It was a year that felt like a decade: 2017 saw the arrival of a new president (and an at-the-ready resistance movement), the unsealing of long-held silences on abuse and consent, a radically new world order and a terrifying spate of natural and human-made disasters (fire, water, terror).
It was also a year full of stuff. Fashion and commerce don’t grind to a halt even in troubling times, and the designers and retailers of the fashion world responded to turmoil as usual. They invented, rebranded, up-marketed and revitalized. It was a year that gawked at stilettos and embraced ugly sneakers; when an advocacy hat was met with an activism hat; when makeup and a glossy magazine offered a new chance at inclusion; when luxury looked to the bargain basement; and when a lion of the industry, a man seemingly out of his own times, left us too soon.
What a long, strange year it has been. Here are the pieces that defined it: what we wore, we carried, wanted, feared and waited for.
The ‘Pussy Hat’
If the signal political fashion item of 2016 was the Make America Great Again cap — a Republican-red telegraph of support for Donald J. Trump, more instantly legible than any other accessory of a brutal, knockdown presidential race — it found its opposite in the “pussy hat,” the unofficial headgear of the anti-Trump resistance.
When women’s marches took to the streets in Washington and cities around the country on Jan. 21, many marchers were crowned with knitted pink cat-eared beanies, their patterns freely distributed online and their production crowdsourced by the Pussyhat Project in a viral knitting campaign of solidarity and support for women’s rights.
By the following month, the hats had made their way onto the fashion runway, when Angela Missoni put her own version on each model in the Missoni show. But, then, the MAGA hat made its way into fashion, too, as New York designers worked to twist it to their preferred causes: “Make America New York,” read Public School’s; “Make America Marc Again” was Marc Jacobs’s.
The Calvin Klein Briefs
Could Raf revive Calvin? That was the question that quickened the fashion industry’s pulse as 2017 began. Raf Simons, one of the most idolized designers of his generation (and the rare one on whose merits fashion critics and rappers could easily agree), had been tipped to take over the listing house of Calvin Klein from nearly the moment he stepped down from his previous post at Christian Dior in 2015.
He was named the company’s chief creative officer in August 2016, but it wasn’t until this year that Mr. Simons’s plans for the label were finally made plain. His first ad campaign, released in January, presented a few new designs (from the custom By Appointment line) alongside one of the building blocks of Calvin Klein’s multi-billion-dollar empire: a plain pair of white cotton underpants.
They still have pride of place in the company mythology, not to mention the company shop — they hang, each on its own individual hanger, at the renovated and repainted Calvin Klein boutique on Madison Avenue — but they have been minutely adjusted à la Raf, from the logo to the brand name (which now includes 205W39, the address of the company headquarters). Bigger changes would come with his shows, but with the Calvin Klein briefs, Mr. Simons began a sea change in centimeters.
The Ikea Frakta
In April, a $2,145 Balenciaga bag briefly arrested the fashion world’s attention for its marked resemblance to a much more affordable option: the 99-cent polypropylene Frakta bag available by the bin-load at Ikea.
It was only the latest example of the luxury fashion industry finding inspiration in the workaday stuff of everyday life, but it crystallized the coy cross-pollination between luxury goods and basic essentials, and made clear that influence trickles up as well as down. (It seemed only right that Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia should be the one to bring it to the fore, who rose to notoriety designing a high-end DHL T-shirt for his Vetements label.) An Ikea executive told the website Highsnobiety that Ikea was “extremely flattered.”
The Manolo Blahnik Pump
You shall know them by their shoes. The first lady, Melania Trump, whose fashion choices have been scrutinized, pilloried and praised throughout her first year in the White House, stoked no more ire on both sides of the political spectrum than with a pair of Manolo Blahnik classic pumps. When Mrs. Trump accompanied her husband to Texas for a briefing on the damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey, she was photographed heading to Air Force One in a pair of stiletto heels like these.
Few choices have brought into starker relief the complicated dynamics of Mrs. Trump’s fashion choices, which, in the absence of many public statements, often are read as the clearest indication of her character. An incensed branch of left-leaning Twitter called her out of touch and insensitive; her supporters on the right declared her elegant and the opposition “fake news.”
That she had changed into a more practical pair of white sneakers by the time the presidential plane landed in Corpus Christi seemed hardly to matter. Nearly a year into the Trump presidency, it’s still not clear: Is the first lady a glamorous icon (“transitioning us into a kind of bitch-goddess ultra-femininity,” as the fashion critic for Breitbart News has put it), or is she Marie Antoinette?
The New British Vogue
Amid hand wringing and cost cutting at many major magazines, there was a genuine excitement in 2017 around the rebirth of British Vogue. After months of speculation, the editorship went to Edward Enninful, both the first man and the first black editor to run the British edition of Vogue. From his appointment in April until his first issue appeared in November, there was speculation as to what Vogue would look like remade in his image, and when it did arrive, was feverishly sought, snapped and discussed — the year’s must-have accessory, more so than most any shoe or bag.
The Best of Azzedine Alaïa
Azzedine Alaïa was not the only titan of fashion who died in 2017 — there was Pierre Bergé, the longtime partner and booster of Yves Saint Laurent, and S.I. Newhouse Jr., under whose decades of stewardship Condé Nast became nearly synonymous with glossy fashion magazines — but few deaths rocked the system like his. The designer was felled suddenly, of a heart attack, in November.
Monsieur Alaïa, as he was known, bent the usually rigid fashion system to his own pleasure (he showed his collections when he pleased) and kept his own course even as his competitors rose and then fell on a tide of trends. He had become, over many years, a permanent fixture in fashion, forever stationed in his atelier in the Marais neighborhood of Paris, dressed in Chinese pajamas. There, surrounded by dogs and loyal assistants, he fitted his designs on supermodels (Naomi Campbell called him “Papa”) and pop stars (Lady Gaga could sometimes be seen dropping in for dinner), and created the clothes and accessories that would end up on women the world over. They were strong, intricate, unassuming, feminine — less meant to hold women in than hold women up.
The Supreme T-Shirt
Week after week, they came and they waited, lining up for the latest from the fiercely independent New York skate label Supreme. And though the goods were neither new (it was founded in 1994) nor particularly novel (Supreme, which generally does not identify its designers, hadn’t swerved particularly in its aesthetic or its approach), the fashion world of 2017 took rabid interest.
Other brands and retailers experimented with Supreme-style weekly product “drops.” A secret summer collaboration with Louis Vuitton, announced from its men’s runway in June, became so instantly infamous that it barely, if ever, made it to stores, all the while stoking rumors that LVMH, Vuitton’s parent company, was about to invest. Those rumors proved false — it was the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, that ultimately bought a stake in Supreme, in a reported $500 million deal that valued the company at over $1 billion, a formerly scrappy stalwart still best known for $40 T-shirts turned prospective cash cow.
The deal effectively ratified the creeping influence of street wear and skate wear into fashion and the broader retail culture, and the appetite to tap its still-burgeoning potential, even as it bred resentment among some of the brand’s longtime loyalists, who grumble that their idol has sold out.
Fenty Beauty by Rihanna
If fashion and fashion imagery in 2017 remained overwhelmingly and unsettlingly white, there was at least the small consolation that the needle is moving — however slowly — toward diversity and inclusiveness. “The numbers really jumped this year,” said Jennifer Davidson, the editor of The Fashion Spot, a website that compiles diversity reports on the runway shows, and found an uptick in minority models, plus-size models, transgender and nonbinary models, and models over 50.
Imagery and representation is one thing; product and real-world change is another. In a year in which inclusivity became a central topic of conversation, the release that had the most impact may have been the debut of a makeup line by Rihanna. Fenty Beauty arrived this fall with no fewer than 40 different shades of foundation. “We’re all just, like, giddy over here,” Julee Wilson, the fashion and beauty director of Essence, told The Chicago Tribune. “I knew that she was going to be thoughtful. You expect that from a woman of color coming out with a cosmetics line, but I was honestly shocked at how inclusive the line is.”
In a year pockmarked by sexual scandals, even familiar items took on an ominous cast. Grim details of sexual assault and harassment came out, one after another: unenclosed outdoor showers, veiled threats and, more than once, the formerly harmless bathrobe. There, in the accusers’ allegations, was Harvey Weinstein, holding hotel-suite business meetings in a white bathrobe, demanding sex; there was Charlie Rose, a onetime job seeker alleged to The Washington Post, changing into an open bathrobe for an after-midnight tour of his Bellport, N.Y., home.
Now that these details are lodged unhappily in the cultural consciousness, it’s hard to imagine slipping on a bathrobe without a shiver. But then, there has long been an association between robes and seaminess, ever since Hugh Hefner adopted his smoking jacket as a uniform, a public proclamation of libertinism. He didn’t live to see its stock fall: Mr. Hefner, bathrobe enthusiast, died just weeks before the Weinstein and Rose news broke.
The Off-White ‘Denim Jacket’
What if the most heat-seeking, most anxiously watched, most frantically influential designer of the year wasn’t a designer but a “designer”? Virgil Abloh, the interdisciplinary maestro of Off-White, who mixes fashion design, D.J.’ing, all-purpose creative direction (for people like his most famous employer, Kanye West), has single-handedly brought the quotation mark to the fore of the fashion lexicon.
There is very little Mr. Abloh won’t put between air (or scare) quotes: his denim jackets bear “denim labels,” his Air Jordan collaborative Nikes read, “Air,” his bags are tagged “Sculpture,” his boots “For Walking.” Mr. Abloh lathers on irony and pogo-ing referentiality, the lingua franca of the Instagram age.
It’s an approach that raises questions — “What Is Virgil Abloh?” asked the much-followed System Magazine, which made Mr. Abloh its cover star and cover story — and doesn’t offer easy answers. What it does offer, in high 2017 style, is sales, rumors of major job offers and big fans, like Naomi Campbell, who closed his women’s show in September, and Drake, with whom he collaborated on a performance at Art Basel this month.
The, Shall We Say, Unusual Sneaker
“Yes, These Sneakers Are Ugly,” read a recent headline in (of all places) The Wall Street Journal. “That’s The Point.” The sneaker trend, raging on for years, continued strong in 2017. The innovation this year, it seems, is that the uglier and more dad friendly, the better. After the reign of the minimalist white lace-up, and the revival of the once-again-ubiquitous Adidas Stan Smith, maybe a clunky, multicolored semi-monstrosity is the only thing that could clear the palette and the air.
Some of the homely clompers were originally or nominally made for men, like the Balenciaga Triple S, which quickly sold out, despite its $850 price tag. Nevertheless, women snapped them up, too, enough that at the women’s shows in October, they found their way onto the runway for Louis Vuitton, at the pinnacle of luxury politesse. (They were shown with 18th-century-style frock coats.) They were met with fashion-industry swoons. Will actual customers fork over $1,100 for a pair? Answer to follow this spring when they hit stores.