December 23, 2011 10:04 pm

No news is good news

A fashion year lacking of grand moments still bears significance against a period of uncertainty

It’s been a weird past few weeks for me, probably because of the constant need to nominate the top five of this, or person of the year for that. Now, it’s time to think of other things.

Still, consideration of who made the most noise in general leads, of course, to more specific thoughts, so I’ve been mulling over what I would pick as the most important fashion news of the year. The tendency in these situations is always to think about whatever just happened (the perennial Oscar problem: don’t release your movie too early, because everyone will have forgotten about it come voting time) but I’ve been doing my best to push past my sudden and inexplicable fondness for the army green duffel – not to mention the fact I just saw a bunch of clothes that won’t be on sale until next June – and to try to remember which skirt or shirt got us all so excited last spring.

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Vanessa Friedman

And here’s what I’ve come up with: nothing. Is this because I have such fashion-overload I can’t remember specifics from a season that took place many months ago? Possibly; as my children tell me often, often accompanied by much sarcastic eye-rolling, my short-term memory is not what it used to be. But while I will allow for this, I don’t really buy into it. I remember the maxi dress in blue and white stripes that sent everyone into paroxysms at Jil Sander when it came into stores in February, and I remember the Prada monkey motif on red carpets everywhere; I remember the Rodarte sunflowers in September and the Dries Van Noten photo prints on the catwalk in October. I remember Givenchy’s 1950s pin-ups surrounded by orchids (now on sale), and Haider Ackermann’s jewel-toned edge, and Valentino’s lacy fragility.

I remember a lot of it. And I remember that I liked a lot of it. I just don’t think, in the grand annual scheme of things, it had much impact. Sacrilege, I know – or so it might appear (remember: in fashion things are never what they appear). But really, thinking about the past year, the clothes were the least of it. I mean, three of the biggest fashion events of 2011 had nothing to do with the catwalk. See the double-triumph of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s record-breaking Savage Beauty Alexander McQueen show and Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, designed by Sarah Burton for McQueen’s label, and then see the dramatic downfall of John Galliano (plus his momentary return as the designer of Kate Moss’s nuptial finery).

Meanwhile, one of the most influential fashion people of the year was not a fashion person at all, but a singer: Lady Gaga. In business, there was a lot of acquisition action – PPR buying Brioni, LVMH buying Bulgari, Labelux buying Jimmy Choo – and a rush of IPO success stories (tech had nothing on fashion in 2011 when it came to public listings) from Prada and Ferragamo in Hong Kong to Michael Kors making waves in the US this month with the first US luxury IPO in years. There were digital innovations, from Valentino’s virtual museum to Burberry’s tweeted-by-look fashion show to Gucci’s high-resolution online flagship store. But in terms of what we wear, it’s been business as usual.

. . .

Indeed, the last major aesthetic change I can think of was more than a year ago, when Phoebe Philo’s rigorous minimalism at Céline sent her audience gasping and running to fill their wardrobes with men’s trousers and tailored cloth coats. As a colleague said the other day, “There’s nothing I feel like I need to buy in order to feel current, no ankle boot will fix all my problems.” Put another way: Polyvore, the do-it-yourself “fashion inspiration” website wherein members create and widely share their own collages built around specific items, just released its Year in Review report, which analyses user behaviour over the past 12 months, and the top five trends were: “prints, minimalism, monochrome, florals, men’s wear-inspired.” The sixth was ... trousers.

Trousers? Aren’t those normally considered a basic? Yes, which might make one think this is all a real-life example of the emperor’s new clothes, of fashion having run out of ideas and blah blah blah (tell designers they didn’t make anything you feel you need to buy and they tend to get offended), but I actually think it’s fashion’s version of comfort food. Print is the biggest trend? Great! I have print in my wardrobe. Trousers are in? Ditto. The fact that there was no big fashion news was the fashion news. And we should see this as good news.

After all, when life is as unpredictable as it currently is, when it’s unclear what is happening to your currency, or whether you will even have a currency in a few months, when employment is uncertain and politicians (at least the ones who make themselves heard) are extreme, isn’t it nice to think that you can rely on your wardrobe? That what you have is actually good enough? That it’s still relevant?

Merry Christmas. You made the right choices after all.

vanessa.friedman@ft.com

More columns at www.ft.com/friedman

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