In a turbulent and unforgettable year, roiled by the coronavirus, a racial reckoning and all kinds of economic fallout, fashion soldiered on. We picked 20 (well, technically 21) individuals who stood out. Here’s why:
Doug McMillon, president and ceo, Walmart Inc.: Because the ceo’s been willing to both buy (Flipkart, possibility TikTok) and sell (Seiyu, Asda, its subsidiary in Argentina) as he reshapes the retail giant. Because Walmart’s revenues rose 6.6 percent for the first nine months of the year to $404 billion, pushing profits up 45 percent to $15.6 billion. Because he’s still attracting fresh faces, noting new customers have come in “when we launched pickup and delivery and started to scale it.” Because he’s preparing for the future and not a return to the status quo, noting, “We’re convinced that most of the [consumer] behavior change will persist beyond the pandemic and that our combination of strong stores and emerging digital capabilities will be a winning formula.” Because he’s made the brick and mortar giant a legitimate competitor to Amazon with a multipronged approach that is global and digital and takes advantage of its 11,500 stores.
Brian Cornell, chairman and ceo, Target Corp.: Because he teamed up with Ulta in prestige beauty, creating what he described as “an opportunity for the 30 million people who shop in our stores every week and the same number who shop online, to experience and engage with Ulta Beauty.” Because Target’s third-quarter comparable sales rose 20.7 percent, with digital comps up 155 percent and store comps up 9.9 percent. Because he’s keeping Target in the game with Walmart and Amazon. Because he knows he’s not doing it alone, noting: “As this challenging moment in history continues, we’ve seen the best in our associates. They keep showing up and stepping up. They’re adapting and becoming what we must become to thrive in the next generation of retail. Our leaders are learning and applying new skills at a new pace. We’re grateful for and proud of how they’re bringing our purpose and values to life.”
Bernard Arnault: Because he pulled off the biggest luxury acquisition in history, pocketing Tiffany & Co. despite an acrimonious dispute over the purchase price and management of the jeweler during the crisis. Because LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, his family-controlled luxury group, showed remarkable resilience amid the crisis, rebounding strongly by the third quarter and sending its market capitalization to 250 billion euros, a record on the Paris Stock Exchange. And because he also showed LVMH has heart: It was among the first fashion firms to produce santizing gel (in its Guerlain factories) and face masks (in its Dior couture ateliers and Louis Vuitton production sites.)
Jamie Salter, ceo, Authentic Brands Group: Because has been able to make the intellectual property play work — at an unprecedented scale, building a portfolio of more than 30 brands drive retail sales of nearly $14 billion. Because he bought Brooks Brothers, Lucky Brand and Forever 21 this year alone. Because he successfully operates both lifestyle and entertainment brands and runs the gamut from uber luxe with Barneys New York to fast fashion. Because he’s assembled — and maintained — a formidable team of partners from private equity backers General Atlantic and Blackrock to mall operators Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Partners. Because his name is at the top of the list of potential buyers when seemingly any brand goes up for sale. Because he’s still buying, noting this month that: “We can definitely absorb more and the model is very stable at ABG. We have a tremendous amount of cash flow coming in on a monthly basis, we have more than $1 billion on our balance sheet today, either drawn or undrawn, that is available.”
José Neves, ceo, Farfetch, and Johann Rupert, chairman, Compagnie Financière Richemont: Because they broke with industry practice, put rivalry and competition to the side, and did a landmark deal that’s all about cooperation and growing the overall business of luxury and fashion in China. Because they recognized there is strength in numbers, and that European businesses can win in the region if they work together. Because Rupert admitted, “We’re not big enough, or tech-savvy enough, to do this on our own. All of the luxury goods industry combined would have difficulty in fighting giants like Amazon.” Because it was a four-way deal that also involved Alibaba, and Artemis, the investment arm of Kering’s Pinault family, to market their brands more effectively in China at a time when more people are shopping online. Because, after years of uncertainty, the deal gave investors much-needed clarity about the online fashion space, as a whole and reinvented the luxury e-commerce landscape.
Brandice Daniel, founder of Harlem Fashion Row: Because she established Harlem Fashion Row in 2007 to support and provide a platform for young Black and Latino designers. Because this year, with the increased attention on Black designers and designers of color and platforms like the Black in Fashion Council and the Kelly Initiative, the mainstream finally caught up to HFR, which has helped designers like Fe Noel and Kenneth Nicholson receive more attention. Because the CFDA/Vogue Common Thread donated to HFR, which was redistributed for the organization’s Icon 360 fund for Black designers and designers of color that was created in May. Because Icon 360 first donated $40,000 to designers seeking relief for COVID-19, and after the CFDA’s grant donation, was able to award over $900,000 to 27 applicants. Because Banana Republic also turned to Harlem Fashion Row for a sustainable design competition, which designer Charles Harbison won and debuted his work at Banana Republic stores and online in September 2020, and Janie and Jack looked to the organization for the launch and runway show for Zhuri James, LeBron James’ five-year-old daughter’s, capsule collection.
Ayesha Barenblat, founder and ceo, Remake: Because it’s likely that without her human rights nonprofit Remake and its viral #PayUp fashion campaign launched in April, millions would still be owed by global brands to offshore garment manufacturers in Asia for orders in production or canceled amid the pandemic. Because although not alone in this work, she helped amplify the voices of labor organizers and garment workers when losses fell most severely on their shoulders. Because her pressure tactics paralleled what many more consumers are demanding of fashion brands today: social and environmental sustainability, accountability and transparency.
Aurora James, founder of Brother Vellies: Because she put the retail industry on notice this year, demanding after the killing of George Floyd that all retailers dedicate at least 15 percent of their shelf space to majority Black-owned businesses in the 15 Percent Pledge. Because James noted specifically retailers Amazon, Net-a-Porter and Shopbop in the pledge, and took to social media to call for Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, Nordstrom, Hudson’s Bay, Ssense and more to do the same. Because since its establishment, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Rent the Runway, Madewell and West Elm are among the few to sign onto the pledge. Because James said, “We are all trying to figure out at every level what we can do to help. There are real and serious changes that need to happen across this country. The first thing I’m asking for is economic equality. As a business owner and retailer myself, I’ve seen the devastation black business owners have been dealt. During the pandemic they are the demographic most likely to be closing businesses during this time. If retailers commit, this represents a lot of money and is profitable.”
Kerby Jean-Raymond, founder of Pyer Moss: Because when the pandemic shook every industry to its core, and while many businesses looked to protect their bottom lines, Jean-Raymond used his platform to help those in need and empower. Because he donated $50,000 to minority and women-owned independent businesses impacted by COVID-19, as part of his new project, Your Friends in New York, created with Kering chief François-Henri Pinault who matched the donation. Because Jean-Raymond also launched limited edition T-shirts to aid organizations with funds and marketing through the Exist to Resist platform, benefitting community efforts and spotlighting the work of social justice organizations. Because amid the philanthropy, Jean-Raymond was also named global creative director of Reebok.
Sharon Chuter, founder, Uoma Beauty: Because when social unrest swept the country she provided a clear-cut path for brands and consumers alike to move toward a more transparent world. Because Chuter’s Pull Up for Change campaign was a straightforward call to action: All companies, from large corporations to indie start-ups, should reveal exactly how diverse, or lack thereof, their workforces are, and until they did, consumers should refuse to buy from them. Because the campaign, which ran parallel to the #BuyBlack phenomenon, normalized transparency and progressed conversations about the integral role of employment opportunities for Black men and women in achieving racial parity.
Raf Simons/Miuccia Prada: Because two singular fashion visionaries spontaneously came together as co-creative directors, firm in the belief one plus one equals more than two. “I’m very excited and this will bring new wind,” Miuccia Prada enthused. “We feel the need to join as creative people in a dialogue, to bring emotion and bring co-creation,” Raf Simons added. Because they put their money where their mouths were, capping off their debut for spring 2021 with a livestreamed conversation that had them musing on uniforms, “Prada-ness” and the idea of newness in fashion. And because they soldiered individually on with new projects: Simons adding women’s wear to his signature brand; and Prada stepping up her Adidas collaboration with the launch of the A+P Luna Rossa 21 shoes.
Stella Jean: Because she has brought the attention to Black designers in the Italian fashion industry, promoting inclusivity and diversity through her creations since the launch of her brand in 2011. Because in September she helped spearhead the Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion Collective with the support of the Camera della Moda, highlighting the work of five Italian designers of color. Because Jean and Edward Buchanan mentored the designers as part of the “We Are Made in Italy” project, who presented their work through a digital event that took place during Milan Fashion Week on Sept. 27. Because her cultural message is strong, underscoring that Made in Italy is not only about white creatives, aiming to debunk this prejudice. Because in her quest to exalt her Haitian roots, she admitted to falling prey to cultural stereotypes and in an effort to turn things around she has been vocal in creating collections in collaboration with Indigenous communities.
Steve Rendle, chairman, president and ceo, VF Corp.: Because he netted Supreme with a $2.1 billion-plus deal, moving early in the consolidation game when so many others are just hoping to make it through the holidays. Because he plans on letting Supreme keep being Supreme, noting: “This brand will continue to operate as it always has, we do not look to come in and make any changes. We’re here to help, support and enable.” Because he started early in steering VF toward a more purposeful, sustainable and active future. Because the company is projecting sales for the fiscal year ending April 3 will be “at least $9 billion.” Because he said “VF is built for this [crisis]” and was able to back that up. Because the parent to The North Face, Vans and Timberland has $1.9 billion of cash on hand. Because that fortress of balance sheet helped the company avoid furloughs and layoffs this year as merchants across the industry cut sales associates off.
Kim Jones: Because he masterminded one of the most sought-after sneakers of the year, which had five million people vying for 8,000 pairs of the limited-edition Air Jordan 1 OG Dior. Because he succeeded the late, great Karl Lagerfeld as Fendi’s new artistic director of couture and women’s wear collections, putting him in a rare league straddling two marquee luxury brands. And because he continues to turn out hit collections for Dior Men, roping in a range of artistic collaborators including Kenny Scharf and Amoako Boafo, while reminding the fashion world of the importance of Judy Blame, to whom he paid tribute with his ravishing fall 2020 show.
Dries Van Noten: Because as the ringleader of the grassroots consortium and petition known as forumletter.org, he emerged as an important voice for changing a fashion system out of whack with actual seasons, addicted to markdowns, and putting too much strain on the creative process. Because he brought new zing to retail with his new Los Angeles store, a “creative lab” selling new and vintage Dries collections along with a community space, rotating exhibitions, a music room and a tropical garden. And because the giant bars of Belgian chocolate he dispatches all over the world at Christmas offer extra comfort at the tail end of a grueling 2020.
Gabriela Hearst: Because the CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year brought her message of sustainable luxury to fashion’s biggest stage — Paris Fashion Week — and dazzled with an equestrian-inflected collection as chic as it was personal and principled: Her featherlight crochet slips were made by Manos del Uruguay, a nonprofit organization in her native country. Because she signed up to become the next creative director of Chloé, which had synced up with her purposeful and mindful approach to environmental and social sustainability. And because she stepped into the spotlight as a voice for political change during the presidential campaign, lending support to the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket.
Remo Ruffini, chairman and ceo, Moncler SpA: Because he continues to shake up the industry with surprising moves, after his decision to launch Genius in 2018. Because in early December he acquired Sportswear Company SpA, owner of the Stone Island brand, in a deal valued at 1.15 billion euros. Because he isn’t excited about building a fashion group, saying, “I would rather create uniqueness beyond the market logics, and create strong synergies.” Because he is interested in being ready for the future, since he sees luxury going in a new direction, less traditional and more open to the younger generations — in an area between Hermès and Nike: “It’s a new luxury, we must be part of it, with new energy — just as the one we felt when we started Genius.”
Maria Grazia Chiuri: Because she didn’t let a pandemic dent her staggering work ethic, pulling off a fall couture collection for Dior in miniature — along with a transporting film by famous Italian director Matteo Garrone. Because she went ahead with Dior’s resort show in Lecce, Italy — and it took way more than a village to pull off, including an array of local artisans whose handiwork was exalted on the runway. And because she didn’t ease up on her mission to uphold and promote feminist principles, daring to put the slogan “We Are All Clitoridian Women” up in lights above her fall runway, and barely flinch when an Extinction Rebellion protester invaded Dior’s show finale in September. “I would have liked to meet her, because I’m very interested in her point of view,” she said.
Marine Serre: Because she emerged as an unflinching fashion seer, showing face masks long before COVID-19 threw the world into upheaval and crafting a unique brand identity that transforms dystopian despair into uber-cool clothes and accessories. Because she never sugarcoats the possibility of environmental devastation, or eases up on her commitment to upcycling, making sure that transformed tablecloths, scarves, towels, secondhand carpets and T-shirts make up at least half of her production. And because her hypnotic fashion film, “Amor Fati,” was disturbing and difficult to watch, just like 2020, yet her message of resilience came through — along with plenty of fashion thrills.