2010-2019 – So What Was Fashion?

McQueen’s Plato’s Atlantis collection, spring/summer 2010

The decade got off to a glum start in February 2010 with the unexpected passing of fashion’s brightest star, Alexander McQueen (although his last collection would go on to influence women’s fashion well into the decade.) Most fashions at the beginning of the decade were restyled knock-offs of vintage looks, jersey dresses and cardigans that clung and draped about the body, or jackets worn over T-shirts and spandex leggings – a substitute for pants that is still popular at the end of the decade. Footwear had a new look with open-toed boots and hyper-styled shoes with towering platforms and skinny heels by designers like Nicholas Kirkwood.

Nicholas Kirkwood, 2010

Things got even more glum in 2011 when fashion’s next brightest star, John Galliano, had a public melt-down that ended his stint at Dior and put his career on hiatus while he went through rehab. Fashion moved towards drab colours like putty, nude, grey, and eggplant. McQueen’s legacy inspired short, mirror-print dresses that paired well with the new footwear styles and stood out from the animal prints, boho tops, and other trends that had been recycling through fashion since the turn of the century.

Luxury brands began to embrace their own vintage histories when companies like Chanel loaned dresses from past collections to stars walking the red carpet. Lagerfeld’s vision for Chanel would became increasingly similar from season to season as he perfected a look that really didn’t need to explore new directions to remain successful.  

Kate Middleton’s fascinator was the biggest fashion story of 2011

Fashion industry news in 2012 included Marc Jacobs leaving Louis Vuitton after 16 years, and Galliano picking up the needle again after his temporary banishment. It was becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of who was designing under what label. Sarah Burton was expertly maintaining Alexander McQueen, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli took on Valentino, Hedi Slimane replaced Stefano Pilati at Yves St. Laurent, Alexander Wang took over Balenciaga from Nicholas Ghesquiere, and Raf Simons was named creative director at Dior. The revolving door of young creative directors at long-established ateliers got more confusing as the decade progressed. 

Tattooing remained popular but with concerns over tanning-bed induced skin cancer, spray tans (identifiable by their orange hue) became more common. For men, undercut hairstyles with shaved temples were matched up with moustaches for ‘Movember’ cancer awareness campaigns. 

The problems of fast fashion created by companies like Zara, H&M, TopShop, Primark, and Forever 21 began making news. The high cost of cheap clothing in a price-war race to the bottom came to light when the Savar factory collapsed in Bangladesh in 2013 killing over 1100 employees who made Benetton, Joe Fresh, Walmart, and other fast fashion clothing brands.  

Inclusive and diverse – real women model Rick Owens spring 2014 collection

Steampunk was fading when the Hipster lumbersexual arrived in 2014. Men with dad-bods and man-buns adopted full Ozark-style beards, plaid flannel shirts, 90s grunge-style ripped jeans and knitted toques. For women, black boots, catsuits, and biker jackets were popular, sometimes worn with seapunk pastel tinted hair, or long hair with swept-to-the-side bangs like Taylor Swift. The new buzzword for the year ‘normcore’ identified dressed-down looks like pyjamas worn by teenagers to school.


For non hipsters a trend for dressing up became evident when Yahoo revealed their top searched question of 2015 ‘How do you tie a tie?’ While more businessmen were donning blue suits with brown shoes, the most controversial fashion news story of the year occurred when Barack Obama wore a tan suit for a press conference during an August heat wave. Across the Canadian border, Justin Trudeau’s novelty socks were the only faux pas commented on by the fashion press. 

For women, neutrals were making a strong comeback, and trouser suits gained momentum in every pant style from legging tight to palazzo wide. Fashion was finally moving away from retro vintage inspirations to conspicuously contemporary styles, using futuristic textiles and technology via designers like Iris van Herpen.

Iris van Herpen 2015 — too extreme for most, but influential in pushing fashion to look forward to the future

The Adidas collections by Stella McCartney brought rise to the new term ‘athleisure’ in 2015. Her upscale athletic clothing styles took yoga pants and hoodies into the luxury market and set off a trend that continues to grow. The word ‘athleisure’ was even officially added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2016, just as flyknit sneakers by Nike were becoming popular. The most controversial athleisure outfit of the year was the burkini – a head to toe swimsuit designed for Muslim women that was as scandalous to some as the bare breasted monokini had been fifty years earlier. 

In a palette of black and white tailored shirts and ankle-length skinny pants, shapeless jackets, and soft, woolly coats, a non-gender-specific style gained popularity mid decade.

In 2016, fashion was becoming political. Trump, Brexit, Black Lives Matter, transgender bathrooms – these were the headlines of the year, and fashion was not immune to being a part of those headlines. Fashion politics continued into 2017, from pink pussy hats to President Trump’s inability to knot his tie to the right length.

The undercut hairstyle, fashionable in 2012, was dropped by all but the Alt right during 2016 who paired it with white polo shirts and chinos for a ‘faschic’ look

Rules of conduct came into question in 2017. Vogue declared in late November that “…the biggest rule is that there are no rules. You can wear a princess gown with sneakers! A bathrobe to an evening event! Even slippers to the office!” However, dress codes did still exist. This became apparent when two teenaged girls were not allowed to board a United Airlines plane for wearing leggings. A few months later, a brouhaha erupted over a ban on sleeveless frocks and open-toed shoes for female reporters at the U.S. Congress. More dress code stories hit the headlines ranging from whether restaurants could require their hostesses to wear high heels, to fashion dos and don’ts posted by American restaurants that were really thinly disguised racial profiles. 

Leggings, especially nude coloured, were THE worst fashion of the 2010s

The Hipster look began to wane as designers jumped on transgender chic for menswear. Many young designers avoided traditional fashion weeks and directly marketed to their fanbase via Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Some of the older, established labels, like Vivienne Westwood and Versace, profited from market interest in their vintage pieces by remaking favourites from past collections. At auctions and vintage boutiques, buyers were battling it out for museum-worthy couture. 

Other than Meghan Markle’s trend-setting preference for bateau necklines, politics made most of the fashion headlines in 2018. Fashion news always seemed to be about some sartorial gaff, from cultural appropriation to the “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” green Zara jacket Melania Trump wore to fly to Texas to visit children separated from their families at the U.S. border. Other politically-charged fashion news in 2018 and 2019 included: the closure of Ivanka Trump’s off-shore fashion business due to the widespread boycott of the Trump brand; Hollywood actresses creating a fashion blackout at the Golden Globe awards; Nike catching flak for hiring Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49er quarterback who started the ‘Take a Knee’ anti-racism protest; France’s gilets jaunes yellow vest protestors; Dolce and Gabbana’s promotional ads that offended the entire Chinese nation; London fashion week going fur free; a Gucci sweater resembling blackface; and Victoria’s Secret last fashion show due, in part, to pushback for their propagation of unrealistic body images.

Melania Trump on her way to visit children separated from their parents at the Texas border, 2018

Via cheap labour, massive investment, and luxury spending, the fashion industry underwent a ‘Chinafication’ over the past thirty years. However, as the decade came to a close, it became apparent that the fashion industry was no longer sustainable, either economically or environmentally. Textile production is the world’s second most polluting industry after oil and only remains profitable because of over-consumption. A growing trend to buy less, choose quality over quantity, wear what you already own, and recycle everything else is beginning to change the fashion industry and will have a larger impact in the 2020’s. 

Extinction Rebellion at London fashion week, 2019

Some companies like Levi Strauss and Prada are working towards zero carbon footprints in the near future, others like Eileen Fisher and Patagonia are buying back their own used clothes from customers for upcycling. Some designers create collections in a patchwork chic that uses up textile off-cuts otherwise destined for the garbage.

There has been a seismic shift in retailing in the 2010s as a third of all sales are now direct to consumer online purchases. Brick and mortar shops are becoming more like showrooms as streets and malls, previously crowded with retailers, empty out. 

Parisian couturiers and New York fashion editors are no longer the leading fashion influencers. Today’s fashions are influenced by computer-generated algorithms, duck-faced Instagram selfies, bloggers, Facebook ‘likes’, and YouTube instructional videos. Get ready for the 20’s because everything is changing… 

We lost a lot of fashion history in the 2010s: Vidal Sassoon, Nolan Miller, Gloria Vanderbilt, Terry de Havilland, Max Azria, Karl Lagereld, Isabel Toledo, Ottavio Missoni, Hubert Givenchy, Judith Leiber, Kate Spade, Alexander McQueen, Michael Vollbracht, Emmanuelle Khanh, Gina Fratini, Laura Biagiotti, Kenneth Jay Lane, Pierre Berge, Herve Leger, Azzedine Alaia, Andre Courreges, Sonia Rykiel, James Galanos, Bill Cunningham, Oscar de la Renta, Koos Van den Akker, Jean Louis Scherrer, Arnold Scaasi, Elio Fiorucci, Madame Carven, John Fairchild, Lilly Pulitzer, Emanuel Ungaro, and Glamour magazine.

What is Vintage?

Here’s an interesting article about how Chanel is suing the New York vintage clothing store What Goes Around Comes Around for selling ‘vintage’ Chanel. The company is citing unfair competition, false advertising, and trademark infringement.

What Goes Around Comes Around has been in business for 25 years and has a very chic looking online website where all their merchandise, by various makers, is sold with clear catalogue-quality photos. Everything is in top condition and appears unworn. It doesn’t look like your typical vintage shop, but that’s because the owners spend a lot of time making it that way. They are trying to make used clothing a viable part of the contemporary fashion market, and so the goods have to be fresh and wearable.

The shop’s goods mostly date from the last 25 years, which Chanel says isn’t vintage, citing the Federal Trade Commission as defining vintage as being at least 50 years of age. I looked it up and the Federal Trade Commission does say “A vintage collectible is an item that is at least 50 years old.” However, the trade commission’s concern is not with the definition of vintage, but rather confusion in the marketplace over what is an antique, vintage collectible and reproduction. The general thought is that something becomes vintage after about 20 years. eBay, Etsy, and the Vintage Fashion Guild all follow that idea of about 20 years to call a garment or accessory vintage.

The term vintage is loose. It is used in the wine industry to describe a particularly good year (not relevant to any particular age – last year could be vintage.) It is used by car collectors to refer to something similar, but does also require at least 25 years of age. The term is also used by Oriental carpet dealers to refer to non-antique carpets (a nice way to say used but quality). The term vintage in the used clothing industry is in itself a vintage term, popping up in the mid 1960s when vintage clothing boutiques started opening up for their hippy clients. However, the term is not set in stone — Patsy Stone in Absolutely Fabulous quips that her clothes are vintage as soon as they come back from the dry cleaner.

As for the rest of the claim by Chanel against the vintage clothing store. They cite finding one counterfeit Chanel bag amongst their stock, but that is why the shop has a guarantee of authenticity for their merchandise, so in case this happens, you can return the bag without problems. Mistakes can happen as there are some very good Chanel fakes out there, and the store obviously has a good reputation, otherwise it wouldn’t still be in business 25 years later. As Chanel is known to be uncooperative and will not authenticate any Chanel item unless there is also a proof of purchase receipt from a Chanel dealer, it seems Chanel itself isn’t exactly an expert at identifying their own goods.

This lawsuit is a case of David and Goliath. Chanel looks silly for making a big todo over one fake purse and the definition of vintage. Chanel says the store damages Chanel’s reputation, but I think silly lawsuits are doing that just fine.

That time Chanel went to Hollywood…

Garbo and Chanel, publicity meeting, March 1931

On January 19, 1931, the New York Times reported film producer Samuel Goldwyn’s announcement: “After more than three years of constant effort, I have at last persuaded Madame Gabrielle Chanel, fashion dictator, to go to Hollywood to co-operate with me on the vexing question of film fashions.”

Chanel’s resistance to work in Hollywood was quashed by the realities of the Depression that had dramatically reduced the number of orders being placed with her atelier. The lure of a million-dollar contract and a studio with over a hundred workers at her command was too appealing to turn down. The New York Times outlined the deal: “She will reorganize the dressmaking department of United Artist studios and anticipate fashions six months ahead, solving thereby the eternal problem of keeping gowns up to date…Thus, Madame Chanel may reveal the secret of all impending changes and the American women will be enabled to see the latest Paris fashions, perhaps, at times, before Paris itself knows them.”

Madge Evans in suit by Chanel, 1931

Chanel arrived in Hollywood in March 1931, in the middle of production of Eddie Cantor’s Palmy Days (1931). She created a few garments, mostly for the star Barbara Weeks, including four versions of the same dress with small differences so that the dress looked its best from different angles and positions.

Chanel then went to work on creating thirty outfits for Ina Claire, Joan Blondell, and Madge Evans who were playing gold diggers in The Greeks Had A Word For Them (released February 13, 1932). The film was set in the late 1920s, so Chanel created contemporary looks with a nostalgic flair – not something fashion was doing at the time.

Her next job was to create gowns for Gloria Swanson in Tonight or Never (1931) which was released two months before The Greeks Had A Word For Them.  This was a frustrating experience for both women as Chanel had to contend with Swanson’s unplanned pregnancy during filming. Swanson’s shape had changed in the six weeks between fittings, requiring Swanson to wear a girdle that ended at her knees in order to fit Chanel’s gowns.

With her contract fulfilled, Chanel collected her million dollar cheque and left Hollywood in a huff, never saying anything nice about the experience for the rest of her life.

Faking It at FIT

Faking-It-brochure-cover_482I am fascinated by this side of fashion and always thought there was potential for an  exhibition and/or book on the topic. The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York thinks so too and beat me to it!

Their online exhibition is now available and its an interesting read – the breakdown of the differences between the Chanel and the Orbach’s copy of the grey tweed suits pictured in this image is fascinating!


Book Review – Sleeping With the Enemy

Picture-52Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War, is an expose of Chanel during and after World War II. Author Hal Vaughan spent years researching Chanel’s association with the Nazis. When his book came out in 2011 the Chanel company generally avoided comment as much as possible, but when pressed, denigrated Vaughan’s work by suggesting there were more serious books on the topic. Actually, there are no other books on the topic. The books and movies, and even a broadway play about Chanel always focus on her early life and loves, and comeback in the 1950s and 1960s. The gaping hole in her biography between 1940 and 1954 is rarely addressed, until now.

Chanel was involved romantically with Baron Gunther van Dincklage, a known German spy who had already been living in Paris for years when war broke out. She immediately closed her couture shop, explaining that this was ‘not a time for fashion’. This action appears patriotic, but it was the opposite of what was being asked of France’s employers, especially of luxury goods, which brought foreign currency into France that could be used to fund its ability to wage war.

When the country was occupied the following summer, Chanel was living at the Ritz hotel and remained there for the duration. She took advantage of the Nazi seizure of Jewish property and applied for full ownership of her perfume company, which had been financed by the Jewish Wertheimer family. On May 5, 1942 Chanel wrote to Nazi officials: “Parfums Chanel is still the property of Jews… I have an indisputable right of priority…”

Even more damning in Vaughan’s book is how Chanel was actually paid by the SS to become Agent 7124, code name “Westminster” (the name inspired by her former lover the Duke of Westminster– a British peer who was also openly anti-semitic.) In 1943, Coco travelled to Berlin to be briefed about “Operation Modellhut”, a plan to end Britain’s war against Germany. The details have been lost or destroyed but it involved a chain of people that stretched from Hitler to Churchill and Chanel was a vital link in delivering a letter to Churchill via the British embassy in Madrid. Chanel asked British aristocrat and friend, Vera Lombardi to meet her in Madrid to explore the possibilities of creating a Chanel couture house in Madrid. However, the mission failed when Lombardi realized the real purpose of their meeting and reported Chanel as a nazi spy.

After the occupation, Chanel was interrogated but never prosecuted due partly to a lack of documentation but moreso to friends in high places. Churchill himself was thought to have intervened via the British ambassador to France to keep Chanel from testifying at a trial that would have become an embarrassment for many. It was easier to punish unimportant French women who had slept with German soldiers, and shopkeepers who had been nice to German clients.

In a bizarre twist, the Wertheimers renegotiated their financial arrangements with Chanel after the war, making her a very wealthy woman, living in exile in Switzerland for almost a decade before returning to her trade. The cover-up of her wartime actions in France meant her return to fashion in 1954 was applauded, especially in the U.S. where her clothes became the standard of society fashion.

Once Upon a Time a fashion designer foolishly tried to be a film director…

I think Karl Lagerfeld tried really hard to make this film overtly chic, and he might have been successful had he hired a writer to create a storyline and dialogue, but what Karl ended up with instead is a pretentious mess with a 1970s porn film acting style. Worst of all, Lagerfeld makes it look like Chanel stole all her ideas from her clients, from ropes of pearls to using tweed and jersey…

Film Costume Reviews – Leatherheads, and Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

(Originally blogged October 19, 2010)

Speakeasy scene with Zellweger in 1925 - the dress is passable, but that hair?

As I am down with a cold right now I am watching a lot of movies and from this past weekend I saw two costumed films that are worthy of comment: Leatherheads, and Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky. You might not think these two movies have much in common other than being set in the 1920s, but they share one more thing – sloppy costuming.

The hair is hidden beneath the correct hat now, but the coat is old fashioned for 1925

Leatherheads uses a 1930s screwball comedy genre to tell the story of the creation of the American national football league. Set in 1925, the costumer (Louise Frogley, who often works with George Clooney) paid great attention to detail in the creation of the original football uniforms. The crowd scenes are also well decked out in tweedy belted coats and caps or homburgs. However, when it comes to Renee Zellweger, there were massive costuming and grooming problems. Renee looked dead on perfect in Chicago, so she knows what she should look like in the 1920s, and clothing and hair people should also know the difference between a 1920s fingerwave and a 1940s set, but for some reason in leatherheads she has flowing locks in the style of Carole Lombard or Jean Arthur but otherwise wears dumpy tweed coats belted at the waist which are only worn by out-of-date matrons in 1925.

Stagey black and white set and costuming for Coco and Igor, set in 1920

A film with similar problems, albeit more style, is Coco & Igor. The first scene from 1913 shows Chanel cutting herself out of a corset, suggesting this is something women had to do (not true.) The next scene is the best of the entire film – a recreation of the evening in May 1913 when Ballet Russe debuted Rites of Spring to a Paris audience that booed the production off the stage for being too vulgar and simplistic. This scene is used to show Chanel’s introduction to Igor Stravinsky, the composer of the music for Rites of Spring. The rest of the film takes place in 1920, the year Chanel developed her No. 5 perfume, but the entire film is costumed for Chanel like its 1925 – as if she is wandering about Paris five years ahead of everybody else. In 1920, Chanel was still barely known as a couturier and had been open in Paris for only a few months. She had worked as a milliner during the previous decade and had gained some fame for the jersey seaside clothes she sold at shops in Deauville and Biarritz during the FIrst World War.

The wife of Igor Stravinsky is shown wearing realistic 1920 fashions, but as this photo proves, the look doesn't blend well with the Chanel look created for this film

The motherly madonna-like wife of Stravinsky is portrayed wearing 1920 fashions but as matronly attire in comparison to the avant-garde black and white garments of Chanel. The costumer has borrowed ideas from Chanel fashions from the 1920s, 30s and later, suggesting Chanel’s style was already defined by 1920. This is simply not true. In all fairness, I know of only three extant dresses by Chanel that predate 1925, so there isn’t much to look at to understand what she was doing at the time. This film has an overall artistic look, but in a very stagey kind of way.

For Leatherheads I can only give the film a 4/10 for the football outfits and crowd scenes, but Zellweger’s look is so distracting it brings the rest of the film down. Coco & Igor I will up the ante to 6/10 because the Chanel clothing is artistic, even though it bears no resemblance to what real fashion was doing in 1920 or what Chanel herself was doing in 1920. The Rites of Spring scene is costumed well as are most of the audience at the opera house in 1913.