Fashion icons passed on and historic awards were won - these are the top fashion news of 2019

Rich Mnisi, Rihanna, and Thebe Magugu all made historic news in 2019. Collage by Afika Jadezweni
Rich Mnisi, Rihanna, and Thebe Magugu all made historic news in 2019. Collage by Afika Jadezweni

This year has been quite an eventful one for fashion. This is an industry that has always been controversial, tone-deaf and even Afrophobic at times. 

2019, however, took the baton from the race 2018 started by reversing (somewhat) the decades long norms of fashion. Of course, including one fuller-figured model in your campaign won't change the way the world still views fat people nor will it make sizing in stores less of a burden to women's body image issues. 

READ MORE: Vanity sizing unmasked: why clothing sizes from different retailers are so inconsistent

But it is worth acknowledging the marginal shift in mindsets, our approach to vanity and the gaze on Africa. This is why we've put together a list of all the fashion moments that wowed, dismayed and excited us in 2019. 

In no particular order, here are the top fashion news of the year: 

Karl Lagerfeld dies 

fashion news

Image: Getty Images

In February, the news of the death of fashion giant, Karl Lagerfeld, shocked the world. The fashion industry's most prolific and iconic role player died at age 85 in Paris. 

After seven decades of an unrivaled seat on fashion's throne as a designer, creative director and overall voice of authority for the likes of Chanel, Fendi, Tommy Hilfiger and later his namesake luxury label, this legend now finally rests. Now the industry and Chanel, as we know it, have been left with a gaping hole. 

If anyone ever doubted the importance of fashion and its significance in the world, they need only refer to Karl's definition of it;

"Whatever it is, good or bad, it influences fashion. You can see that in fashion quicker than in any other thing going on. Fashion is something that reflects our lives and times with the shortest release, because, cars, design and architecture take years to realise.”

READ MORE: A tribute to fashion king Karl Lagerfeld and how his Little Black Dress liberated us

Zac Posen closes his namesake label

This November, New York-based designer Zac Posen, announced the closure of his eponymous label. According to Harper's Bazaar, the label's owners House of Z and Z Spoke, revealed the company — which was founded in 2001 — had failed to secure investment and the company could no longer continue operations. 

The darling of the red carpet told the fashion bible in an exclusive interview that time ran out to pair himself up with a suitable partner that would help keep the label afloat, attributing these challenges to the "difficult climate out there.” 

READ MORE: Zac Posen takes a graceful bow as he closes his namesake label: we take a look at the designer's memorable gowns

Jeans Queen Gloria Vanderbilt passes away

Iconic fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt passed away in her Manhattan home at the age of 95 after a battle with advanced stomach cancer, her son and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, confirmed in a statement

Gloria made history as the first woman to put her family name into designer jeans. 

Her death came as a tragedy not only to her family and friends, but millions of people who had followed the Gloria Vanderbilt story and watched her grow. She has indeed created a legacy that will live on for decades to come. 

Topshop shuts down all its U.S. stores

After officially closing its doors in South Africa last year, Topshop resolved to close all 11 of their U.S. stores as the brand continued to battle. 

According to Business Insider, Topshop parent company Arcadia Group proposed these closures as part of a restructuring deal amid financial difficulty. The website reported that Topshop will, however, continue to sell its clothing online through its wholesale partners.

Forever 21 files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

At the end of September, international retail chain Forever 21, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. According to Forbes, the company's co-founders Jin Sook and Do Won "Don" Chang were no longer billionaires by July this year after over three successful decades of fashion retail. 

Euromonitor International, a market research provider, provided the following comment from their Fashion & Beauty Analysts Nina Marston and Irina Ivanilova;

"Once a favourite among teenagers and young adults, Forever 21 has been struggling for a while to maintain its appeal. The news of their bankruptcy today [Sunday] comes after that of Barney’s Department stores last month, and is symptomatic of the US fashion retailers’ difficulties to adapt to the new way young consumers shop for fashion. 

READ MORE: After Topshop shut down all its U.S. and SA stores, the Stuttafords shutdown and the demise of the Platinum Group, Forever 21 is now filing for bankruptcy 

Victoria's Secret casts their first transgender model... and then axes their show for 2019 

In August, just months after their CEO resigned, Victoria's Secret cast their first-ever openly transgender model, Valentina Sampaio. This was something the Brazilian model considered to be a "hugely important moment." 

However, soon after, the lingerie brand announced that they had canceled their 2019 runway show - their annual shows had become one of the hallmark events on the global fashion calendar. 

Channel24 reported that "the show's ratings have dropped significantly with the 2018 broadcast having the lowest ratings ever. It's also garnered a lot of controversy in recent years for promoting skimpy underwear on super slim models." 

However, amid all the gloomy global news, things got brighter for African fashion...

Thebe Magugu makes history with LVMH Prize 

In an unprecedented triumph for South African fashion design, womenswear designer Thebe Magugu was announced the overall winner of this year’s LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers at an event at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. 

Thebe proved victorious over more than 1700 applicants from 100 countries across all continents, where Nigerian-based gender-neutral designer Kenneth Izedonmwen of Kenneth Ize was the only other African designer to make the list of only eight finalists this year. 

The designer who hails from the place of diamonds, Kimberley, therefore continues to prove that he is indeed a true product of this city. 

READ MORE: Thebe Magugu becomes first-ever African designer to win the prestigious LVMH Prize 

Rich Mnisi wins Emerging Designer of the Year Award

Top South African designer Rich Mnisi secured another spot in fashion history by becoming the first-ever recipient of the Essence Emerging Designer of the Year Award. He was awarded this honour at the inaugural Best in Black Fashion Awards held in New York. 

The inception of this awards ceremony was inspired by the need for black creatives in the fashion industry to be celebrated in their own spaces. According to Fashionista, this "invitation-only event kicked off a two-day experience ahead of New York Fashion Week by awarding 2019's most talented Black stylists, fashion and accessories designers, photographers and more from across the globe." 

Palesa Mokubung, founder and designer at Mantsho, collaborates with H&M

South African fashion label, Mantsho, joined Moschino, Balmain and Versace as the latest brand to collaborate with H&M, but also the first African fashion label to collaborate with the Swedish retail giant. 

Pernilla Wohlfahrt, assortment manager for collaborations and special collections at H&M, said: "Palesa is such an inspiring talent and personality. We love how she works with colour, print and silhouettes enhancing the female shape in a flattering and playful way.” 

The collection hit stores in August at selected flagship stores in the U.S, the UK, France, Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, Belgium, Mexico, Chile among others, and has been a favourite amongst the local fashion community since.

READ MORE: We're celebrating Palesa Mokubung's Mantsho as they make fashion history as the first African label to collaborate with the H&M brand

Nicholas Hlobo reimagines the iconic Louis Vuitton Capucines bag

Cape Town-born Nicholas Hlobo was the only African - out of six contemporary artists - who worked closely with Louis Vuitton's ateliers to add their creative touch to the signature Capucines PM leather handbag. 

These six bags form part of the ARTYCAPUCINES limited edition collection, which sees the iconic Capucines leather bag possibly becoming an even more highly coveted collector's item than its monogram counterparts. 

In an interview with Louis Vuitton, published in Times Lifestyle, Nicholas revealed that this handbag design is an autobiographical artwork fusing "[Nicholas'] rapport with SA, ethnicity and gender identity". 

Zara finally goes online in SA

Zara launched its online sales in South Africa through its dedicated website,, marking an important milestone in the expansion of Zara’s integrated store and online platform into markets where it already has a store presence. 

What was even more exciting about this announcement was the fact that some exclusive items specifically for the local market, have been availed to us.  

The #DearSouthAfrica campaign trended on social media for days as microinfluencers shared the news and shopping carts with their audiences. 

READ MORE: Zara finally launches online shopping for their SA fashion enthusiasts - here's everything you need to know

Plus, more good news from our U.S. and U.K. counterparts... 

Rihanna launches FENTY CORP

CFDA fashion icon Rihanna, made her mark in fashion history when she launched her own maison under luxury goods company LVMH: Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton. 

She became not only the first woman to establish her own LVMH maison, but also the first black woman to do so. 

In an exclusive preview shoot with New York Times Style magazine in their first-ever digital cover, fans got a taste for what was to come from the Fenty maison. Pastel hues, wispy white shirts, oversized blazers, button-down mini dresses, what appears to be a reimagined Canadian tuxedo, and sandals fit for white pedicures all make up the collection that has Rihanna's undeniable stamp on it. 

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Normani becomes the first-ever Savage x Fenty ambassador

Former Fifth Harmony singer Normani, was chosen as the first ever brand ambassador for Rihanna's lingerie brand Savage x Fenty not long after the 23-year-old took to the stage for a sultry performance during the Savage x Fenty runway show in September in New York. 

In a caption on a post announcing the news, the budding pop icon who has previously spoken out about colourism in the industry, wrote; "I want all individuals to feel empowered and to embrace who they truly are. I don’t always wake up feeling the most confident and powerful, but trust and believe having my Savage X on always helps!!"  

Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, declared most Powerful Fashion Icon of 2019 

The Duchess of Sussex has reportedly been the most influential public figure in terms of fashion purchases. According to Lyst's Year in Fashion report, the former Suits actress' outfits sparked, on average, a whopping 216 percent increase in searches for similar items. 

The Duchess guest edits the September issue of British Vogue 

Not only did she handpick 15 incredible women to be on this cover, but the Duchess of Sussex was the first-ever guest editor in the magazine's 103-year history. 

The September issue featured fellow history-making trailblazers such as supermodel Adwoa Aboah who fronted Edward's first cover after his appointment into the role of editor, actress Laverne Cox who was the first-ever trans woman on the cover of Cosmopolitan and the first trans person to be on the cover of Time, as well as 19-year-old model Adut Akech who was chosen by Karl Lagerfeld to close the Chanel show at Couture fashion week in 2018 with a bridal look, making her the second woman of colour ever to close for Chanel. 

In her guest editor's letter, HRH expressed that she "knows how important the September issue is for the fashion industry. I realise the reach, and I see the opportunity to be a part of fashion’s push for something greater, kinder, more impactful. But I am also a little nervous to be boldly asking the editor-in-chief, whom I’d only just met, to take a chance on me."

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