Year in Review: The Biggest Fashion Happenings of 2016

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A model walks the runway Christian Dior show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2017 on September 30, 2016 in Paris, France.
A loud and clear feminist message from Maria Grazia Chiuri's Dior debut | Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images

Although I would give anything to have a crystal ball that predicted fashion’s uncertain future, I am sure of one thing: 2016 was the most disruptive, chaotic, unpredictable year the fashion industry has ever seen. I’m not alone in my assessment – in fact, lead lines around the world declared the same. The New York Times wrung its hands, saying, “Fashion may never quite recover from 2016,” while Business of Fashion’s “The State of Fashion 2017” report said, “This has been one of the hardest years the fashion industry has ever experienced.”

Blame the Paris terrorist attacks, China’s backsliding economy, Donald Trump’s presidential win, Brexit, massive shifts in consumer behavior, or a myriad of other macroeconomic and geopolitical factors, but there is little doubt that the industry has seen its biggest challenges to date during the past 12 months. Everything seems poised on a precipice, but change – especially on this never-before-seen scale – might not necessarily be a bad thing.

In this report, I’ll take you on a journey through a year that began with the tragic death of David Bowie, one of fashion’s most beloved style icons, straight through to the bitter end that culminated in more losses and uncertainty. Along the way, however, glimmers of hope prevailed, especially where shifting retail practices, the rise of the Middle East’s fashion sector, and new technological innovations are concerned.

Hirings and Firings

  • January: La Perla taps Brazilian designer Pedro Lourenço as its first ever Creative Director, with responsibilities that included turning the brand into a luxury lifestyle company.
  • February: Demna Gvasalia debuts his inaugural collection for Balenciaga at Paris Fashion Week.
  • March: Bouchra Jarrar is appointed to the helm of Lanvin, while Justin O’Shea – who has no design experience – is appointed to head the menswear brand Brioni, prompting us to ask What Does a Creative Director Actually Do?
  • April: After three years as Creative Director, Hedi Slimane departs Saint Laurent. Anthony Vaccarello is immediately tapped as his replacement.
  • May: Alessandra Facchinetti leaves Tod’s, while Jonathan Saunders is named as the head of Diane von Furstenberg.
  • June: Arnaud Maillard and Alvaro Castejón leave Azzaro.
  • July: Maria Grazia Chiuri is hired to head Dior, which means women now lead at two of the four major Paris maisons. Meanwhile, Peter Copping shocked everyone by announcing his departure from Oscar de la Renta after less than two years.
  • August: After a year of speculation as to where the talented designer Raf Simons would land, it was announced that he would be taking over the head position at Calvin Klein.
  • September: Haider Ackermann is appointed to the menswear brand Berluti, while Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia of the cult-hit label Monse are given Co-Creative Director titles at Oscar de la Renta.
  • October: In the shortest stint of creative directing to date, Justin O’Shea is unceremoniously dismissed from Brioni after only eight months. Additionally, Peter Dundas is fired from Roberto Cavalli, while Consuelo Castiglioni chooses to leave Marni.
  • December: Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne are fired from their positions at DKNY the same day that G-III Apparel Group took over ownership of the brand from LVMH.

Celebrity Supremacy

2016 was the year that Kanye West legitimized his role as a fashion designer with his creatively lackluster but commercially successful Yeezy line – he does gets bonus points for impressively staged productions, though. Rihanna, with her optimistically royal spin on athleisure for Fenty x Puma, also received critical praise after debuting at Paris Fashion Week,

Additionally, Donatella Versace – who has an incredible knack for sniffing out young talent – named Zayn Malik as the new “designer” behind her ‘Versus’ collection. Meanwhile, Tommy Hilfiger aligned his brand with the megawatt star power of “It” girl and highly successful model Gigi Hadid for a collaborative partnership, which aided in the sell-out effect of his first “See Now, Buy Now” collection shown at New York Fashion Week during the Spring/Summer 2017 shows.

Finally, on the list of the most Googled fashion designers of the year, the top contenders were all celebrities: Kendall and Kylie Jenner with Kendall + Kylie and Kendall & Kylie for PacSun, actress and singer Zendaya with Daya by Zendaya, Angela Simmons with Angela I Am, Beyoncé  with Ivy Park, and Ivanka Trump with Ivanka Trump Collection. Celebrities are the new cultural royalty, but instead of the public taking sartorial cues from the high courts as in Marie Antoinette’s day, celebrities and their social-media impressions are now responsible for informing the public when it comes to style.

Kanye West Yeezy Season 4 - Presentation
Yeezy Season 4 at New York Fashion Week | Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images

Deaths in the Fashion Family

The year started with the gut-wrenching loss of David Bowie and continued to wreak dismay and sorrow with the additional passing of style icons Prince and George Michael. However, loss continued to prevail upon the global fashion family with the deaths of street-style godfather Bill Cunningham, beloved British fashion designer Richard Nicoll, Space Age 1960s designer and inventor of the go-go boot André Courrèges, knitwear pioneer and fiery feminist Sonia Rykiel, and adored fashion editor Franca Sozzani.

Chanel's Cruise 2016/7 Show in Cuba | Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images

What Made Headlines

Two of the biggest stories in the industry were the introduction of the “See Now, Buy Now” consumer-facing retail model, which places products on the runway available for purchase the second they leave the catwalk, and several major brands’ efforts to stage massive shows with the underlying message “impress or perish”. In February, after months of research, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) released the report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) that investigated the future of New York Fashion Week.

Yes, the results were slightly obvious in hindsight – the BCG report basically said that there is no “one size fits all” solution to the problem of changing consumer behavior, and that every brand will approach the problem differently according to size and ability. The report, however, concretized a conversation that the industry has been obsessed with since Raf Simons departed Dior, citing the stacked calendar and lack of time for creative development as his main challenge.

Bigger brands with hefty corporate backing, like Burberry, immediately chose to adopt the “See Now, Buy Now” retail model, while others, like Proenza Schouler, chose to experiment by releasing small portions of their collections for purchase following their runway show. Meanwhile, major luxury brands staged truly massive runway events that included far more than just a runway show and an after-party.

Louis Vuitton took to Rio de Janeiro for its Cruise 2017 collection, Chanel became the first luxury brand to stage a show in Cuba, Fendi celebrated its 90th anniversary with a stunning walk-on-water display at Rome’s Trevi Fountain, and Dior whisked its guests away to Oxfordshire by train. Each of these excursions included unimaginable amenities such as a pop-up pub, a Havana tour of unique spots like Ernest Hemingway’s home in a colorful convoy of cars, and more for guests.

Finally, one of the most intense longreads of the year includes one of the fashion industry’s most interesting stories as Business of Fashion broke the news concerning the secretive YOOX/Net-a-Porter merger, and the subsequent departure of Net-a-Porter’s founder Natalie Massenet. This three-part series reveals a lot about the inner workings of a fashion system under multinational conglomerate control.

A Positive Outlook

Not only did this year’s runways and magazine covers proffer the most diverse array of models and women in fashion history, but other inclusive events also occurred – 2016 saw the first hijabs ever to be worn on the runway at New York Fashion Week, the rise of plus-size models like Ashley Graham, and inspiring moments like Tommy Hilfiger’s partnership with Runway of Dreams to make clothing for children with disabilities.

Other enlightening moments included Balmain’s inclusion of veteran models like Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell for its campaign, 56-year-old Nicola Griffin appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition, and Armani’s fur-free declaration. In addition to this, we have seen an increase in Middle East designers represented at Fashion Week and on the red carpet, the rise of the Middle East blogger, and the embrace of Ramadan fashion by luxury brands like Stella Jean and DKNY. Although the future is uncertain and fashion’s footing is on shifting grounds, you can’t have progress without change.

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