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2021 will be the year of the essentials

Simple clothes for complicated times

2021 will be the year of the essentials Simple clothes for complicated times

2020 is the year that streetwear has had to take a step back. After an era of maximalism and boisterous graphics, the essentials are making their great comeback. Driven by the Uniqlo phenomenon, which has set a new standard for quality essentials and at democratic prices, numerous brands, both luxury and high street, have started to produce their own essential garments. First of all is surely the upcoming Yeezy x Gap collaboration, which will probably be a springboard for a different conception of the basic leader, thanks to the appeal of a prominent name for a line of democratic essentials. But Highsnobiety has also recently unveiled its Staples Collection, which almost shares its name with H&M's Blank Staples collection. adidas Originals has just unveiled its Premium Essentials collection, while already some years ago designer like Jerry Lorenzo introduced an ESSENTIALS line in Fear of God's proposal, which, with the release of the Seventh Collection, has also begun to explore a concept of relaxed and minimal tailoring that, from the essentials' aesthetic, recovers the simplicity of colors and design but maintaining the quality of the luxury product.

This return of basics represents the natural reaction of the industry to the overcrowding of products and graphics seen in recent years and, for fast fashion and high street brands, represents an opportunity to reinvent itself, starting from a more centered and sustainable proposal and giving up to reproduce the most famous designs seen on the catwalks. There is a new market of young consumers, linked to the aesthetic codes of streetwear (it should be noted that all the collections mentioned above contain, among the main items, a hoodie declined in various neutral colorways), who prefer to invest in the quality, versatility and longevity of the garments than on the ostentation of their social status symbolized instead by logomania. A process that has been going on for a few years, in fact, but that the lockdown has accelerated dramatically. Francesca Muston, vice-president for Fashion Content at trend forecasting company WSGN explained to Harper’s Bazaar:

«The spike in interest in more casual or sporty clothes has been true of lounge- and activewear, but longer term, we’d expect this to be more about multi-functional clothing or two-mile wear [tutti quegli abiti informali che si indossano quando si esce nelle vicinanze di casa, appunto entro un raggio di due miglia, ndr]. These are clothes that you can be comfortable in and that are functional regardless of whether you are working out, relaxing at home or popping to the shops».

Even in China, according to Jing Daily, normcore is on the rise, in the form of a trend that, among Gen Z members, has acquired the name "Sexual Frigidity" (in Chinese性冷淡) and, on the Douyin platform, the hashtag #SexualFrigidityStyle currently owns more than 18 million views. The "frigid" clothes are neutral, simple and comfortable, have colors that are easy to coordinate and represent, especially for younger workers, a type of mature clothing, decent and elegant – as well as economically accessible even for those groups of consumers who do not only turn to the world of luxury. This is an indicative figure given that Chinese consumers account for 35% of global luxury sales – a percentage that in the post-Covid world is also set to increase.

Commenting on the rise of activewear as a reflection of the global lockdown enlargement, journalist Kellie Ell noted on WWD:

«The need for tailored dresses and workwear have become a pre-pandemic memory, while comfortable chic has become the go-to look. In fact, the global activewear market is now expected to be worth nearly $547 billion by 2024, according to Allied Market Research».

The appearance of this new trend has therefore created a ripple effect that has pushed the activewear and sportswear categories (which are, at least in part, essentials) to become a potential and interesting investment also for luxury brands – which have discovered, as in the case of Versace and Fendi, to be able to profit from their own activewear lines and that , if the trend were to take hold in the luxury market, they will certainly create lines of essentials just as, in the 90s, they created diffusion lines to target new groups of consumers. On the same line, the new Comme des Garon PLAY collection, with its campaign shot by Jean Jacques N'djoli, is also a perfect example of luxury sub-label composed of branded and high-quality basics.

If 2021 is the year of essentials, the new trend will be, for better or worse, one of the main reflections that a historical event such as the Covid-19 pandemic will have had on the fashion market – a market that has proved increasingly volatile, based on a target of consumers far more mercurial and disloyal than in the past and ready to alter, often in a rapid and radical way, in response to the main phenomena that affect customs and society.