This article first appeared in Harper's Bazaar Singapore, the leading fashion glossy on the best of style, beauty, design, travel and the arts. Go to www.harpersbazaar.com.sg and follow @harpersbazaarsg on Instagram; harpersbazaarsingapore on Facebook. The March 2022 issue is out on newsstands now.
Anything new in fashion requires major disruption. These days, change is not simply coming from conglomerate-backed brands, which have the singular power that comes hand in hand with having a large pool of resources, including channels of communication, and a long and often rich history.
Independent brands are gaining much strength and visibility from being united in numbers and through the communities they stand with. Telfar and Pyer Moss, for example, have set the bar not only with their designs, but also the diversity they champion.
Collina Strada, Chromat and Christian Siriano have specifically designed for people with disabilities and highlighted how much fashion needs to consider their needs. Here, however, we round up the names that have not only changed fashion, but are also setting the course for what is to come.
What is obvious now is that underdogs heading large fashion companies are at the top of their game. Take Kering-owned Balenciaga, which has kept the world on its toes under the creative direction of Demna (who recently elected to go by his first name only).
Demna has erased the boundaries between haute couture and streetwear, and completely upended what a fashion show or collaboration is today.
Instead of a traditional show for spring/summer 2022, he released a mini episode of The Simpsons - the show itself took place on the pre-screening red carpet, blurring the lines between attendees and models. What's next? The metaverse, according to Balenciaga.
"Right now, the climax of interaction with a luxury brand is that you click 'like' or 'comment' or buy something. I think we can get to the next level," explained Mr Cedric Charbit, chief executive officer of the brand, at the 2021 edition of Voices, the Business of Fashion's annual gathering.
In fact, the executive envisions Balenciaga as less of a brand and more of "a platform where anything is possible and where innovation comes first; a platform where the right conversations can happen - it's why we can do couture in 2021 and Fortnite in the same quarter".
Speaking of universes, Prada, which delves in cinema, architecture and art, among other things, has significantly changed the digital communication game under Mr Lorenzo Bertelli - the son of Miuccia Prada and the company's chief executive officer Patrizio Bertelli - who is being groomed to take over the reins.
There is no question that Prada has changed fashion itself - it is notorious for being esoteric and intellectual - but it has become much more accessible and fun in its messaging. It resonates with a new generation of highly savvy, social media-driven consumers.
Each campaign of the Pradaverse feels like a full-fledged, world-travelling project with extensive ideation and participation. Its most recent show for spring/summer 2022, staged in Milan and Shanghai, and broadcast simultaneously side by side, was a testament to a brand "thinking fashion", where its most interesting endeavours lie beyond clothing.
"Doing these shows simultaneously demonstrates a new possibility," explained co-creative director Raf Simons post-show. "Community is a vital idea: drawing together people who share ideologies, values and beliefs."
As Simons says, communities are integral to change - and communities always need space. Dover Street Market's Mr Adrian Joffe understood this when he founded the company, which has become the space for pop-up events internationally.
It changed the way people experience shopping and, ultimately, how products are created and marketed. Mr Joffe's new project, 3537, is a reversal of his original idea. It is fundamentally a cultural centre where "maybe the retail space will be part of the event, rather than the event being part of the retail space", he shared in an interview with Business of Fashion.
This more efficiently addresses the issues and themes that not only fashion, but also society as a whole must tackle. "Convinced that artists are a part of the essential first line of our collective reaction to the climate emergency, 3537 is opening its doors to artists and thinkers bearing an ecological message, from the protection of biodiversity to documenting climate-related migrations," said a statement.
It is no secret that fashion's endeavours in addressing climate change have mostly been labelled as greenwashing. Chloe, under the creative direction of Gabriela Hearst, however, positions sustainability not as a fringe value. The entirety of the brand has been restructured to place it at its core.
The clothes have taken a more crafty turn, emphasising handcrafts and pre-existing, low-impact material - in fact, its latest initiative is aptly named Chloe Craft, with its range of products labelled with a spiral logo, denoting that each one was completely handmade. But the most effective change the brand has made is its social media language, which reads and looks like a National Geographic of sorts - stunning, intimate photography paired with captions of trivia and poems.
With a free-form collection of images, rather than extremely calculated postings, the brand seems more like a living, breathing organism that connects emotionally with its audience.
It all fits. Chloe became a certified B Corporation last October, meaning it meets both environmental and social sustainability standards. For its spring/summer 2022 collection, for instance, Chloe worked with the Kenyan non-profit organisation Ocean Sole, as well as Akanjo, a social enterprise in Madagascar, on the sourcing and production of its products.
It is important to note that consumers are enticed by off-the-grid marketing. American singer Frank Ocean's Homer, launched last year, benefited from using offline marketing, reminiscent of the early 2000s.
A memorable, well-designed catalogue (an artefact that harks back to the dawn of the millennium) was attainable only if you were given one in the streets or went to the store. It is now available only on eBay for upwards of US$1,000 (S$1,365).
Similar to what Balenciaga has done, Homer shows that luxury today is an obvious mix of high and low, presented with novelty - but, more importantly, nostalgia.
Jewellery from Homer shares the same price points as Cartier, though the aesthetics could not be more different - Homer's enamel jewellery starts at about $680, while its fine jewellery can go up to about $2.6 million.
There was also the Homer x Prada collaboration to cement its status as a name to watch in the luxury sphere (Prada rarely grants collaborations). Homer is shrouded in mystery, leaving us to self-decrypt its next move.
On the opposite end of Ocean's approach is another celebrity brand changing the fashion game: Kim Kardashian West's Skims, offering underwear, loungewear and shapewear.
The brand churns out a constant flux of content, and the stories are shared on the brand and the founder's personal social media accounts. It is all about blurring the lines. Skims gained a lot of high-fashion legitimacy when it was stocked at Selfridges in London and Galeries Lafayette in Paris, and ultimately released its collaboration with Fendi.
At this point, it has built links to every major fashion capital.
"Both Fendi and Skims have a cultural power very different from each other, but equally as strong," says Kim Kardashian of the collaboration.
Though competitors such as Wolford and Spanx have been around for decades longer, Skims successfully communicated that shapewear is capable of such a monumental range of sizes, colours, styles and prices - setting the bar along the way for what fashion could be for the non-fashion consumer, who is now included.
There lies the common ground for a partnership with a brand such as Fendi.
"My Fendi is about creating something for every woman, every different shape - and that's something at the heart of Skims too," says Kim Jones, Fendi's artistic director of haute couture, ready-to-wear and fur collections for women.