They say you can’t understand where you’re going without knowing where you’ve been. That rings particularly true in the fashion industry, which is constantly, obsessively looking forward—for the next designer, the latest trend, a brand-new look. On the cusp of the Spring 2020 shows, the first women’s runway collections of the next decade, we’re deep in the prophesizing mind-set, searching for clues of what’s to come: The comeback of stilettos? A climate change–induced return to minimalism? More celebrity designers? But you can’t predict the future without digging into the past, so we’re looking back on where fashion was 10 years ago, in September 2009.
A lot of things were different then: Instagram didn’t exist, for one, and the internet’s coverage of fashion shows was mostly limited to Style.com. But while the year 2020 has a more meaningful ring to it, the Spring 2010 shows marked a major turning point, too. If we didn’t fully realize it then, it’s abundantly clear now. There were the obvious highlights, like Phoebe Philo’s agenda-setting runway debut at Celine, as well as takeaways that came with time: For instance, who would have thought Alexander McQueen’s shocking “Plato’s Atlantis” show would predict our current climate crisis? It was almost eerily on point.
Below, we’ve pulled 10 moments from the Spring 2010 season that went on to define it—with a few implications about what we might expect in 2020.
Alexander McQueen saw the future—in more ways than one.
Phoebe Philo’s Celine show set the tone for a new era of minimalism, but it was McQueen who predicted how the entire industry was about to change. For starters, “Plato’s Atlantis” was the first fashion show to ever be live-streamed—or at least, it was supposed to be. Minutes before the models teetered out on their perilous “armadillo shoes,” Lady Gaga tweeted a link to the stream to her 1 million followers, announcing that her latest banger, “Bad Romance,” would be playing in the show. Needless to say, the site crashed immediately. Looking back, it was an early example of both the power of celebrity and the mass, globe-spanning interest in these insular fashion shows. But it was also a reminder of just how visionary McQueen was; if his peers were hesitant about technology then, they’ve since optimized their shows to be viewed on screens from anywhere in the world.
The collection itself, with its weird shoes and scaly prints, was, as Sarah Mower wrote at the time, “an apocalyptic forecast of the future ecological meltdown of the world. Humankind is made up of creatures that evolved from the sea, and we may be heading back to an underwater future as the ice cap dissolves.” Again: visionary. No one else was talking about climate change at the 2010 shows, which makes you wonder how McQueen might have led fashion’s sustainability conversation if this hadn’t been his last runway show (his untimely death came just four months later). Chances are the industry wouldn’t have waited until 2020 to get serious about it.
Chanel set the bar for spectacular sets and destination shows.
McQueen’s runways were known for their high-tech experiments, from that Kate Moss hologram to the robots tracking the runway at Spring 2010, but Chanel was the only brand building enormous movie-quality sets for its shows and flying editors to Venice or Miami for Resort back then. For Spring 2010, Karl Lagerfeld erected a massive barn in the Grand Palais, complete with a grass-strewn runway and models romping around in the hay. Lagerfeld saw the future, too, and anticipated that the atmosphere of a show would become just as important as the clothes themselves. Now, every major show is a “moment” with incredible sets, light shows, and performances, and brands are flying guests from Malibu to Morocco to Shanghai for buzzy “destination shows.” At this point, it feels like “every week is fashion week,” but it might not be the most sustainable model—both in terms of physical bandwidth and the carbon footprint of those flights and events.
Stilettos and statement heels dominated the 2010 runways, even as fashion began to shift toward daywear.
At his Spring 2010 show for Balenciaga, Nicolas Ghesquière did something kind of radical: He took a break from cocktail wear to design clothes that were “more urban”: leather jeans, sleeveless hoodies, kicky skirts. It was a hint of the sporty, streetwise era to come—years later, his successor Demna Gvasalia’s biggest hit would be a pair of sneakers—but every outfit was still worn with high, strappy heels. Heels were the go-to at virtually every show, including Prada, where now they have mostly been replaced by practical brogues and sneakers. And as our recent street style retrospective pointed out, the front rows were stacked with heels, too; it wasn’t until a couple years later that editors began wearing Birkenstocks and trainers to couture shows.
Phoebe Philo’s runway debut for Celine set the tone for powerful, elegant minimalism amid the Great Recession.
Editors who were lucky enough to witness this show in person have said the energy doesn’t really come through in photographs. At first glance, these are sleek, elegant, uncomplicated clothes—but nuance and context are everything. This was in the early days of the Great Recession, a time when women were looking for someone to give them a luxe, yet practical, alternative to the sexy, ultra-mini party dresses fashion was so fond of at the time. “In my mind’s eye, Phoebe Philo was standing up and representing all of the smart women whose sane opinions on testosterone-driven economic recklessness had not been heard in the 2000s,” Sarah Mower said in Vogue’s recent story about the decade’s most important collections.
Whether Philo did this intentionally or not (but let’s face it, she probably did), these clothes had a built-in timelessness, a concept we’re talking about more and more as sustainability becomes a growing concern. Mower added: “Had you wisely bought any single thing from that collection, you’d probably still be wearing it now.”
Speaking of influential women designers . . . Victoria Beckham was just getting started.
To do a side-by-side comparison of Victoria Beckham’s recent work and her Spring 2010 “wiggle dresses,” you might not believe it’s the same designer. But Beckham has adroitly kept up with women’s changing tastes, and she’s always understood precisely how they want to feel. In 2009, her slender dresses in primary colors were a celebration of femininity and became investment pieces for hardworking women. Fast-forward to 2019, and those dresses have gotten longer and more modest; in some cases they have been replaced by elegant suits. Beckham is plugged into the changing culture and saw that the modern woman was craving comfort as well as elegance.
Before Instagram, fashion shows were designed exclusively for the audience, with more subdued sets and minimal lighting.
In a candid discussion with Alina Cho at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Alber Elbaz famously said that in the age of the internet, he had to change the way he made clothes: “I realize that people aren’t really living today, they’re posting. . . . When you get dressed, it’s not about how comfortable or how beautiful you feel, but how it looks in the picture. Everything is for the photo. So we created a collection that is for the photos. I went with vibrant colors and vibrant prints and everything that is just a little bit loud.”
That wasn’t the case at the Spring 2010 shows, which took place almost exactly a year before Instagram launched. Elbaz’s Spring 2010 collection for Lanvin was one of the best of the season, and it was presented on a dimly lit, almost hazy runway. Our photographers managed to get great photos, but the average iPhone user would have been out of luck. Now, it’s the job of a runway show producer to ensure the lighting is optimized for every single camera in the room.
Constance Jablonski, Liu Wen, and Kasia Struss were the most in-demand models of the season.
Any fashion fan will recognize the model who opened the Celine show: Constance Jablonski. She also walked in 71 other shows that season, making her the most in-demand model of Spring 2010. Second on the list (provided by Vogue’s resident model expert, Janelle Okwodu) was Liu Wen, who walked 70 shows, followed by Kasia Struss, who clocked 61 runway turns. Also making the Top 10 were Frida Gustavsson, Eniko Mihalik, Tao Okamoto, and Karlie Kloss. These women helped define the look of the 2010 season just as much as the collections they wore, and many of them are still modeling today, albeit in different capacities. You don’t see Jablonski, Struss, or Mihalik on the runways much, but they’re regulars in campaigns and magazine editorials, while Kloss is a judge on Project Runway and launched a coding camp for girls, Kode with Klossy.
Importantly, none of these women were famous before they started modeling. You could say this was the final moment of “pre-social media” models, a stark contrast to today’s young women, who are expected to build massive followings and more or less become a brand unto themselves. But that isn’t to say modeling was “better” back then; in recent years, the health, well-being, and safety of models has become a greater priority.
The Spring 2010 menswear season, which took place a couple of months before these women’s shows, proves just how far men’s fashion has come.
Earlier this summer, Vogue contributor Luke Leitch predicted that the 2020s would be menswear’s golden age. He proved it by comparing Spring 2010 menswear shows to the Spring 2020 men’s collections we saw earlier this summer. The differences were vast, but in a nutshell, 2010’s collections were low-key and, well, kind of boring, with minor tweaks to the menswear “formula” of suit, shirt, and jacket. The 2020 collections, on the other hand, were many things: Saint Laurent was louche and sensual; Louis Vuitton was vividly printed and rooted in streetwear; and Dior Homme (now known as Dior Men) was luxuriously elegant and futuristic. Other shows rejected menswear codes even more boldly, putting guys in skirts or button-downs with pearl embellishments and built-in corsets.
The world is more interested in menswear than ever, thanks in part to a few needle-moving designers (Kim Jones at Dior Men; Virgil Abloh at Off-White; Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga; Alessandro Michele at Gucci). Some of them are showing their men’s and women’s together for epic, 100-look coed shows. Maybe by 2030, we won’t even call it “menswear” or “womenswear”; it will just be clothes.
Celebrities attended the Spring 2010 shows, but there wasn’t quite the same frenzy around them—unless you were Rihanna, that is.
Rihanna is designing fashion collections of her own these days, from her LVMH-backed label Fenty to her lingerie business, Savage x Fenty (mark your calendars, the show is on September 10). But in September of 2009, she was merely a VVIP guest at Paris Fashion Week, turning up at Chanel, Dior, and Givenchy. This was right before she dropped her fourth album, Rated R, and her look matched the album cover: blonde-streaked hair, smoky eye, chignon. At Givenchy, she paired a miniskirt with a furry jacket, and piled on the double-C jewelry later in the week at Chanel.
Rihanna’s look has evolved since then, and she’s become an even greater proponent of experimental, highly personal style. With Fenty, she’s also creating inclusive, capital-F fashion for women like her. “Just like everything, it has to come from me; it has to look good on me,” she told Vogue’s Chioma Nnadi earlier this year. “I have to love it with a passion. If that feeling isn’t there, it won’t work.”
But some things never change.
One of the biggest takeaways from this walk down memory lane was that hardly any designer is in the same place. Ten years ago, Louis Vuitton had Marc Jacobs; Balenciaga had Nicolas Ghesquière; Saint Laurent had Stefano Pilati (and “Yves” in the name); Burberry had Christopher Bailey; Bottega Veneta had Tomas Maier. Now, Jacobs and Pilati are focusing on their own lines, Ghesquière is at LV, and Bailey and Maier aren’t currently installed at any houses. Then there’s Dries Van Noten. The Belgian has been playing by his own rules since the late ’80s, only taking on his first investment in 2018. To look back at his Spring 2010 show, it isn’t startlingly different from what he’s doing now. Rather, there’s a clear sense of continuity, with all of the “Dries-isms” we know him for: the rich textiles, the draping, the embellishments, the cultural mash-ups. No wonder his loyal band of followers is forever growing; there’s a timeless, ageless, investment-worthy quality to his clothes. They’re pieces you can wear forever, but we’re always eager to see what he’s doing next. Establishing that kind of balance might just be the key to a career that spans decades.
Originally Appeared on Vogue