2008: a style odyssey

Ana Kinsella evaluates the fashion highs and lows of the past twelve months and wonders how they’ll be remembered in years to come

Ana Kinsella evaluates the fashion highs and lows of the past twelve months and wonders how they’ll be remembered in years to come

As the days get shorter, the nights get darker and another year draws to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the past year and try to determine
how this year will be remembered in the annals of sartorial history.

The high fashion industry spent the year in the shadows of two major ethical debates: size zero and the role of black models. This, combined with an incoming recession which will hit the abundance of high-end brands, as well as up-and-coming designers, might lead one to think that there would be few risks taken in such a tense atmosphere. But designers are often reluctant to play it safe – this is fashion as Art, remember – and so we saw feisty upstarts in London show eye-catching and sensational collections, like Gareth Pugh’s hard-edged and dark industrial
designs, or the gaudy neon-meets-plaid mess of House of Holland. Down the line It’s likely that these designers will become
quite representative of 2008’s catwalk stylings, overshadowing the pretty, elegant and above all wearable collections from the likes of young designers like Zac Posen and Phillip Lim. Established high-end fashion houses like Yves St Laurent and Balenciaga put out collections seeped in references to futurism whilst retaining the kind of simple, clean and flattering tailoring for which they have become revered. Referential ideas in a collection is high fashion’s favourite way to be cautious in a tumultuous market, and this was seen too in Chanel’s Autumn/Winter
‘08 collection, with Karl Lagerfeld’s continuing
reinvention of Coco’s classic looks and motifs, using them to reflect modern-day sensibilities and trends.
Gucci hedged its bets in its Autumn 2008 and Spring 2009 collections by appealing directly
to the recession-proof, with the kind of showy, glossy, hippie-luxe dresses and bags that are so favoured by the jet-setting wives of Kensington financiers and Russian oligarchs.

Away from the catwalks, 2008 will be remembered as the year that style went to the streets – street style blogs exploded, resulting in random people on the streets taking the places of Hollywood actresses or pop stars as modern-day style icons. Trends emerged not from clever celebrity red-carpet product placement but from the creative minds of art students in east London or teenagers in downtown LA, captured
on blogs like theSartorialist.com or Facehunter. It’s because of this that we’ve seen trends as unexpected as 1990s revival bloom this year. Denim jackets, grungey plaid shirts, tube skirts and tight body-con dresses ruled the music festivals and clubs this summer, along with straw hats and the now-ubiquitous Ray-Bans. In terms of accessories,
2004’s boho chic got revamped and updated with a more modern edge in the form of over-the-knee stockings, headbands,
statement necklaces and gladiator sandals.

Over the past few years, shops such as Penneys have been lauded for the ability of their products to be blended with high fashion and vintage accessories to create a unique look. 2008 saw the likes of American Apparel and Uniqlo take the place of Penneys
at the forefront of hip, with their clean cuts, simple colours and good quality material
used to form excellent foundations for experimenting with edgy separates or accessories
to create a look that stands out.

Other high street favourites like Topshop and H&M continue to push their own limitations
and, in turn, our own as high-street consumers, with H&M releasing a new capsule
line from bonkers Japanese radicals Commes des Garçons this month, while Topshop continue to pilfer almost scarily
directly from the catwalks of Chanel and Chloe in print dresses and chiffony shapes.
The style icons of the year often represent
what is considered cool by the average culturally-aware young person, and this can be seen in the choices of girls on the street in 2008.
The likes of Alexa Chung, the girls of Gossip
Girl, Pixie and Peaches Geldof, Kirsten Dunst, Lauren Conrad and, perennial favourites,
the Olsen twins are frequently cited
the girls that regular girls want to dress like. All of these girls mix a variety of different
styles to look on trend and laidback at the same time.

However, a quick straw poll of my own male friends did little to shed light on a possible male style icon of the year. While names like Barack Obama, Daniel Craig, Casey Affleck and Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl all got bandied around, there was no unifying man whose style was admired by guys this year.
In terms of fashion in general, young men in this part of the world have grown more confident in choosing varying styles of jeans or hoodies, although outside of that there has been, predictably, little more experimentation. The trend for guys wearing
super-skinny girls jeans has, thankfully, died, with a looser, slouchy straight-cut style gaining in popularity.
Menswear, like womenswear, has been adopting a 1990s slant, with plaid shirts and parkas heralding an end to the oversize hip-hop stylings – think huge white tees and baggy jeans – of the earlier years of this decade,
and it will be interesting to see if this is a trend that will develop next year.
The 2000s will undoubtedly be remembered
as a mash-up of different styles, and in 2008 that can be seen as the democratization
of style, as high fashion has begun to leak down to the masses in a way never before seen. People are less afraid to push boundaries and to think outside the box – girls who shuddered at the thought of a leather biker jacket two years ago are now never seen without them.

However, the flipside of this is that we’ve seen massive missteps and faux pas that’ll be making us cringe at photographs in twenty
years’ time.

Personally, I have definitely second-guessed myself when latching on to this year’s trends. Coloured skinny jeans? Headbands?
Shoe-boots? Metallic leggings? 25 years down the line, will my children be pointing at pictures of me and saying “God, Mum, you look ridiculous!”.

While this is something to keep in mind when diving head-first into something you’ve only seen work on the pages of magazines
or street style blogs, I think that ultimately
these years will be remembered as an exciting, fun and (probably) just-a-little-bit-crazy era, and so to play it safe with what you wear would be a waste of these inspiring times.