The 20 best Fall/ Winter 2020/21 shows
It’s been a very particular fashion season, one which began with New York bereft of its four most famous guys – Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Tom Ford – and by almost the entire Chinese community – editors, influencers, buyers and designers. And – in the emptiest season in memory in terms of celebrities and star watching - ended under the shadow of Covid-19. Where, after the final push to complete in Paris the 33 days of over 300 shows one could only breathe a huge sign of relief. Another vitally feminist season, where the month began in New York, where the main news item was the trial for rape of Harvey Weinstein. New reports of that trial often appearing in newspaper pages beside reviews of the American shows.
That said, there were some magnificent clothes on display, and some pretty breathtaking shows. In terms of staging and spectacle fashion again delivered the goods with some remarkable performances and displays. So, here’s our take, chronologically, of the 20 best from New York, London, Milan and Paris.
From screen-goddess columns and power-shouldered wrap jackets to high-tech tortoise city coats for girls, and movie-star-at-ease-on-the-weekend suits and pea-coats for guys, no one makes American sportswear look more glamorous than Texan-born Brandon Maxwell. Plus, his staging of the first important show of the season inside the Hall of North American Mammals, where models marched passed giant Klondike bears, cougars or moose, within the Museum of Natural History, was flawless. The sooner someone gives this 35-year-old the reins of a European couture house the better.
Classic and classy modernism at Carolina Herrera, staged inside the 200-foot-high, retractable wall of The Shed in Hudson Yards. Marvelous Maid Marian floor-length dresses; precision-cut capes; or a series of dreamy dress shapes - column, princess, empire and ball gown. America’s most patrician brand looks safe in the hands of designer Wes Gordon.
A brilliant return to form for the duo of Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough with streamlined silhouettes, sleek tailoring and flattering volumes. Ideally draped heavy crepe dresses hanging off the shoulder; double breasted oversized boyfriend blazers or white knit cocktails with mutton-chop sleeves that recalled statues by Brancusi. Sculptural chic on the Hudson River at its best.
Preen’s homage to the psychological occult thriller Don’t Look Now, about a couple searching for their dead child in Venice, resulted in a sensational collection from the checked jackets worn by Donald Sutherland to the gilded costumes of Venetian nobility. Cutting with gusto, the Preen duo of Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi, concocted black ruffle dresses worthy a Grand Canal ball; while combinations of golden vestments and Argyle sweaters were achingly beautiful.
The only designer to get two entries in our Top 20 is Jonathan Anderson, whose latest collection for his own house, JW Anderson, was the UK’s stand-out fashion moment. In a season dominated by volume, his collection was the most voluminous – humongous coats with 24-inch lapels; spherical dresses made of antique celluloid or modular '20s frocks with subtle puff shoulders. Not perhaps the most easily digestible or commercial clobber, but as a fashion expression this was the most exhilarating anywhere.
Riccardo Tisci’s turnaround of the troubled UK fashion liner Burberry may be taking a little time, but in the process he is creating a special array of beautiful products. And staging London’s best show. The Italian built a 100-yard-long mirrored catwalk in Olympia, in the middle of which the famed Labèque sisters performed on two opposite-facing Steinways. And on top of which, the fanciest cast anywhere displayed Ricki’s multiple take on the trench – with faux-fur sleeves; or cut like a duster or trimmed with matelassé leather. An unlikely blend of India and Bethnal Green, where he lived as student two decades ago, his meeting of Madras checks and revamped rugby sweaters for guys ended with a silvery mod maharani that was outstanding.
Somewhat unnervingly for many guests, the Jil Sander show on the opening night of Milan was held in the city’s version of Chinatown, inside a huge former electrical plant. However, everyone visibly relaxed on witnessing this Sander collection, whose flowing shapes, pristine fabrics and graceful silhouettes made for a moment of grace and civility. The entire cast of 54 eventually sitting down on two lines of wooden office chairs to immense applause. Few of us realizing how the Italian season would end in a mini panic four days later.
Few designers are having as much of impact as designer Ian Griffiths has achieved at Max Mara. This season he referenced the '80s with plenty of power-shouldered looks, exactly on trend with the posh empowerment mood of many collections. Yet also a tender vision of fashion, referencing the sea and maritime shapes. Like marvelous officer’s great coats; generously draped cashmere duffels or foul weather jackets with tassels. Captain Ahab on Kaia Gerber.
Formidable females at Prada, shown in the Fondazione Prada before a De Chirico-worthy statue of Atlas, three days before Miuccia rather stunned the fashion world by announcing that after April 1, she and Raf Simons would be co-creative directors of Italy’s single most influential fashion marque. For her last solo Prada show, Miuccia subverted multiple female fashion clichés – like floral prints, sheer tops and career blazers – by combining them in unexpected alliances. Hence, perfectly cut and belted one-button blazers paired with calf-length skirts entirely made entirely of fringes; or dapper redingotes worn over knee-length skirts slit well up the thigh. The collection was so good, most editors would note when the Raf news was announced, Prada’s emaciated growth in recent years is surely more due to marketing and merchandising than the actual product. There was absolutely nothing wrong with this latest Prada collection, indeed it was on many people’s shortlist of top five anywhere.
A sensational Grand Guignol show from Fendi, in the best ever collection by Silvia Venturini Fendi for the house. One year after the departure of the great Karl Lagerfeld, Silvia is truly coming into her own as a powerful voice in fashion. With creations like the undulating runway in monochrome pinks, with dashes of gray, this was a triumphant display of opulent fashion. Military coats with enveloping shapes; armadillo sleeves; cocoon-shaped cashmere cabans and burnished leather ensembles. All worn by a superstar cast – from Bella and Gigi Hadid to Mariacarla Boscono – who clearly felt empowered by the collection.
Donatella Versace celebrated her first true co-ed show for the Medusa maison with a hyper linear collection featuring shortened lengths and nipped-in waists. Though there was nothing reduced about this show, a giant technological marvel where hundreds of Donatella faces opened the show on an 80-meter-long and five-meter-high LED wall. She then brought it to the end in a virtual blow worthy of Princess Leia. Everything emblazoned with 'V's, from python bags and Varsity jerseys to tracksuits and white socks. Trumpeting that under her new American investors, Versace is back with a bang.
The most succinct collection and show of the season was by Daniel Lee for Bottega Veneta. Just past the half-way point on the calendar, one could not help noticing that the shoe of the season was without question Lee’s intreccio padded Lido sandals for BV, seen on literally hundreds of editors at shows. This BV display marked a new stage in Lee’s development at the label, a truly beautiful set composed of composite of images of Palladian villas and statuary. Except that the statuary moved. In a co-ed show, guys wore strictly cut long coats with Napoleonic lapels, whose cut would have wowed Vitruvius. The ladies in elongated prim corporate suits for day; and in seamless sequined columns and tulip dresses for night. All of them classy, contemporary and clever.
Paris' first major show was Christian Dior by Maria Grazia Chiuri, who returned to the roots – though to her own in this case, referencing her quietly rebellious youth in early 1980s Rome. Opening with charming tomboyish suits, perfectly cut slip dresses, dissected with CD-logo belts and all anchored by combat boots. Matter of fact, about one third of all women attending the season wore heavy boots this season, a trend Chiuri created. Especially useful in Paris where it rained all week like a biblical plague. Maria Grazia has also set the agenda in terms of women’s empowerment. And did so again this season in Dior’s tent inside the Tuileries gardens. From which hung Claire Fontaine’s massive illuminated signs: Women Raise the Uprising; Women are the Moon that Moves the Tides; Patriarchy=Climate Emergency or When Women Strike the World Stops.
Few designers are writing more novel chapters in fashion today than Bruno Sialelli, whose latest show for Lanvin was nothing short of inspirational. Presented on a multi-generational cast inside inside Manufacture des Gobelins, arguably France’s oldest luxury marque, used by the Sun King Louis XIV, no less. Exotic affluence from bell-shaped white chiffon dresses with mini feathered capes to beautifully sculpted felt boleros and seductive sheer negligees. The cast attired in leather versions of medieval cornets. Before climaxing with remarkable white coats –made with artfully painted white feathers. French fashion at its most artfully elegant.
The only designer to merit two collections in to our Top 20 – and for the second season in a row! – is Jonathan Anderson. At Loewe, his latest amalgam of Spanish Renaissance, Ibizan attitude and Paris polish included a new element – ceramicist Takuro Kuwata, winner of Loewe’s own craft prize. The result was seen in breastplates and midriff patches in a collection where gilded silks and brocades were contrasted with somber utilitarian wools. Often more Van Eyck than Velasquez, this was the latest truly path-breaking collection from the iconoclastic Ulsterman.
Apocalyptic, but not remotely dystopian, chic at Balenciaga, where the runway was a miniature black lake, and the ceiling a giant screen projecting thunder storms and tempests. Climate change overhanging the collection, in a notably Spanish mood with Cristobal’s high collars and religious aesthetic very present. Hyper exaggerated proportions – like batwing dresses that recalled Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. And, it being Balenciaga under Demna Gvasalia, a latest logo – blncg – printed across many white jackets.
An homage to all things preppy. A work of performance art in a sylvan birch forest built inside the Beaux Arts. A circus ringmaster guiding 33 couples – guys and girls wearing identical outfits. And the latest revamp of Thom’s core concept of the little gray flannel suit with exaggerated shoulders, dropped lapels and micro jackets – embellished with bullion, crystals and grosgrain. The most coherent and consistent conceptualist in fashion who also has plenty of commercial nous.
In a season still dominated by volume, the man who drove the whole movement, Pierpaolo Piccioli, suddenly reined in the silhouette; darkened his palette, and punked up the attitude. The result was a stellar, poised punk princess collection of 'no categories,' as he put it. It often managed to be genderless, never gender-bending. Pretty well every model ditching Valentino’s rock-star heels for bovver boots – for evening with sequined columns. And the result was a collection that will be highly influential worldwide.
Sisterhood à la française at its best at Chanel. Musketeer mode that referenced cult French cinema classics from Peau d’Ane, a musical comedy shot around the chateaux of the Loire, or Les Biches, Claude Chabrol’s dark tale of doomed bisexual love. All shown on a cast that marched in twos or threes; arms linked; chatting happily. Jodhpur and riding breeches worn with divine white duelists shirts; forgiving new-classic four-pocket Chanel jackets; dashingly lean 12-button coat-dresses; all finished with great Byzantine costume jewelry. The season’s most romantic show, lifting the gloom even as rain fell torrentially outside the Grand Palais.
Unquestionably the best staged show of the month, thanks to the unerring eye of show producer Es Devlin and a truly monumental set. Some 200 opera singers in full historical costume, dressed by Oscar winner Milena Canonero. Standing six feet deep in a giant living tableaux, singing along to a stupendously baroque and electronic soundtrack by Woodkid and Bryce Dessner. The collection wasn’t half bad either; Nicolas Ghesquière in great form, riffing on multiple eras, and blending genders. Mannish pinstripe cigarette pants, Edwardian-dandy waistcoats and Savile Row rocker jackets with slanted pockets; all combined with space-age techie finishes ramped up silver jacquards; parachute pants and mock moonboots. An audacious mix that should not really have gelled, but did in a powerful final statement; and a vigorous and original vision of fashion and our relationship to time.
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