2009: the year in style

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This wasn’t so much the Year in Style as it was the Year in MObama. Blogs are so obsessed with her sartorial choices—one forward-thinker even got a book deal out of it (kudos,—that the First Lady can’t go to a food pantry on the day before Thanksgiving without having her outfit stalked (the jacket was Rick Owens, in case you were wondering). Introducing fashion-insider favorites (Toledo, Cornejo, Alaïa) to the general public while simultaneously bringing mass brands (Talbots, J.Crew, Gap) to the White House, Michelle O. rose to levels of adulation not seen since Camelot—so much so that poor Douglas Hannant was practically flogged when he suggested, “She is not the next Jackie O.” His publicist quickly clarified that he meant that as a compliment.

Michelle Obama in Naeem Khan, at the Obamas’ first state dinner.

Photo: Richard Young / Rex USA

The First Lady of Masstige
Fashion and music have a history of getting into bed together (just ask Kate and Pete), but the relationship has never been cozier or more publicity-friendly than in a year that gave us Beyoncé in Gareth Pugh, RiRi in the front row, and Gaga in not very much. But while Lady G may be getting the credit (or blame) for the pants-less craze, the less fickle among us will remember that Beth Ditto was 2009’s true nudity trailblazer. First, the Gossip singer majestically let it all hang out on the cover of Love, and then, in case anyone hadn’t gotten a good look, she took a stage dive in nothing but a sequined bra, panties, and fishnets at Karl Lagerfeld’s Fendi party. Add that to her plus-size clothing line for Evans, and you’ve got 2009’s for-the-people, by-the-people style icon.

Photo: Courtesy of Bravo

No Escaping Reality
People might not be buying clothes these days, but judging by Project Runway and its spawn, they love to watch shows about clothes that will never be sold in stores. If fashion reality television once came on like a flash in the pan (remember Stylista, anyone?), it now seems here to stay. Just ask Rachel Zoe. It could have been career suicide, but before you knew it, Zoe and her feisty minions were back for a second season of weirdly gripping, semi-scripted drama on The Rachel Zoe Project, and her designer pals—Giambattista Valli, Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld—were along for the ride. And in 2010, the reality field gets even more crowded, as Team Zoe will be facing competition from the likes of Kelly Cutrone (Kell on Earth), the crew on Launch My Line (hosted by Dsquared²’s Dan and Dean Caten), and of course, the Tinz.

Photo: Marcio Madeira

Empty Maison Syndrome
In an era when Ungaro appoints Lindsay Lohan as artistic adviser, is there room in fashion for a designer so press-averse he’s never been publicly photographed? Martin Margiela gave us his answer when he officially bowed out of his eponymous Maison this year. Of course, he didn’t deliver the news himself. It fell to Renzo Rosso, MMM’s majority owner since 2002, to confirm that Margiela had left the building and been replaced by a team. Fashion watchers had already suspected as much— noted that Margiela’s “inimitable dialogue of excellence, intellectual challenge, and wit” was absent from the house’s Fall 2009 showing. It’s fitting that a designer who has so aggressively courted privacy should not only exit without a whisper, but also vanish before being forced to take up tweeting.

Photo: Stéphane Feugère

The Revolution Will Be Tweeted
It’s ironic that it took until 2009 for an industry as trend-obsessed as fashion to get on board with the digital revolution—but get on board it did. Everyone from modeling agencies to Fake Karl has a Twitter account (we should know—we have the best of them on our nifty Fashion Feed), and bloggers like Bryanboy, Tavi, and favorite Tommy Ton landed front-row seats. But the biggest buzz surrounded live broadcasts from the shows (Alexander McQueen’s came complete with the debut of a Lady Gaga single, Nick Knight’s video of a writhing Raquel Zimmermann, and the crashing of SHOWstudio’s servers). Now, if publicists can only figure out a way to determine whether you should be allowed to sit three feet, 10 feet, or 20 feet away from your computer screen, depending on your place in the style hierarchy, we’ll be all set.

Photo: Lester Cohen / WireImage

Vampire Weekend
There they were lining up at the New York premiere of New Moon, dressed mostly in black, straining for a glimpse of the movie’s hot young cast. Only these were no ordinary groupies, but rather the likes of Natalie Portman, Alexa Chung, Agyness Deyn, Taylor Momsen, and Jessica Stam. While True Blood was exploring vampire affairs of the heart a bit more graphically—and single-handedly dragging HBO back to the realm of the living—the Twilight franchise saw Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner morph from tween-fan faves to bona fide cinema idols (opening-weekend ticket sales: $140.7 million). Stewart dressed the part, appearing on red carpets around the world with tousled hair and fresh-from-the-runway looks by Proenza Schouler, Dolce & Gabbana, Balenciaga, Gucci, etc. No surprise, designers can’t resist a good vampire flick, either.

Photo: Billy Farrell / Patrick McMullan

The View From the 18th Floor
Remember when there were only two or three parties a night? Now it seems like there are hundreds—and during events like New York fashion week or Art Basel Miami Beach, there probably are. Of course, you can’t have a good party without a great venue, and this year New York produced a couple of doozies. Perched at the tip-top of André Balazs’ Standard Hotel, the Boom Boom Room (cue obligatory disclaimer about that no longer being the official name) is flooring the normally jaded party set with its wraparound views and an interior that feels simultaneously twenty-first century and classic New York glam. Just around the corner, meanwhile, the Jane brought Beatrice-style late-night shenanigans to the hipster hordes—until the ballroom had to be closed (temporarily) so everyone could cool out. The takeaway: People are craving a bit of fun and luxury (our sackcloth-and-ashes phase is over, thank you very much), and the easiest way to get it is by rubbing shoulders with Madonna while her boy toy takes a stab at spinning. If you make it past the doorman, that is.

Photo: Irving Penn / Condé Nast Archive

Remembering Penn
Irving Penn, who died this October at the age of 92, was the antithesis of today’s entourage-trailing superstar photographers. Famous for his determined perfectionism, he produced timeless images that elevated his subjects—from bars of Clinique soap to his gorgeous wife, Lisa Fonssagrives—to works of art. A private man who kept his studio clean and quiet—no smoking or even talking, except between photographer and subject—Penn seemed almost to exist in a bygone era, one in which models arrived on time and celebrities could be trusted not to abscond with the borrowed jewels. But there was nothing nostalgic about his images, which, until the end, had the shock of the new.