Fashion trends and events 2021 has in store
As we bid goodbye and good riddance to 2020, a year like no other, let Culture Whisper be your guide to the essential happenings of 2021: from exhibitions to anticipate to the future of retail.
Catwalk shows didn't bow out entirely this year, but many that did take place were closed-set affairs for live-streaming. Some designers used the break from business as usual as a chance to break a mould that had started to feel too restrictive. Gucci's fashion film festival and Balenciaga's video game were the most ambitious projects, but there were plenty of other small-scale online happenings.
The digital direction is set to continue in February, when London Fashion Week will be run as a digital-first event. Having encouraged a standalone menswear schedule in recent years, the British Fashion Council now wants all fashion weeks to be gender- and season-less, making it something of a free-for-all.
As a hub of creativity and experimentation in both fashion and tech, London is perfectly placed to bring some true innovation to the digital fashion sphere, incorporating augmented or virtual-reality elements to create a presentation that will be a goosebump moment for industry and consumer audiences alike.
July 2021 will also see the debut of Balenciaga Couture by creative director Demna Gvasalia, postponed from 2020. The format of the presentation is yet to be released but in the hands of one of fashion's most forward-thinkers it's sure to set the agenda.
The pandemic has brought new awareness of the people, processes and problems behind all manner of goods that we buy, and has been credited for a surge towards more sustainable purchasing choices with recycled fibres, deadstock fabrics and vegan leather all becoming more mainstream.
The diamond industry saw a huge shake-up in 2020, as the pandemic forced diamond mines to close (and children to labour in some of those that remained open), gem polishers left India's city of Surat in droves, and cross-border travel for inspection and buying of stones was all but impossible for much of the year. Plus impacted finances meant demand plummeted and prices had to drop.
Terrible news for the mined diamond industry, but a bright spot for synthetic diamonds perhaps, which have been gaining ground in recent years.
Although the eco-credentials of lab-grown diamonds are not entirely clear-cut (the process uses a vast amount of energy, which is not necessarily from a clean source, and ample greenwashing abounds) there are certainly brands, such as Lark & Berry and Kimai that are focused on reducing the ethical and environmental impact of a new bit of bling.
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At the time of publishing it's not known quite what the inauguration ceremony will look like when Joe Biden is sworn in as President of the United States (joined by Kamala Harris as the historic Vice-President) on 20 January 2021. Usually it's a day of outdoor events and an evening of multiple balls, but it's likely that coronavirus restrictions will mean that many of the celebrations will be digital only.
With strong links between the Democratic Party and the American fashion industry, it will be interesting to see how Harris and FLOTUS Dr Jill Biden dress both for these events, and those that follow throughout the year. Both women are the archetype of unfussy, elegant American style and will provide a welcome change from the 'I don't care, do u?' emblazoned jacket and spike heels of Melania Trump.
Already beleaguered, the high street has suffered some cruel blows in 2020 leading to the closure of institutions such as Arcadia, Debenhams and Laura Ashley. While online entrepreneurs will be picking over the carcasses of these business and Topshop will no doubt live on somehow, 2021 is set to continue to be difficult for bricks-and-mortar stores until the virus is better contained.
The Government is also removing tax-free shopping when the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December, which will mean already low tourist numbers may not bounce back even when international travel restarts.
So, what could this mean for shops and boutiques in London? Industry publication Drapers reports there are a host of changes that could be afoot, from landlords turning defunct commercial space into residential units and indie brands helping build community hubs to stores becoming bigger to allow for social distancing and no doubt a return to the pop-up shop culture that emerged from the last recession.
While the digital sector fared better than its physical counterpart, retailers will need to move away from the deep discounting that sustained sales in 2020 or risk devaluing brands.
This could be the moment when the message of 'buying less, buying better, buying local' is paid more than just lip service.
Photo: Mike Petrucci/Unsplash
Undoubtedly, in decades to come some of the most compelling artefacts of the pandemic will be PPE items such as masks, shields and hand sanitiser.
But it doesn't take a global health crisis to imbue personal items with meaning and significance. Take the V&A's newly opened exhibition Bags: Inside Out, which was twice delayed by the pandemic. As well as a visual history of female emancipation – as women broke free from the home they needed something to carry their stuff – it's a feast of nostalgia, irreverence and aspiration and the opportunity to visit a museum again is one that feels particularly precious.
The focus on accessories continues in spring 2021, when the Fashion Museum Bath will reopen with an exhibition of footwear from its archives. Shoephoria! will showcase over 100 pairs of shoes from 300 years alongside A History of Fashion in 100 Objects. The Design Museum's postponed Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street will also open next spring.
London in the 60s has a legendary cultural identity, and a new exhibition will zero in on the Chelsea boutiques that, rather than being just shops, were portals to another world. Beautiful People: The Boutique in 1960s Counterculture at the Fashion and Textile Museum will bring together rare pieces from Ossie Clark, Biba and Thea Porter in September 2021.
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