When it comes to clothes, familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed contempt. While winter has always been high season for warmth, comfort, and outfit repetition, the pandemic’s homebody mandate has rendered our attachment to our comfort clothes even fiercer. And though you couldn’t pry me out of my house shoes and softest seal-gray half-zip right now, I could be convinced to consider a surface-level upgrade. Even supermodels agree: Bella Hadid and Hailey Bieber have stepped out in fleeces from MM6 Maison Margiela’s collaboration with The North Face, and Emily Ratajkowski has taken to padding around her NoHo sidewalk in slipper-like booties.
Given the fraught times we are living in, is it any wonder that sartorial ideals like comfort, nostalgia, and ordinariness have been injected with a strong dose of fashion cred lately? Looking “normal”—not knowing, normcore-circa-2014 ironic normal—suddenly feels not just desirable again, but cool. After months of a more cloistered life, the call for a luxed-up iteration of our utilitarian wardrobes has grown louder. And the fashion world has responded, with a parade of high-low collaborations bound to make even the most staunch pajamas-only WFHer consider something different. Quotidian brands like The North Face, Levi’s, and Ugg have paired off with high-fashion dance partners: Gucci, Valentino, and young designers Telfar Clemens and Molly Goddard, respectively. Their projects answer the question, Who will save my quarantine wear from sheer, maddening everydayness?
A festive dress for a festive party has been the logic from time immemorial. But we’re now approaching a year in which COVID-19 has taken a firm hold on our lives, with four seasons of canceled, abbreviated, and compromised events. So for spring 2021, luxury brands are asking us, Why hold out for a party to wear your best? Let us visit you at home. Valentino is eyeing our most-worn pair of jeans, donned 400 days in a row, and pleading, as gently and softly as the wash of those Levi’s: Give us a chance. We can make those for you. We can make them special! Gucci is looking at our workaday walk-around-the-block jackets and asking, Would you like a booster shot of geometric verve with that parka?? And Louis Vuitton is focusing on our footwear, giving the humble Dutch clog a mod curve and a wonderfully wonky heel.
The irresistible, snuggly siren call of the newly luxe clog (which has blossomed into a darling of cozy Instagram culture) has lured a very chic set of colossuses. Like a gawky heroine mid–movie makeover, the once humble shoe clomped through Hermès’s and Stella McCartney’s spring shows. From glittering metal punctuations on the Hermès designs, worn with all 45 looks, to sustainable wood for the always green-minded Stella McCartney, each came with a flourish that telegraphed the style’s radical ease. These designers may be winking, but it seems like they’re just newly reverent of the homey convenience that’s central to the clog’s DNA. On a recent Zoom call, curator and fashion historian Carol Tulloch, an honorary senior research fellow at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Research Institute, tapped her foot—clad in an enormous, furry Ugg hiking boot—on the desk. “I love my Prada, but…” she trailed off. “[Boots like] these really answer key questions like, What do we actually use? What do we need? What is reassuring, resilient, and reliable for who we are now? It’s really about the now.” When the future feels uncertain, and perhaps truncated, we’re forced to reevaluate what we spend our time with. People used to stare unkindly at her Uggs, she tells me, but recently, “I started to get compliments on them.”
In unsettling times, it’s common, Tulloch notes, for fashion to put on the drag of capability. Historically, she adds, people have gone through phases where they are preoccupied with the utilitarian, knowing that in years of experimentation, they might have forgotten what is useful. The risk is that these influences can lose what makes both poles (high art, workaday utility) daring. But unlike the circa-2014 normcore craze that came before it, this iteration of collabs feels less freighted with irony. It seems a little more straightforward, more earnest.
It’s crass, but fun, to examine collaborations for signs of the dominant strain. What gets lost in what? In the mid-aughts heyday of fast-fashion collaborations, it seemed like avant-garde-ism couldn’t help but show its asymmetrical face, even on an unadorned fast-fashion blazer. But if we play out this season’s equivalent in a bracket battle, it appears that normalcy has won. For once, comfort’s gravitational tug has pulled luxury into its orbit—not the other way around.
This article appears in the February 2021 issue of ELLE.
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