Fashion month in 2020 is unlike any other. In July, Paris Couture Week gave us our first taste of what socially distanced shows could look like, but the past month’s presentations have been our introduction to the catwalk’s new normal.
As Northern Irish designer JW Anderson put it when discussing his show in a box, “It’s not even about clothing anymore.” Instead, it’s about how an industry can survive when faced with the myriad challenges wrought by the pandemic.
Designers took differing approaches: some went back to the drawing board, producing leaner, fresher, revitalised collections, while others blazed stubbornly ahead, delivering characteristic extravagance with a new urgency.
The results were mixed — and rendered in mixed media, too. We saw digital presentations, physical shows, and the execrably named “phygital” hybrids, but a lot of marquee names were absent, particularly in New York, where Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors and Oscar de la Renta were missing from the schedule.
But fashion month wasn’t without its blockbusters, including yesterday’s Chanel catwalk, featuring the house logo blown up like the Hollywood sign. And it still offered plenty to think about, as designers straddled the line between practicality and fantasy, with riffs on the WFH wardrobe, the tentative return of partywear, and a high fashion take on face coverings. Here, we break down the standout moments.
The big debuts
The most highly anticipated collection of the season, if not the year, was the collaboration between Miuccia Prada and her new co-creative director, Raf Simons. Presented in an entirely yellow room with a severe black cameras rig, it was a celebration of each designer’s signatures. There were Prada’s full skirts, “ugly chic” retro prints and tucked-in knitwear, combined with Simons’s turtleneck layers, graphic prints and sleeveless tunics over narrow trousers. It all came together harmoniously in the gorgeous clutch coats, wrapped around the shoulders like a hug.
The other big debut of the month was Matthew Williams’s first collection for Givenchy. Replacing Clare Waight Keller, who designed Meghan Markle’s royal wedding dress, the former Kanye West associate brought a hardware-heavy new look to the French house, inspired by the “love locks” on Paris’s Le Pont des Arts.
The frow goes digital
Designers conjured innovative solutions to the empty front row: at Balmain, guests who couldn’t travel Zoomed in, with screens displaying the faces of Anna Wintour, Cara Delevingne, Jennifer Lopez and Kris Jenner, and Italian streetwear brand GCDS created digital avatars of Chiara Ferragni, Dua Lipa and Anwar Hadid for its cartoonish virtual reality presentation.
The most fabulous, however, was from Moschino, who put on a puppet show with marionettes modelling couture-level garments before an audience of miniature editors including Wintour, Edward Enninful and Nina Garcia.
The It mask
The industry appears to be optimistic about our post-pandemic wardrobes, as masks popped up in only a handful of shows. Christian Siriano — one of the first designers to retool operations to make masks during the lockdown — created matching masks for every look, which came off gimmicky to some critics but may prove prescient come spring.
The theme of protection continued in Paris: Schiaparelli created a luxurious gilt mask molded on a model’s nose and mouth, Kenzo showed striking veiled suits inspired by beekeeping, and Marine Serre’s dystopian sci-fi short featured a range of face-shielding bodysuits, futuristic visors and the crescent moon print masks that were a mainstay of her brand even before the pandemic.
The comfort zone
While masks may have been missing, designers seem to have taken to heart our new WFH reality, with many coming back down to earth with relaxed shapes, casual fabrics and surprisingly comfortable-looking shoes. Chanel continued its post-Lagerfeld era of ease and practicality, with looser, laid-back silhouettes and hair styled into mussed-up ponytails. Dior dressed down Japanese workwear-inspired pieces, including soft, collarless chambray jackets, and Tom Ford ditched the high-maintenance glamour for a fun, sexy take on silky separates, slouchy knitwear, kaftans and elastic-waist trousers. Several of the shows were staged outdoors, which served to highlight the difficulty of navigating real-world terrain in heels, but there were appealing flats, too. W
Occasionwear is not dead — or so a number of designers believe, judging by the amount of sequins, frills and satin gleaming on the catwalks for next season. Versace was typically, unabashedly sexy, providing a dose of underwater-themed escapism with an array of vibrant crop tops, mini dresses and bikinis, while Carolina Herrera gave formal looks a more casual feel with abbreviated hemlines and playful shapes, styling them with flat brogues and Mary-Janes.
Balmain styled its sparkling finale looks on barefoot models, suggesting a party in your own living room. The most heartwarming moment came courtesy of Halpern, who honoured essential workers with a short film starring a train operator, a nurse, a hospital cleaner and an OB/GYN in his joyful feathered frocks, metallic pleats and shimmering leopard print pieces.
The wider perspective
Many of us have abandoned jeans in lockdown, but Victoria Beckham is betting big on flares as the trousers we’ll all be wearing next spring. As well as banishing flats (you’ll need high heels for these tall trousers), there wasn’t an elasticated waistband to be found in her new collection. Instead, she proposes a super-flared leg, split at the back, which she describes as “puddling on the floor”.
The faces of fashion now
Diversity on the catwalk is an ongoing debate, accelerated this summer by the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Yes, some of the casts — such as Chanel’s — were still glaringly white, young and thin, but this season marked a few significant changes. Versace hired plus-size models for the first time, Balmain opened with a handful of older models wearing updated archival looks, and the Fashion Spot’s Diversity Report noted that New York fashion week boasted 57pc models of colour (up from 44pc last season). Elsewhere, many brands enlisted non-models to showcase their condensed collections, including Art School, which featured people with disabilities and trans/non-binary identities. We knew this season would look a little different, owing to the pandemic, but this is one change that’s long overdue.