It’s been a decade of fashion reform, as brands stray from traditional boundaries, scrapping seasonal collections, embracing digital advancements, and championing sustainable initiatives, so what does it mean to be contemporary today? At its core, the word ‘contemporary’ means belonging to or occurring in the present. In essence, contemporary fashion is ever-changing, the term ‘contemporary’ evolves with every fashion season.
In recent years, there has been a big shift in contemporary fashion, which has become far more design-centric. Contemporary style can be described as a spectrum, on one end there are the groundbreaking, risk-taking, haute-couture designs, and at the other, subtle Scandinavian-inspired minimalism. Essentially, contemporary fashion values the avant-garde and nouveau, simply put, it’s all about newness, innovation— standing out amongst the masses. Spotting new trends, hunting for unfound gems, scouting out pieces spotted in fashion week, contemporary style is all about exploration and experimentation, to be seen, to be different. Let’s take a look at a few examples of the evolution of contemporary fashion over the years.
Haider Ackermann is a renowned contemporary pioneer in the industry, his masterful technique is all about the balance of contrast, blending tailored elegance with modern street style. An industry favourite (legendarily offered nine creative positions), Ackermann was famously named as Karl Lagerfeld’s ideal successor at Chanel in 2010, he was approached to succeed Martin Margiela in 2009 as well as Galliano at Dior in 2012, adding to a long line of endorsements from fashion royalty. Haider Ackermann is a brand staple in celebrity wardrobe rotations. Who can forget the SS17 yellow floral print silk shirt, spotted on Harry Styles and Wiz Khalifa, or the iconic red velvet bomber jacket sported by Kanye West? Ackermann’s designs have built up a dedicated following of fashion-forward devotees, including West, who is often seen in his designs. Ackermann’s trademark use of sleek tailoring paired with his methodological draping and layering of plush fabrics have propelled many of his designs to grail-status, making them instantly recognisable pieces in the fashion world. His flowing silhouettes and exaggerated proportions in his muted palette single-handedly birthed a template of iconic styles that inspired many.
Famously known as creating not just one but two distinct identities for himself, Jonathan Anderson’s eponymous label celebrates unique design and thought-provoking silhouettes that exemplify the contemporary aesthetic. Anderson himself is an art enthusiast with a penchant for collecting, his deep appreciation for history and craft is evident in his creative dialogue. Striking the perfect balance between craftsmanship and wearable clothing is challenging, but his label has been built upon the very concept. His innovative vision has garnered a high-profile celebrity roster such as Hailey Baldwin (memorably spotted wearing the AW19 checkered contrast trench coat days ahead of her wedding), and Rihanna, who was draped in head to toe in JW Anderson in her iconic May 2020 British Vogue spread. Anderson truly magnifies the versatility of contemporary wear, creating pieces that achieve the perfect off-duty street style, yet, still have you looking like you belong on the cover of a magazine.
Alongside the success of his namesake label, JW Anderson was appointed as the creative director at Loewe in 2013. The introduction of a young, culturally aware designer like himself to a classically traditional fashion house breathed new life into the brand, and Loewe’s redefined, modern, bohemian creations quickly found themselves on style mavericks in the likes of A$AP Rocky and Pusha-T. The self-proclaimed Fashion Killa himself, A$AP Rocky is a renowned style icon, lauded for his brave choices and for continually pushing the boundaries of fashion, never following- but setting trends, making him the perfect candidate as the face of a new, Loewe. Never shy of taking risks, ASAP’s relationship with Loewe began in 2016 when he was spotted wearing the AW16 dinosaur print silk shirt, he then famously emerged at Paris Men’s Fashion Week’19 in head to toe Loewe, wearing the iconic bandana patchwork shirt and trousers set, paired with understated, beat-up old skool vans, exuding effortless cool. He was seen a week later in the colourful cashmere tie-dye jumper, before starring in Loewe’s Paula Ibiza SS19 campaign, wearing their distinctive Willy Wonka-esque retro-chic sunglasses. Loewe’s success has been built without pandering to the masses, preferring to pioneer trends rather than follow them, harnessing the very essence of contemporary.
Ann Demeulemeester is another established name in fashion history and a member of the esteemed Antwerp Six (Dries Van Noten and Martin Margiela amongst the collective), famed for their distinctive designs and radical visions. Demeulemeester’s signature tailoring manipulates stark silhouettes in monochromatic hues, marrying a touch of gothic glamour and symbolic romance with contemporary androgyny. Her designs have become a staple in the closets of the Kardashian-Jenner clan, from a collection of long flowing black coats on Kim to the classic double zip ankle boots, rocked by Kylie on multiple occasions; a grocery shop run in Calabasas, Coachella, and even to the red carpet. Through her collections, it is evident that Demeulemeester approaches fashion with a deeply practical mindset. Unconcerned with following trends, focusing on shape and shadows which compliment the modern, contemporary woman.
It is important to understand the history of a brand to fully appreciate the artistry in their craft. While designs will always be rooted in a brands' core identity, a majority of traditional fashion houses are now ruled by young visionaries pioneering different styles—and while as a whole they may not be decisively classified as 'contemporary', they certainly produce pieces in their collections which are. The new era of contemporary fashion encompasses modernity, innovation, and à la mode. For a modern-day brand, history and innovation are bound as one. To be contemporary today means seamlessly weaving stories of the past into the present, reinventing compelling narratives in new ways.