Fashion Flashback: Seven Memorable Red-Carpet Looks from Recent Met Galas

Beauty in in the eye of the beholder, or so the adage goes. And if you are not sure you are making a statement about beauty, why not aspire to leave a lasting impression.

With the 2022 Met Gala only one day away, Fashion Reverie has rounded up some of the more recent red-carpet looks that made a lasting impression. And the means, red-carpet appearances that contain a lot of extra!!

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No one can debate that Billy Porter’s entrance and extravagant presentation at the 2019 Met Gala left an impression that is still talked about in fashion circles. Carried aloft by six muscular in the style of Cleopatra’s triumphant entrance into Rome, Porter donned a bejeweled catsuit by The Blonds, outfitted with 10-foot wings, a 24-karat gold headpiece, as well as custom gold-leaf Giuseppe Zanotti shoes and fine jewels by Andreoli, John Hardy, and Oscar Heyman. This extravagant presentation fit in wonderfully with the 2019 Met Gala’s “Camp” theme.

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In homage to the theme “China Through the Looking Glass” at the 2015 Met Gala, Rihanna made all heads turn and pulses beat in little faster in Chinese couturier Guo Pei’s yellow embroidered cape dress. The heavily embroidered ensemble was trimmed in yellow fur and weighed a hefty 25kg. Rihanna stole the show!!

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Who can forget Katy Perry stepping out as a human chandelier at the 2019 Met Gala? This spectacular look was designed by Moschino and fit in perfectly the “camp” theme of the 2019 Met Gala.

Talk about showing it all without showing it all. Beyonce gave a new name to the word revealing when she wore a revealing, embellished in all the right places Givenchy gown to the 2015 Met Gala. And she had plenty of company in the almost-naked category with Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian following suit. It was a va va voom moment!!

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Not to be left out of the mix, at the 2021 Met Gala, Lil Nas X stole the show in three bold, dramatic outfits. Fashion Reverie’s favorite was the gold body armor Versace creation that reminded us of an updated golden Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz.”

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And what would a Met Gala be without Lady Gaga? She has donned several eye-catching looks in the past. Still, Fashion Reverie’s favorite is Gaga’s four reveal outfits at 2019 Met Gala. No one does camp better than Gaga, and this Brandon Maxwell four outfit reveal demonstrates why she is the Queen Mother of Camp.

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Last, but not least, Fashion Reverie’s favorite Sarah Jessica Parker look is her “Heavenly Bodies” ensemble for the 2018 Met Gala.She walked the red carpet in a standout piece by Dolce & Gabbana‘s Alta Moda, which draws inspiration from the Renaissance. The gilded gown featured red hearts, precious stones, and a massive train. The standout item of the Dolce look was a crown with a full nativity scene perched on top of Parker’s head. 

—William S. Gooch

We Heart Kitsch Valentine’s Day Fashion

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Dopamine dressing, which often involves wearing bright colors and bold designs, has become increasingly popular over the last few years. Fashion has always been used to make people feel happier and more confident, but dopamine dressing specifically equates fashion with feeling through colors, textures, and design. “Kitsch” fashion is a subset of dopamine dressing in its excessive adornments and sentimental focus, with Moschino leading the kitsch agenda in the luxury fashion sphere. According to CR Fashion Book, kitsch has gained a huge amount of popularity in large part due to TikTok Gen Z culture. Michelle Lee in her article “Kitsch Is In According to Fashion Week,” writes “The sweater vests of ’90s sitcoms’ past were reintroduced as TikTok’s fashion emblem; clunky acrylic rings turned into joyous and nostalgic must-haves; and cardigans crocheted in a puzzle of color (much like the J.W. Anderson one iconized by Harry Styles) brought a sense of comfortability and wholesomeness to trends.” While “kitsch” used to carry a negative connotation, this genre of dopamine dressing is no longer viewed as garish, but rather artistic.

There is no better fit for Valentine’s Day than sentimental kitsch fashion. Fashion pieces with heart cutouts and patterns in bright reds and pinks can be found at all price levels. One of Rihanna’s most iconic fashion looks was that of a bright red $22,000 Saint Laurent fur jacket in the shape of a heart which is just one very luxurious example of kitsch fashion. Fashion Reverie has decided to channel mom-to-be Rihanna this Valentine’s Day to create a swoon-worthy, luxury-focused fashion guide reflective of the top kitsch trend right now— heart cutouts and rhinestones from head to toe!

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AREA: High Fashion Luxury Kitsch

AREA is known for high fashion pieces often seen on models in editorial covers or on prominent celebrities like Beyonce and Cardi B. The brand is described as “witty, inherently glamorous, playfully decadent and injected with a pop energy,” and “shares its name and spirit with the iconic 80s Manhattan nightclub, known for its fusion of art and performance in conceptually themed nights.” The brand is also well-known for its crystal pieces and cut-outs. For a luxurious Valentine’s Day outfit, AREA has a plethora of crystal embellished heart cut-out items from denim overalls, jeans, and a denim jacket to a tee shirt and blazer featuring this design. Fashion Reverie recommends the Heart Cutout Men’s Blazer for a kitschy twist on a classic piece that can be layered over a simple black dress for an intimate dinner!

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Lirika Matoshi: Romantic Kitsch

Lirika Matoshi is a New York City-based fashion brand with femininity at its tulle covered heart. The brand is made up of a team of all women, with the designs showcasing a uniquely feminine lens. This, however, does not mean that only women wear the brand. In fact, the brand became increasingly popular when Harry Styles famously wore the signature strawberry embroidered dress. Each piece is feminine and romantic, which makes them a perfect choice for a Valentine’s Day outfit. Fashion Reverie envisions a woman wearing their most kitschy heart themed piece, the Rainbow Heart Dress of technicolor tulle, to a Galentine’s Day celebration! Another kitschy party look is their Heart Pink Satin Top and Skirt featuring a corseted waist, bow shoulder ties, and pearl embellishments. For a more casual Galentine’s Day outfit, the brand’s most popular item at the moment is the Radiant Heart Knit Sweater, worn by Emma Chamberlain among many other influencers. YesStyle makes an affordable dupe for under $30 as well that can be shopped here!

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For the risk-averse fashion lover, MANIERE DE VOIR pieces can be kitschy but are ultimately more chic than kitsch. Many pieces on the website are bold and make a statement which contributes to dopamine dressing; however, they are also all tailored and classic looking. For a look that can easily transition from day to night, from a walk around New York City to a skyline dinner at night, Fashion Reverie recommends their Heart Vegan Leather and Denim Trousers. This can be paired with the Vegan Heart Croc Bag for a look that is a bit more kitschy but still effortlessly chic.

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POSTER GIRL: Sexy Kitsch

POSTER GIRL has been worn by notable pop culture figures like Dua Lipa, Kylie Jenner, Selena Gomez, Doja Cat, Rita Ora, and Winnie Harlow. The brand’s pieces are sultry, featuring cutouts, lace, and sheer fabrics. POSTER GIRL recently dropped their Valentine’s Collection, with the Kylie Set being custom made for Kylie Jenner. The collection looks nostalgic almost as if it is in reference to Betty Boop’s iconic heart emblem outfits. The collection is made almost entirely from red and pink lace and is garnished with delicate crystal rhinestone hearts. Fashion Reverie recommends POSTER GIRL for a particularly sultry date with your significant other!

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My Beachy Side x Emily in Paris: Resort Kitsch

My Beachy Side is a sustainable beach brand focused on supporting disadvantaged women by providing them with income for hand-crafting the brand’s pieces. The brand is recognized for its signature intricate crochet beachwear. My Beachy Side created a collaboration collection alongside Emily in Paris, which often showcases outfits that are more Parisian kitsch than Parisian chic. For a Valentine’s weekend resort getaway, Fashion Reverie recommends the Pop the Top Exclusive Emily Top and Mini Skirt composed of gorgeous hanging hand-crocheted hearts. This outfit was worn on season 2 episode 8 which makes it even more of a special look!

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Betsey Johnson: Kitschy Accessories

Betsey Johnson has long been the queen of kitsch. There is even an entire section of the brand’s website dedicated to the kitsch trend featuring peppermint heart necklaces, champagne bucket bags, and rhinestone bows. Betsey Johnson recently released a “Red Hot” Valentine’s Jewelry Collection of pearls, heart cherries, xoxo beads, and rhinestone bows and butterflies. Fashion Reverie recommends the Red Hot Hearts Cherry Necklace to be worn with a more casual outfit for a daytime Valentine’s date.

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Yume Yume: A Kitschy Statement Shoe

Yume Yume focuses on offering unique one-of-a-kind fashion pieces. On the brand’s website, Yume Yume asks buyers to “consider our collection an ode to those who have a nature for sparking interest and curiosity. An act of love for originality.” Their footwear has a pillowy signature look for comfort and style. For a kitschy Valentine’s Day shoe, Fashion Reverie recommends the Love Heel featuring a pink heart heel, wool lined sole, and thick vegan suede straps making it a perfect winter heel. For a less expensive heart emblem shoe option, we recommend ASOS Lamoda Knee High Platform Boots with Pink Hearts!

—Tessa Swantek




Lady Gaga Fashion Flashback

With “The House of Gucci” movie coming out next week there is much buzz about the infamous Patrizia Reggiani, the Gucci fashion brand and “The House of Gucci” red carpet premieres around the world. Of course, the person everyone talks about the most, besides the star-studded cast, is Lady Gaga. Expectations are high since she has publicly detailed how hard she has worked on this role—practicing authentic Italian accent for years and attempting to channel Patrizia Reggiani.

We don’t know quite yet if Lady Gaga’s performance will live up to all the media hype. However, while we anticipate the opening of “House of Gucci,” Fashion Reverie can look back at Lady Gaga’s fashion over the years

Monster mama always had a unique style and has always managed to shock us in some way; however, her style has evolved and seems to be more sophisticated and grown up today. Fashion Reverie look back at Lady Gaga’s style evolution. 


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Lady Gaga on Good Day New York City in 2008

This look goes back to when Lady Gaga’s career just gathering steam and obviously designers didn’t really throw outfits on her. At that time, her costumes were often handmade.

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Sunglasses and Eye Make Up

In the beginning of her career, Lady Gaga often wore platinum hair, platform shoes, and would often pay tribute to David Bowie. Gaga had loads of fun with accessories and cut up jeans.

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The Video Music Awards (VMA) are a great place to experiment with style. Lady Gaga never missed that kind of opportunity. We loved her 2013 look wearing just shells to cover the main body parts. An appearance fit for a painting masterpiece.

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The Meat Dress 

Lady Gaga accepting Video of the Year award left us feeling hungry well unless you are a vegetarian. She absolutely outdid herself when she came out in a “meat set.” it was meant to send a message that she is not a piece of meat; however, PETA was not pleased.

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2019 Met Gala 

In 2019 Lady Gaga was one of the co-chairs of the 2019 Met Gaga. She put on quite a performance by transforming her outfit into four different looks. It was a historic fashion moment. 


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With Her Majesty 

This Gaga look doesn’t seem like a look most people go for when meeting The Queen. She did look like a renaissance character, but in red latex with dramatic eye makeup. Yet somehow, Lady Gaga pulled it off smoothly. 

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A Star Is Born 

For her film debut in “A Star Is Born,” Lady Gaga transformed herself yet again. She truly expresses herself through fashion and when she walked the red carpet for “A Star Is Born” premiere in Italy she looked stunning and very feminine. The dress was very old Hollywood glamour. 

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House of Gucci 

It is only natural for Gaga’s movie star career to continue and this time she is playing a role not even connected to a music performance.  But, fashion topics are right where she belongs and she channels that confidence on all red carpets we have recently seen her on. In New York she wore a custom Armani Privé. Classic but Gaga Style. 

 —Tijana Ibrahimovic

Vogue Paris Becomes Vogue France: How Fashion Print’s Newest Change Reflects Industry Trends

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French philosopher Michael Focoult has famously said, “where there is power there is resistance,” and in the fashion editorial industry, Vogue reigns supreme. Helming the most famous fashion magazine in the world, Anna Wintour, Vogue US Editor in Chief/Conde Nast Global Chief Content Officer, has the ability to dictate how we dress with one blacked-out. Sunglass-covered glare. The coveted front row center seat reserved exclusively for her presence acts as her throne that quite literally signifies her position of power. In a pivotal New York Times piece by Edmund Lee, published December 2020, titled “The White Issue: Has Anna Wintour’s Diversity Push Come Too Late,” Lee details the history of racism and lack of inclusivity at Vogue fostered by Wintour following Vogue’s September “Hope” issue featuring a majority of Black artists, models, and photographers with the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Lee quotes a former Black staff member from Vogue who stated, “Fashion is bitchy. It’s hard. This is the way it’s supposed to be. But at Vogue, when we’d evaluate a shoot or a look, we’d say, ‘That’s Vogue,’ or, ‘That’s not Vogue,’ and what that really meant was ‘thin, rich and white.’ How do you work in that environment?” It is abundantly clear that whiteness and high social class has been entwined tightly with “Vogue” by the strings of Wintour’s pearl necklace. The way in which Wintour has attempted to unravel this multi-decade knot has several implications for the current state and future of fashion print publishing as a whole.

Fashion Reverie has covered Anna Wintour’s recent decision to change “Vogue Paris” to “Vogue France” in our fashion news section. In a Vogue piece written by Eugénie Trochu, Editorial Content Head at Vogue France, she justifies the name change by stating, “creativity, culture, art and fashion are everywhere. They are the greatest vectors of inclusiveness and diversity. Our identity is not born from a single place and Vogue represents the best of emerging talents and voices. We’ll build on a hundred years of defining cultural history but meet the moment we’re in now and most importantly, reflect the France we live in today.” Again, where there is power, there is resistance, and many took issue with this move. Most notably, Le Figaro, the French daily morning newspaper, argued that the decision reflects Anna Wintour’s pushing American “woke” values onto other countries, writing “The colossal losses of the publisher Condé Nast in recent years against a backdrop of digital transformation in the sector have led it to a new strategy of ‘sharing of content’ for all its newspapers international. In summary, each title is now coordinated by a single head linked to a country, under the leadership of the indestructible Anna Wintour.”

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 It is certainly true that consolidation in fashion print publishing is a recent trend; notably, on November 2, Lady Gaga graced the covers of both Vogue Italia and British Vogue, and Adele covered British and American Vogue in October. Outside of Vogue, musician The Weeknd appeared on almost all covers of GQ globally and Glamour released a Camila Cabello cover story across eight markers, according to Chantal Fernandez for The Business of Fashion. While shared content could put Vogue France at risk of losing a much-loved identity, it is very controversial for Le Figaro to refer to a push for inclusivity and diversity as a distinctly American cultural agenda.

It is important to note that Paris as a city has without a doubt impacted fashion in a plethora of beautiful ways. It is a completely valid point to argue that there is so much rich history attached to Vogue Paris, so a name change seems like an erasure. However, it is just as important to note an element of Vogue Paris that has long been tied to a certain identity that excludes others. In a piece for The Guardian, Jess Cartner-Morley writes of Vogue Paris’ identity at its 95th anniversary at the time; “All manner of diverse, inclusive body shapes and aesthetics are celebrated. Jokes. The look is: very thin, very hot, wearing a lot of eyeliner and not much else, lying in a hotel bed having shagged someone famous and probably married.” Vogue Paris has not been known for its inclusivity during much of its existence and is often celebrated for an image that actively excludes and denies others a seat at fashion’s front row. Equating diversity and inclusion to American culture is a poor attempt to position France away from principles that should be celebrated and enforced across an entire brand’s portfolio. Le Figaro’s statement in a sense seems to be an admission that Vogue Paris’ identity was tied to a lack of diversity. More important than a simple name change is action to promote inclusivity to foster a renewed French narrative which had been promised starting with the first Vogue France edition.

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To understand a perspective of a professional close to the topic, Fashion Reverie spoke with Angelika Pokovba, journalist who has lived in Paris and has written for Vogue Mexico, L’Officiel, Essential Homme, and Coveteur among others, about her recent writing for Frenchly entitled “Vogue Paris Survived WWII, But Not 2021.” She tells us, “Encompassing all of France into the name is indeed a politically correct decision that will hopefully elicit social change in the industry, but it is a stretch to equate a name change to a social movement that the magazine should have been implementing all along anyway. Like Shakespeare said, ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ Vogue, the French edition, will continue being just that, the media helm of the fashion world (even with another name.)” Pokovba goes on to comment on the name change being viewed as a distinctly American action pushed by Wintour as she states, “I think it would have been more French to accept the discrepancy between Paris and France but keep the name as part of history and a namesake that has quite a lot of value.” So, while Pokovba hopes for change, she agrees that the name change should not be the center of debate, rather the industry should be focusing on whether we see actual change in upcoming issues.

The first Vogue France edition came out on November 4, 2021, and features Aya Nakamura, a French-Malian singer. Vogue France wrote on Instagram, “This very first issue pays tribute to and celebrates individuality. Vogue France creates an access to more talents, more voices, more singularity and a collective creativity which resonates internationally.” While Le Figaro is right that Vogue’s goal, along with many other magazines, is to streamline publications internationally, the first Vogue France issue does not seem to eliminate a uniquely French identity, it just creates a fresh narrative focused on representing France in its entirety. Vogue Paris, before becoming Vogue France, recently celebrated its centennial anniversary through an archive centric issue “100 ans.” The issue states that “The cover, an April 1979 Guy Bourdin photograph featuring a bold red heart with Vogue Paris and ‘100 ans’ in gold foil, was chosen as an echo of the issue’s central idea that ‘archives [are] the heart of a magazine, its spine, its words that remain for eternity. They are its voice, its confidences, its deep secrets that they share with you.” Vogue Paris lives on through archives, which may hold even more value now that it is no longer circulated. A name change then, is not really an erasure, it is an attempt at redefining what is meant by “Vogue” from a lens that is not just white, thin, rich or all of the above.

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Like “100 Ans,” many fashion print publishers are creating higher quality issues that function as editorial books that showcase the publication’s identity and influence on fashion in a way that glorifies archives. This trend aligns with the current vintage craze in fashion, particularly among Gen Z. The turn towards higher quality print publishing has also grown in recent years, particularly during the pandemic. According to Pierre De Villiers for upmpaper, “Magazines born during [COVID} offer just that [diversions from reality], not just with its escapist content, but through its high production values. With covers becoming thicker and paper quality improving, new titles feel like luxury items and it’s an indulgence many are happy to pay a bit more for.” Publications, like Marie Claire, have also recently announced a decision to focus on growing a digital presence while releasing special, more high quality, issues irregularly. Essentially, fashion print publications are consolidating and sharing content to grow their digital strategies, while print content is becoming more luxurious, rare, and archive focused to attract younger, wider audiences through legacy branding.

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In a growing digital landscape, consolidation and inclusivity is simply progression that reflects globalization and the need to reach a wider audience. Fashion magazine lines are being blurred because borders are being blurred. As for the future of fashion print publishing, many magazines will likely also glorify archives to retain a unique culture that is becoming more blurred in a digital landscape. Special print issues will likely become more niche, higher quality, rare, and luxurious. In these editions, identity, culture, and luxury will thrive, yet a digital backing is needed and will likely continue to be accompanied by shared cover stars and consolidation. Pokovba, when asked what she believes to be the future of fashion print publishing, told us “Fashion is a niche that touches just about every area of life and I do think that it has a significant social and cultural impact. I think the future of glossy fashion magazines is a socially righteous one, on a fashionable basis.” Fashion Reverie certainly hopes so!

—Tessa Swantek

Fashion Flashback: The 10 Most Memorable Olympic Fashion Moments

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Every other year, sports fans the world over eagerly await the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. Spectators are riveted to every aspect of the Games, from where the Olympic Games will be held to the athletes participating, and of course, how many medals their country takes home.

While the main focus is on the participants’ phenomenal athletic prowess, sometimes the outfits worn are just as memorable as the performances. Fashion Reverie enlisted some Olympic fan friends to help curate a list of the 10 most memorable outfits worn for competition and an honorable mention for a standout opening ceremony. We’ve listed our entries in chronological order to not play any favorites.

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The Summer 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea

 The Track and Field category was dominated by Florence Griffith Joyner aka “Flo-Jo,” who still holds the record for “fastest woman alive” in the 100 and 200 meters. Flo-Jo was also fiercely fashionable, delighting fashionistas who couldn’t wait to see her next signature hooded, superhero competition look. Flo-Jo was a woman who understood the power of the accessory, most especially long acrylic nails. Her gold acrylics even matched the three gold medals she took home. Over twenty years later, Flo-Jo has served as inspiration for another track and field star, Sha’Carri Richardson.

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The 1988 Winter Games, Calgary

Great Britain’s ski jumping Michael Edwards aka “Eddie the Eagle” was a phenomenon because he was the antithesis of the sleekly confident Norwegian jumpers he competed against. He was the first Brit to compete in the sport since 1928. What made Eddie a media and fan favorite however, was his hutzpah, cartoonish pink and white bottle rim glasses, and bizarre outfits that glorified Britannia. Every time he stuck a landing, the announcers screamed, “The Eagle has Landed!” Eddie got a whole new generation of fans after the film “Eddie the Eagle” came out in 2016.

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More from the 1988 winter games in Calgary. While putting this list together, it was impossible not to think of figure skating outfits. Katarina Witt skated out on the ice as a blinged-out risqué Heidi in 1984, but she was even more memorable in 1988 at the Calgary Winter Games, when she channeled Cruella De Vil in a blue getup while skating her way to a gold medal. Her skirt-less outfit upset the International Skating Union so much that they instituted “The Katarina Rule,” henceforth requiring female skaters to wear skirts while competing on the ice. 

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1992 Winter Games, Albertville

No one can pull off a glitzy, over-embellished skating outfit better than Surya Bonaly.  At the Albertville Olympics, with her huge braided hair extensions, the five-time European champion wore a green puffy skating dress designed by Christian Lacroix in the short program. And in the long program, Bonaly skated in a matador’s costume with padded shoulders, also designed by Lacroix.

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The 1992 Summer Olympics, Barcelona

At the 1992 Summer Olympics, Oscar de la Hoya showed his love for Team USA with his performance in the ring, taking a gold medal in the lightweight boxing division. His Stars and Stripes entrance outfit made this tiny champ a walking statement for Team USA.  

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1994 Winter Games, Lillehammer

The 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer Norway showed the world that fashion designer Vera Wang could do more than design a beautiful wedding dress. Vera’s designs for Nancy Kerrigan were far removed from the usual Vegas showgirl style ice dancing dresses. Nancy looked every bit the Ice Princess in a tasteful cream and gold sequined halter dress before she was struck down by Tonya Harding. 

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2004 Summer Games, Athens

The 2004 Summer Games in Athens treated audiences to dazzling performances by Canadian synchronized swimmers. Fanny Letourneau and Courtenay Stewart didn’t take home medals, but they got high scores with the fashion police for their glitzy Queen of Hearts swimsuits and matching makeup.

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The 2012 London Summer Olympic Games

Rhythmic gymnasts perform on the floor using apparatus such as hoops, balls, and ribbons. Flashy outfits are an integral part of the performance, but Russian-Azerbaijani Aliya Garayevan outdid herself when it came to her competition outfit.  She wowed spectators in a neon yellow, green and orange leotard accessorized with silver lame thunderbolt detailing and flame print on her illusion bodice. Marching wristbands, bright red lips and cheeks rounded out her superhero-ninja look.

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The 2018 Winter Olympics  Pyeongchang, South Korea

Yun Sung-bin aka “South Korea’s Iron Man” wore a helmet inspired by Marvel’s superhero Iron Man, which may have helped him become the first South Korean athlete to win the gold in skeleton racing. Post-race, Sung-bin told CNN, “He’s my favorite movie character and when I first saw myself going down the track, it looked like Iron Man flying with his suit, that’s why I got the helmet.”

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More from the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The Norwegian curling team riffed off artist Keith Haring’s iconic zigzag canvases as they maneuvered on ice to shoot granite stones into the “house” aka goal circle. Curling is an inclusive but relatively obscure sport. The Norwegians’ zany outfits have helped it gain more attention.

Our Olympic fan friends also pointed out a number of notable team looks at more than one opening ceremony. Top contenders over the years include Germany and Japan for honorable mentions but the top spot goes to the sign holders at the Albertville opening ceremony who posed as walking snow globes in the March of Nations. Opening ceremony looks provide enough material for a whole other article.


—Vivian Kelly

Fashion Flashback: Alber Elbaz

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It is very sad when a genius departs this life. But it is even more sad when that genius leaves us before his time. There will always be nagging thoughts and frustrated conversations around how their talent could have continued to bless us. There will also be wistful thinking of what we will never experience again and how life ended the talent far too soon.

Still, there are the memories of all the flashes of genius, the explosions of brilliance, the exploration of a particular creativity, all housed within one individual. Alber Elbaz was one such genius. And we were so blessed that he chose fashion to display his many talents.

Born in Morocco, Alber Elbaz began sketching dresses as a young child, first sketching dresses for his mother and his teachers. “For me, the sketching of dresses was about fantasy and dreams,” Elbaz told the New York Observer.

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Elbaz moved to New York City in 1985 and landed a job early on with Geoffrey Beene. After seven years with Geoffrey Beene, Elbaz became the head of ready-to-wear design of Guy Laroche.

In 1998 Elbaz moved on to design the Yves Saint Laurent’s Rive Gauche ready-to-wear line which should have been a dream job for Elbaz. However, Elbaz tenure at YSL was only three seasons. Elbaz’s personality didn’t match with YSL after Gucci Group acquired the brand. Gucci Group wanted more of a media personality to helm YSL’s Rive Gauche ready-to-wear, and Elbaz was shy, retiring fashion genius that didn’t meld well with Gucci Group’s idea of the celebrity fashion designer.  “Alber wasn’t comfortable being famous … He just wanted to make women clothes,” explained Betty Halbreich, author and head of the Solutions personal-shopping department at Bergdorf Goodman in New York. Tom Ford replaced Elbaz at YSL.

Alber Elbaz is best known for resurrecting the oldest fashion house in Paris, Lanvin. Once the jewel of the couture world, Lanvin had become a dusty French fashion house that appealed mostly to an older consumer. Elbaz re-invented the brand in 2001 with playfully feminine clothes garnished with bows, grosgrain belts and outsize, often surreal costume jewelry by Elie Top.

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Under Elbaz’s helm Lanvin quickly found celebrity fans in Gwyneth Paltrow, Meryl Streep, Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Kim Kardashian, Dakota Fanning, Sienna Miller, and others. Lanvin was also heralded by critics and buyers. However, in 2015 Elbaz was fired after a much controversial dispute with Lanvin’s majority shareholder.

After a five-year absence from fashion, Elbaz launched his own brand AZ Factory in 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic. The launch of AZ Factory created an enormous buzz in fashion circles. “I felt that I cannot serve you a steak if you’re a vegetarian,” Mr. Elbaz told The Wall Street Journal, explaining that women want more than pretty, impractical clothes. “I had to give women what I believe they need in this moment. Fashion is a little bit like a fruit. It has to be fresh.”

Designer Alber Elbaz walks down the runway at the Spring 2004 Lanvin show in Paris. Image courtesy of

AZ Factory combined dramatic, sophisticated, and stylish fashion with comfort and accessibility. Unfortunately, Alber Elbaz didn’t live long enough for AZ factory to take off.

“He understood …what things would make you insecure and what he could do with his clothes to hide those things in your physique. [He knew] what you needed to feel super confident,” explained famed fashion photographer Inez van Lamsweerde.

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Alber Elbaz died from COVID-19 complications on Sunday, April 25. He was 59 years old.

William S. Gooch

Fashion Flashback: Yasmeen Ghauri

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Diversity and models of color appear to be all the rage on the current fashion landscape. But that was not always the case. Though there were a few models of color—or ethnic models as they were called in the 1980s—that headlined fashion shows in the 1980s and early 1990, with the exception of Naomi Campbell, Veronica Webb, Mounia, Coco Mitchell, Jenny Shimizu, Katoucha, and a few others, models with Nordic features were the order of the day.

Discovered working in MacDonald’s in Montreal when she was 17 by hairdresser Edward Zaccaria, Yasmeen Ghauri’s meteoric career as a fashion model was, perhaps, one of the most astonishing model careers of the 1990s. Yasmeen Ghauri was raised a Muslim by her Pakistani father who was not pleased that Yasmeen was pursuing a modeling career.

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Despite her parents’ disapproval, Yasmeen launched her modeling career in 1990 in Milan and Paris, later moving to New York City. Early in her career Yasmeen Ghauri had campaigns for Versace, Givenchy, Jil Sander, and Hermes, gracing the runway for Lanvin, Chanel, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Helmut Lang.

By 1991, Yasmeen Ghauri had landed her first cover of Elle magazine and become the face of Anne Klein and Christian Dior.  Yasmeen was also photographed for the cover of Italian Vogue by Steven Meisel.  Patrick Demarchelier also photographed Yasmeen for Italian Vogue in 1991, calling Yasmeen his favorite model.  

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In 1992, Yasmeen signed a contract with Victoria’s Secret. In that same year, Yasmeen became the face of Valentino couture and Versace. In 1993, Ghauri the face of Hermes and Lanvin and was photographed by Gilles Bensimon for the cover of Elle.

Yasmeen Ghauri appeared in the 1995 documentary “Unzipped by Isaac Mizrahi.” A New York Times article described Ghauri as, “coffee skinned Yasmeen Ghauri [who’s] hard to get gaze was bellied by the ball bearing swivel of her hips.”

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Yasmeen Ghauri walked in her last show—the Yves Saint Laurent—in 1997. She is married to attorney Ralph Bernstein and they have two children Maia and Victor.

—William S. Gooch

Fashion Flashback: Fashion Reverie Celebrates Black Fashion Designers

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As we are solidly in Black History Month, it is no consequence that New York Fashion week (NYFW) coincides with Black History Month. And though the two celebrations may seem world’s apart, in fact they are compatible bedfellows.

African Americans have had a very important role in US fashion for over a century, if not longer. Yet, despite their contributions very few black designers have received their just desserts in the American fashion markets. Apart from a few well-known black designers—Stephen Burrows, Willi Smith, Patrick Kelly, Tracey Reese, and more recently John Cristopher Rogers—most black designers remain unsung.

The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) Museum sought to rectify this exclusion by hosting an exhibit in 2016 and 2017 to black fashion designers. Many of whom were not well known to the fashion industry at large. Like most fashion designers, fashion designers of African descent do not speak with one voice, drawing inspiration from myriad cultural influences and points of view. However, the one element that rings loud and clear is their bold uses of color and embellishments, as well as their celebration of the feminine silhouette in all its variations.

This Fashion Flashback only touches on a few of the many black designers that have contributed greatly to the fashion industries.

Ann Lowe (December 14, 1898 – February 25, 1981)

For those who are unaware, black fashion designers have played a significant role in fashion for over 150 years. The breakout fashion designer in the pantheon of black fashion designers is Ann Lowe. Ann Lowe was the first black fashion designers to have a noted fashion career.

Educated at the S. T. Taylor Design School in New York City, where she attended privately because of segregation. After moving to Tampa and opening a successful dress salon, Lowe moved back to New York City and worked on commission for Henri Bendel, Chez Sonia, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Lowe designed Olivia de Haviland’s dress for her Academy Award win in the 1946 film “To Each His Own.” In 1950 Lowe with her son opened her salon, Ann Lowe Gowns, on Lexington Avenue. Her one-of-a-kind gowns made with the finest fabrics made her very successful, attracting society ladies and a wealthy clientele.

In 1953, Janet Lee Auchincloss hired Lowe to design a wedding dress for her daughter, the future First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier, and the dresses for her bridal attendants for her September wedding to then-Senator John F. Kennedy. In 1961, Lowe won the Couturier of the Year Award. She retired in 1972.

Zelda Wynn Valdes (June 28, 1905 – September 26, 2001)

Zelda Wynn Valdes has been chronicled mostly for designing eveningwear for many black female celebrities and the celebrity wives of black entertainers. However, it should be noted that “Miss Wynn,” as she liked to be called, should be acknowledged on many fashion fronts.

Reared in Charlotte, North Carolina, Miss Wynn created garments for Josephine Baker, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Dorothy Dandridge, Marian Anderson, Jessye Norman, and the wife of Duke Ellington. In the 1950s, she moved her dressmaking business from Washington Heights to West 57th Street.

Miss Wynn later caught attention of Playboy’s Hugh Hefner and was commissioned to create the original Play Bunny costumes. She was one of the founders of the National Association of Fashion Accessory Designers, an industry group intended to promote black talent in the fashion industry. This group was established with the sponsorship of the National Council of Negro Women.

In 1970, Arthur Mitchell hired Miss Wynn to create costumes for the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Miss Wynn created costumes for over 85 Dance Theatre of Harlem productions. She continued to work with the Dance of Theatre of Harlem until right before her death in 2001 at the age of 97.

Stephen Burrows (September 15, 1943)

Born in Newark, New Jersey, Stephen Burrows has been heralded as one of the greatest American designers of his generation. Burrows studied at the FIT and later sold his designs to small shops in New York City. Eventually, Burrows began working with Andy Warhol and the club crowd that populated Max’s Kansas City. After Burrows experienced modest success selling his garments at the O Boutique, which was across the street from Max’s Kansas City, Burrows’ collection was picked up by Bendel’s with his own shop within the store. And in 1973, his lingerie/sleepwear line was picked up by Bonwit Teller, Lord & Taylor, and Bloomingdales.

Burrows has won many Coty Awards, which was predecessor of the CFDA Awards. He has dressed Brooke Shields, Farah Fawcett, Diana Ross, Cher, Bette Midler, Barbara Streisand, and First Lady Michelle Obama. It has been said the Burrows’ collections were the embodiment of the frenzied sexuality of the 1970s.

Stephen Burrows was one of the five designers that were invited to showcase their collections at the iconic Battle of Versailles. In May 2006, the Council of Fashion Designers of America honored Burrows with “The Board of Directors Special Tribute. Around the same time, Burrows was invited by the Chambre Syndicale de la Mode to return to Paris to present his spring/summer 2007 Collection in the Carousel de Louvre.

In 2010 Burrows opened his new showroom and workspace in New York City’s Garment District.

Ola Hudson (October 12, 1946 – June 5, 2009)

Though Ola Hudson may not be on the radar of black fashion designers that have had a significant impact on the fashion industry, Fashion Reverie believes that her contributions are worth noting.

Hudson is documented as having a fashion career mostly in London; however, her roots go back to the US where she pursued a career as modern dancer studying with the famed Lester Horton Dance Company in the 1960s. After continuing her dance studies in Paris, Switzerland, and London, Hudson settled in London and began designing stage costumes for David Bowie, Ringo Starr, and John Lennon.

After moving back to the states, Hudson designed stage costumes for the Pointer Sisters, Diana Ross, and Janet Jackson. She established her fashion design company Ola Hudson Enterprises, Incorporated in Los Angeles, making special collections for Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills, Maxfield Blu in Los Angeles, Henri Bendel, and Right Bank Clothing.

Hudson’s design aesthetic focused on minimalism with a retrospective look back to the 1940s. Hudson designed clothing for “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and for “Station to Station.” She also created the black pants and waistcoat for David Bowie’s Thin White Duke look in 1976. Some of the items she designed for Bowie are part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Ola Hudson is also the mother of Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash.

Patrick Kelly (September 24, 1954 – January 1, 1990) 

Fashion Reverie has a special connection to the late Patrick Kelly. Former Fashion Reverie advisor and friend to the site Supermodel Coco Mitchell was one of Kelly’s model muses.

Though Patrick Kelly’s fame was centered mostly in Paris, his collections embody a strong American sportswear aesthetic. Kelly was the first American to be admitted to the Chambre syndicale du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode, the prestigious governing body of the French ready-to-wear industry.

Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Patrick Kelly started his career working in a thrift shop in Atlanta. Kelly would take garments from thrift stores and repurpose the garments, selling them alongside his original designs in a beauty salon.

A chance meeting with Supermodel Pat Cleveland in 1979 convinced Kelly that he should move to New York City to advance his career. After an uneventful year in New York City, at the suggestion of Pat Cleveland, Kelly moved to Paris.

In Paris, Patrick Kelly experienced immediate success with his buttons and pins that were parodies of African American culture adorning slinky bright-colored jersey dresses. After his designs were picked up by the trendsetting Paris boutique, Victoire, Kelly began attracting a celebrity clientele that included Bette Davis, Paloma Picasso, Cicely Tyson, Goldie Hawn, and Grace Jones. Around the same time, Kelly was feature in a six-page spread in French edition of Elle Magazine.

Bette Davis helped introduce Kelly to executives at Warnaco, the American textile company. In 1987, Warnaco offered to manufacture Kelly’s garments and with their support Kelly’s collections could be found in major department stores around the world. Patrick Kelly told People Magazine in 1987, “I design for fat women, skinny women, all kinds of women. My message is, you’re beautiful just the way you are.”

Just as Kelly was about to launch into fragrances, cosmetics, and menswear, he was crippled by opportunistic infections due to his HIV infection. Patrick Kelly died in 1990. An exhibit of his work “Patrick Kelly, Runway of Love” was seen at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2014.

Byron Lars (January 19, 1965)

Byron Lars is another unsung African American fashion designer. After studying at FIT, Lars briefly worked as a freelance designer for Kevan Hall, Gary Gatyas, Nancy Crystal Blouse Co., and others.

In 1990, Lars sold some of his designs to Henri Bendel and in 1991 he received orders from Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, and other high-end retailers. His collections won widespread acclaim, and Lars was named Women’s Wear Daily’s Rookie of the Year.

Lars’ 15 minutes of fame lasted more than an actual 15 minutes. However, staying power has been a challenge for Lars. After staging themed fashion shows during NYFW that got him good press and having pop-ups stores in Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales, Lars’ rising star started to fade, hitting the proverbial fashion wall.

“Byron had the support of the stores,” Ms. Wheaton said who ran Byron Lars at one time, as reported in The New York Times. “They all respected him because his clothes sold, even before he had a financial backer. But we couldn’t get Vogue to come up to the showroom. He got mentions from time to time but no steady coverage like the others.”

Lars explains further, “It’s evident that the playing field isn’t level. It’s not that there was a lack of Black talent. It’s just that few of us have ever been seen. Something is amiss. By the law of averages, there should have been more Black designers up there than there have been. That’s all I will say.”

In the 2000s, Lars continued his brand by selling to Anthropologie. His dress, Carissima, sold 60,000 units. Lars has dressed former First Lady Michelle Obama and in 2011 forged a relationship with Xiaochong who sells his new brand Byron Lars Beauty Mark online and in China. In 2018, 5,500 pieces—seven styles of dresses, skirts, blouses, and jackets—sold out, Xiaochong confirmed. Eight minutes later, another 4,000 garments had been spoken for, prepaid to be delivered in June.

Christopher John Rogers (1994)

If you watched President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ inauguration, you would have noticed VP Kamala Harris wearing Rogers’ purple coat. Never one to shy away from bold color, Rogers told NPR, “I don’t think that wearing hot pink and ruffles or bright yellow, or a really intense blue in shapes that take up space make you any less intelligent.” He continued, “I don’t think that the way that you dress should make you sacrifice your personality, or your point of view, or necessarily say anything about your intelligence.”

A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Christopher John Rogers studied at the Savannah College of Art and Design. In 2016 Christopher John Rogers sold his  made-to-order garments from his studio in Brooklyn.

 Rogers has come a long way from selling from his studio in Brooklyn. He has dressed former First Lady Michelle Obama, Lizzo, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cardi B., Tracee Ellis Ross, Priyanka Chopra, Gabrielle Union, Karlie Kloss, Zendaya, and Rihanna. And in 2019 Rogers won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, and his runway shows are some of the coveted fashion shows during NYFW.

What makes Christopher John Rogers so special? Rogers is special because he is not afraid to use bold color and fabrics that reflect the light. His garments flow effortlessly, giving the illusion of floating around the body.

In a September 2020, Vanity Fair interview, Rogers explained, “I love fabrics that play with light—anything iridescent or metallic or shiny; sequined—but anything that plays with light is associated with having money.  Some of my white professors in art school saw my work and thought it was tacky. They wrote it off as out of touch and too tailored.” Hmm, they probably are eating their words now!!

—William S. Gooch

Fashion Flashback: Stella Tennant

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When most people think about fashion models, particularly supermodels, the reflection always centers around those supermodels that are exquisitely beautiful, even if they obtain their loveliness with the help of a lot of makeup. Our minds go almost immediately to those traditional beauties like Dorian Leigh, Dovima, Donyale Luna, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Beverly Johnson, Naomi Sims, Alva Chinn, Claudia Schiffer, Liya Kebede, Coco Mitchell, Wanakee, Veronica Webb, Shalom Harlow, just to name a few. And more recently Joan Smalls, Karlie Kloss, Chanel Iman, Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Jasmine Tookes, Cara Delevinge, and Maria Borges come to mind.

Though these models had great beauty, it is just as important to include in this fashion pantheon, fashion models that challenged the standard ideas of beauty. And in retrospect, these non-traditional beauties expanded the fashion industry’s concept of what was beautiful and fashionable.

To this list of unusual beauties, you can add the names of Suzy Parker, Pat Cleveland, Twiggy, Verushka, Lauren Hutton, Marissa Berenson, Grace Jones, Donna Jordan, Kristen McMenamy, Alek Wek, Jenny Shimizu, Stacey McKenzie, Agyness Deyn, Diandra Forrest, Grace Bol, Winnie Harlow, and several others. You can also add to that list Stella Tennant.

Interestingly, these non-traditional models helped revolutionized the fashion industry. And no fashion model did more to project a new fashion image of femininity than Stella Tennant.

Stella Tennant with Kristen McMenamy changed the global look of Chanel. Though reluctant, at first, to pursue a career as a fashion model, British-born Tennant’s career as a fashion model was meteoric, to say the least.

Discovered by iconic fashion photographer Steven Meisel, in her first week as a fashion model Tennant was whisked off to Italy for a fashion shoot for Italian Vogue. In her first few months as a fashion model, Tennant walked in Paris, London, and Milan, as well as shooting editorials for Elle, and American Vogue.  “When jobs come up, I’m still … Wow! Weird!” she said. “Sometimes I see myself and I have no idea why they booked me.”

Karl Lagerfeld spotted Stella Tennant and very quickly she became the face of Chanel, with an exclusive contract replacing Claudia Schiffer. “Stella is more in tune with modern fashion trends than Claudia,” Lagerfeld told an interviewer.

Throughout her modeling career, Stella Tennant has had campaigns for Chanel, Calvin Klein, Hermes, Moschino, Prada, Giorgio Armani, Pringle of Scotland, L. K. Bennet, Saint Laurent, Holland & Holland, Oscar de la Renta, Versace, Dior, Tom Ford, Hugo Boss, and Burberry. And she has walked in runway shows for Michael Kors, Alexander McQueen, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Victoria Beckham, Salvatore Ferragamo, Loewe, Zara Denim, Ralph Lauren, Schiaparelli Haute Couture, and Givenchy.

Known for her boyish look and serious demeanor, Stella Tennant bridged that intersection in 90s fashion that started to move toward an expanded vision of femininity, ushering in such models as Alek Wek, Agyness Deyn, Jenny Shimizu, Daria Webowy, and Julia Nobis.

Stella Tennant announced her retirement in 1998, later marrying French photographer turned osteopath David Lasnet and together they have four children. And though Tennant announced her retirement in 1998, she has repeatedly returned to fashion modeling, walking in the Valentino show in 2020 and modeling for the Chanel look book in November of this year.

William S. Gooch

Can American Malls Make a Comeback?

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The American mall was once one of the bedrocks of leisure time. People could go shopping with friends, enjoy dining, and catch a movie. However, once online shopping came into play, American malls began a slow and steady decline. Rather than shopping in person, consumers began shopping from the comfort of their own home via the internet. It was convenient, clothes could come to you, and you could mail back something if it wasn’t what you expected.

As America’s economy took a hit, particularly during the 2008 recession, people had less discretionary income to shop for clothes and other discretionary items. Once the economy rebounded, the incremental shift to online shopping began to have more of an effect. With the disastrous effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and many major American cities on lockdown, there was more of a shift to online shopping Though many brick-and-mortar stores and malls have reopened, customers are still preferring to shop online for health and safety reasons.

So, where does that leave the American mall? Malls are stuck asking themselves how, and if, they can manage to make a comeback.

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For starters, mall owners will have to reevaluate what to do about tenants and mall anchors. The number of American retailers who have recently filed bankruptcy is staggering. Modell’s Sporting Goods, Neiman Marcus, J. Crew, J.C. Penney, Brooks Brothers True Religion, GNC Holdings, Lucky Brand, and Ascena Retail Group (the parent company of Lane Bryant and Ann Taylor) have all filed bankruptcies this year and have shuttered many of their stores. This has of course reduced the number of malls tenants, and with months of shutdowns, tenants also haven’t paid rent, leaving mall owners cash strapped.

What should have been the cornerstone of the next phase of the American mall has found its dreams deferred, and that is a quite literal assessment. The supersized American Dream Mall in East Rutherford, NJ was seen as the next frontier for the American mall. The American Dream mall was in development for a decade and was a 5-billion-dollar project.  The mall was set to boast entertainment offerings, which included an indoor water park, an amusement park, an NHL regulation size ice rink, an indoor snow park, with around 450 retailers were set to open by spring 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic put a dent in the American Dream mall’s plans.

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The hope for the American Dream Mall is that it is an A class mall. An A class malls houses luxury brands–Bulgari, car dealerships like Tesla, and tech stores like Apple. B class malls are run-of-the-mill types mall that would be anchored by stores like Sears, J.C. Penney, and Macy’s, and C and D type malls that are on the lower end of the economic spectrum. They were already struggling before coronavirus and shuttering their stores for months did not help. And the devolution of the middle class in the US is also not doing C and D malls any favors.

“Most C and D type malls were built when the middle class in America had the preponderance of spending power,” said Lee Holman, lead retail analyst at IHL Group, a global research and advisory firm for the retail industry. “We are talking about the 1960s through the early ‘90s. Any teen movie you saw coming out of the ‘80s and ‘90s was typically based in a shopping mall. What has happened is the transition within society where the middle class has shrunk. The people in the middle class who were diligent were moving into the upper middle class and upper class, and the diligent people in the lower class were trying to move into the middle class and work their way up, but those malls were built where the middle class worked, played, and lived. As the middle class shrunk, so did the traffic in these malls. With the advent of Walmart, Target, and other big box retailers along with Amazon, people didn’t have to go to malls to do shopping, and things got tough for C and D type malls.”

As malls try to reinvent themselves, it is possible that some C and D malls could become dark stores. A dark store is a store where customers do not come in and do actual physical shopping, but, rather, they are in a sense distribution centers that only deal with online orders for delivery. Customers aren’t coming in, but products are going out.

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The anchors for many of these malls, like Sears and J.C. Penney, are shrinking their fleet of stores and finding other large department store retailers to take their place seems impractical. Of course, there are options to use these spaces for other things.

Some malls have tried moving toward more experiential retail but have struggled in their ability to present customers with new experiences. However, experiential retail formats and turning malls into more community type centers could be a way for malls to rebound in the long-term. Malls have been hurt by the rise in e-commerce as more and more consumers are shopping from their laptops and handheld devices. Customers who still prefer in-store experiences rather than online shopping tend to be older. Millennials (born from 1981-1996) and Gen Z (born from 1997-2015) will shop more online, because, compared to previous generations, they socialize online, rather than socialize at a mall. For malls to survive, they must adapt to the way shoppers are living today.

“Malls have to reinvent themselves and repurpose mall space,” said Shawn Grain Carter, professor of fashion business management at FIT. “Malls need more restaurants. Millennials and Gen Z love to eat out. Malls need to become shopping centers and look at adding things like concert halls, spaces for art installations, and exercise studios. This will bring more customers inside the mall. If you want to think of the mall as a new 21st century public square, they need to find ways to appeal to the new generation as well as the older generation who might not be as tech savvy, and another way to do that would be adding health clinics inside of malls. All these things would create a multigenerational public square that would change the way people shop. Malls can become public squares for the community and it’s a thing malls need to think about as they ask why they still exist, and go beyond just shopping.”

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Despite consumers shift toward more online shopping, Grain Carter believes that in a world with a COVID-19 vaccine, people will want to go back to malls because there is pent up demand for in-person human interaction. Because the right to in-person interaction was taken away from people in such a stark way, people now love the idea of doing things in-person. Retailers will still have to look at integrating their omnichannel strategy more successfully. One of the most successful pivots that has come out of the pandemic is curbside pick-up. Customers could order things online, and if it was available at a local retailer, they could pick up there in-person. This became a key revenue driver for retailers during the early reopening phases before they could let customers inside stores once again.

“Malls will have to completely reinvent themselves, offer real reasons to come, entertainment, other services, anything but what they are doing now,” he said. “Also, well over 50 percent of them will not survive the next six months, and that is all depending on a vaccine.  Without a vaccine, then maybe 25 percent will survive. People have tried more online shopping, and are discovering just like with offices, you really don’t have to be physically present. Amazon is getting so good at reverse logistics that even returns are a joy. This makes it easy to compete with a boring retail store, which is what most have become.”

Robert Conrad, the Associate Chair of Fashion Merchandising at LIM College, believes that it was long overdue that malls began rethinking how they use some of their space. Customers want more experiences rather than things, and malls that have or can figure out how to make retail more experiential are poised to survive. According to Conrad, “It’s very easy to imagine a future where 1/3 of the number of malls in America go away. This country has too much space devoted to retail, and mall owners will have to think about how to utilize this space into other things.”

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While middle market retailers are struggling to comeback, the luxury sector is still going strong. According to Conrad that is because, “The stock market is doing well, despite the tumult of this past year. The people who make their living in the ‘work from home’ economy, they might’ve been inconvenienced, but they are still making a good living and shop at luxury stores.”

Although Conrad believes people will return to malls, he doesn’t see mall traffic ever returning to late nineties levels when they were at their peak. Malls that survive can still evolve and thrive, but many will be left looking like “Scooby Doo” ghost towns.

Leslie Ghize, vice president of Tobe The Donneger Group, a retail a consulting and strategy firm, is also in agreement that the market for malls was over saturated. “We have been and are oversaturated in retail, especially in the United States,” Ghize said. “Even before coronavirus, there needed to be an adjustment to that. Coronavirus just pushed the situation further. We have a lot of real estate in retail and it was too heavy to hold itself up.”

Ghize believes that malls will go in two different directions. First, most malls won’t make it. Some malls will transform into real estate players for businesses that need a lot space, like wellness businesses, fitness centers, and food concept stores. High-end stores could start creating elevated types of concepts, like live events and experiences, that are more exclusive and aspirational than a classic US mall.

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Secondly, for malls to help turn themselves around, Ghize believes mall owners need to get more creative and flexible in their lease agreements. “For the smaller, direct-to-consumer, and boutique brands that are on the come up, leasing retail space in a mall under the traditional lease structure is a big commitment, and not one young brands would want to make,” she said. “Mall owners need to give opportunities to smaller, up-and-coming brands that don’t have a lot of brick-and-mortar space yet. Outdoor malls and open-air malls will be better off in the short-term, but in general malls aren’t as appealing a concept anymore.”

Ghize also said that for malls to be at their best operational capacity, at least one third of the malls currently in the US would have to close. While the idea that malls are just dreary and dead is an over exaggeration, there is no question that malls will never return to their former glory. However, through downsizing, experiential retail, and getting younger, boutique style brands as tenants, there is still hope for malls. The start of a real comeback will probably take a COVID-19 vaccine. Let’s keep fingers crossed for 2021.

—Kristopher Fraser

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