OPINIONS

Who Will Lead Fashion’s New Normal? 

17th September 2020

WORDS BY NATALIE YIASSOUMI

We’re looking to Amina Muaddi, Aurora James, Jacquemus and more to lead the fashion and footwear industries into a new, more conscious chapter. 

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Brother Vellies designer Aurora James graced the September issue of Vogue.
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Jacquemus innovative SS21 show had both excitement and social distancing. Image courtesy of the brand.

This was the year the fashion world turned upside down: Stores shut, we swapped our Bottega heels for Birkestocks and New Balance sneakers and with no reasons left to dress up, we started questioning our consumption habits. 

But then again the need for adornment, beauty and creative expression has been at the core of the human experience for centuries – long before designer brands and fancy shoes came to being. The joy of dressing up has revived after every historical crisis, from world wars to famines and economic crushes, so it’s bound to make a return in 2020 too. 

The only difference being that the fashion ecosystem will look different: A new set of designers, products and personalities, representing a new set of values and ideals, is coming to the forefront. 

So who’s fit for the gargantuan task of leading the industry into its new chapter? Let’s leave the data do the talking for a minute. 

According to the fashion search platform Lyst, which used sales and search metrics to identify the ‘Next 20’ brands in a new report, the designers shaping fashion’s future are the ones prepared to write their own set of rules. 

In the shoe world, there’s one name that stands out – and it will probably come as no surprise that it’s Amina Muaddi

According to Lyst, Muaddi ramps up 49,500 monthly Google searches and she was number 14 in the ‘Next 20’ ranking. She managed to hold on to her relevance during this period of crisis and transformation, selling out capsule collections in the midst of the pandemic. Even if women had nowhere to go, they still wanted to get their hands on the latest colorway of the ‘Gilda’ sandals. Her new collaboration with Rihanna’s Fenty only helped her popularity grow further. 

So it goes without saying that as we move into fashion’s new normal, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Muaddi and her sexy, sparkly shoes. Why is she still so relevant for this new world, you might ask?

The reason can be as simple as women love to dream and her flair for glitter heels, crystal embellishments and in-your-face colors, let them do just that. But there’s a few more reasons at play here: The limited edition nature of Muaddi’s collections means little product goes to waste; her signature cone-shaped heels allow women to look dressed up and feel comfortable all at the same time; and from day one she made diversity a priority with the campaigns she delivers.

In this new world where we are finally waking up to the urgency of better taking care of the planet, as well as changing our attitudes and calling out racism and sexism, an independent, female-led brand like Amina Muaddi, is bound to rise up. 

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Amina Muaddi’s signature style, the ‘Lupita’ mule. Image courtesy of the brand.

Although very different in aesthetics, Simon Porte Jacquemus – who came fifth in the Lyst ranking – embraces the same independent spirit and set of values, that resonate with today’s modern, more conscious audience: His eponymous brand celebrates women of all shapes and sizes and his latest campaigns featured everyone from his grandmother to Bella Hadid, shot over FaceTime. 

Not to mention his viral show this summer, one of the first physical runway shows post-lockdown: Held in a wheat field in France with chairs placed at a social distance in between branches of wheat, he sent a wave of much-needed optimism and renewed energy, both to the industry professionals attending in person and his global audience tuning in online. No one could stop smiling – or posting on Instagram – after seeing the models parade around the fields in their chic monochrome looks. 

Jacquemus is very much known for his miniature bags and high-slit dresses, but as his stature in the new world grows, we predict that he’ll become an even bigger player in the shoe world too, with his jewel-like heels and strappy sandals turning into summer staples. 

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Jacquemus was one of the few brands that organised a fashion show during a pandemic affected summer. Image courtesy of the brand.
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Bella Hadid posing for Jacquemus, shot over FaceTime. Image courtesy of the brand.

Another inimitable force leading the way forward is shoe designer Aurora James, who is behind the New York-based shoe label Brother Vellies.

James had built a relevant, future-facing business long before the crisis forced everyone to think about the need for radical change and a new normal, with her brand committing to using sustainable materials and supporting local artisanal communities, particularly in Africa.  

Now, apart from continuing to deliver stunning hand-crafted shoes, she is spearheading a bigger, industry-wide movement by launching the 15 percent pledge and calling out American retailers, demanding that they increase the number of black-owned brands they stock. 

Since then, James’ social media mentions increased by 724 percent, her pledge keeps gaining supporters and she is becoming one of the most powerful voices in fashion’s fight against structural racism – as proven by her recent appearance on the cover of American Vogue’s all-important September issue, which featured two paintings of the designers by artists Kerry James Marshall and Jordan Casteel. 

Aurora’s 15 percent pledge is a call to action. It calls for accountability and it’s a systematic shift in how retailers operate,” said leading fashion consultant Julie Gilhart. 

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Manolo Blahnik ‘Lurum’ pumps are classics that never date. Shot for the launch of 5 inch and up in January 2020.
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Christian Louboutin ‘Nudes’ collection comes in eight shades. Image courtesy of the brand.

Some more established, heritage names have also stood out for delivering on the same values of inclusion and conscious consumption. As a result they are gaining new relevance and brand new audiences in our post-lockdown realities: Think of Manolo Blahnik who has always ignored trends in favour of his signature styles and now that shoppers are looking to make better investments, he is seeing his Lurum pumps soar in popularity; or Christian Louboutin who was among the first big names to offer his classic pumps in all shades of nude and make a statement on the need for bigger diversity in the industry. 

There’s also Prada which amped its sustainability commitments and took a big part in Selfridges’ ‘Project Earth’ which you can read more about in this previous post.

For Prada’s ‘re-nylon’ store pop-up the brand produced a wide range of their signature products from recycled nylon, including the popular ‘Monolith’ boots that were recreated in a low-top version.

Dior is another brand leading change by putting feminism at the top of its agenda, amplifying the voices of female artists in its shows and helping women feel more comfortable by pairing couture with flats. Its recent hybrid show in Puglia, Italy – a few friends of the brands and local artisans could attend in person and everyone else could enjoy the livestream at home – celebrated the same values. 

In other words, there’s a plethora of brands and personalities, both old and new, resonating in the changed landscape where our need to experiment with creative designs and dress up our feet is staying strong. The difference is that now the designers leading the way, have as many social and cultural messages to communicate as beautiful shoes to sell. 

Prada monolith boots nylon
Prada’s Monolith boots were part of Selfridges ‘re-nylon’ pop-up. Image courtesy of Selfridges.

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