Looking Back at How Fashion Evolved in 2021

With Birkenstocks strapped to our sock-swaddled feet, stepping into 2021 only meant one thing: evolution. While most of us were ready to re-enter the real world, we’d also learned to slow down our fashion-consuming habits. 2021, then, was the year we all made more conscious decisions — both in terms of what we consume, and what we wear.

And it seemed that as we took a step back to reflect, brands did too. In turn, collaborations, collections, and seasonal must-haves felt more considered. Hype didn’t die down; instead, it was defined by a cohort of brands and designers that made a definitive move away from ‘merch’, towards releases that had real value.

As we approach the end of the year, HYPEBEAST takes a look back at some of 2021’s most newsworthy moments, and how they – hopefully – changed the fashion ‘scape for the better.

Thoughtful Collaborations

Supreme x Tiffany.Supreme

Supreme and Tiffany. Gucci and Balenciaga. Fendi and Versace. 2021 was a year of truly unprecedented collaborative releases, which did what a great collab should do: reframe and recontextualize the brands involved.

Those couldn’t previously access Tiffany got their hands on a reinterpretation that felt familiar to them, thanks to the Supreme box logo. And Palace’s late-in-the-year linkup with Harrods brought its subcultural appeal to arguably the world’s most antiquated department store.

Beyond that, some luxury houses used their considerable resources to support and promote the work of a broader pool of fine artists. Finally, creative directors began looking beyond the same old hackneyed references – from Kim Jones bringing Peter Doig into Dior Men, to Hedi Slimane commissioning the Ugandan sculptor Leilah Babirye to create new works for his CELINE stores.

Fashion and the Metaverse

A release from RTFKT Studios.Rtfkt Studios

From crypto art to the metaverse, what were niche concerns exploded in the past 24 months. And in 2021, as NFT became the ‘word of the year’, the fashion world seemed to take note.

While many brands’ attempts to enter the virtual space were, at best, cringeworthy, some found ways to innovate. Matthew M Williams, who has seemed hesitant in his work for Givenchy so far, launched the house’s first ever NFT in collaboration with the graffiti artist Chito in November, while adidas Original’s collaboration with the Bored Ape Yacht Club was a near-instant sellout.

It seems, too, that we’re only at the tip of the iceberg. Nike stunned industry onlookers with its unprecedented investment into the virtual sneaker company RTFKT, who were one of the earliest and most ambitious innovators in this space. It would be fair to assume that there is much more yet to come.

House Colors

Bottega Veneta SS21.Bottega Veneta

On the other end of the scale, brands increasingly opted for a simple, straighforward, and tangible way to rebrand their image: via ‘signature’ colors that were intended to capture the instantly-recognisable appeal of Hermès orange and Tiffany blue.

Bottega Veneta’s now-synonymous shade of green was unmissable throughout 2021. It didn’t matter on the object or style — if it was Bottega Green, or, as we called it, the “de facto color of the year,” that’s all that mattered. It proved canny, too: after the shock departure of the brand’s creative director, Daniel Lee, the color will act as a through-line for the incoming designer, Matthieu Blazy.

While this didn’t translate for every brand, many did try and take a leaf from BV’s book: Jacquemus doubled down on pink, while Balenciaga pivoted towards a series of almost-entirely black collections.

Dressing for the Apocalypse

Balenciaga SS22.Bottega Veneta

There was an end-of-days feel to many of this year’s most memorable collections. Leather, in all its various real, synthetic, and sustainable forms, dominated, while endless designers riffed on grunge, goth, and metal aesthetics. After so many years of look-at-me logos, it seemed, suddenly, that everyone wanted to be clad in black only. And things only spiraled when Kanye West debuted his DONDA-era looks back in the summer.

Angsty and akin to a look from The Matrix, it became a subcultural movement in itself – including even chunkier and heavier footwear (from Balenciaga SS22, which showed Elliot Page wearing its upcoming Crocs collab), grunge looks from VTMNTS, and deconstruction from Maison Margiela.

Well, Well, Well…ies

The YEEZY NSTLD.Yeezy

After the Birkenstock boom, Crocs’ climb to the top, and Merrell’s meteoric rise, came another functional style: the wellington. Kick-started by last year’s launch of the Bottega Puddle Boot, it wasn’t a new ugly shoe trend: it was a commentary on a moment to move beyond sneakers.

It enabled the likes of Balenciaga to make similar vegan-friendly wellies, FENDI to drop ski-inspired boots, Kiko Kostadinov to release thigh-highs, A-COLD-WALL* to wrap the Chelsea Boot in weatherproofing materials, and for Kanye West’s YEEZY to drop the instantly divisive NSTLD. This has gone on in recent months to spur a new trend of skiwear-inspired silhouettes such as Prada’s padded nylon boots, Palm Angels x Moncler’s Moon Boots, and more.

Love them or hate them, they’re going nowhere for 2022, as the buzz around boots continues to match the hype of sneakers. The aforementioned SS22 Margiela collection featured thigh-high PVC pairs, as did Matthew M Williams’ Givenchy.
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