As this year winds down we’ve recapped its highlights to bring you the best of 2016 in fashion, sneakers, music, movies and more.
Alas, the discombobulated streak of events that was 2016 is finally coming to an end. The U.S. presidential election, Brexit, Bowie’s death, Prince’s death, Kanye succumbing to a nervous breakdown, Kendall Jenner deleting her Instagram account. This year was undoubtedly a loaded one in Highsnob’s universe, and the fashion industry certainly came through with its fair share of memorable mishaps.
Controversy and fashion have long shared a symbiotic relationship, especially where issues of body image, cultural appropriation, plagiarism, sexuality and artistic merit are concerned. The industry thrives off stirring up debate – it’s what baits headlines, fuels the allure and keeps things exciting. But at what point is the line blurred between provocation and straight-up trolling?
Resuming their spot from last year’s list is a certain egomaniacal rapper and enfant terrible designer, but 2016 saw plenty of new offenders whose questionable actions warranted many “hot topic” roundtable discussions at our HQ.
Anyone take you by surprise? Who do you think committed the worst fashion felony? Don’t give a shit? Let it all out in the comments section.
YEEZY Season 4 Shit Show
Kanye West’s initial foray into fashion was subject to considerable debate last year, but 2016 really took the cake for the rapper – or in this case, the patience, comfort and time of nearly everyone involved in his disastrous YEEZY Season 4 presentation during New York Fashion Week.
The controversy first spawned when Kanye posted the show’s casting call four days before its scheduled date, where he specifically requested “multiracial women only.” Confused by its context, many took to Twitter to call out the barring nature of Kanye’s demand and wondered just how a casting agent would be able to verify someone’s multiracial background by appearance alone.
Near hours before showtime, invitees were given cryptic instructions to board a fleet of buses which would cart them to the event’s “secret location,” which turned out to be Roosevelt Island. Apart from the island’s far and inconvenient whereabouts, the open setting proved extremely uncomfortable as guests were pummeled by the sweltering heat of midday sun.
The event started over an hour and a half later than its scheduled time, and once it did, the scene played out more like an endurance test rather than a fashion presentation for its models. Some girls collapsed from heatstroke, while others struggled to strut down the runway in the collection’s see-through plastic thigh boots.
Critics were quick to slam the experience, describing it as “kidnapping” a “disaster” and a “hot mess,” with some even petitioning to boycott the rapper-turned-designer’s adidas-collaborated brand altogether. Kanye eventually responded to the fiasco on Twitter, saying “It’s our life’s mission to create the most transformative experiences…Each and every one’s time, insight and feelings are invaluable to us. We want to make people feel great. Thank you for embarking on this creative journey.”
Kanye West’s exaggeratedly bloated ego, hyper-perfectionist work ethic and complete lack of self-awareness are nothing new, and not to mention that the potency of his popularity and influence have handed him countless free passes all throughout his career, but many saw the shit show that was YEEZY Season 4 as a tipping point for the tolerance of the rapper’s antics, and with good reason.
Trump’s “Make America Great Again” Caps
Controversial is one way to define the 2016 U.S. presidential election; a deranged gag that ultimately spiraled into a horrific albeit real-life phantasm is another. I’m not going to sit here and jot down why Donald Trump is a polarizing figure – I’m sure you’re well-aware of the reasons by now. However, the way in which the parodying of his catchy “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan unconsciously fueled the rise of his brand, well, that’s something that may have come as a bit (or a lot) of a shock.
The catchphrase, made wearable via those trademark red and white 5-panel caps, was lampooned on a global scale – “Make Marijuana Great Again,” “Make America Skate Again,” “Make Berlin Berlin Again” and even our own “Make America Radical Again” were just a few iterations of the cap seen floating on Instagram and various e-commerce sites. But as the polls increasingly surged in Trump’s favor, the meme reverted back to its origins, serving instead as a reminder of Trump’s demagogic and xenophobic political crusade.
Trump’s win wasn’t necessarily a result of his campaign’s satire, yet the alarming majority that voted for him proves just how loud “Make America Great Again” resonated with so many Americans.
Raf Simons, J.W. Anderson & HBA Get Raunchy
This year proved to be the year of fashion collaborations. Look no further than Gosha Rubchinskiy’s multi-collab SS17 Pitti Uomo showcase, where he tapped the likes of Kappa, FILA and Sergio Tacchini, or even Vetements, who joined forces with a whopping total of 18 brands for its SS17 collection. But a mere merger with another label proved too prudish for some other designers, who instead opted for a more kinky partnership with their respective collections.
Back in January, LC:M darling J.W. Anderson teamed up with popular gay hook-up app Grindr to live-stream his FW16 show. The decision, while not completely unusual for the gender fluid designer, shook up the fashion community in a big way and generated a considerable amount of haughty criticism due to the app’s salacious reputation.
“For me it was how could we reach 196 countries in one moment,” explained Anderson. “It’s quite amazing to be able to access seven million people at once…I feel like it’s very important that brands explore media, it’s the only way forward, I don’t see any differentiation between Grindr, Tinder and Instagram.”
A few months later in Florence, menswear maestro Raf Simons left heads turning when he unveiled his SS17 line created in collaboration with controversial American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The collection was peppered with various images taken by Mapplethorpe, whose work notably explored themes of sexuality, homoeroticism and BDSM, and included several pieces emblazoned with enlarged (no pun intended) graphics of erect male genitalia.
The saucy synergy that comprised Hood By Air’s SS17 collection came to the surprise of absolutely no one (I mean, it’s HBA after all). Keeping with tradition, the avant NYC label fueled raucous commotion at New York Fashion Week upon revelation that it had collaborated with X-rated video-sharing website, Pornhub. The show featured models slathered in Vaseline all over their faces and hair while donning shirts from the collaboration, dubbed “Handkerchief” (get it?), that plastered slogans such as “WENCH” and “HUSTLER.”
Looks like fashion really waved its freak flag this year.
Yung Lean vs. Urban Outfitters
Gloomy Swedish rap sensation Yung Lean went from sad to mad quicker than the click of a URL page when he discovered that Urban Outfitters had plagiarized designs from his Sad Boys collective’s merchandise. The store released a coaches jacket emblazoned with a frowning emoji logo, Japanese lettering and the slogan “Yoshi City Nights 2002,” all of which are trademark to Lean and his crew’s aesthetic; not to mention that “Yoshi City” is also the title of a track cut from Lean’s 2014 debut album, Unknown Memory.
“The discussion of big corporations feeding off small independent creators and their work is too vast and depressing to conduct here,” the group wrote on their Facebook page. “So let’s settle with this – yoshi city belongs to us and our true fans · fuck u Urban Outfitters.” Sad Boys member Yung Gud also dragged the case to his Twitter page, calling the jacket “ugly ass” and shaming anyone who had chosen to buy it.
Once the initial rage cooled over, the crew added more context to the matter by issuing the following statement to THUMP: “We don’t want to blame the fans buying the bootlegged gear, but rather inform them on where to buy the official gear in order to get the true experience on what we try to express in terms of music, art and clothing (and also directly support the artist that they like).”
The store has since pulled the accused item from sale.
Vogue vs. Bloggers
Once Milan Fashion Week SS17 had closed its curtain, a few key members from Vogue’s editorial team gathered ’round to write down a few words in retrospect of the week’s events.
The discussion, which started out as a review of the Italian fashion capital’s biggest collections and trends, quickly turned into Mean Girls cafeteria banter, where the writers commenced to dig their well-manicured claws into bloggers and their practice of wearing “paid-for” outfits at fashion shows.
Over a few thousand words, Vogue managed to call these bloggers everything from “pathetic,” “sad” and “embarrassing,” suggesting that they’re “heralding the death of style” and that they should “find another business.” Meow.
In an effort to point out its hypocrisy, Susie Lau (aka @susiebubble) and Bryan Yambao (aka @bryanboy), two of the industry’s most popular bloggers, fired back at the storied style publication on Twitter.
Vogue’s patronizing and downright malicious remarks lead many to criticize the publication’s outdated views on how the fashion industry actually works now. Bloggers, like publications, use their influence by lending exposure to brands in exchange for money – just like how magazines get paid to use them in advertorials.
Not to mention, this whole “you can’t sit with us” attitude in fashion is pretty obsolete (to a degree) since the dawn of social media, which has made ample strides in democratizing a notoriously elitist industry. Get with the picture, Vogue.
Vogue vs. Cleavage
Strike two on this list for the iconic fashion Bible, Vogue (its UK counterpart this time) landed itself in yet another controversy this year when it declared that cleavage is no longer in style, stressing that high-collared necklines and a more natural breast shape were now the preferred choices among fashionable folk.
The statement was issued in response to stylist Elizabeth Saltzman’s observation of when female celebrities post cleavage-revealing photos on Instagram, pointing out that 90% of the photos’ comments were creepy jabs at the woman’s God-given mammalian protuberances. “The tits will not be out for the lads,” asserted the magazine. “Or for anyone else, for that matter.”
The declaration, unsurprisingly, fueled a whirlwind of umbrage on Twitter, with many arguing that breasts aren’t an accessory that you can return to the store in an effort to stay fashionable.
And just when you thought #freethenipple was finally getting somewhere…
Moschino Pill Collection
Oh, did you think that Jeremy Scott wasn’t going to make the cut this year?
The shock jock designer landed himself in the headlines (as is annual tradition) after designing a collection for Moschino inspired by pills and prescription drugs. The SS17 “Capsule” line featured enormous orange drug bottle bags, silver blister pack-resembling clutches and a drug bottle minidress emblazoned with the words “WARNING! Do not take medication on an empty stomach” and “KEEP ALL CAPSULES OUT OF THE REACH OF CHILDREN.”
Before the designs even made it to the Milan runway, hints of the drug-tinged eleganza were given when Scott decided to send out pill bottles stuffed with handwritten “prescriptions” as invitations.
Doctors, addiction specialists and parents of overdose victims soon voiced strong opposition to the collection, claiming that it lacked sensitivity to the ongoing opioid addiction crisis in the United States. Additionally, upscale U.S. retailer Nordstrom subsequently pulled Moschino’s designs from its shelves after receiving a flurry of complaints for its offensive imagery.
In his defense, Scott explained that the reference point for the line was the ’60s cult classic Valley of the Dolls, a tale of three women in showbiz becoming slowly dependent on “dolls,” which is slang for prescription pills. Moschino’s PR was eventually forced to issue a statement to Fox News, saying, “There was never any intent to promote prescription drug abuse…We are disheartened to hear that there has been a misunderstanding of the underlying theme of the collection.”
But let’s be real, what would a Jeremy Scott-designed collection be if it wasn’t “misunderstood” in some capacity?
Hedi Slimane vs. Saint Laurent
After stepping down from his near four-year reign as Creative Director, Hedi Slimane ensured that his divorce from Saint Laurent would leave a lasting sting by launching a $13 million lawsuit against Kering Group, the luxury fashion conglomerate that owns the iconic French house.
Hedi pursued the case after Kering failed to apply a non-complete clause in his contract when he parted ways with the company, something that would have prevented him from working at another label for a set amount of time yet still remain on the payroll.
Hedi ultimately won the case, but later demanded an additional $2 million for service during the last year of his contract, which his legal team believes is owed to him since his original contract gave him a minority ownership stake in the Saint Laurent brand. No word yet as to whether they’ve reached a settlement.
ZARA vs. Tuesday Bassen
Yet another scandal involving an indie artist and a fast-fashion giant, Spanish retailer ZARA was hit with a big fat lawsuit for allegedly peddling the work of LA-based artist Tuesday Bassen after she noticed that they had been repeatedly lifting her designs. ZARA dismissed the artist’s accusations by issuing a rather callous statement, essentially claiming that Bassen’s lack of notoriety (she only had about 90K Instagram followers at the time) equates to minimal recognition of the similarities in artwork.
“We reject your claims here for reasons similar to those stated above: the lack of distinctiveness of your client’s purported designs makes it very hard to see how a significant part of the population anywhere in the world would associate the signs with Tuesday Bassen.”
The case eventually inspired Bassen’s friend, Adam J. Kurtz, another artist who had seen his art stolen by ZARA, to launch a website titled “shoparttheft.com,” which displayed over 40 artists’ works side-by-side with their ZARA counterparts to demonstrate just how prevalent the fast-fashion retailer’s piracy tactics had become.
After igniting a wide-scale furor among fellow artists in the media, Inditex, ZARA’s parent company, was inevitably forced to change their tune on Bassen’s case, telling The Cut that they had suspended the relevant items from sale and that they respect “individual creativity of all artists and designers.”
Never underestimate the power of the little guy.
Marc Jacobs’ Dreadlocks Debacle
Between its thumping techno soundtrack, galactic set design and kaleidoscopic collection, Marc Jacobs’ SS17 show closed New York Fashion Week with a memorable bang – but it was neither the production nor the clothes that made headlines once the reviews started pouring in.
The designer found himself in hot water after deciding to send his models down the runway wearing faux dreadlocks fastened out of bouquets of pastel-hued wool. Though allegedly inspired by the UV-friendly dreads and light-up plastic noodle hairpieces donned by ravers and cybergoths, the hairstyles incited many to cry cultural appropriation, especially since they were worn by a predominantly white cast.
The commotion reached new heights once Jacobs addressed the criticism on Instagram, saying “All who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race or skin color wearing their hair in any particular style or manner — funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair. I respect and am inspired by people and how they look. I don’t see color or race — I see people.”
The designer’s response set off a new batch of condemnations, with many reminding Jacobs that blacks were forced to straighten their hair as a means of assimilation, seeing as the US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the banning of dreadlocks, a traditional hairstyle worn by various African ethnic groups, in the workplace as completely legal. Additionally, people asserted that Jacobs’ “I don’t see color” comment harked back to the notion of white privilege, since, as a member of the majority race in America, he isn’t repeatedly reminded of his skin or hair, unlike people of color.
In an attempt to make peace, Jacobs later acknowledged the issue in a more sincere manner, apologizing for his “lack of sensitivity unintentionally expressed by [his] brevity.”
Melania Trump’s “Pussy Bow” Gucci Blouse
Melania Trump isn’t one for profound motivational speeches or public intellectual debate. In fact, she was so reserved throughout the majority of her husband’s campaign that pundits are literally looking for some kind of cerebral substance in her clothes. Such was the case, at least, when the soon-to-be First Lady showed up to one of Trump’s presidential debates wearing a fuchsia, Gucci “pussy bow” blouse, resulting in a wild frenzy of conspiracy theories on the Internet.
The so-called “fashion statement” occurred just days after a video surfaced of Trump boasting about how he goes up to “beautiful” women and “grab[s] them by the pussy,” leading many to believe that the choice of blouse, whose origins bear strong ties to feminism, was either expert trolling or sad irony.
Was she making a clever wink at the media over her husband’s comments? Or was it just an unfortunate coincidence, reaffirming her image as a dull trophy wife to a misogynistic billionaire? While we want to (but not really) give Melania the benefit of the doubt in this situation, the latter scenario seems to be the most plausible.
- GIF Art: Nik Schulte / Highsnobiety.com