The past year in fashion was marked by the stunning loss of the industry's most captivating iconoclast and the dazzling return of its most charismatic star.
Together these two outsize personalities helped transform the 21st-century fashion industry into an irresistible world of Hollywood theatrics, sexual provocation and mesmerizing — and profitable — showmanship. Along the way, the two also crafted a host of exquisitely conceived and constructed frocks.
But the year was not defined by personalities alone. Ideas and issues also took center stage, giving rise to lively debate. Instead of merely giving folks pretty clothes, the industry asked consumers to rethink the very definition of "attractive," as well as who gets to pass judgment on the kind of women and men who measure up.
Former Gucci designer Tom Ford returned to the fashion fold this year after making a name for himself in the movie business with "A Single Man." He presented his first women's wear collection under his own name for spring 2011 in the intimate space of his Madison Avenue shop.
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The clothes, shown on women of note such as Julianne Moore and Beyonce, exuded confident sexuality and controlled flamboyance. His audacious decision to bar photographers from the show flummoxed fashion folks, but ultimately heightened the anticipation of the clothes' arrival in stores.
It's bittersweet to declare Alexander McQueen's fall 2010 collection one of the best fashion moments this year. But his final work, shown to small groups of editors at the elegant headquarters of Artemis, the brand's holding company, was breathtaking. It was a tour de force of skill and imagination. Finding inspiration in the visual arts as well as in religiosity, the collection was touched with grace, melancholy and beauty.
Mississippi high school student Constance McMillen caused a national stir when she wanted to take her girlfriend to the prom, an event to which they both planned to wear tuxedoes. Their sartorial desires were more than the Itawamba County School District could tolerate, and McMillen was disinvited to the party.
With the help of the ACLU, McMillen, who is lesbian, took on the school district and won. She received some $30,000 and legal fees. When she was honored as one of Glamour's Women of the Year, she wore an Isaac Mizrahi tuxedo to the awards gala at Carnegie Hall. McMillen proved that while clothes don't make the woman, they can make a powerful personal statement.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton grew out her hair. It was a fine rebuke to the accepted adage that a woman of a certain age must cut her hair — a symbolic gesture that she is leaving sex appeal and youthful flirtatiousness behind. Clinton's flattering shoulder-length style was a reminder to women who have unhappily submitted to the scissors that they should not allow cultural assumptions to dictate their own perceptions about themselves.
When Essence, a magazine aimed at African-American women, hired a white fashion editor, the decision rattled longtime readers and gave many in the media world pause. But the uproar about the hiring of Elliana Placas sparked a conversation about diversity within the fashion industry and precisely what that means. And that is nothing but good news.
This was the year in which size mattered. A vigorous debate erupted over what it means to be plus size. How big is too big? What exactly is big enough? At the second Full-Figure Fashion Week in New York, plus-size women demanded trends and high style and took aim at a design industry obsessed with making them look thinner. Actress Gabourey Sidibe settled into life as a fashion cover girl.
Designer Jean Paul Gaultier used extremes in size — from the fat girl to the waif — as inspiration for his spring 2011 collection. And Vogue Italia launched a website dedicated to curvy women. Chubby ladies didn't rule the runway, but they were no longer ignored.