Year in Review: The biggest fashion stories of 2019

Niki Bruce
People arrive at the Grand Palais, decorated with photographs picturing late German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, at the start of the "Karl For Ever" event to honour him in Paris, on June 20, 2019. - The late designer for the French label Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, died at the age of 85, on February 19, 2019, in Paris. (Photo: CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP via Getty Images)

SINGAPORE - This year saw more than a few dramas and controversies in the world of the fashion industry. From the death of Karl Lagerfeld to the cancellation of the Victoria’s Secret runway show, the launch of Rihanna’s Fenty fashion label and the rise of sustainable and locally-based fashion brands - at least some positive news - 2019 has been an up-and-down year.

Here are some of the biggest fashion stories of 2019 from around the globe and right here in Singapore. 

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Vale Karl Lagerfeld

The death of fashion guru, Chanel designer and cult fashion figure Karl Lagerfeld at the age of 85 shocked the fashion world; it seemed so sudden, unexpected and surprising. While the world’s fashion media cried their [crocodile] tears and praised his work, there were some - a small few - who pointed out that Lagerfeld wasn’t actually a very nice person, nor really a supporter of women - unless they were rich, young and thin. Still, an icon in the world of consumerism left somewhat of a gap in the fashion industry. 

Chanel continued to have a bit of a bad year after comedian and YouTube prankster Marie Benoliel gatecrashed the brand’s SS20 runway show in Paris. She wore a mock Chanel-style outfit and walked the length of the floor before model Gigi Hadid actually stopped her and got her off the runway.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02: Rihanna arrives at The Fashion Awards 2019 held at Royal Albert Hall on December 02, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)

Yay for Rihanna and body positivity!

Superstar and woman of business Rihanna has had a fantastic year. Her position on body positivity that started with the popular launch of Savage X Fenty last year - and included an awesome live show for 2019 - kicked up a notch this year with the launch of her new Fenty fashion label in collaboration with LVMH. Rihanna chose models of all sizes, colours and gender identities to market the brand, continuing her reigning position as the Queen of Body Positivity.

On the opposite side of the equation, Victoria’s Secret finally bowed to the inevitable and cancelled its runway show for 2019. The old-fashioned and sexist comments from the brand’s CEO, coupled with a general resistance towards lingerie designed for the male gaze, plus falling revenue saw Victoria’s Secret get its comeuppance.  

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2019/12/04: A branch of Forever 21 on Oxford Street. (Photo by Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Bankruptcy and closures, but local success

This year saw a number of major fashion brands, retailers and department stores go bankrupt or close down. Barneys New York and Forever 21 filed for bankruptcy, and Zac Posen closed down his business. 

Luckily in Singapore our local fashion industry appears to be going from strength to strength; the opening of Design Orchard which features heaps of fabulous local fashion brands, is a great example of how Singapore Style is fighting fit.    

International fashion brands getting it wrong

Unfortunately 2019 saw a whole bunch of international, big name fashion brands getting in trouble for saying, or doing, the wrong thing. Gucci was accused twice of cultural appropriation - first by showing a balaclava-style sweater which looked like Blackface; and then in May they named a headscarf the ‘Indy Full Turban’ which was considered insensitive toward the Sikh culture.

Also in February 2019, Burberry got into trouble for showing a sweater with what looked like a hanging noose around the model’s neck, which it had to apologise for.

In June 2019, Kim Kardashian was hit once again with controversy when she tried to release a shapewear brand under the name of Kimono. Yep, she did that. After massive backlash from people around the world pointing out that you can’t copyright the name of an item of national dress, she finally bent and renamed her brand Skims.

But that wasn’t the end of the year of fashion controversy. Givenchy, Coach and Versace found themselves in very hot water with China in August 2019. All three brands were rather lazy with their understanding of international politics, releasing t-shirts that included Hong Kong and Taipei as independent countries - not as part of China. A great, big no-no. Lots of Chinese celebrities cut their ties with the brands, and all of them saw revenue drop off at the Chinese stores. Oops.

The issue of sustainable fashion and ethical consumerism

Probably the biggest fashion story in 2019, however, was the issue of sustainable fashion and the rise of ethical consumerism. This was the year when we all finally realised that shopping cheap, throw-away fashion, is one of the worst things we can do for the environment, climate change and our carbon footprint. 

Singapore is a city of shops, and the retail market is a major employer for the country, but more and more people have started to realise that buying less is a better option. However, there are a bunch of fabulous Singaporean and Asian sustainable fashion brands to shop from when we do need to buy something, thankfully.

Models display retail fashion as they walk across the traffic junction of Orchard Road during the launch of the "Great Singapore Sale" in Singapore on June 21, 2019. (Photo: ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

And finally … is Singapore fashionable, or not?

Rather remarkably Singapore was named the 13th most fashionable country in the world by by CEOWorld magazine, ranking even above South Korea, home to Kpop, Kstyle, Kdrama and Kbeauty. Judging from the comments on our story, most Singaporeans disagreed with this claim, citing our love for singlets, berms and slippers as the reason why CEOWorld magazine was wrong.

Judging by recent reactions to the official 2019 Miss Universe Singapore national costume - which was actually designed by Filipino designer Michael Cinco - the people clearly don’t think our country is fashionable at all, not after last year’s disaster that was described as being ‘horrifyingly bad’.