The Good, The Bad, & The Beyond Redemption Of 2021

Balenciaga Fall 2021 Couture

We are now bracing for the omicron variant, but one year ago, as we headed into 2021, it seemed things might start getting back to some degree of normal. By early fall, many high-profile events and runway shows returned scaled-down, but live and in person. The runways were filled with clothes that often left nothing to the imagination. Many celebrities were more than happy to bare all by the same token. There’s nowhere to go with the naked dress trend.

When Kim Kardashian showed up at the Met Gala covered from head-to-toe in a custom-made black jersey by Balenciaga, it was as though she was saying, “Been there, done that!”. Speaking of which, it is hard not to notice the dominance of Demna and Balenciaga this year.

Nonetheless, fashion’s changing of the guard continues with the shocking and unexpected departure of Bottega Veneta’s Daniel Lee after a hugely successful three-year run. Lee was succeeded by Matthew Blazy, previously design director. And, for all the women for whom Phoebe Philo is the ‘Holy Grail,’ news that Philo returns early in 2022 with her eponymous line of “exceptional quality” is something to cheer about.

On a sober note, it is impossible to reflect on 2021 and not remember the causalities from the past year. Among the fashion visionaries we lost are Alber Elbaz, Elsa Peretti, Hiro, Virgil Abloh, Adolfo, and Grace Mirabella.

It’s an emperor-has-no-clothes era start to finish. Clothes were about labels, designers were about celebrities, and it was all, on a bigger and bigger scale, about money.

Grace Mirabella, “In and Out of Vogue”

Speaking of Ms. Mirabella, The New York Times obituary written by Phyllis Messinger references “In and Out of Vogue” a book Grace penned with Judith Warner in 1995 to “settle some scores from her days at Vogue. In describing the 80’s, Grace observes, “Fashion has generated into a self-reverential game full of jokes and pastiches that amused the fashion community enormously and did nothing at all for the woman shopping and trying something to wear.” This sentiment could easily describe much of fashion right now.

The Good

Valentino Fall 2021 Couture
Photo by Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

There is a growing backlash against the mass-produced and an intensifying appreciation for the handcrafted and the artisanal. Unsurprisingly, some of the most memorable fashion moments of the year were provided by the rarified world of haute couture.

The Valentino Fall 2021 Couture show held in Venice was a true marriage of fashion and art. The overall effect was sumptuous and luxurious yet minimal and architectural. Pierpaolo Piccioli collaborated with 17 artists to create abstract, painterly prints for 22 out of the 68 looks, some of which were shown on the men.

Pierpaolo’s audacious use of color took our breath away. He asked guests dress in white to offset the pops of azure blue, red, mint, bottle green, fuchsia, mustard, and purple thus making the audience part of the visual presentation. It was highly effective.

Zara Atelier 01 Limited Edition Embroidered Coat, $599,

Leave it to fast fashion’s most prominent label, Zara, to get into the act with their homage to haute couture. They just launched a new label, Zara Atelier, which focuses on high-end design and artisanal skills. There will be two limited-edition collections a year which offer an ‘elevated, artistic interpretation of an iconic wardrobe staple.’

The first Zara Atelier collection dropped on Friday, December 10. It consists of six elegant coats, which are being produced in minimal quantities, handcrafted from premium fabrics, and further elevated with opulent details including satin piping, marabou feather trims, intricate embroidery, and elegantly sparkling sequins. They are true show stoppers, priced from $399 – $599, almost twice or three times as much as the average price point.

AZ Factory Tribute to Alber Elbaz
Photo by Lucas BariouletAFP via Getty Images

The AZ-Factory Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear show, which closed Paris Fashion Week, was a tribute to Alber Elbaz, founder of the line, who died from Covid-19 6 months earlier. Fashion is highly competitive, but 45 of the world’s top fashion designers banded together to create an original piece for the collection, paying homage to Alber’s work or Alber himself. It was a touching and meaningful gesture

Even without traditional pomp and circumstance, the 46th Presidential Inauguration was joyful, meaningful, and symbolic. And it was hands down, the best red carpet of the year.

Lady Gaga wearing Schiaparelli.

Lady Gaga belted out her rendition of our National Anthem dressed in a voluminous red skirt, fitted navy cashmere jacket, and huge gold dove brooch that symbolically carried an olive branch. Custom designed by Schiaparelli’s Daniel Roseberry, it was bulletproof no less!.

Amanda Gorman

Moreover, two new styles emerged: Amanda Gorman, the 23-year-old poet laureate, and Ella Emhoff, the 22-year-old daughter of U.S. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff and stepdaughter of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris,

Ella Emhoff wearing a bedazzled Miu Miu coat

Ms. Gorman wowed us with her words, her poise, her expressive hands, and that yellow Prada coat and red headband. Emhoff, a knitwear designer and a senior at Parsons, put herself on the fashion map with an embellished Miu Miu coat that quickly went viral.

The Bad

Cynthia Nixon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis

“And Just Like That…” takes the 30 something gals (minus Kim Cattrall) into middle age. It is a cringe-worthy reboot of “Sex and the City” and not especially funny or entertaining. They fall over themselves, trying too hard to be current, politically correct, woke, and inclusive.

“Sex and the City” was a significant fashion influence back in the day and bonafide cultural phenomena, but it is no longer relevant. Time to put it to rest, like Mr. Big, who was mercifully killed off in the first episode.

Givenchy Spring-2022 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: Gorunway

From the outset, Matthew Williams said his vision for the Givenchy woman was “very elegant and powerful and chic,” but Spring 2022, presented in Paris this past October, was far from it; a hodgepodge of tailoring, peplums, transparency, corsetry, and ruffles, sometimes all in the same outfit.

Matthew has yet to find his groove at Givenchy. It’s hard to know what the storied label even stands for anymore. The 36-year-old showed promise when he took the design helm at the house, but the consistent vision exemplified by his label ALYX has not yet crystallized here. Hopefully, it will.

Pyer Moss Fall 2021 Couture
Photo: David Prutting

Pyer Moss’s Kerby Jean-Raymond is the first African American to present on the couture calendar in the Chambre Syndicale’s 150 years plus history. The Pyer Moss Couture Show entitled “Wat U Iz” pays homage to African American inventions, inventors, and entrepreneurs. It was held at Villa Lewaro in Irvington, New York, the estate of Madam C.J. Walker, a descendant of slaves and the 1st American woman to become a self-made millionaire.

Pyer Moss Fall 2021 Couture

Almost all the 25 looks presented could easily be mistaken for theatrical stage props or a Jeremy Scott for Moschino runway. Included in the lineup was a circular skirt made to look like a bottle cap, a giant peanut butter jar dress, a chessboard, silky pink lamp shades with glittering beaded fringe, a floor-length cape made entirely of hair rollers, ice cream cone chaps, and a refrigerator dress with magnets spelling ‘but who invented Black trauma?’

The only thing that separates the peanut butter jar dress from the giant cheeseburger worn by Katy Perry to the 2019 Met Gala after-party in celebration of “Camp: Notes on Fashion” is its symbolism: George Washington Carver discovered peanut butter.

Is Jean-Raymond delivering an important lesson in history and putting a spotlight on people who have made significant contributions? Yes! Is this fashion? NO! And it’s undoubtedly not haute couture. It’s a social statement that is just using fashion as a platform.

Beyond Redemption!

Moschino Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: Gorunway

Irony, camp, and whimsy have their place in fashion, but literally robbing the cradle and presenting infantile clothes for grown-up women is not cool. Jeremy Scott’s “Baby Ladies” Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear collection for Moschino is filled with little day dresses and mini skirt suits printed with pastel gingham, bunnies, lambs, and ducks accessorized with teething ring bracelets, baby bottle clutches, and a headpiece that resembles a crib mobile.

Instead of showing in Milan, Jeremy showed outside, in Bryant Park, to make matters worse. The show was just days after Hurricane Ida ripped through the East Coast, and in its aftermath, there was record-breaking flooding and torrential rain, yet Scott didn’t consider an alternative plan for bad weather. There was no covering, and guests watched the presentation with only their umbrellas as cover.

Demna, Balenciaga’s creative director, is undeniably brilliant. But, Demna is at his best when he goes into his Haute Couture mode and channels Cristobal’s voluminous shapes and magnificent fabrications. Unisex streetwear is another story. The oversized coats, hoodies, and distressed denim always look the same.

Balenciaga Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: Balenciaga

And, they hardly warrant the insulting high price tags that go along with them. $1750 for a pair of slashed loose-fit jeans? $1550 for a destroyed wool crewneck that looks like one of my moth-eaten sweaters? The Emperor Has No Clothes, Indeed!

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

  1. These shows may have been as unwearable as the confusing “fashion show” mounted by Netflix’ Emily In Paris” — what happened Patricia Field, what happened couture, what happened world?
    Ah, Covic.

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