Roberi and Fraud's Frances sunglasses
Roberi and Fraud's Frances sunglasses, which epitomized the tiny-sunglasses trend, in New York. Image Credit: NYT

What were you, 2018?

As a befuddling year comes to its grinding close, it is hard to remember, much less catalogue, everything that has barrelled down the pike. A swirl of controversy seeping upward to the highest reaches of government (“Law & Order: The United States”). The advent of the urban prairie dress. Clouds of cucumber vape. The bruising US midterm elections. The Great Awokening. The desperate calls to green the world (just in time for the news that it may be too late). The arrival of the Four Horsemen: Salt, Fat, Acid and Heat. The world’s new favourite vacation destination: Wakanda.

How can we take stock of a year that brought us, and subjected us to, so much?

Easy. This is late capitalism, after all. It’s the stuff, stupid.

It may be a long time before we apprehend the full measure of the slogs and successes of the year, but until then, there are the: What we bought (and hoped to), what we self-soothed and self-improved with, what we wore (and how we wore it). “No ideas but in things,” wrote noted futurist William Carlos Williams, back in the salad days of the 20th century.

And what things! Here, 11 of them that defined the stylish year.

Tiny Sunglasses

The year had barely begun when the commandment came from on high. “He sent me a whole email, like, ‘You cannot wear big glasses anymore. It’s all about tiny little glasses.’” Thus spake Kanye West to his wife, Kim Kardashian West, and, via the bully pulpit of ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’, to all of us.

In the larger culture, West’s place has been debated, but in fashion, his influence remains strong. Interest in his Yeezy sneakers may not be what it once was, but tiny sunglasses did become, for a time, omnipresent, part of fashion’s continued obsession with recreating nostalgic looks with near surgical precision.

“He sent me, like, millions of ‘90s photos with tiny little glasses like this,” Kardashian West said on the show. Similar pairs shielded Beyonce, the Hadids, Kendall Jenner and others from the sun.

The Juul

The “It” accessory of the year is smaller than a pochette, holds next to nothing and requires regular recharging. It is the Juul, the sleek, finger-size vape of infamous ubiquity. The first issue of the revived ‘Interview’ magazine, in September, included a Juul fashion spread under the headline ‘Fall’s Most Ubiquitous Accessory Is a Juul’.

Juul’s dominance in the e-cigarette market is undeniable. Bloomberg reported in June that it had captured 68 per cent of the category, and it is such a phenomenon that, as The New Yorker put it in May, “Saying the word ‘Juul’ in front of a group of young people with spending money is like dropping an everything bagel into a flock of pigeons in a public park.”

The Prairie Dress

Tale as old as 2018: An Orthodox Jewish former corporate lawyer, wistful for the safe, frilly charms of vintage Laura Ashley, seeks out a dressmaker to make her dream a reality, and is enthusiastically taken up, in all her ruffled unlikelihood, by New York’s demimonde.

It had to be seen to be believed — but then it was seen. On important editors in the front rows of fashion shows, on the Instagram stories of downtown party girls, there they were: high-collared, often curtain-print dresses by Batsheva Hay, every cool girl and down-to-earth celeb reborn as a little hausfrau on the prairie.

The Statement T-shirt

His was an entrance announced by choir. Kerby Jean-Raymond, founder of Pyer Moss, has been rising in the ranks of fashion for years, but his September fashion show, held in the Brownsville neighbourhood of Brooklyn and scored by a robed gospel choir, had the feeling of a coronation. Jean-Raymond jolted a weary fashion press out of its customary ennui and, what’s more, proved himself to be worth the trip. Before the year was out, Vogue and the Council of Fashion Designers of America had awarded him their Fashion Fund trophy, heralding him as an important new voice.

He is refreshingly ready and willing to use it. Jean-Raymond, who is Haitian-American, has kept the black experience, historically underrepresented in the upper echelons of fashion, at the Centre of his work and has dived into politics in an industry that often skirts it for the sake of sales.

A T-shirt from his September collection, inscribed ‘Stop Calling 911 on the Culture,’ made dark reference to the unsettling frequency with which white Americans called the police on their black neighbours in 2018, a year that gave us “BBQ Becky” in Oakland and “Cornerstore Caroline” in Brooklyn, among several other incidents.

The T-shirt went on sale after the show in September and quickly sold out. Part of the profits went to the Innocence Project, which works to reverse wrongful convictions.

The Versace Revival

If one fashion house made headlines this year, it was Versace. Its history was hard-boiled in Ryan Murphy’s awards-magnet miniseries, ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’, about the murder of Versace and the psychology of his killer, Andrew Cunanan. The Versace family released a statement saying the show should be considered a work of fiction, but the series nevertheless arrived at a watershed moment for the label, now stewarded by Donatella Versace, Gianni Versace’s famously extravagant sister.

Donatella Versace, who sometimes stumbled in bearing her brother’s mantle, has recently been celebrating his legacy and recreating pieces from his archive, reviving prints like the TrEsor de la Mer from one of Gianni Versace’s 1992 collections.

The Faux Fur

The war isn’t over, but the fakes appear to be winning.

First Gucci announced, in the fall of last year, that it would no longer use fur or shearling in its products. And then, the rush: Similar pronouncements came from Michael Kors, Jimmy Choo and the Yoox Net-a-Porter Group, which will no longer sell fur.

Throughout 2018, more joined: Maison Margiela, Versace, Coach, Diane von Furstenberg, Jean Paul Gaultier and Chanel announced they would stop using fur. (Chanel will also discontinue the use of exotic skins like crocodile and stingray.)

CBD Beauty

In a teeth-chattering age of anxiety, it only makes sense that there would be CBD. Cannabidiol, a nonpsychoactive chemical derived from hemp, promises bliss without blur: a relaxing and pain-relieving feeling of contentment and calm — without the giggles or the munchies.

Suddenly, in 2018, CBD was everywhere, a steady drip of drops: tinctures and tonics, stirred into lattes, poured over soft serve or into almond butter, even given to the family dog.

Fashion Nova x Cardi B

Our Lady of 2018, Belcalis Almanzar — better known by her confirmation name, Cardi B — ruled the year in pop culture through sheer largesse. Who gave more — in drama, in singles, in guest verses, in news, in feuds, in brawls?

It is an oft-mentioned fact that Cardi came from the world of reality TV, but now she runs the show. She was a co-host of “The Tonight Show” and found even that too small, instead taking her show direct to her Instagram, where she filmed viral videos monologuing her way through her beef with Nicki Minaj. She announced her pregnancy on “Saturday Night Live,” had her baby, broke up with her husband. In the course of it all, she put out one of the year’s best albums.

The End of Gender as We Know It (Or at Least the Gendered Bag)

In a possible post-gender future — one that seems to be galloping closer, to the delight of its adherents and the dismay of its critics — such concepts as men’s fashion and women’s fashion will be seen as dusty relics of a backward time. On fashion’s runways the rumble has already arrived. In the vanguard and on the fringes, hyped labels (Telfar, Vaquera, Gypsy Sport) have been insisting on gender-agnostic designs and presentations.

Change generally begins at the margins. What was more surprising — or, for the cynical, more predictable — was the way it percolated up. Even the biggest companies are experimenting with a more elastic concept of what is for whom.

Christian Dior brought back its saddle bag this year, with a major campaign that placed it in the hands of scores of influencers. It was a calculated play for “It” bag status, but it wasn’t the only one. When Kim Jones arrived at Dior to take over its men’s collections, he, too, showed the saddle bag, kitted out with a metal buckle and a cross-body strap, but otherwise largely unchanged, the first time the company has introduced a men’s version of a women’s bag.

Are all saddles created equal? More or less — except, of course, in price.

The Air Max 1/97 Sean Wotherspoon

Those hungry for an end to sneaker mania will have to wait another year. Wandering Cassandras are foretelling the bubble’s burst, but it doesn’t look near. Some industry analysts said that designer sneakers were the No. 1 growth area for men’s and women’s footwear, and designers have not tired of making them.

At greater scale, name-brand sneakers still dominate. According to Josh Luber, chief executive of StockX, a marketplace that connects sneaker buyers with sneaker resellers and tracks prices, the top sellers by volume and by market share on the platform were all Adidas Yeezys or Jordans.

But rounding out the top 10 was a more artisanal surprise: an Air Max 1/97 (a hybrid of the two Air Max styles) designed by Sean Wotherspoon, a vintage dealer and Nike collector.

“Typically, the top-selling sneakers on our platform are associated with big-name celebrities and athletes,” Luber said. Wotherspoon’s psychedelic pastel corduroy pair, which was solicited by Nike and was one of the winners of a fan vote to go into production, broke through thanks to “exceptional storytelling and design.”