Who Had the Biggest Influence in Fashion in 2021?

LONDON — It’s certainly been a strange year that started with strict global lockdowns and major vaccination campaigns happening all around the world. But it’s ending with the reopening of the world and the return of travel, group celebrations — and extravagant fashion.

Along the way, fashion industry dynamics have been shifting and it looks like smaller players are starting to become a more prominent part of the conversation. They’re becoming capable of moving the cultural needle — or simply going viral — without the same big budgets and advertising capabilities as the mega brands.

According to fashion shopping platform Lyst, which monitors online customer searches to identify trends, throughout 2021 customers were searching and shopping for up-and-coming brands, as much as they did for some of their more established peers.

“The pandemic had accelerated some changes in the brands ecosystem. The new trends cycle has created opportunities for smaller, independent brands, as new social media platforms favor authenticity and entertainment rather than polish and big budgets,” said Brenda Otero, the company’s cultural insights manager.

According to Lyst’s end-of-year report, there was an array of young names that have been garnering attention online throughout the year, with LVMH Prize winner Nensi Dojaka leading the way.

Her black minidresses averaged 7,000 searches per month, making Lyst’s “hottest product index” from the beginning of 2021. Fellow Londoners Harris Reed and Maximilian also followed suit, with searches growing 189 percent and 49 percent respectively in early 2021.

The Attico’s zebra-print bikini.

Other young names making their presence felt in the online fashion conversation included Christopher John Rogers, I.Am.Gia, The Attico and Christopher Esber.

John Rogers saw searches for the brand jump 164 percent since the start of the year, following support from the likes of Lady Gaga, Bella Hadid and a cameo in “Gossip Girl”; while The Attico saw searches for its zebra-print bikini go up by 224 percent after Dua Lipa wore it in her popular “Love Again” video.

In fact, this year celebrities-of-the-moment — both when performing and in their day-to-day lives — have been making both individual brands and trends go viral, more so than any social media influencer.

According to the Lyst data, the pendulum could be swinging back in favor of celebrities — or anyone with cultural relevance, across both the physical and digital realms.

“We are living the second decade of the democratization of fashion. During the last decade, bloggers and influencers broke down the walls of the industry, and brands started selling to their customers directly online. Now, it’s all about cultural relevance and community,” explained Otero. “Fashion lovers don’t need to look at some Instagram influencers anymore, they prefer to layer different styles, and mix influences from digital-born trends, Netflix, musicians or video games. It sort of works in a similar way as TikTok’s algorithm: bringing all your interests together.”

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A still from “Bridgerton” season one.

It’s why Netflix series appeared to be driving fashion trends more than any catwalk this year: “Bridgerton” style, known as “Regencycore,” ramped up over 105,000 social mentions throughout the year; “Halston” saw searches for the brand rise by 550 percent after Netflix released its miniseries on the legendary American designer; while “Sex Education’s” third series, released this fall, created a newfound demand for varsity jackets and flared jeans, with searches going up 93 percent and 50 percent respectively, one week post-launch.

Music videos have had similar effect, with Kanye West driving up demand for Yeezy by 128 percent after launching his new album “Donda” last August. Billie Eilish, Doja Cat, Olivia Rodrigo and Blackpink’s Lisa were also identified as some of the year’s biggest trendsetters, driving online demand for everything from rhinestone tops to latex pants and platform boots.

Celebrities’ increased support of younger, lesser-known names has also been contributing to boosting these up-and-coming brand’s relevance in the fashion scene. When Lil Nas X wore a Richard Quinn suit to the 2021 BET Awards page views for the brand’s floral pieces jumped 78 percent in 24 hours according to Lyst; while Hailey Bieber posting an image of herself in an Alessandra Rich gown saw searches for the brand rise 168 percent within 48 hours.

The trend is set to continue well into 2022, with Lyst identifying “cultural pioneers” like poet laureate Amanda Gorman; Grand Slam winner Emma Raducanu; poet, activist and Louis Vuitton model Kai-Isaiah-Jamal; or actress Emma Corrin, among the creatives who will be setting trends and influencing the fashion conversation in 2022.

Mach & Mach spring 2022

Mach & Mach, spring 2022
Courtesy of Mach & Mach, Lorenzo Baroncelli

There’s also more young brands whose market share is bound to grow next year, such as London-based Conner Ives known for his flair for upcycling; Parisian label Coperni which counts the Hadids among its fans; New York label Area; and Mach & Mac, a Georgian brand whose sparkly, Cinderella shoes are gaining momentum.

That’s not to say that mega brands, or at least some of them, won’t retain their voices and customer interest. According to Lyst, Balenciaga was among the biggest winner of 2021. After releasing its collaboration with Fortnine, searches for the game spiked 72 percent; while the brand also generated the most interest in online searches during Paris Fashion Week and the Met Gala, with searches rising by 505 and 355 percent respectively.


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