweater from sale after its resemblance to blackface was pointed out on Twitter. The “balaclava” knit was retailing at $890 and was part of the fashion brand’s autumn/winter 2018 range.
Just a few days later, Katy Perry released a shoe and a sandal with a stylized face on it. The singer/designer claimed it was a nod to modern art and surrealism, but she understood why the black version could remind some consumers of minstrelsy. Perry issued an apology, and the shoe was eventually pulled from the stores.
The Victoria’s Secret fashion show was inaugurated in 1995. In recent years, it has been out of step with the current Zeitgeist. After mounting criticism, decreasing viewers, and months of speculation, Victoria’s Secret executives finally confirmed last month that the annual spectacle would be canceled. What took them so long?
Tom Ford held his Spring 2020 show in an abandoned Lower East Side subway. Punk and gritty was the order of the day. However, these are two words one generally does not associate with the Chairman of the CFDA. In my mind, it felt a bit forced and contrived. Tom should have skipped the punkish hair, focused on what he does best, and made sure his models looked as beautiful as possible. Gigi and Kaia were all but unrecognizable. If you’re going to stage a fashion show in a subway, at least make it ebullient and upbeat like Jeremy Scott, who staged his over the top Moschino Pre-Fall 2020 collection in an old subway car at the New York Transit Museum.
And just when you thought sneakers couldn’t get uglier or more ostentatious — they have. Check out these Gucci Flashtrek sneakers with removable crystals, $1590. They come in various color combinations and for men, women, and children. Ugh!
The Met Ball was once known as the “party of the year.” Last year, with ‘Camp: Notes on Fashion’ as its theme, it outdid itself as the “costume party of the year.” Lady Gaga ruled the roost with her jaw-dropping entrance. Her fashion strip tease resulted in three wardrobes changes. Janelle Monae’s surrealist dress by Christian Siriano was right on the money. Jared Leto’s grotesque Gucci was straight off Fall 2019, and it perfectly channeled the camp theme.
But there was nothing especially campy about Harry Styles’ sheer black Gucci top or Kim Kardashian’s ‘dripping wet’ Mugler dress. To me, they just looked ugly. Some wore nothing more than theatrical stage props. Katy Perry came dressed as a chandelier and then changed into a cheeseburger for the after-party. The hit and miss fashion parade that evening was a mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly, which also sums up this past year.
Meanwhile, Katy Perry and Sarah Jessica Parker have undoubtedly begun to think about their outfits for the 2020 Met Ball. With ‘About Time: Fashion and Duration’ as the theme, I guarantee they are trying to figure out how to turn Big Ben, the Grand Central Terminal Clock, or Salvador Dali’s iconic painting, “The Persistence of Memory”, into something they can wear.