The spring 2021 fashion season was many things: a creative test for designers and brands who had the capacity to create during lockdown; a first look at a new digital-first fashion week landscape; and a steep learning curve for all of those set on helping carve a path forward with the backdrop of COVID-19.
It wasn’t a cohesive effort, either, with New York and London almost exclusively operating on digital presentation formats, whereas Milan and Paris held a mix of live runways, presentation and digital initiatives, highlighting the uncertainty and unease plaguing debates over whether or not to reopen.
What stood out was innovation, on the part of the CFDA with the emergence of its Runway 360 platform, and with designers who captivated audiences by bringing them into their worlds. Here, a roundup of the standout presentations and shows from the spring 2021 fashion season, including debut collections, IRL events and creative looks into what the future of fashion week could be.
Simon Porte Jacquemus kicked off a string of live runway over a long spring 2021 season, making a compelling case with models negotiating a winding path through a field of golden wheat for his pastoral collection. According to Miles Socha, the collection was “soothing in its pale colors and natural textures, and seductive in its show of flesh, fabric peeling away in the breeze,” he said. “He was in his element on that sloping land in the Vexin region, about an hour outside of Paris. In an interview before the show, the wind whipping images off his moodboard plunked in the prairie, Jacquemus said there was no question in his mind that he would ever abandon physical shows. His was the first in France since Paris Fashion Week last March.”
In one of the few live moments during NYFW, Stacey Bendet offered a sense of hopeful, celebratory resilience with an energetic and much-needed pop-up dance performance to showcase the Alice + Olivia collection’s signature whimsical flair and to prove that New York’s creative energy is alive and well. “I wanted to put together some amazing, talented, creative women and let them express the clothing,” she said of bringing the clothes to life in a season of look book presentations. She cast dancers and violinist rocker Margot of The Dolls wearing the collection’s newfound casual ease, spotlighting the comfort and movement inherent to trackpants, stretchy jeans or fully embroidered pants in looks styled as “casual on bottom, party on top.”
The feeling of togetherness is one everyone in the world is longing for. Throughout 2020, designers have referenced this yearning through their designs and correlating collection experiences, whether in person or through a digital screen. To emulate this feeling, Ulla Johnson debuted, “Love Letter to New York City,” for the spring season. Set against the backdrop of NYC on Roosevelt Island’s Four Freedoms Park, Johnson’s dynamic outdoor runway film of her darling spring collection (an audience-less show) served as a way of reaching her customer beyond the standard format of an industry-exclusive runway experience. “For me, the takeaway from everything is we all need to be much more public facing,” she said. “We need to be speaking to not just this small group of insiders, but to announce things much more and to bring people into that experience of runway.”
Fashion with three capital Fs: fashion, fantasy, fun. Christian Siriano closed out NYFW with a healthy display of joy in the comfort of his own backyard, reminding us all of what we missed about real, live fashion shows. Siriano didn’t pretend to make his show about practical clothes women will wear when they emerge from quarantine. “I approached it as, with everything that’s happened, let’s just do fantasy here…,” Siriano said during a preview. “Hopefully everybody will escape for 20 minutes and feel a little bit like they’re in another place.”
The spring 2021 season was one that tested designers’ and brands’ creative capacity. One of the most innovative presentations came from Jeremy Scott, who turned to Jim Henson’s Creature Shop to bring his Moschino collection to life with miniature 30-inch marionette dolls dressed up in ladylike glamour and walking in a charming, salon-style, fashion-show film. Speaking from his home in L.A., Scott said: “You see the strings, you don’t see the puppeteers but you sense them, and you know it’s a human craft, just like dressmaking. People don’t give attention to pinking shears and figuring out how darts are finished, but I wanted those to be the design lines of the collection, the patterns and embellishments. It was about showing human contact, thought and process, because this has been a humanizing experience globally we’ve all had to endure.”
Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons’ debut Prada collection was arguably the most anticipated of the spring 2021 season, of which Bridget Foley wrote: “History could prove this a seminal moment in fashion: Miuccia Prada, the ultimate feminist designer whose work displays a rare fusion of intellect and emotion, and one of fashion’s most powerful and resolute voices for decades, now coauthoring her brand’s creative output with Raf Simons, himself a major creative voice and revered standard-bearer of heady, modernist fashion. Her famously distinctive work has a range from austere to voluptuous, while his is more singularly “cool,” (give or take that late-term Jil Sander romance of yore). For anyone who loves fashion and believes in the purpose and sanctity of the live fashion show, there’s some heartbreak in the fact that this collaboration premiered digitally, as forced by the coronavirus nightmare. On the other hand, one can find kinetic resonance in this particular shift to a digital platform. “Today, technology is a part of life — the show is a dance between a woman and technology,” Prada said in a statement to WWD post-show. “The show is about simplicity — about clothes, and about the dialogue between clothing and the body. That is echoed by a dialogue between technology and the body, technology and humanity.”
Prior to Gabriela Hearst appointment as Chloé’s new creative director, the designer debuted her spring 2021 collection in Paris, a la a carbon neutral runway show. “I’ve been working with the mind frame that we are in a crisis since before the pandemic,” Hearst told WWD during a preview. “The paradigm that we always set ourselves is, ‘How are we going to do business 10 years from now, where there’s water shortages, where there’s less access to natural resources, lack of biodiversity?’” Luxurious, sustainable designs took the runway in a tightly edited collection of 30 looks. “Quality doesn’t need to be obnoxious or ostentatious,” she said. “You can’t build real quality fast, you can only build it step by step.”
Matthew Williams’ dynamic debut for Givenchy paid homage to legendary Parisian House codes built by Hubert, while offering a “steely new code,” through graphic tailoring, luxed-up casual and lots of hardware. “The silhouette suggests a tailoring-driven approach to the storied French couture house, while reflecting the modernism associated with Williams’ 1017 Alyx 9SM brand and his obsession with cutting-edge craftsmanship,” wrote Miles Socha.
How does a brand like Burberry organize a fashion show during a global pandemic? Bring it to the woods! With a set reminiscent of scenes from the “Hunger Games,” the luxury brand held its spring 2021 open-air fashion show livestream event with no audience at Black Park in Buckinghamshire, an hour’s drive outside London. Samantha Conti wrote, “Having spent much of his lockdown on Lake Como, reconnecting with his family and with nature, Tisci had wanted this show to be an homage to the purity, simplicity and stillness of the outdoors.” Designer Riccardo Tisci collaborated with artist Anne Imhof on a performance that mimicked ocean waves, with bodies pushing, pulling and collapsing on top of each other in a repetitive motion, with cameras following an army of models as they dressed in claustrophobic mirrored boxes, which then opened up to the forest outside. As they walked they appeared briefly free, but seconds later Secret Service-type men in black suits and sunglasses suddenly appeared behind them, dragging them down the trail.
Louis Vuitton Men’s artistic director Virgil Abloh decided it was time to disrupt the format of how to present his collections and go forth with a seasonless, itinerant model of fashion shows. Titled “Message in a Bottle,” the spring 2021 collection began digitally via a teaser dubbed “Zoooom With Friends,” through a squad of curious cartoon characters loaded into crates and shipped off to sea. Four weeks later and the collection materialized in front of a live audience in Shanghai on the banks of the Huangpu River, guests were treated to a larger-than-life presentation that included an equally outlandish set with branded red shipping containers and a variety of cartoon-like inflatables dotted both along the runway and in the reception area. Award-winning, American singer Lauryn Hill made a cameo as she was projected onto the shipping containers above for a virtual performance while models donned garments below for in-person viewing. The show, a month later exactly, made its resurgence in Tokyo, at a cruise terminal in Tokyo Bay, this time an additional 60 new looks that had not been seen before were unveiled, bringing a close to Abloh’s spring 2021 journey.
For its 110th anniversary celebration, Ermenegildo Zegna’s spring 2021 show, the runway was brought back home, literally, as artistic director Alessandro Sartori didn’t just consider the environment in which it was shown — the brand’s HQ in Trivero named the Oasi Zegna. Streamed digitally from atop a grassy meadow, the spring 2021 men’s wear show had the models meandering and weaving through the Oasi Zegna for more than three kilometers in different directions, spanning from the factory and the archives to the forests. Alessandra Turra recounts “In particular, the designer let himself be inspired by the colors and textures of the unspoiled landscape of the Oasi Zegna reserve, which he translated into a collection of elegant garments that combined natural fabrics and technological manufacturing techniques.”
The Celine spring 2021 men’s show wasn’t the typical Hedi Slimane nod to the Seventies of well-tailored blazers, bell-bottomed pants and shaggy sartorial storytelling that fashion onlookers are used to. As for the clothes, Miles Socha recalled, “And so Slimane, after flirting briefly with bourgeois Paris in the Seventies, went back to elevated California thrift-shop chic, throwing together trucker and beanie hats, plaid shirts, Eighties-sitcom Windbreakers, gym shorts and loose jeans with blown-out knees.” In fact the 12-minute film, released on July 29 and dubbed “The Dancing Kid,” abruptly erases the Seventies haute gigolo style of Celine Homme and brings in a new wave of dressing inspired by teen boys and what they have been wearing in their bedrooms while creating TikTok videos in boredom during the pandemic. Slimane, not a stranger to over the top show sets, focused it’s spring offering to be presented at the Circuit Paul Ricard race track (helmets and all) in Marseille, France, proving to be the grand toast to TikTok’s eboys and skate culture fanatics, celebrating updated youth codes.
Creative director Olivier Rousteing celebrated Balmain’s 75th anniversary with a collection that reflects the world’s new reality. Miles Socha wrote, “He’s more convinced than ever that heritage is crucial, and that the pandemic has ushered in a ‘new sense of luxury,’ one hinged less on trends and more on careful spending on pieces that stand the test of time. Investment dressing is back!” The house unveiled it’s mega show at the Jardin des Plantes with an old-school vignette curated by fashion historian Olivier Saillard and starring the monogram jacquard the founder used in the Seventies for couture coats, ready-to-wear blouses and travel bags. Amidst physical and digital attendees, the set included three rows in stadium seating style, with oversized screens, each housing VIP guests including J. Lo, Anna Wintour, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Megan Thee Stallion, Kris Jenner, Usher and Cara Delevingne, among other friends of the brand who couldn’t travel, to sit virtually in the front row and to experience the show from screens scattered among the first three rows of the bleachers.
14. Zegna and Fear of God Release Capsule
Cult streetwear brand Fear of God and Ermenegildo Zegna joined forces this past March to debut during Paris Fashion Week their first collaborative effort, characterized by classic tailoring and modern American luxury in equal doses, which many industry insiders declared to be an unparalleled success. Through this merger of minds, Zegna’s Alessandro Sartori and Fear of God’s Jerry Lorenzo sought to create a lineup that possesses youthful energy as translated through time-tested craft. “With a shared true desire to create the modern man’s wardrobe, we partnered with Ermenegildo Zegna to establish a timeless collection rooted in freedom, sophistication and elegance,” Lorenzo said.
For the spring season, Jonathan Anderson packed up the runway and transformed it into a socially distanced affair, with Loewe friends and family receiving a show-in-a-box designed in collaboration with M/M (Paris), a classic archive box, which translates the entire creative process into a sensorial experience, from the initial inspirations to the show setting. Miles Socha said its contents came “complete with fabric swatches, color chart, a pop-up set, and a voiceover soundtrack on a vinyl 45, to be played on a rickety cardboard player you spin with your forefinger. It’s all contained in a hard-case filing box, perfectly expressing Anderson’s brainy disposition, and his penchant for do-it-yourself and craft.” Jonathan Anderson’s featured booklet references the collection’s inspirations from the American sculptor Claes Oldenburg’s work to Swiss photographer Walter Pfeiffer’s photography. The looks and bags become 3-D models for a 360-degree view, while the look book combines all the printed looks of the men’s collection and the women’s pre-collection on a block of paper.