Fluidity, glamour and pop culture: The top trends of 2021 – Vogue Business

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In 2021, fashion reemerged from lockdown even as the ever-present pandemic persisted. Rather than a return to normalcy, the trends that dominated this year reflected a moment of continuous change.
Glamour made a comeback, as customers shed their athleisure wear for going-out clothes and office attire once more, but with more comfort and versatility than before. In-person fashion shows returned; this time more closely tied to digital elements such as live streaming, YouTube and TikTok content. And digital clothing and virtual worlds took off for fashion this year, even as physical events returned.
“This is the new way going forward — people are dressing in this virtual world, and in the metaverse in the future, you can dress in reality and virtual reality,” Hugo Boss CEO Daniel Grieder said during a keynote session at the Vogue Business and Google Summit in November. “You have to adapt to this world and to new technology. A lot of things are new for us, but you can't say it’s too advanced, or you have no chance.”
If 2020 was the year of online trends such as cottagecore, 2021 was the year of macro trends as parts of the world reopened and fashion’s tectonic plates continued to shift. Lines are blurring, between new and old, online and off, and across gender. Some aesthetic trends, including Y2K fashion, have stuck around, but dominating the trends cycle this year was a pre-pandemic and pandemic life hybrid approach to where, how and what people shop.
As we move to 2022, Vogue Business reflects on a year of evolution in luxury fashion and beauty, with the help of leading luxury buyers.
There’s been a shift to “buy less, buy better” among young people, meaning higher priced goods are selling well across retailers. As resale and rental flourish, young shoppers are keen to purchase iconic handbags and more extravagant clothing, with the knowledge they can resell it or rent it to recoup costs later on, experts agree.
HSBC analyst Erwan Rambourg first noted the buy less, buy better trend, told Vogue Business in April, “We’re coming out of a pretty stressful moment and from a consumer perspective, you want to make sure what you’re buying will stick around for a while.”
Platforms like StockX, which emulates the stock market, plays well into young people’s interest in finance. They increasingly see clothing and shoes as an alternative investment class, said senior economist Jesse Einhorn, who agrees that fashion investment is one of the biggest trends of the year.
Dua Lipa and Zendaya topped the fashion influence charts for 2021, per Lyst. 
In the second half of 2021, fashion returned to glamour and with that, customers started to invest in eveningwear, heels and suiting, says Browns buying director Ida Petersson. “Our customers are choosing to invest from a buy now, wear now perspective, and so it isn’t surprising to see the ‘going out-out’ trend truly performing as we approach the holiday and party season,” she says. In mid 2020, during the height of the pandemic, Browns saw fine jewellery, watches, and classic designer handbags outperform with customers looking at acquiring investment styles or pieces that hold value — these categories are continuing to do extremely well for the retailer and other players, such as Selfridges.
“Women are absolutely going to want to get dressed up,” Carolina Herrera creative director Wes Gordon, who showed embellishment, gowns and bright colours for Autumn/Winter 2021, told Vogue Business earlier this year. “But, I think what fun clothes and special occasion pieces mean for 2020 and 2021 and beyond is very different from what they meant in 2019 and 2018.”
Young consumers in particular are resisting all kinds of categorisation when it comes to fashion retail and marketing, according to research from Bain & Company and Depop. Gen Z want brands to offer them gender fluid merchandising, physical and digital activations, resale and retail in one place.
“There are no boundaries anymore between commerce and connections, consumption and production, and even entertainment and entrepreneurship,” Federica Levato, a partner at Bain, said in May. “This extends to how these generations view life and society, but also fashion. When it comes to newness, this generation has a new lens through which they see ‘new’.”
First, gender-free fashion continued to surge in 2021. Saks Off Fifth removed all gendered signage this year from over 100 stores, said chief merchant Molly Taylor. Designer Harris Reed was named fourth hottest brand in the world in the Lyst Year in Review, while celebrities including Lil Nas X (Lyst’s third most influential person of 2021) have inspired people of all genders to dress how they feel. It’s not just fashion, consumers are resisting gendered categories across jewellery and beauty, too.
Lines between business models are blurring as well, and consumers want blended resale and retail. Grailed, which received investment from Goat Group this year, sells secondhand and new fashion and streetwear in one place, which has helped it reach over 7 million users and over 3 million listings, according to the company. Net-a-Porter partnered with Reflaunt this year, allowing customers to resell their luxury goods to receive store credit or cash. Similarly, Browns launched a takeback programme with Thrift+. “Fashion is fluid and our tastes change so today more than ever, the resale/take back model is extremely important, and we feel strongly that this is the next step in fashion’s journey towards a more sustainable future,” Petersson says.
The Reflaunt launch also comes at a time when customers at scale are seeking this type of service, says Net-a-Porter’s Cranfield. “Over the past 19 months there has been an increase in customers shopping with a purpose,” she says. “Through gathering customer insights, our surveys proved that the appetite is there, and that 66 per cent of Net-a-Porter customers were already buying and selling pre-loved designer items.” The customer interest within this space continues to grow, and retailers are “excited” to see how it evolves in the upcoming years.
People also want a hybrid between physical and digital fashion. Brands have launched collaborations with real world and virtual products, from Balmain’s NFT sneakers to the Balenciaga x Fortnite collaboration, which dropped in-game and real life products on the same day in September.
“The most important element about these projects is to really tie the NFT — tie everything that is digital — to a physical experience,” Balmain CMO Txampi Diz told Vogue Business. “This is a perfect example of how I see the future of NFTs.”
Music, TV series, films, memes: fashion is closer than ever to pop culture in 2021.
Some of the most influential fashion players today are stars across film, TV or music, instead of traditional influencers. In Lyst’s year in review, actor Zendaya and popstar Dua Lipa topped the influence charts in first and second place. Zendaya, in collaboration with her stylist Law Roach, has had standout red-carpet moments including Balmain’s latex dress, which caused a 190 per cent surge in searches for Balmain dresses shortly after, per Lyst.
It’s crucial to stay tapped into pop culture to design for Gen Z, said Yoon Ahn, founder of Ambush and creative director of Dior Men’s jewellery during the Vogue Business Hard Luxury forum. Dior Men collaborates with artists and musicians: Justin Bieber is the face of Balenciaga; Gucci continues to dress Harry Styles for every appearance and tour; and Dua Lipa drove the large majority of media impact after walking Versace’s Spring/Summer 2022 show and has boosted the profile of smaller brands such as Maximilian, Knwls and Luar.
Miu Miu Spring/Summer 2022
“From the viral on set imagery from the Sex and the City reboot and House of Gucci film, to the incredibly important statements on mental health from phenomenal athletes Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles. We saw [pop culture] throughout the SS22 collections,” says Petersson.
Petersson cites Miu Miu’s notorious Y2K-themed runway and their revival of the Miu Miu Club and Balenciaga’s take on The Simpsons as key pop culture inspired moments — “we saw and felt it everywhere this year,” she says.
Germanier, Conner Ives, Rave Review, Duran Lantink, Chopova Lowena, Marine Serre: the list of creative upcyclers reads like a list of fashion’s buzziest talents. Upcycling has become not only mainstream, but for many consumers and buyers it’s actually more desirable than brand new clothing, because it has a story to tell.
In August, Net-a-Porter introduced the Designed for Circularity attribute, championing brands that step away from throwaway culture by using upcycling techniques and extending the lifecycle of products.
“At Net-a-Porter we are committed to driving the industry forward and proud to support these brands that carefully consider the design process from start to finish, taking into account the materials, waste and manufacturing methods when creating their collections,” says Lea Cranfield, chief buying and merchandising officer at Net-a-Porter. Upcyled brands Conner Ives, Mother and ELV Denim are “incredibly popular” on the platform, she adds.
Bootlegging has also surged this year, as fashion increasingly parodies itself to align with the desire for humour among young consumers. Brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and art collective MSCHF have used bootlegging this year to hold a mirror up to luxury and align with subculture. Brands have even “bootlegged” one another, from Versace x Fendi’s “Fendace” show for SS22, to the Gucci and Balenciaga “hacking” show for AW21, which surprised audiences across the world.
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