ANALYSIS | 2020 Lyst of hottest fashion labels released, but how fiery are they about race matters?

Who will we continue to open our purses for? Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
Who will we continue to open our purses for? Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
  • The Lyst Index is a quarterly ranking of fashion's hottest brands and products. 
  • To compile the results, global fashion search platform Lyst analyses the online shopping behaviour of more than nine million shoppers a month searching, browsing and buying fashion across 12 000 designers and stores online. 
  • High-end brands and luxury fashion labels including Nike, Off-White, Jacquemus, and Prada have made it onto 2020's Q1 list of top 20 hottest brands.
  • In this article, we look at how they fared this year as well as analyse the politics of the top 5 brands. 

Last week, thousands of loyal online shoppers were aggrieved by local major e-tailer Superbalist's stance (or lack thereof rather) on the Black Lives Matter movement. After it came to light that the company's top management and CEOs refused to take a stance on #BlackLivesMatter, a social media furor erupted, prompting a statement from it. 

READ MORE: Black-owned beauty: It's time to Swiitch to brands that are made for people who are Black Like Me 

As a result, disappointed customers - black and non-black alike - called for a mass boycott of the trendy e-commerce site. What happened just a few days ago is therefore another example of values-based consumerism, which has been informing the way products are marketed to us by companies for the past few years. 

The thing about values-based consumerism is that it's not only about a brand/company's production processes, but about its overall ethics, including employee treatment as well as responses to social injustices.

As such, we're at a point where we're interrogating our consumer choices now more than ever, especially with regards to fashion.  

Here, we take a look at the "hottest" products and brands of Q1 of 2020, according to Lyst, before we interrogate a few of their politics:    

Top 5 labels

1. Off-White

"The Lyst Index for Q1 reflects a period which has been anything but 'business as usual' in significant parts of Asia for most of the three months; and in Europe and North America for the final weeks of the quarter. The upcoming Q2 report will paint a clearer picture of Covid-19's global impact, but for now, based on the Q1 data, consumers' brand allegiances remain largely unchanged. 

"Off-White is the hottest brand in the world for the third successive quarter, reflecting the influence of younger shoppers who champion the label's anti-establishment take on luxury," the report reveals.

2. Balenciaga

"Following the buzz surrounding its Fall/Winter '20 show, Balenciaga rises one place to reclaim its position as the second hottest brand in the world."

3. Nike 

"Nike is among the fastest risers this quarter, climbing nine places into third position."

Lyst reports "the sportswear giant was propelled by a series of powerful global brand initiatives as well as increased consumer demand for products such as hoodies, sweatpants and shorts."

4. Gucci 

This is the first time the label has not made it to top three since The Lyst Index began. We might have an idea as to why they're gradually dropping down the ranks… 

5. Prada  

"Prada climbs two places in The Lyst Index hottest brands ranking following the announcement in February that Belgian designer Raf Simons would become co-creative director alongside Miuccia Prada." 

READ MORE: And then there was nada: Prada's Sandton City Diamond Walk store closes its doors for good

Hottest women's products  

It's worth noting that only three of these products are from black-owned brands - Telfar, Off-White and Beyonce's Ivy Park partnership with Adidas. 

1. Bottega Veneta padded cassette bag 

hottest fashion labels of 2020

2. Off-White soft lace bodysuit 

hottest fashion labels of 2020

3. Telfar shopping bag 

hottest fashion labels of 2020

4. Gucci GG pattern tights 

hottest fashion labels of 2020

5. Anine Bing tiger sweatshirt  

hottest fashion labels of 2020

6. Adidas x Beyoncé Ivy Park super sleek 72 sneakers  

hottest fashion labels of 2020

7. New Balance 993 sneakers 

hottest fashion labels of 2020

8. Nike Air fleece joggers 

hottest fashion labels of 2020

9. Ganni cotton shirt 

hottest fashion labels of 2020

10. Pre-owned Chanel classic double flap bag  

hottest fashion labels of 2020

Images via Lyst Index 

Shop it or drop it? 

I'm inclined to also add that the manner in which brands initially responded to the Covid-19 pandemic has influenced our attitudes towards them. Chris Morton, co-Founder and CEO of Lyst, backs this claim by stating the following:

"The Lyst Index shows that consumer allegiance to powerful brands remains strong even in these uncertain times. But the way in which people interact with brands and shop for fashion is changing fast. The Covid-19 crisis is accelerating shifts that were already happening in our industry, and catalysing further changes.

"In this unprecedented moment, digital is more important than ever to fashion brands. Information and communication are key for our community. Those who adapt quickly to the changing landscape, using data-backed decisions while drawing on their core strengths, will be best placed to thrive."

So there's a new adage we should try to adopt; if they don't pull at our heartstrings, they don't deserve our purse strings. And speaking of purse strings, let's start with Virgil Abloh's seemingly niggardly wallet.  

Off-White

While the clarion call to support - and buy - black is louder than ever right now, does it warrant channelling our coins into a black-owned brand that is (skin) tone deaf to the plight of its own people? When the #BlackLivesMatter protests ensued as a result of George Floyd's death at the hands (and knees) of a police officer, luxury menswear designer, Virgil Abloh, not only condemned the looting of luxury fashion stores, but made a measly $50 (about R850) donation towards bail funds for protesters. This was particularly offensive given that there is no Off-White or Louis Vuitton menswear item available to shop for that amount. 

However, after much outrage, Virgil later apologised in a now deleted Instagram post, claiming that he was part of a $50 chain with social media friends. The New York Post reveals that he had actually donated $20 500 (approximately R350 000) in total to bail funds and other causes related to this movement, adding the "pioneering designer claims that he was on the 'fence about publicising total dollar amounts because I didn’t want to look like I’m glorifying only higher amounts'." 

On this clarification alone, we might tell you to keep him on your wish list, but if you look at the demographics of his Off-White team, you'll find that it lives up to the name - perhaps exceedingly - as there's nothing black about it. 

READ MORE: Kylie Jenner criticised for having only 13% black employees at her company  

When photos of an Off-White gathering surfaced in 2019, social media was quick to question the lack of melanin on Virgil Abloh's graphic team and art directors. Soon after the backlash, Virgil posted images of POC creatives he has worked with before. The list of talent included Kid Cudi, Playboi Carti, Serena Williams, Heron Preston, Tremaine Emory, Andre Walker, and Fabien Montique. 

Verdict: There are one too many red flags glaring at us to simply accept the one (off) white flag Virgil Abloh has waved in recent events. 

Balenciaga 

In 2016, Paris-based designer  Demna Gvasalia and his design collective at Vetements and Balenciaga, showed their Autumn/Winter collections on white models only. This was in the same year when black and POC models - including the likes of Imaan Hammam, Lineisy Montero, Joan Smalls, Karly Loyce, Ajak Deng, Maria Borges, Herieth Paul, Liu Wen, Soo Joo Park - were runway-ready for several shows, so consider this a deliberate oversight.  

"Surely any modern designer with a worldview is attuned to the importance of diversity," a Business of Fashion Op-Ed critiqued. 

"It’s a myth that uniformed skin colour is the way to convey a cohesive, singular design idea and it is irresponsible and senseless businesswise to ignore this hot-button issue," it added. 

After being accused of ripping off Chinese mesh slippers in 2015, the French label came under fire for cultural appropriation in 2017, and again in 2018. 

Teen Vogue reported that for the Spring/Summer 2018 men's collection shown in 2017, the "designers sent models wearing button up shirts with the 90s/2000s hip hop group, Ruff Ryder's 'R' adorned on them". In 2018, Demna served us the same dish prepared with long fingers on a different day - stealing from hip-hop culture to serve the New York hoodie and tote with an airbrushed skyline. 

Vanity Fair explained the shirt style - specifically the airbrushing - "grew out of hot rod and graffiti culture before its star rose along with the New York hip-hop scene in the late '80s and early '90s in large part thanks to the Shirt Kings, a trio of artists who dressed the likes of L.L. Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, and Grandmaster Flash".

You won't book black models, but you'll pinch from black culture?   

Verdict: Close your purse.  

Nike 

According to Lyst, Nike earned its No 3 spot for virtuous brand acts, including the release of the 'Mamba Forever' ad in tribute to Kobe Bryant, it announced a multi-year partnership with Liverpool FC, and donated more than $15 million to the Covid-19 response effort. Not to mention Nike's continuous backing of mega women athletes such as Serena Williams and Caster Semenya. 

Verdict: Keep doing it. 

Gucci and Prada

It was commendable of Gucci and Prada to donate millions towards Covid-19 relief, but their racism and cultural insensitivity problems are reason to question why the black middle class in South Africa aspires so much to one day own their duds. 

In 2019, Prada and Gucci, the two luxury fashion houses that have faced backlash over the use of blackface in their products, chose remedial action in the form of funding, empowering young people through education and creating space for black talent in the fashion industry. It took them that long.

This was after Gucci's balaclava turtleneck that many concede was, in fact, blackface. Prior to that, Prada had sparked outrage over their racially offensive monkey trinkets. At the time of their respective controversies, both brands responded indicating their attempts to address their diversity issues.   

Verdict: The Prada problem sorted itself out in SA with a final exit from Sandton. As for Gucci? Find a new hero. 

READ MORE: Gucci is finally doing something about the big problem they have with racism 

Plus, a bonus label that we'll analyse briefly since it's another popular aspirational label available to shop in South Africa: 

Versace 

Sitting pretty at No 10 on the Q1 Lyst Index, Versace also gets a nod for their Covid-19 contributions, but that 2019 T-shirt controversy puts them in the red in terms of our values and ethics analysis. 

The Italian fashion house reportedly defied the "One China" policy with a T-shirt that has since been withdrawn after saying they "respect the sovereignty of China's territorial state". 

"The incident also led to Versace's China brand ambassador Yang Mi, a popular actress in the country, cutting ties with the brand," BBC reported.  

In 2016, a former Versace employee - much like Moschino employees - revealed that they use a code-word for black customers at their San Francisco outlet. According to The Independent, "apparently, whenever black customers walked into the store, co-workers would relay a message that a 'D410' has entered the store. D410 is the color code for black shirts at Versace." The employee later got fired unceremoniously, as the manager believed his African-American employee hadn't "lived the luxury life".

Final verdict: Sigh… I'll echo what I said with regards to the Moschino USA store incident where the code-word "Serena" was used, that black South Africans can, without a doubt, relate to. 

The sad reality is that this is not just a Moschino or a Versace problem - it's a fashion problem - and black fashion consumers bear the burden of racial profiling whenever they decide to colour outside the lines of what is deemed appropriate for their assumed tax bracket. This is an example of how the black customer's access to luxury and the like is only theoretical, despite South Africa's emerging black middle class.  

Ask any black shopper, they'll tell you they've been a "D410". Ask any black retail staff member too - they're racially profiled from all angles. 

Don't just go where you're only good enough for your money and "urban culture" clout, but where you - in all your blackness - are seen, valued, and represented not just in a "The Way of Us" blog, but in the boardroom too.

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