New Year’s resolutions may be a mere journal session away, but revolutions? They’ve already started in the fashion world. Witness the chiffon-clad insanity that was 2021, complete with red-carpet resets, creative director shuffles, trend cycles faster than a Kim Petras beat, and heated debates about who counts as a style icon—and who shouldn’t. Along the way, we found a visual vocab for 2021 fashion that is stranger and truer than any in recent memory, and sets the stage for even more style disruption (the good kind) in 2022.
Below, the 17 moments that defined 2021’s absolutely wild year in fashion and what they mean for our closets (and our cocktail chatter) in the coming months.
TWO BECOME ONE
Why look back in anger when you can do it in Gucci … and Balenciaga … at the same time? That’s the best-selling idea behind The Hacker Project, a wild mash-up of greatest hits from two of the most coveted labels on the planet. The result? Double-G city bags and floral-splashed sneakers that somehow made both brands even more coveted.
But the Batman <3 Superman merger of G+B wasn’t the only collaboration that flooded our Instagram feeds. Fendi also went into partnership mode, releasing a logo-heavy collection for Kim Kardashian’s (very, very good) SKIMS shapewear brand, and a Versace fusion, affectionately called Fendace, an amazingly kept secret until mere hours before debuting at Milan Fashion Week. (Kristen McMenamy opened the show; Naomi Campbell closed it; you could see the scorch marks on the runway from the moon.)
On the streetwear front, New Balance made some cool kicks for Miu Miu, Adidas kept their Luna Rossa sneakers hot for Prada, and Supreme created a fine jewelry collection with Tiffany & Co. because, of course, they did.
THANK YOU, VIRGIL ABLOH
We can’t mention collaborations without paying tribute to Virgil Abloh, who turned his Off-White brand into a household name partly due to an expansive (and visionary) approach to partnerships. From Byredo to IKEA, Off-White tested the limits of where a fashion brand can belong and helped catapult its creator into a household name in the process. Then there were his whoa moments for Louis Vuitton’s menswear collections, which further cemented the Illinois native as a game changer in the worlds of both fashion and popular culture. As Zandile Blay wrote in her “Vigil for Virgil,” “He lived for just 41 years. And in 11 short years of his post-collegiate career, he managed to radically rewrite the rules of who gets a seat.” As for Abloh’s empty seat? Nobody could ever fill it.
Related article: Trailblazing Designer Virgil Abloh Has Passed Away At 41
CURVES CASH IN
Money speaks louder than words, and in 2021, several luxury brands invested in curve representation for their ads—a long-needed first in the industry. That means we saw Versace billboards starring modern bombshell Precious Lee, glossy Chloé spreads with It girl Paloma Elsesser, Tess McMillan in the new Gaultier ads, and Dutch beauty Jill Kortleve cashing in on Chanel and Valentino campaigns. It’s a well-deserved (and way too late) step toward greater body diversity in fashion that comes as style icons like Lizzo and Barbie Ferreira prove looking flawless has nothing to do with being skinny. And it ensures talented muses like Lauren Chan (who also designs her own luxury plus-sized line, Henning) get paid the big bucks on the social media front.
REDUCE. REUSE. RED CARPET.
2021 was the year sustainability lost its meaning. (No, your jeans aren’t sustainable just because they’re made from cotton instead of plastic, and, no, that fake fur is not sustainable just because it’s made from plastic instead of pelts.) But while some brands like to greenwash, others have chosen to innovate. 2021 saw the rise of upcycling stars like Conner Ives, the Fenty veteran whose T-shirt dresses have Net-a-Porter shoppers on red alert. Deadstock fabric—meaning found or reused textiles—is also a hallmark of celebrity-favorite labels like Batsheva, Emily Bode, and Chopova Lowena, as well as recent collections from Proenza Schouler and Alexander McQueen. Upcycling has even made its way into the metaverse, thanks to Lyz Olko‘s deadstock streetwear appearing on virtual influencer Lil Miquela. (It also appears on IRL women like Kendall Jenner.)
Then there’s Tara Subkoff, the actress-turned-designer who famously coined the term upcycle for her label, Imitation of Christ, in the early 2000s. Subkoff’s ethos ran strong this September, when she held a performance with models, artists, and friends in a downtown church, and clad dancers in repurposed, reworked clothes from her considerable vintage collection. The collection sold out in hours via The RealReal.
AN OLIVIA FOR EVERYONE
Is your name Olivia? Congratulations. Please join Oscar winner Olivia Colman, acclaimed actress and director Olivia Wilde, teen pop phenomenon Olivia Rodrigo, TikTok sensation and Cruel Summer heroine Olivia Holt, Sports Illustrated bombshell and classical music savant Olivia Culpo, Internet BFF Olivia Perez, Dancing with the Stars’ top influencer Olivia Jade Giannulli, Nigerian Glossier muse Olivia Anakwe, pajama designer Olivia Von Halle, and breakout Danish runway starlet Olivia Vinten. All could conceivably wear Charlotte Tilbury’s new In Love with Olivia lipstick, because it looks great on all skin tones, and, well, its name rings pretty true.
Related article: A Look At Olivia Rodrigo’s Style Evolution From Her Music Videos
CHRISTOPHER JOHN ROGERS SLAYS
If you think love is a battlefield, try fashion. Christopher John Rogers is an independent designer who conquered 2021 on all fronts with a clever plan of attack: Start with joyful clothes, add a mass market element via a Target collection, maintain your celebrity cred with red-carpet moments for Zendaya and Gwyneth Paltrow, and let your (fictional) fashion show become a scandalous plot point on Gossip Girl. But even without the underage Upper East Siders of HBO, 2021’s CFDA Designer of the Year would still be on the ascent, thanks to the sharp tailoring and signature rainbow embroidery he first refined at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He’s also armed with a smart range of silhouettes from “girls just wanna have fun” to “girls just wanna hang out on the couch all day but still look incredible for selfies.” To put it simply: If 2021 didn’t make you want a Christopher John Rogers piece, perhaps get your eyes checked before 2022.
CALL YOUR CLOTHING DADDY
We haven’t been jealous of a dude’s outfit since Joel Madden paired a Vans hoodie with a Chanel necklace and smudged eyeliner circa 2005. 2021 changed all that with a slew of dudes who channel adult emotion, tween excitement, and extreme wealth into their wardrobes. While Harry Styles turns Gucci feather boas into everyday staples, Pete Davidson accessorizes his Chrome Hearts hoodies with Susan Alexandra pearl necklaces, Offset brings Japanese patchwork denim and neon American sportswear to Paris, and Kid Cudi keeps us guessing with his mix of Givenchy devotion and Technicolor hair reveals.
LIMITED TOO … AND THREE … AND FOUR
Once upon a time (1994), a magical kingdom called Limited Too let us dress like our Troop Beverly Hills dreams. Together with its junior high fiefdoms of Contempo Casuals, Gap, Urban Outfitters, and the Delia*s catalogue, the Limited Too realm included shiny pastel miniskirts, beaded heart chokers, fuzzy striped cardigans, glitter platform sandals, and black ribbed bodysuits we probably shouldn’t have been wearing at age 13. Today, those looks have returned on Gen Z starlets, best exemplified by Olivia Rodrigo’s cascade of ’90s vintage, including a pink Chanel suit once worn by Linda Evangelista and a Marc Jacobs tartan remade from the designer’s famous grunge line circa 1993. (For the novices: It’s the line that got Jacobs fired from Perry Ellis for being, literally, too cool for the brand. Thankfully, he started his own.)
The ’90s influence extends to Bella Hadid’s frequent crop tops and Rowan Blanchard’s recent denim-on-denim Miu Miu moment, and was fueled in part by The Nanny streaming for the first time on HBO, showing the world (again) how truly epic Fran Fine’s outrageous Moschino skirt suits are. Blumarine even harnessed the look for its spring 2022 collection. But perhaps nobody is having more fun with the Limited Too renaissance than Ziwe, the funny-because-it-hurts comedian whose work with stylist Pamela Shepard has created a new fashion archetype for 2021: a pink tweed princess who dresses like Beverly Hills royalty while telling blunt truths about money, power, racism, and complacency. In reaching for classic “rich girl” staples of the ’90s, Ziwe dresses like Clueless, all while proving it’s the rest of the world that needs to get a clue.
THE NFT WTF
If it seems absurd that a computer code to a digital image is worth tons of money, consider money itself, which is actually a pile of decorated paper that somehow keeps the lights on. The fashion world is paying attention, with Givenchy, Emily Ratajkowski, Coach, and Adidas all creating non-fungible tokens for their most future-thinking fans. (There are also MetaBirkins, which are NFTs shaped like the $20,000 handbags that are reportedly selling for $40,000—!!!—and already have a cease-and-desist letter from Hermès.) We hear some designers will even include NFTs as part of their actual runway collections next year, giving new meaning to see-now-buy-now and pushing fashion brands even further into the metaverse … whatever, exactly, that is. (Really though, isn’t it just our online identity, as we’ve been living it under these extraordinary times? How much more meta can our verse get, you know?)
NATIVE IS BEAUTIFUL
Here’s an infuriating fact: It took 244 years for America to appoint an Indigenous cabinet member. Her name is Deb Haaland, she’s our current secretary of the interior, and she’s a Pueblo tribeswoman who often wears Native designers while speaking on behalf of the environment, local education, and the missing Indigenous women in need of national attention and aid. Haaland’s ascendance mirrors the rise of Indigenous designers like Amy Denet Deal, the former Puma and Reebok designer who founded 4Kinship to showcase Native artistry and support mutual-aid programs, along with Korina Emmerich, whose pieces for EMME Studio are currently on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Meanwhile on the runway, model and Navajo tribeswoman Quannah Chasinghorse has walked for Chanel and Chloé, and posed for the cover of ELLE, proudly bringing her tribal tattoos into the forefront of modern beauty, while Marc Jacobs favorite Valentine Alvarez is currently starring in Moschino’s latest look book. And she won’t be the only Indigenous woman to land a luxury brand campaign, since a Vancouver agency called Supernaturals opened this year with a roster of all-Native faces.
THE RETURN OF CARRIE BRADSHAW
From the minute it hit the screen, And Just Like That… began creating a new lexicon of adult style for professional women who eschew a “uniform” of black pants, a black blazer, and black slingback heels. From Carrie’s relaxed ballerina silhouette of a bell skirt, cinched waist, and flouncy top to Miranda’s new interest in Dries Van Noten and eyeliner, AJLT is turning aging into an aspirational style moment for millions. And why not? Women over 50 are cool. Women over 50 are hot. Not as hot as Sara Ramirez, but, like, nobody is.
The LVMH Prize is one of the most prestigious in fashion, with past winners including Jacquemus and Wales Bonner. So when the judging committee—which included Stella McCartney and Maria Grazia Chiuri—named Albanian designer Nensi Dojaka as the 2021 honoree, it was time to pay attention to the body-con vibe Dojaka and her peers have been worshipping. This is the type of architectural slit-and-stitch that owes more than a nod to Hervé Léger’s bandage dresses … but also makes them look downright prude. Dojaka warps her stretchy fabric until it resembles spider-woven shapes, with more skin exposed than covered in her signature tops. Other indie brands like Rui and Isa Boulder are body-con acolytes, too, along with acclaimed London label KNWLS, which turns an obsession with corsetry on its head by exposing the waist instead of snatching it. And CFDA newbie Maisie Wilen seems to have the Kardashian–Jenner clan on speed dial, thanks to her skin-flashing separates in SweeTART shades. More established designers—think Anthony Vaccarello at Saint Laurent or Richard Quinn—are going full-body catsuit with neon daisy prints last seen in the Brady Bunch linen closet. But for the new guard of style setters, there’s an aesthetic imperative on skin, skin, skin, as if the negative space of our bodies can make up for the missing hookups and hugs that come with pandemic living.
WE GET IT, YOU’RE SLYTHERIN
Cottagecore showed us the influence that TikTok could have on our fashion. (And perhaps on Taylor Swift’s “Cardigan”visuals?) But now that nap dresses and patchwork jean jackets have rolled through the algorithm, it’s time to tackle “dark academia,” the TikTok aesthetic that combines preppy school staples like kilts and blazers with vaguely goth vibes that are basically just an excuse to wear dark lipstick and black eyeliner again. (Not mad about it …) Among the winners in 2021’s favorite online aesthetic are Monse’s upgraded take on schoolgirl skirts, Duncan’s inky tartan odes to Wednesday Addams, and the perpetual blazer parade at Veronica Beard.
FEAR THE #FASHIONTWITTER
It’s not news that the Internet is full of opinions. That’s certainly true for the network of die-hard style fans and digital pundits on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok who post daily throwbacks from legendary runways and fiercely debate the merits of Raf Simons the way Star Wars acolytes interrogate the work of J.J. Abrams. But this isn’t just a collective of up-and-coming voices. Next-gen critics like Emilia Petrarca (The Cut), Pierre A. M’Pelé (GQ Europe), and Louis Pisano (who contributes right here at BAZAAR) often guide the discourse, while rising talents Kim Russell (@thekimbino), Hanan Besovic (@ideservecouture), and Maya AlZaben (@mayazaben) regularly school the Insta and TikTok crowd on fashion history. And in the newsletter space, GQ fashion critic Rachel Tashjian writes a weekly style joy bomb called “Opulent Tips,” while former Cosmo editor Amy Odell continues to issue industry demerits in her robust inbox op-eds. As the industry continues to interrogate ideas of beauty and belonging, this ecosystem of style tribes aims to hold it accountable while writing themselves into the next generation of critical fashion personalities.
A SHROOM OF ONE’S OWN
Mushrooms: good in ravioli, game-changing in fashion. That’s the message from 2021, where fungi grew two separate streams of fame. One was with prints, as Rodarte, Brandon Maxwell, and Tory Burch made magic mushrooms into prints for their collections. The other was with material: a new textile called Mylo from Bolt Threads that mimics the weight and finish of other faux leathers, but comes from mushroom fiber instead of plastic. In March, Hermès announced its own mushroom leather—called Sylvania—that will be incorporated into existing bag designs. Meanwhile, Shake Shack still makes a mean portobello burger.
NEW YORK F*CKING CITY
There’s only one place with merch as cool as Kanye’s, and that’s New York. As the city reopened after a hellish pandemic year, the retail world embraced the Big Apple with a series of you-have-to-be-here items that merge local pride with serious style cred. Among the winners: Coach’s handbag odes to Zabar’s bagels and Serendipity 3’s frozen hot chocolate, MoMA’s new partnership with Champion, Our Lady of Rocco—a new collab from La Ligne and the pasta mecca Carbone—Only NY’s city park hoodie, and the New York or Nowhere tote bag that’s become a rallying cry from Staten Island to Stuyvesant Town.
In case you missed the memo, we want to wear sparkles again.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.