The fall 2021 season marks a year of no-contact, virtual fashion weeks. What have we learned from 12 months of watching runway shows from behind our laptop screens? (You know, aside from the fact that this digital thing in no way compares to the theater of fashion, that our Wi-Fi connections will never be strong enough, and that blue-light glasses are a must?)
As I’ve been trying to make sense of the wildly different fall 2021 collections, one idea reverberates: No matter the expression, we crave clothing that feels close to us. At Prada, models clutched their sequin wraps; at Dries Van Noten, dancers clutched garments to their chests; at Marine Serre, friends and family clutched each other in intimate films and lookbook imagery. The icy chicness and the bold statements of intent that helped define 2010s fashion have been replaced by warmth, togetherness, and function.
Of course, function looks different to different people. Some will call the outdoorsy patchwork puffers from Chloé and the charming and warming Miu Miu pastel coveralls useful. Others will find purpose in knit bodysuits like those at Givenchy and Courrèges or the many blankets and wraps from brands like JW Anderson, Stella Jean, and Jil Sander. Shoppers who deem dressing up an essential task will find plenty of grittily glamorous frocks from Simone Rocha, Prada, Paco Rabanne, and Rick Owens, and cocooning couture shapes from Louis Vuitton, Patou, and Roksanda. For those who want to move through post-pandemic life with an unfussy ease, there are roomy new jeans at Christian Dior and Balenciaga and pleated skirt suits at Molly Goddard, Max Mara, and Calvin Luo. Even monograms have toned it down, with new logo prints at Chanel, Versace, and Balmain. A rising generation of Millennial power-spenders has simultaneously dictated the return of escapist aughts nostalgia; forget the roaring twenties, when we return to parties we will do it with the vigor-and itty, bitty, flitty little dresses-of Paris, Lindsay, and Nicole.
That’s a lot to digest, and as a season, fall 2021 doesn’t wrap up as succinctly as previous ones. Maybe that’s a good thing. As fashion adjusts to mirror our times, it must embrace smaller, more individually powerful notions of style. That explains why, like everything else right now, so many of the collections are in total disagreement with one another: Show some skin or cover it up! Be comfortable or be crazy!
One year ago, we were trying to predict what the 2020s would look like. After this season, our bets are on a period of rebellious personal style and a rebirth of subcultures. That will give us something to talk about from behind our screens—or even better, together again in person soon.
Designers like Gabriela Hearst, Marine Serre, and Stuart Vevers at Coach are patching together unused fabric scraps to produce coats, dresses, and up-cycled tees. These collaged garments are not only sustainably minded, but nod to a new, idiosyncratic aesthetic that is less about head-to-toe dressing and more about personal expression through style. It’s fashion with a little heart-and harmony.
A brooding glamour is mounting across Europe, suggesting a re-emergence look that is fabulous, but with a not insignificant bite. Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons placed their bets on sequins and stoles while Dries Van Noten is bringing back taffeta volumes and a little campy glitz. Tinsel at Rokh and surreal proportions at Marni round out the trend, promising a vampish scene come fall.
What can’t a catsuit do? In the hands of Tom Ford and LaQuan Smith, it is the sexiest-and sheerest-garment around. Yuhan Wang, Ottolinger, and Maisie Wilen built one-pieces that are artfully patterned and strange, while Erdem’s ballet-style cover up seems perfect for a WFH week of lounging. No matter your taste, there is a fall 2021 onesie to match your lifestyle.
The power suits of recent seasons have morphed into quirky but prim pleated skirt sets. Options from 3.1 Phillip Lim, Plan C, and Schiaparelli are breezily stylish and well suited to office life, should it ever return, while Chopova Lowena, Collina Strada, and Arthur Arbesser offer bolder takes on the look.
Attention-getting logomania is falling out of favor, but branding is still a big game. Donatella Versace imagined a new kind of logo-an allover key print-for her fall 2021 collection, Givenchy’s sheer separates were stitched with interlocked Gs, and Kim Jones’s revived an archival FF logo on slips and stockings at Fendi.
Millennial nostalgia has reached a fever pitch, bringing back the halcyon days of It Girl-aughts style. Blumarine, Conner Ives, Alyx, and Roberto Cavalli are serving up Sunset Strip sweetness in the form of pastel minidresses, crystal tiaras, and other itsy bits that could turn anyone into Britney, X-Tina, Mariah-or their 2020s counterparts Dua Lipa and Rina Sawayama. “XS” is very in.
Who says a blanket isn’t a garment? Jonathan Anderson’s artful throws definitely do double duty. Ponchos and capes had a resurgence at Gabriela Hearst, Alberta Ferretti, and Missoni. Stella Jean, for her part, collaborated with the Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations to employ the craftspeople who made her scenic wraps.
Nature has been a reprieve for many during the pandemic. By the time next winter hits, we’ll be expressing the urge to get outside on the slopes. Both Miu Miu and Thom Browne staged their shows on mountaintops, with puffers and accessories to match, while Givenchy, Christian Dior, and Chanel offered shearlings and Fair Isle knits that would do well après ski. Just add powder.
Bulbous, bubble-like shapes started trending early in the lockdowns. For fall 2021, the silhouette veered from soft Romeo Gigli-style cocoons to more pumped-up ovoid forms, with an emphasis on the hips and thighs. Both womanly and protective, these new orbs offer coziness and a little forgiveness from the skinstight silhouettes seen elsewhere.
Sweatpants are not forever. Slouchy, wide-leg jeans emerged as a key look for fall at Balenciaga, Y/Project, and the up-and-coming London label Jawara Alleyne. Consider these roomy and durable trousers the ideal get-it-done pants for our post-pandemic lives.