With unprecedented economic losses, major annual events and fundraisers cancelled, and runway shows pivoting to digital formats, it’s safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic hit the fashion industry hard. In some cases, horizons looked bleak even before the pandemic, and department stores like Neiman Marcus and J.C. Penney filed for bankruptcy while some independent labels like Sies Marjan shuttered completely.
In more positive cases, though, something about the twisted environment bred by this year’s strange circumstances allowed a few previously dormant fashion designers and brands to resurface. Whether due to a new creative director or a nostalgia-driven market opening, here are the labels and figures that made successful comebacks in 2020:
Thierry Mugler became an internationally recognized designer in the 1980s and ‘90s for his daring couture looks that fused sex appeal with the sublime. Supermodels like Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Pat Cleveland donned his designs on the runway (and in a George Michael music video in Evangelista’s case) until Clarins, the brand’s parent company, closed the house after losses in 2003, and the designer stepped away from fashion and his namesake label. In 2010, the brand re-opened as Mugler with creative director Nicola Formichetti at the helm, but the label's current creative director, Casey Cadwallader, is recognized for reinventing the house.
Last year, Thierry Mugler experienced a resurgence himself after dressing Cardi B in an archival design and creating a custom look for Kim Kardashian West. His work was also notably the subject of a retrospective exhibition at Montreal's Museum of Fine Arts. In 2020, Cadwallader continued that momentum, bringing the Mugler to the forefront of pop culture with a renewed focus on celebrities and custom pieces. Returning to a realm that Thierry Mugler knew well—music videos—Cadwallader and the Mugler brand became the force behind some of the most buzzworthy looks of the year, including Beyoncé and Blue Ivy’s matching looks in Black is King and Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s looks for the “WAP” video.
This British fashion designer is often applauded for her instrumental role in bringing modern punk fashion into the mainstream in the ‘70s and continuing to show groundbreaking collections through the ‘80s and ‘90s, including her iconic 1993 Anglomania collection in which a 20-something Naomi Campbell stumbled over giant platform heels.
While Westwood has long been regarded an icon in the industry, her label made its way back into the zeitgeist this year as fashion It girls like Bella Hadid and Dua Lipa got their hands on vintage Vivienne Westwood pieces. The designer’s iconic corset silhouette and orb logo necklace had a wild resurgence of popularity, spurring knockoffs to spread through Gen Z-populated sites like Depop.
A beloved designer who began his eponymous menswear label in 1995, Simons became a household name for his creative director roles at Jil Sander, Christian Dior (where he replaced the iconoclastic John Galliano), and Calvin Klein. While his appointment at the latter came to an abrupt end in 2018, this year, Simons embarked on a new level of fashion fame when he was appointed co-creative director of Prada alongside Miuccia Prada and launched his first-ever womenswear line for his own label.
Launched by Kimora Lee Simmons, this streetwear line stood at the forefront of 2000s fashion. Baby Phat was an iconic cross between high fashion and hip hop—not to mention the first streetwear brand for women—and stars like Beyoncé, Lil' Kim, and Missy Elliott were photographed sporting the brand’s feline cat logo. Simmons even released the ultimate Y2K accessory: a pink Baby Phat Motorola phone with a diamond-encrusted logo. As trendy styles pivoted to ‘80s and hipster fashion in the late 2000s, though, Simmons struggled to keep up and the brand faded from the mainstream.
As early aughts nostalgia became a driving force for 2020 fashion and pop culture trends, Simmons relaunched Baby Phat in late 2019 and announced a Baby Phat Beauty line in 2020. While it’s too early to tell if the brand’s new look will stand the test of time, the rebirth of early 2000s brands is a pattern 2020 came to know well.
This LA-based apparel brand was named after Kenny Howard, an American artist and pinstriper, and revered by 2000s celebrities for its casual accessories and T-shirts. Everyone from Paris Hilton and Britney Spears to Ashton Kutcher and Justin Timberlake wore Von Dutch trucker hats, bags, and graphic tees in the early 2000s, but similar to Baby Phat, new trends phased the brand out of the mainstream.
This year, Von Dutch took advantage of Y2K nostalgia and relaunched as a luxury brand with a Paris-based creative director. While Von Dutch now comes at a much higher price tag, it’s proving to fall back into its place as a celebrity staple with names like Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, and Travis Scott wearing the brand.
Israeli fashion designer Alber Elbaz spent time at Guy Laroche and Yves Saint Laurent before becoming the creative director of Lanvin in 2001, where he remained for 14 years. During this time, Elbaz gained a steady fanbase as he completely revived the once-popular French couture house’s fortunes and became a pioneer of the high fashion-meets-mass market collaborations we see so frequently today.
Five quiet years after his departure from Lanvin, the designer is taking on a new venture: his own label, AZ Factory, which will be a joint operation with luxury conglomerate Richemont. The brand, which was announced in November, is expected to make its market debut in late January 2021, and Elbaz fans can expect a modern take on the French wardrobe.