We were all thinking it at one point or another in 2012: when Angelina Jolie, at the Academy Awards, stuck a leg out of her Versace dress as if she were hailing a cab on a rainy night or when Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte announced he wanted to design a fashion collection. But no moment so perfectly captured the decidedly absurdist direction in fashion this year as when Marc Jacobs arrived at the Costume Institute gala on the night of May 7 wearing a Comme des Garcons dress of see-through black lace.
You could argue that titans of fashion are taking themselves less seriously these days, perhaps in recognition that the world around them has changed so greatly. Their intentions, like Jacobs’ dress, are becoming transparent: anything for attention.
Many of the most memorable moments of 2012 are, in fact, symptomatic of an industry in which the players are struggling to retain their relevancy and their little (or big) shares of the pie, all while being challenged by the economy, a growing field of designers and a vastly altered media landscape. Every designer hire and celebrity appearance is endlessly scrutinised and that includes the unexpected ones. What are you wearing, Sasha and Malia?
In some ways this environment emboldens fashion to up its game and take more risks - even if that means the biggest risk is becoming a punch line.
Here are the year’s major events that defined the industry:
After all the fashion drama that ensued from the public disgrace of John Galliano in March 2011, the recriminations and the gossip about the future of Dior, the result was a collections season of musical chairs like no other. It took more than a year to name a replacement, but, oh, what a choice the company made in Raf Simons, the sensitive Belgian who had rescued the Jil Sander label from minimalist purgatory with his couture shapes and shocking colors. Simons brought his magic to Dior with a home-run debut couture collection in July, and his move left an opening at Sander for the semiretired Jil Sander herself to return to the label after eight years.
There had also been persistent rumours that Hedi Slimane, the former Dior menswear star, would replace Stefano Pilati as the designer of Yves Saint Laurent, which, in fact, happened in March. Pilati is moving to Ermenegildo Zegna as creative director (including for its women’s Agnona label) in the new year.
There was some speculation that the wide berth given to Slimane by PPR, which owns the Saint Laurent label, might have prompted the next big move at one of the company’s other labels. In November, Nicolas Ghesquiere resigned from Balenciaga, where he had worked for 15 years. A month later, Alexander Wang, one of the biggest stars of the next generation, was named to replace him.
The first rule of mixing celebrities and fashion: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt can do no wrong. Until they both do, and in spectacular fashion. First there was Jolie’s strange pose at the Academy Awards, on the red carpet, onstage and finally as an online meme. Then came Pitt’s mumbling ads for Chanel (“inevitable,” indeed), which spawned a cottage industry of parodies. Earnest-seeming celebrities who secretly try too hard? Who would have figured?
After a trademark dispute with Yves Saint Laurent over the ownership of red soles on shoes, Christian Louboutin either scored a major victory for the cause of designers who are the victims of knockoffs, or he left everyone more confused. While Louboutin did not actually prove that YSL had infringed on his design by selling all-over red shoes, a court did uphold his trademark on red soles - but only when the rest of the shoe is painted a different colour. Did anyone tell Forever 21?
Everyone wants in on the next big gadget, including Diane von Furstenberg, who shared her runway with the Google co-founder Sergey Brin to promote a new type of glasses that have a built-in camera and can give you directions. Though they looked insane, the designer and the technology guy were probably quite clever to join forces when you consider how fashion has reacted to technology developments in recent years by, for instance, scaling suit pockets and athletic clothes to fit popular devices. Even von Furstenberg now designs a nifty handbag with a built-in iPad case.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America has encouraged designers to pledge not to use models under age 16 on their runways. Vogue said it would no longer feature them in the magazine. And yet the entire industry is skewing so young that serious designers now spend hours analyzing the style of Suri Cruise and her age set, while Lanvin, Versace and Gucci have started selling four-figure frocks for 4-year-olds. And last week, Burberry introduced an ad campaign starring Romeo Beckham, the 10-year-old son of David and Victoria Beckham. It’s enough to make you go aww. Or ew.
Men in skirts is becoming a thing, and it’s not just about Marc Jacobs this time. Thanks to designers like Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, not to mention all of the Gaultiers, Yamamotos and Rick Owenses before them, skirts for men are actually, finally, really and truly, being seen on men. Just not to the office. We’re still getting used to shorts!
Ryan Lochte, the great marketing hope of the Olympics, was caricatured as a “sex idiot” on “30 Rock” this fall. But his real ambition lies in fashion, which is probably not as surprising as it should be. No profile of Lochte has failed to mention his impressive sneaker collection, or his walk-in closet, or his grills, or his attempts to monetise his favourite meaningless catchphrase, “Jeah!” So now he’s a style idiot, too.
Speaking of the Olympics, there was so much designer news that it might be time to consider catwalking a competitive sport. It was a major fashion moment during the closing ceremony in London when a group of English supermodels appeared in the show, but the bigger story was the outrage Ralph Lauren faced because the ceremonial uniforms he designed for the U.S. team were produced, like a heck of a lot of clothes these days, in China. (This was apparently even worse than the revelation that the Egyptian team had been outfitted in knockoff Nikes.) The episode prompted a renewed look at manufacturing in the United States, including by Lauren, who promised to produce future Olympic uniforms in this country.
Hedi Slimane’s debut collection for Saint Laurent, a bonanza of boho chic, had its detractors in the news media. One magazine editor called it “Rachel Zoe Deluxe Redux.” But retailers loved that Slimane offered an easy-to-understand and potentially crowd-pleasing collection, and Vogue put a look on the cover of its January issue. Despite all of the antics over which editors were invited to the show and where they were seated, Slimane’s collection highlights a new direction in fashion that will be perhaps less engaging to critics, but that has the end customer in mind. After the show, Zoe, for one, said, “I literally want every single piece.”
Four more years - of talking about what Michelle Obama is wearing, that is. The campaign conversation reached a new level of superficiality this year, when fashion enthusiasts shared real-time conversations about the styles of Michelle Obama and Ann Romney, even while their husbands were debating, or whatever. The pressure to send the right message was so great that both candidates’ wives appeared in hot pink, the colour signaling support of National Breast Cancer Awareness month, at an October debate. Maybe now Michelle Obama can relax a little, or how about showing up for the inauguration in a see-through lace dress?