2022 review: A year to remember... or forget?
What was 2022 all about? On the surface, a handful of issues: inflation, sustainability, technology, the post-pandemic landscape, Ukraine, plus some surprisingly casual and gender-neutral runway trends.
But within that we had blocked supply chains, lots of innovation, business failures, luxury recovering (although still being held back somewhat by China’s zero-Covid policy), the growth of marketplaces, wider brand recoveries, scandals, collabs, plus cautious, sceptical, and under-pressure consumers and much more. We also had weather events with a record-breaking hot summer and the more recent worse-than-expected snow heavily impacting retail sales. But let’s look at the big themes of the year.
What should have been a year of bouncing back from the pandemic, from February was dominated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Retailers and brands like Reserved owner LPP, LVMH, Hermes, Chanel, Burberry, H&M and Boohoo rushed to suspend activities in Russia and later many exited it altogether, selling their operations to local partners or simply shutting down. That dented sales and profits for giants including Estée Lauder, companies including Zalando and Kurt Geiger felt charitable donations were the right thing to do, even though they dented the bottom line still further. There was criticism of companies like Uniqlo and Decathlon that were seen as being too slow to exit Russia. Meanwhile, individual brands, stores, events and fashion weeks rushed to emphasise solidarity with Ukraine, the blue and yellow of the country’s flag being a popular colourway on runways, for instance. The war also precipitated an energy and supply chain crisis that’s still with us. Deliveries were delayed for months and costs shot through the roof as the prices of materials and freight headed upwards. Which brings us to…
After low inflation for a historically long period, 2022 saw it shooting into double digits, partly due to post-pandemic effects, but largely due to Russia-Ukraine. Consumer confidence plunged and while fashion spend held up fairly well in the circumstances, it still lagged inflation. Big names such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Inditex and Primark raised prices, but as cash-strapped consumers reined-in their spending, those at the lower end of the price scale were keen to show solidarity with their customers. In the UK, M&S froze schoolwear prices, Freemans launched a “ways to save” product curation, and festive season campaigns focused on affordability. In beauty, Boots launched a budget brand and Superdrug froze prices. Companies also launched initiatives to shield their staff from inflation. Burberry and M&S introduced early pay rises, Ferragamo offered staff shopping vouchers, and LVMH made bonus payments. Not that inflation stopped consumers and companies from continuing to focus on ‘doing the right thing’…
GOOD FOR PEOPLE
Companies have been embracing a more inclusive attitude and it’s one that consumers increasingly expect to be the norm. Initiatives in the year included Abercrombie & Fitch launching a collection to amplify black voices and revamping its range to make it more inclusive. Designer Brands committed millions to a black-owned factory, Gap Inc created an advisory board to foster inclusion, and Tapestry named a Chief Inclusion and Social Impact Officer, while Tiffany launched a social impact platform. Meanwhile, Alexander McQueen is supporting a community youth project in a deprived area of London, Carolina Herrera is funding a scholarship at FIT for women facing racism, and the RCA in London now has a Virgil Abloh scholarship for black British students. The Graduate Fashion Foundation linked up with Fashion Minority Alliance to help marginalised students, while Versace launched a foundation linked to Pride Month. And there were simple initiatives like the quiet hour at Selfridges for autistic shoppers, while PrettyLittleThing launched a lingerie range for women who’ve had a mastectomy, and H&M Man unveiled a campaign supporting mental health.
GOOD FOR THE PLANET
When Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard gave away his company to a sustainability-focused charitable trust in the autumn, he received plenty of plaudits (including a BFC citation at the Fashion Awards in December). But crucially, Lyst also said interest in Patagonia rose as a result. Clearly, consumers expect corporations to do good in the world, even in a cost-of-living crisis. Survey after survey showed consumers seeing sustainability and ethics as the norm (while also being sceptical of some company claims). That meant companies doubled down on their good-for-the-planet efforts. Fashion’s ‘sustainability gap’ may still be big, but think finance packages connected to sustainability at Burberry, Prada adding ESG experts to its board, Bestseller testing a new plant leather, ESW offering carbon-neutral shipping, the debut of a carbon footprint-tracking debit card, France planning climate impact labels, PETA’s $1m vegan wool prize, Hugo Boss’s new eco-focused foundation, Stella McCartney carrying on as she has done for years (that is, being ultra-eco)… and much more.
Also key to all this was the rise of rental, resale, refill and repair (the 4Rs). What had once seemed like a tough area in which to make money became a must-have with Selfridges planning for 45% of its future customer interactions to be accounted for by the 4Rs, eBay’s Love Island sponsorship being all about secondhand, and retailers like Zara going it alone on resale or racing to link up with rental and resale specialist such as Vestiaire Collective, ThredUp, Hurr, Hirestreet, My wardrobe HQ and Reflaunt. But going green can backfire. Which brings us to….
News that the UK’s Competition and Markets authority was investigating ASOS, Boohoo and ASDA over possible greenwashing highlighted the dangers of rushing to be green without having robust systems in place. One start-up raised millions to help it help brands avoid greenwashing further highlighting the dangers. Other 2022 scandals included misbehaving sports stars causing sports giants to end their endorsement contracts. But the biggest scandal wasn’t about a sports star, it was Kanye West. Accusations of anti-semitism after a runway show and other unpleasant statements meant Adidas exited its hugely lucrative Yeezy deal with the superstar. Balenciaga also cut ties with him. But the Kering-owned label had its own scandal not long after when a badly-thought-out ad campaign created a crisis due to claims of exploiting children.
From Selfridges being taken over by Central Group and Signa for an estimated £4 billion early in the year, to Tom Ford being bought by Estée Lauder Cos in November for $2.8 billion, there was plenty of change on the agenda in 2022. But it wasn’t only about new owners. Outgoing or new top executives and new creative chiefs were also big news. Pepco, Forever 21, M&S, Michael Kors, Paco Rabanne, Alexander McQueen, Versace, New Look, Frasers, JD Sports, Matchesfashion, Joe Browns, Gap, Depop, Reebok, Viktor & Rolf, Dune, Matalan, Eddie Bauer, YNAP, River Island, and Prada (both the brand and the group) announced new executives at the helm.
Importantly too, new creative chiefs mean possibly even bigger change (or sometimes continuity) at brands like Filippa K, Adidas, Dr Martens, Benetton, Nina Ricci and Ann Demeulemeester. But perhaps the biggest creative changes have come at one British and one Italian mega-brand. Daniel Lee joined Burberry, succeeding Riccardo Tisci, and will unveil his first collection just a few weeks from now. And Gucci said it’s waving goodbye to Alessandro Michele with the industry still waiting to hear who will follow up his star turn at the brand.
THOSE WE LOST
We waved goodbye to more than a few creative directors in 2022 as the year saw a number of notable deaths. Thierry Mugler, Michel Goma, John Bates, Issey Miyake, Hanae Mori, Franca Fendi, Topshop founder Ralph Halpern, Andre León Talley, Antonio Miró, Luxottica’s Leonardo del Vecchio, and Patrick Demarchelier all passed during the year. And just a few days ago, Vivienne Westwood joined the sad list. But perhaps the biggest impact was made by a woman who wasn’t a designer, retailer, photographer, or commentator. Queen Elizabeth II’s September death during her jubilee 70th year, while expected, was still a shock and one that brought Britain to a standstill and affected the industry. London Fashion Week was heavily affected with show and event cancellations, while stores also closed.
The Queen also figured on the list of trend influencers this year, as did younger royals. But for the most part, influencers tended to be entertainment-linked celebs. Thing Zendaya, Hailey Bieber or Harry Styles, the Kardashian-Jenner sisters and Arian Grande.
So we know who consumers wanted to look like but what did they want to wear? After several years of loungewear reining supreme due to the pandemic, formalwear made a comeback with men’s suits (but not ties) seeing higher demand, sequin dresses surging for party season, and corsets proving cool on the Met Gala red carpet. In real life, gender-neutral was rising in popularity while casual and quirky were also cool. The Lyst Index in its Year in Fashion report called out mini-skirt-loving Miu Miu as the brand of the year, while shoe of the year was Birkenstock’s Boston clogs. Jacquemus x Nike was the collab of the year. Luar, Amesh and Mônot were the key rising stars, while the top trend was Barbiecore. Meanwhile, according to Launchmetrics, Valentino, Dior and said Laurent may have been the top designers from the latest fashion month, but the top ranked look was a simple Bottega Veneta plaid shirt and jeans.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Whatever look was in demand, there’s no denying tthe year started badly with the pandemic still crushing retailers and brands in many countries. Companies continued to shutter stores, sometimes — as with Valentino — running into legal issues as a result. Tradeshows and runway shows globally continued to be disrupted or cancelled, mask mandates were still in place, and tourism remained muted. The onset of the Russia-Ukraine war added to the industry’s woes just as many companies and some key shopping neighbourhoods were starting to recover.
Some brands went under this year as a result (Atterley, Joules, Studio Retail, TM Lewin, M&Co) and others were simply closed down (Alexa Chung, Raf Simons’ own label, although the latter may be less about the label struggling and more about his attention being focused on his work at Prada). Formerly successful businesses like Boohoo Group and ASOS also struggled.
But while many businesses grappled major issues (and 2023 expected to bring even more closures), for many it was about bouncing back from the pandemic. Prada, Mango, Primark, Radley, Quiz, Superdry, Monsoon, Hugo Boss, and SMCP all had good news on that front. Others continued (and amplified) their winning ways with Castore, Savage x Fenty, Skims, Watches of Switzerland, Shein (despite regular allegations about poor working conditions), Moncler, Dior, Dr Martens, Valentino, Scotch & Soda, Sosandar, Gymshark and Jacquemus among the names who seem to be on an unstoppable growth trajectory.
Key retail sites also seemed to defy the wider downturn with New York’s Fifth Avenue, Paris’s Champs Elysées, Milan’s Via Monte Napoleone and London’s New Bond Street all prospering, even if rental prices may have dipped a little. The Liverpool One mall was also a brand magnet, and the shiny new multi-billion pound Battersea Power Station mall seeming to shrug off the bleak economic backdrop. Outlet villages also boomed both in terms of brands signing up and shoppers spending.
2022 was also the year of the serial acquirer as companies including Authentic Brands Group, Frasers Group, Farfetch, M&S, and Next bought failed businesses, going-concern businesses, acquired stakes, and forged partnerships, such as the latter’s extension of its deals with Gap Inc’s brands. Most notably, ABG acquired David Beckham’s business and Ted Baker; Frasers took on a clutch of labels owned by JD Sports, plus Missguided, I Saw It First, Gieves & Hawkes, Mysale, Studio Retail and bought stakes Hugo Boss, ASOS and N Brown; M&S bought Sports Edit and invested in Dotte, among other deals; Next acquired Joules, made.com, Jojo Maman Bébé, and struck a deal with Fanatics; Farfetch acquired Violet Grey, struck a deal with Neiman Marcus and another agreement to buy a big chunk of YNAP. Don’t expect any of them to slow down in 2023 either.
Fashion, beauty and retail has been growing increasingly tech-focused for years but 2022 was the year in which technology went mega with NFTs and the metaverse the big talking (and selling) points and brands rushing to get in on the gaming act. The big question though has to be: is this merely a ‘trend’ or a true step-change? 2023 may give us some answers as press reports are suggesting that some NFTs that fetched ultra-high prices at launch have plummeted in value. It looks like (just as with cryptocurrencies) it may take a few years before we can get a better picture of their future prospects.
But even if interest in NFTs and the metaverse is fading (with Facebook parent Meta being criticised by investors for its heavy spend in the area), fashion still seems to think there really is a future in this area. There will be a second Metaverse Fashion Week in 2023, we learned last month with many brands still committed to metaverse stores in links with specialists such as Roblox. And we also heard that around a fifth of young UK consumers have bought a fashion NFT. It’s not worth listing the number of fashion brands across the price spectrum that have launched NFTs and linked up with the metaverse in the process, because the list would probably be longer than the rest of this article.
A shorter list would be brands that have launched a gaming experience and this is an area that still seems to be expanding. Think Burberry and Lacoste x Minecraft, ASOS launching gaming apparel with Fnatic, JD Sports converting a flagship into a giant AR game experience, Sandro launching a video game to promote its AW22 collection, Dior launching skins for Gran Turismo, and more. Meanwhile specialist fashion gaming apps like Drest have been making an impact.
Companies such as LVMH have also been diving into virtual ambassadors, although so far some of these have had a mixed reception, including one from M&S. It seems you can’t please all the people all of the time, but at least we know that in 2023, the fashion and beauty sectors will keep on trying.
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