Top 10 Collections of 2011

It was an eventful year for the fashion world. What didn’t happen? There was the John Galliano scandal and all the succession speculation that ensued, Creative Directors were thrown around from house to house like rag dolls, Marc Jacobs’ Spring collection was stolen in London en route from Paris, the Alexander McQueen exhibit broke records at the Met, Sarah Burton designed Catherine Middleton’s wedding dress, Lady Gaga – the list goes on and on.

So when it comes down to taking a panoramic view of a year in fashion collections, it could only be suiting that to make a list like this, to arrange everyone’s endeavor in some kind of hierarchical order, you just have to go with your gut and what your heart tells you. The Fall collections from February and early March of this year were notably superior to the work editors, critics and fans were treated to for the Spring collections later in September and October, thus, there wasn’t a single Spring outing that made the cut here. It’s a Fall ready-to-wear laden list, with one Haute Couture and one Pre-Fall collection making up the rest. There is no particular order of favorite to least favorite, nonetheless, there is one crowning collection of the year and there’s really no rhyme or reason for the choice. The fashionably-attuned heart wants what it wants.

Celine, Pre-Fall 2011

Celine, Pre-Fall 2011

It’s hard not to wax lyrical over Phoebe Philo’s work in general, but she surpassed herself with this year’s Pre-Fall collection. It was as perfect as a collection could get. Investment pieces galore, a complete and intensely considered closet manufactured in chic heaven. She repurposed and patchworked materials to make wholly brand new propositions like an urbane camo of Harris and Shetland tweed swatches and stitched varying shades of Japanese denim for a trompe l’oeil dress and a men’s shirt with tapered pants ensemble that was strange, but tasteful and cool to its core. And no one in this whole fashion game can make outerwear like this. To chose a favorite from this line-up would be an exercise in futility, although that glimmering green hooded coat might just take that superlative home. If I were a girl, this would be how I would dress, and if I couldn’t afford a Celine closet, then it’s what I would aspire to. The collection debuted almost a year ago and the memory of it still lingers. That’s saying something for a collection that never even went down a runway. So much for the Fashion Week frills. Philo didn’t need any of that to showcase what was truly 2011′s very best collection.

Rodarte, Fall/Winter 2011

Rodarte, Fall/Winter 2011

Kate and Laura Mulleavy are particularly brilliant practitioners of the fashion mash-up. Their Spring 2012 Van Gogh/Sleeping Beauty combo was quite beautiful, as could be expected from the duo, but the sartorial notes they distilled from Terrence Malick’s classic ‘Days of Heaven’ (Universally hailed as one of the most beautifully photographed motion pictures of all time) and ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was a folksy gamble that really paid off for the Mulleavy’s. The captured gradations of the setting sun on four gowns with a haunting wheat field print at the hems, the chunky sweaters, Swarovski crystal embellished tulle skirts, the strange DIY geometrics on jumpsuits and apron dresses, those beaded boots in black, burgundy and emerald – it’s all further proof that the Rodarte girls can tackle fashion from pretty much any angle and always make us succumb to the vision. The devil himself couldn’t think up Rodarte’s consistenly brilliant propositions.

Givenchy, Fall/Winter 2011

Givenchy, Fall/Winter 2011

The first hint of what Riccardo Tisci had in store for Givenchy Fall 2011 womenswear was that instantly hard-hitting bite from his menswear collection. The rottweiler gave way to the growl of a panthers and from the first look out, it was obvious that Tisci had a clear-cut mega-hit on his hands. It was also a sort of swan song for his forays into the darkness. Kink by way of sheer tulle insets, baseball jackets, cat-eared caps, sexy secretary glasses and pin-up prints of Bettie Page on mohair sweaters – it was the year’s ultimate testament to the power of female sexuality. The fact that black panthers are loners that don’t travel in packs, well, that’s neither here nor there.

Balenciaga, Fall/Winter 2011

Balenciaga, Fall/Winter 2011

For Fall, Nicolas Ghesquierre served his most accessible wares in seasons. It wasn’t one of his signature futuristic endeavors, although the technical prowess of the Balenciaga Maison stayed completely intact for a collection that was teeming in that covetable Courreges-esque sense of Parisian hauteness. Setting the definitive trends to come is Balenciaga’s signifying forte and when that first floral printed skirt came down the runway, the message obviously hit home, judging from the myriad bouquets that graced the Spring catwalks. From the coats that were light as air, perfect for the transition from fall to winter, to those chunky braided leather jackets – it was some of the best outerwear all season long. It’s also impossible to discuss Balenciaga without bringing up Pierre Hardy’s brilliant footwear creations. His Mary Jane stilettos were by far the season’s best, and lastly, Michel Gaubert’s  Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Tiergarden’ mix has a good chance at qualifying as the greatest runway song of all time.

Miu Miu, Fall/Winter 2011

Miu Miu, Fall/Winter 2011

Last February editors saw Prada’s little sister – Miu Miu – go through a kind of fashion growth spurt. In fact, Miu Miu looked more like Prada and Prada looked more like Miu Miu, given the refinement of the collection. Miuccia Prada obviously rummaged through her own Miu Miu archives, bringing back those whimsical birds from her Spring 2010 collection back for one more go, setting them in embellishments of gold on shift dresses with mink stole peplums. The collection was abrew in the glow of a 1940s Parisienne glamour brought to the here and now most significantly by those glitter and suede slingback wedge pumps that have transcended being mere street-style fodder for the following season and have become real industry classics. It was Miu Miu’s greatest outing ever and if the figures showed that it was the most profitable collection of the year, no one would be the least bit surprised.

Proenza Schouler, Fall/Winter 2011

Proenza Schouler, Fall/Winter 2011

Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez’s Fall collection was a revelation. Their crafty and cool treatments instantly had the entire fashion set in raptures and won them their second CFDA award for Womenswear Designers of the Year. Inspired by Navajo blankets they found on a trip through New Mexico, the handsome and talented gents behind the decade-old brand hit the apotheosis of their consistent cool stride here. The Navajo-inspired patterns on shifts were later taken to the computer, digitized, blown up and pixelated to create the two closing dresses that were so precious and delicately constructed that they became impossible to manufacture for retailers. And hand-painted chevrons on velvet pants? It sounds kitsch, maybe overly nostalgic – but the results were masterful.

Alexander Wang, Fall/Winter 2011

Alexander Wang, Fall/Winter 2011

For seasons now, Alexander Wang has had an essential New York ‘cool’ formula down, but what he did for Fall was something else altogether from what the wunderkind designer has ever done before. In one fell swoop, he conquered elegance as well. It was a spectacle where outerwear was the main star. Stitching satin viscose to angora wool for the most spectacular poncho maybe ever (The angora and black leather version serving as a very close second), Wang experimented with materials and textures that garnered results one would never expect from someone so young or so closely associated with downtown street wear. From the way he put capes on the backs of peep toe heels to the furry eyewear, it all managed to straddle the line between innovation and gimmick to its favor. This was the kind of collection that will endure.

Prada, Fall/Winter 2011

Prada, Fall/Winter 2011

Prada never lends itself to summary. There’s always a chunk of ideas being explored, tinkered with, juggled in each of Miuccia Prada’s collections, that the fact that she pretty much always pulls it off would be sickening if it weren’t so damn cool every time. For Fall 2011 the tropes included mermaids, gorillas, aviation, tons of python, YSL’s Mondrian dress – the works, basically. And as expected, it got photographed to death this year. Some have gone as far as to suggest that Marc Jacobs’ Spring collection was suspiciously reminiscent of this Prada endeavor. Just when you thought Prada couldn’t possibly top her Spring 2011 showing, she did.

Valentino, Haute Couture Fall 2011

Valentino, Haute Couture Fall 2011

Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri are a godsend. After Garavani stepped down the house suffered an initial bumpy start with Alessandra Facchinetti as Creative Designer. But in this duo the house has been taken to such new heights of fancy and dreaminess and it reached its peak with their Fall Haute Couture outing, playing on the memory of a Tsarist fairy tale to create their most magical collection to date. It’s hard to recall a darker black than that velvet exploded lattice gown or any dress in recent memory more beautiful than the eau de nil panne velvet gown with a braided waist and collar. Heaven.

Alexander McQueen, Fall/Winter 2011

Alexander McQueen, Fall/Winter 2011

Sarah Burton had a very intense year. Between the Savage Beauty: Alexander McQueen exhibit in New York City and the spring wedding of Catherine Middleton to Prince William, Alexander McQueen has officially become a household name. It was clothes befit for a real-life princess, but it wasn’t all sugar and sweetness. It is McQueen after all. Kink straps, harnesses and zippers lent a dark fetishistic flavor to clothes that are otherwise the stuff fashion dreams are made of. Not since the days of yore has Britain produced gowns this expertly created or so staggeringly beautiful. Burton continues, thankfully, to make the Alexander McQueen name proud.