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Year in Review: Loose Fits, Western and Y2K Denim Collided on the Runway

As we settle into the new year, our Sourcing Summit Companion Report looks ahead at ways to optimize processes and performance.

After a year of events that upended the fashion industry, impacting every aspect of business from how it sourced fabrics and produced and designed to how and when collections were presented, it appeared that denim brands landed on middle ground in 2021.

The Fall/Winter 2021-2022 collections presented at the beginning of the year leaned into digital storytelling, allowing designers to experiment with visuals and sound, and keyed into qualities like durability and functionality that rose to prominence during the pandemic.

Nods to workwear and the gorpcore-led trend for outdoor apparel featured throughout men’s collections. Wooyoungmi updated the classic denim work shirt with non-traditional pocketing. David Catalan applied a fresh look to matching workwear-inspired jackets and bottoms with contrast stitching and cropped and balloon-shaped silhouettes. Function was at the center of Levi’s collaborator Heron Preston’s collection. Puffer coats, sweats and fire-resistant shirts balanced the baggy proportions of jeans with utility details like hammer loops.

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David Catalan
David Catalan WWD

The return of Western was evident on both the men’s and women’s catwalk. Presented in a multi-disciplinary artistic performance, Virgil Abloh paired dusty-washed jeans, enlarged belt buckles and cowboy boots in Louis Vuitton F/W 21-22 collection. Y-Project used metal snaps on jeans to manipulate silhouettes and chaps. Wales Bonner took a polished approach by adding camel-color brushed twill panels to dark-wash jeans.

Denim was a natural choice for Victor Li’s line inspired both by the film “Brokeback Mountain” and his road trip through Wyoming. Mixed with plaids, postcard prints and photorealistic images of ranchers, Li experimented with denim finishes, offering dark washes, black-and-white tie-dye effects and ’80s-style bleaching.

Victor Li
Victor Li WWD

Subversive elements shone through. Ripped jeans added a punk edge to Rhude’s collection, while bleached denim add a punch to Dhruv Kapoor’s men’s line. Naturally, R13’s F/W 21-22 interpretation of ’90s grunge included destroyed knits, flannel shirts and vintage-wash denim. A black-to-gray ombré jean jacket, an oversized shearling-lined denim coat and black denim jumpsuit added a modern spin to the throwback story. One jean featured expletive-laden lacing up the backside.

R13
R13 Courtesy

Wider proportions, however, became the dominant theme for denim on the catwalk in 2021. Exaggerated silhouettes were a theme in Tanya Taylor’s F/W 21-22 collection, which included a casual drop-waist denim dress with oversized sleeves and a pair of ultra-wide leg sailor jeans accented with gold hardware. Loose-fitting jeans were the foundation to MSGM’s men’s F/W 21-22 gorpcore range. The label carried the comfy look into its Spring/Summer 2023 collection for women, focusing on slouchy jeans styled with laidback flip-flops and cropped tops.

Tanya Taylor
Tanya Taylor WWD

In general, the runway looked more like its usual self by the second half of the year, with more brands returning to in-person shows and celebrities filling their front rows.

With dopamine dressing gaining ground, designers amped up their assortment of colorful denim for S/S ’23. Philipp Plein paired pastel jeans with crystal-embellished skull sweaters. Marine Serre added depth to pink- and purple-hued denim jeans and belted jackets by using pieced constructions. Loewe’s deconstructed jean jackets and matching balloon-hem skirts were presented in indigo and overdyed brown.

MSGM
MSGM WWD

Strong notions of Y2K-inspired denim began to peak though in S/S ’23 collections. Blumarine’s denim butterfly tops and low-rise jeans set the bar high for the nostalgic trend. The Italian label also constructed slip dresses and mini-dresses with denim-printed chiffons. Metallic trims added a glam factor to Genny’s polished dark denim pieces. Meanwhile, crystal-embellished light-wash jeans, denim shorts and mini dresses by GCDS brimmed with pop-princess vibes.