Last year was one of the most bizarre in fashion history. We ranked the 15 top fashion shows. This was a simple exercise, as all ranking, and it was a silly one: How can you claim that one Celine show is more important than a Collinastrada show? Especially with so many brands with different resources and audiences of different sizes. This list helped to make sense of a year which seemed to be governed by very few rules at all. As it turned out, 2021 was defined by a group extraordinary thoughtful designers who saw the pandemic not as an opportunity to communicate with customers but rather fanatics.
If 2020 was a thoughtful and sensitive year for fashion, 2021 brought a major shift, especially if you work in menswear. This was a turning point in our industry, punctuated with moments of cynicism and sadness. Kim Jones, Dior’s happy artistic director and collab-happy creative director, created a collection together with Travis Scott which felt unusually cynical but actually produced some quite compelling silhouettes. Scott’s fashion-adjacent Astroworld festival was a tragedy. Alber Elbaz, the sweet and charming lady, has passed away. Kanye West invented the puffer and Mickey Drexler made deranged comments about it. Daniel Lee put on a show in Detroit that was unsteady, and then abruptly left Bottega Veneta. It was impossible for brands to stop collaborating in meaningless ways. We lost Virgil Abloh in November. He was responsible for the modern sensibility of menswear.
What are we to make of these cultural changes that encourage blind consumerism? Are we seeing the end of hypebeasts here? Is this the beginning of the tailoring revolution that we keep hearing about. It’s probably neither. Many people have compared the Astroworld tragedy with Altamont. But what really scared us was that Altamont was not the end of 1960s but the beginning for the Rolling Stones to become the most popular band in the world.
The people who grew up with FUBU, Stussy, and Bape will be looking to reclaim this term in the next year. This will lead to a deeper, sometimes divine connection between clothes and cultures. A greater appreciation for the designer’s passions than congratulating them for their understanding of the zeitgeist. Jonathan Anderson was a champion of this approach with his Loewe collection based around Florian Krewer’s painting. Eckhaus Latta and Raul Lopez also encouraged it. These designers are deeply symbiotic with their communities. It was also the last and most important project of Virgil Abloh. His two Louis Vuitton collections of this year saw him rummaging through the archives and the history streetwear with the enthusiasm of his teenage brain.
These 13 shows were the best of 2021 and offer a compelling path forward for 2022.
13. Loewe Spring/Summer 2022
Jonathan Anderson’s collections during the pandemic were deep dives into his passions. His menswear collections have been focusing more on queerness in recent years. His clothes were given a playful humanity by the great casting of snarling men all ages and the rave scene in the ’90s. Florian Krewer’s queer painter inspired Anderson to create this collection. His flourescent weird sexiness felt right at home with Anderson’s clothes. Anderson doesn’t care about fashion trends, even though Loewe is a favorite of clout-chasing celebrities. Anderson’s obsession with ultra-personal things has made his collections more unique, original, and even more bizarre.
12. Celine Spring/Summer 2022
TikTok is a lightning bolt to Hedi Slimane’s creative consciousness. Many designers just want to sell what they know will be popular: loud mismatched prints and shredded jeans, large feed-friendly jackets, etc. Slimane, however, has managed to approach this style more as a documentarian than a panderer. It’s partly because Slimane is such a skilled practitioner of fashion systems. For example, The Elephant, who invented skinny jeans at the turn of century, introduced huge jeans for Spring 2022.
11. Eckhaus Latta Spring/Summer 2022
New York is home to fashion eccentrics. But it is those who stick to the established ways of dressing that have won the most attention. The street style boom that hit New York in the middle of the pandemic led people of all ages to wear dishabille, both joyfully and artfully. This energy and the shifts in politics over the past two years have made Eckhaus Latta, a younger designer, the mainstream. The show was partly a playful tribute to Helmut Lang’s brutalist queer workwear. It had the rare quality that it was both wearable as well as highly desirable.
The pandemic has accelerated the pace of change in fashion. Street style directly feeds high-end fashion brands as well as fast-fashion giants. However, Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta are embedded in fashion fanatics’ creative universe and are among the few designers who are symbiotic. They are happy to comfort their customers with sexy snap off knits and zaddy-leather. This show was also the first to highlight the erotic, instantaneously urgent physicality that has been brought on by the past two years. These were clothes you could pull off in a second.
10. The Row Spring 2022
Although The Row was initially professional and crisp at its beginning, it has become much more casual and elevated in the four years since then. The references are quiet and discreet. They include everything from Chanel knits of 1930s to Armani in the early 1990s, to bizarre dress designs created by Yves Saint Laurent while he was head of Christian Dior for a long time. Although the menswear was made with beautiful fabrics, it is clearly the result of a worldly mind. It has always been more casual and suitable for finance guys’ weekends out east.
The men’s clothing made an astonishing leap to the right this year. The pants became huge but well-controlled, and the jackets in viscose billowed. One suit even floated. The uncool-cool look of late ’90s Prada was reflected in a pair of pleated chinos that were pulled low at the hips. Although it might seem suspicious to borrow so much from so many others it is actually a way to encourage an inflexible man to expand his wardrobe. Fashion is less important than the sacred nature and utility of a well-designed wardrobe. This is a difficult and underappreciated task for men’s fashion.
9. Luar Spring/Summer 2022
Raul Lopez, a New York native hero, is beloved by Gen Z and the millennials. He was raised in New York and grew up loving operatic high-fashion and Vogue right down to the gutter text. In 2016, Lopez left Hood By Air, the label he cofounded. But he made a comeback in September, as part of Pyer Moss designer Kerby Jean Raymond’s new incubator. The handbag of Lopez quickly became a hot item online and offline. His clothes, especially a long, bitchy, cuffed coat with a buckle across his chest, epitomized fashion’s new energy and sexiness. His audience cheered and clapped for Lopez and their models, but it was his spirit that had the greatest impact.
This year’s most popular theme was designers creating clothing for their self-described tastemakers and superstars. Hillary Taymour’s Collina Strada, a sweet-and-sour confection, was another great practitioner. Lopez was finally able to pursue the career he was destined for. It was so strong that European designers tried to duplicate it. Francesco Rizzo dressed his entire audience in his Marni clothes. Lopez’s audience was, however, more casually dressed in his Marni designs out of love.
8. Kiko Kostadinov Fall/Winter 2021
Each menswear designer made a Chanel-inspired Chanel-inspired boucle jacket in 2015. But Kostadinov was the only one to map the boucle as panels for performance shell jackets or pants. This is almost a joke about how fashion has become so fluid. Kostadinov’s collection marked the start of an existential search. He wondered what it meant for joy to be found in a world devoid of most modern pleasures. Kostadinov arranged his pieces in 90 (!) different ways. It was almost as if the man was trying to find the right answer, but he offered a very relatable excuse: Sometimes all you can do it put on good clothes. All other things are out of your hands.
7. Gucci Fall/Winter 2021
Before the pandemic there was a feeling that Alessandro Michele had completely redesigned Gucci’s look. It was almost as if Gucci was locked into producing rock ‘n roll magpie riffs. Michele, who reworked a number of brand classics like Tom Ford’s velvet suit into his own pagoda shoulder masterpiece, brought a new elegance to the brand’s 100th-anniversary show. The accompanying film offered a sweet, but not ostentatious look at how Michele’s Gucci launched the gender-fluid fashion revolution. Michele also staged what he called the hacking campaign, taking the signatures of Demna Balenciaga, his Kering sibling, and attacking them with the Gucci Logo. It was truly hilarious in a world of serious collaborations where brands put their logos on each others’ stuff and talk moodily about creative genius.
Under all the razzle dazzle, there was sartorial innovation. While piled-on, ultra fashion maximalism with sweatshirts, sweatpants, and sneakers has been Michele’s signature, now suiting is the most interesting thing in his collection. We were as comfortable and casual as the designer’s track pans, and his soft-bell and carrot-cut pants and soft-bell jackets had feathery double-breasted sleeves.
6. Marine Serre Spring/Summer 2022
People who know Marine Serre are able to see that she is a soothsayer. She is an upcycling pioneer, an environmentalist, and a model of designer who can make a buzz hit (her moon print jersey pieces which are so integral to TikTok style, they almost act as a filter), while simultaneously working on a larger picture. She refocused her silhouettes after the pandemic and streamlined them into key shapes that made it easier for her team, making upcycled materials more accessible for her customers. For a while, her crazy inventions like a couture gown made from a fleece bedspread were lost. However, she managed to find a perfect balance for Spring 2022 with torchons, which are the favorite dish towels of French chefs, as well as white tablecloths. It inspired me to imagine a world where a select group of elegant family members could nourish each other spiritually, intellectually, and physically, with a shared commitment to elegance. Serre’s ability, or at least to reveal his leadership skills in sustainability, was also confirmed by the collection.
5. Balenciaga Spring/Summer 2022, Demna’s Donda listening parties
While fashion observers have been recognizing the industry as part of pop culture for many years, Demna has placed it alongside music and Hollywood with two major projects in 2021. His first project was to create a creative direction for Kanye West’s Donda listening parties. These eerily choreographed and costumed events offered the most nuanced portrait of this year’s most misunderstood celebrity. Then Demna made an episode on The Simpsons. People in Paris kept saying the clothes were the same-old. But Demna has developed his language so that the clothing isn’t the point. It seems that he must keep the aesthetic consistent as these projects expand the audience who interact with his work.
4. 4S Designs Fall/Winter 2021
Angelo Urritia, one of today’s most innovative designers, is a great example. His personal style is amazing, and his brand’s clothes are very mature–fabrics made in Italy from high-quality fabrics. He is as knowledgeable about Chanel as he is about Fubu. He is also one of the most introspective and sensitive people in the industry, thinking deeply about his clothes and who they are for. He is not politically involved in his work, but every collection is softly influenced by his fashion history. It’s not hard to imagine him running a large European house. He could also be the next Emily Bode and start a conversation about the pleasure of dressing. I have never heard men talk as passionately about a garment than they did about his cardigan jacket and mismatched buttons.
3. ERL Fall 2021
This was Eli Russell Linnetz’s year. He has been secretly around for many years. In 2016, he directed “Fade” by Kanye West, one of the all-time favorite music videos. But in 2018, he started making clothing under Dover Street Market’s auspices. He explained the brand’s origins to me in a casual tone, even if it was a bit flip. Adrian Joffe, DSM honcho, suggested that he might be interested in making clothes. His clothing is so well-constructed, and his aesthetic universe so developed that he is either too modest or a complete savant. He’s actually both! Although his puffers are a big hit, it’s been fascinating to see how his aesthetic has influenced the wider fashion world. Like Kostadinov, he’s fast becoming one of the most exciting young talents. You can already see the ripples from his “sexy sales!”
2. Balenciaga Couture
Fashion today is primarily about the person, the human and the ego. But Demna shrouds his self (literally) in the clothes and doesn’t put much of his personal history into them. His ready-to wear was a success, but his couture debut was pure technical innovation. It was less about the greater social impact of clothing, and more about how each individual views fashion and craft.
1. Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2022
Virgil Abloh presented his best Louis Vuitton shows of the year. This was during a time when the pandemic made collections almost entirely digital. This feat is remarkable considering the Coachella-like spectacles he performed live. His January and June shows were remarkable and refined. Working with Ib Kamara, the stylist, helped to transform his clothes from cliche into a documentarian archetype. Abloh’s Fall 2021 show showed his inability to oscillate between obsessiveness and dilettante. His Spring 2022 collection featured GZA rapping and playing chess while Lupe Fiasco engaged in a swords fight. This helped Abloh to make the case that his propensity to borrow and quote is similar to DJ sampling. These shows were packed with so many ideas that Abloh fans and agnostics alike will be reminiscing about them for years.