The Runway Roundup - Trend Report from the FW21 Fashion Shows

Anna-Louise McDougall
May 27, 2021
8 min

Rebirth, rebellion, and resilience. After a solid year of virtual fashion shows and digital presentations, the unthinkable has never appeared closer to ‘normal’ for the fashion world. The Fall 21 season introduced a host of trends built from a tug-of-war of personal reflection and commercial reaction.

Fearlessness: that’s the way.

From Miu Miu on a mountain top, the gamer’s paradise at Balenciaga, and that Gucci lesson in branding, the Fall 21 Collections presented a smorgasbord of post-pandemic visions. The kind of new thinking - that for an outsider - digests like a minefield of artistic explosions. Yet, as we distill each house’s offerings, it’s clear the collections hold close a paradoxical view of the future; Fall 21 was a tale of two cities.

Function and fearlessness, cocooning silhouettes and second-skin catsuits, where one can exercise caution and explore creativity, and not without equal measures of sensibility and irreverence.

“I can’t live in a vacuum anymore – the fashion world as it was before. It’s about community, collaboration, and coming together.”   — Osman Yousefzada, Osman

Here, we dissect the top 12 trends that rediscover the pleasure of invention, reconsider a decade of vanity, and let subcultures emerge from the dark in a Gen Z-driven furor. The good old days for self-expression, are now.

1. Escapism

During periods of isolation riddled with self-reflection, the idea of one’s ‘happy place’ was never far from mind. Enter the escapism trend, where designers opted for relief from reality, pleasure in fantasy, and freedom in hallucination. Virtual reality, CGI and PVC brought Blade Runner back to now.

Leathers, vinyl, bionic silhouettes, contoured cut-outs, sequin catsuits, and an exploration of volume answered to an 80s sci-fi lens for Salvatore Ferragamo’s Star Trek extravaganza, Isabel Marant and Nicole Miller.

Balmain took escapism quite literally through a travel-inspired collection, shot in an unused hangar at Charle de Gaulle airport, while at Christian Dior, Chiuri took up where her tarot inspirations left off, leaning into the hallowed drama of fairy tales. The hooded tailoring and floor-sweeping lengths were unmistakably derived from the narratives of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty.

“The point is not the destination but the actual going—the journey, the leaving, and the escape,”   — Olivier Rousteing, Balmain

Loewe and Dolce&Gabbana found a Jetsons-esque view of proportion, with a technical take on the classics. At Balenciaga, Demna Gvasalia dug into the gaming subculture that only burgeoned with a generation left on the couch. The presentation featured avatars who wore architectural armor in the form of medieval boots, NASA emblazoned puffers, and oversized padded jackets set for space travel.

The sky’s the limit.

2. The Comfort Crowd

“Comfort, but make it fashion.” Joseph Altuzarra sums up for Vogue the need to satisfy the comfort cravings of a consumer looking to make investments in feeling good.

For Altuzarra, Gabriela Hearst and Georgio Armani the recognition of ease in tailoring came to the fore in hand-knitted sweaters, fluid midi-skirts, silken trousers, and relaxed-fitting pantsuits. Macrame lace, knots, and crochet came in varying distressed forms, alongside heavy layering, chunky cable sweaters, and sleek knit dresses for enduring styles wrapped in confidence.

“We may have started to value comfort and ease more and more in our outfits. If you feel comfortable in your clothes, you feel confident.”   — Giorgio Armani

Over at Acne Studios, there was a more literal interpretation of “comfort” - with dressing gowns, fuzzy fabric pajamas, floral nightgowns and prints reminiscent of grandma’s duvet cover. Simone Miller echoed the sleepwear sentiment with cotton twill sets, plaid, stretchy sweats and stirrup leggings.

3. The Glam Squad

“Who doesn’t want to be a badass? Especially after being trapped at home for a year.”   — Tom Ford

Bad-assery, early aughts skimpiness, and unapologetic glamour feel to many as controversial as secret raves and skipping town to a private island. But for a new generation of power-spenders, reality TV mongers, TikTok addicts and Dua Lipa fans there remains an appetite for excess, particularly in the West.

“This community is not ashamed of having the lifestyle they have. They love fashion; they crave fashion. They’re really playing with their looks,” Lanvin’s Bruno Sialelli told Vogue of the Chinese-owned house, garnering the attention of showbiz’s biggest players: Ariana Grande, Travis Scott and Rita Ora.

So, let them play! Lanvin, Tom Ford, Roberto Cavalli, and Oscar de la Renta reinterpreted the hallmarks of glamour in leopard print, gem colours, thigh-high boots, barely-there cocktail dresses, splits and slits, smoking jackets and cigarette pants.

4. Business up top, party down below

Ever since TikTok launched an attack on the skinny-jean advocates of yester-millennial-year, we have to agree Gen Z has a point. Having suffered in skinny jeans long enough, the androgynous appeal of Hedi Slimane and Julian Casablancas-famed jean cut does not have a place on the Zoom call.

At Tom Ford and DSquared, it was Zoom business-ready tailoring up top with parachuted, low-slung and loose bottoms for WFH looks - and sitting in general - that are luxuriously laidback. Wide-leg jeans at Balenciaga and bulbous skirts at Louis Vuitton lent themselves to a new playing field of daily comfort, while Molly Goddard paired traditional kilts with slouchy blazers, and Acne styled oversized coats and cosy cardigans with black taffeta tailoring and novelty-sized buckles.

5. Ponchos

One of the season's essential silhouettes, the Poncho gets a strong look-in for FW21. Comfort continues to pave a path of balancing easy-wear with heavy design and innovation. From traditional to time-bending there seemed no end to the cocooning, the covering and the comforting with a resurgence of ponchos at Gabriela Hearst, Alberta Ferretti, and Missoni.

Chloé delivered long-line, fringed and hand-spun iterations of traditional ponchos steeped in feminist bohemia, while Nicolas Ghesquière and Salvatore Ferragamo saw into the future with cocooning capes and vinyl coverings.

Valentino offered a post-punk take on with a heavier offering of floor-length dusters, cashmere coats and cropped capes to reveal mini skirt hems. Better get yourself a cloakroom because the layers are coming in hot.

6. Shearling

Shearling and sherpa trims and textures indulged the nostalgic elements of numerous collections with sumptuous coats, jackets, bags, boots determined to be lined with a little fun.

But make it friendly.

In Kim Jones’ Fendi collection he pointed Vogue to the abundance of the by-product, and explained that its choice stemmed from two questions, “a) What does the customer want and b) What can we do ethically?”

Shearling took place on oversized biker and aviator-style jacket lapels at Chloé, Dior and Balmain, and on overcoats and dusters at Coach and Chanel. Even Chloé’s bags received upcycled shearling iterations, as did Chanel’s footwear offering.

7. Alpine

From intarsia sweaters and cable knits to pink puffer confections, the attraction of the snow season inspired a number of big houses from Chanel to Miu Miu.

Chanel looked to nightclub-friendly Norwegian sweaters, quilted jumpsuits, and ski pants worn with short-cropped jackets. Styling saw satin mini skirts with shearling-covered boots and embellished woolen beanies with strappy sandals. Givenchy’s apres-ski-worthy sets featuring puffer jackets and gilets, were hyper tactical and hyper exaggerated, “in a way that echoed the volumes of skate-wear.”

Miu Miu took us on a trip to the mountain tops in oversized quilted suits, knitted balaclavas, alpine-esque boudoir satin slips, Fair Isle jumpers, and plush jumpsuits complete with the Abominable Snowman of boots.

8. Art Attack

Why so serious? Art school, patchwork and collage played a distinct part in the print offerings of the more maximalist collections of the FW21 shows. From the softly psychedelic patchwork prints at Chloé, to the rococo images splashed across Vivienne Westwood’s recycled denim, the painterly print is having a renaissance and it’s here for the long haul.

Dolce & Gabbana presented quilted puffers and sheer dresses sporting graffiti motifs in neon colours, while Loewe ran with the abstracted, mood-changing, zigzagging and clashing colours on oversized tailoring, sumptuous knitwear and delectable clutches - designed to raise the collective vibrations. This “colour therapy” is the fashionable uplift we’ve been seeking.

9. That's a Wrap

A war cry on this whole pandemic - that's a wrap! The literal notion of the wrap itself to not be mistaken as a white flag, but rather, tailored for those who are not ready to just launch out into the world quite yet without the safety of a security blanket.

Blanketed, swathed, the wrap has carved a comfortable place in the FW21 circuit and, we’re not mad about it. From double-sided wraps at Prada featuring paillettes on one side and faux fur on the other - to the artful throws at Johnathon Anderson, and flattering versions at Jil Sander, there’s no end (and no beginning) to the inherent luxury of the wrap.

Destined for wintry pic-nicing or the air-con extremes of the office, the Row doubles down on the blanket’s duty, while Givenchy offers an evening-wear option to cover an otherwise non-existent base layer. And why not?

10. Knee High Boots

The bold and the beautiful. The biggest shoe trend to emerge beneath mini skirts, capes, draped cardigans, handkerchief and bubble hemlines without exception was the calf, knee and thigh-high boot. While there’ll always be a place for your ankle-grazing Chelsea boots, try a pair of these on for size.

From exaggerated western styles at Etro, shearling-lined at Acne to shimmering versions at Dolce&Gabbana and Isabel Marant, the long boot has staked its claim as the post-pandemic emergence footwear of choice. Make up for lost mileage in Lanvin’s party pieces, Chanel’s riding boots and stomp steadily in the platform and lug-soled volumes from Valentino and Balmain.

11. Statement Accessories

“If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it. What’s the point otherwise?”   — Thom Browne

We couldn’t agree more. Accessories this season are made for the viral, the insta-worthy and the extra. Go big, or go home was the direction... and we’ve never been more inclined to go big.

Pandering to those who are ready to bust out of lockdown and with great sartorial gusto, what better way than with the esoteric accessories launched like confetti for FW21. Those who know will salute your decision to pile on Givenchy’s chunky Cuban chains, fuzzy mittens and subversive footwear. Or if you pull on a pair of Prada’s patterned and pouched wool and leather gloves, Vivienne Westward platform stompers. A whole host of designers including Chloe, Jil Sander and Simon Millar chose to style giant shoppers, totes and hobo bags with their collections.

12. Sustainability

Designers continue to push the envelope on what it means to be sustainable. Perhaps the largest trend of the past seasons, and the end is not nigh for designers desiring to lessen their impact.

Many designers chose to use deadstock to complete their collections, from coats to bags and boots. 90% of the Vivienne Westwood in this look book was made “from materials that have a reduced impact on our environment,” including newly-sourced recycled denim.

Stella McCartney announced 77% of sustainable materials and state-of-the-art upcycling and vegan technologies that went into her collection, while Marine Serre offered sweaters and dresses collaged out of upcycled knits.

"Together we share the conviction that we all have a responsibility to actively participate in the shaping of a sustainable future" - Gabriela Hearst

Gabriela Hearst reported that last year 40% of the materials used in the production of her collections were repurposed and deadstock. Her 2021 goal is 50%.


With such a wide range of trends available, as the old saying goes, “you do you, boo.” Our extended homestays have led us inward, and hopeful to reemerge as our true selves; full of expression and with a renewed lust for life.

“...When you know who you are, you don’t need to change faces every morning.”   — Marine Serre

The varying directions, a celebration of house codes and designs intent on enabling us to feel good, would once have been overwhelming and confusing. But now, the beautiful anarchy of fashion design is ready to take us on our next adventure, and - we’re tickled by the choices.

“It’s the radical act of having the strength to be who you are; that’s what I mean by romanticism today. It’s a subjective, almost anarchic gesture, assertive of one’s own identity – exactly like punk.”   — Pierpaolo Piccioli, Valentino

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