Fashion works in seasons, not years: two seasons a year, like clockwork, spring/summer and autumn/winter. At least that's how it used to work, until 2010, when a combination of economic circumstances, technological innovations, consumer demand and media saturation began a process that will probably end, some years from now, with the dismantling of the seasonal fashion system.
The towering, most shattering event of 2010 was the tragic suicide of Lee Alexander McQueen, one of the great geniuses of fashion. His was a shockingly premature end, but he left behind a giant legacy of enormous creativity, provocation and technical innovation. His final collection, shown just weeks later at Paris Fashion Week to a tiny audience, was a glorious, Byzantine requiem to his inimitable style: rich colours, intricate textures, heavy folds of fabric, strong tailoring and elaborate pattern.
Like much of his work, it had a historical bent - and even as the images from the show flickered on to computer screens around the world, there was a feeling that this kind of labour-intensive, few-pieces-a-season collection was beginning to belong to history. As the year spun out, it was not couture that made headlines, as it had in the previous few years, but instant gratification and the translation of designer fashion to the insatiable masses - and the determination of those forces that resisted both trends.
Burberry had kicked it all off in February with its first 3D fashion show at London Fashion Week, beamed live into other fashion capitals, including Dubai, at invitation-only events. This certainly was about exclusivity - Christopher Bailey heads a company that knows only too well how wrong mass consumption can go for a luxury fashion brand - but the revolutionary aspect was the possibility of ordering, there and then, an item on the catwalk slated to hit the shops six months thence, and have it made and sent to you within weeks. It hit the nail on the head: why wait for everyone else to catch up, when you can be a season ahead right now?
This was also the year that cruise and resort collections really took hold. These supplementary fashion lines, designed to keep baying fashionistas sated between the two main seasons, have been growing in popularity for a few years, but now few and foolhardy are the designers who ignore the resort market, and the collections are beginning to be fertile testing grounds for the following season's looks - and therefore irresistible to style lovers who like to think of themselves as in-the-know.
Another movement that appeared to reach its zenith this year is that slow-burner, the high-street collaboration, with Kate Moss calling it a night on her Topshop line and H&M's Lanvin collection, designed by the beloved Alber Elbaz, creating more excitement than we had ever seen for a fashion line, with its clever campaign of hype ahead of the release. Indeed, H&M aside, the high street appeared to be falling out of favour for a time, with high cotton prices putting in peril the pile-'em-high, sell-'em-cheap strategies of bargain-basement brands such as Primark and Walmart, not to mention causing price warnings from denim manufacturers such as Levi's. Add that to the protests at Topshop in the UK against the retail billionaire Philip Green's alleged tax avoidance at a time that swingeing public spending cuts were taking place, and you have something of a revolutionary fervour. Let them eat cupcakes, said the fashion industry.
So what has saved the high street? Two things: the much-vaunted double-dip recession and Kate Middleton. Because sadly, however much we'd like to stop buying mass-produced fashion, there appeared to be a distinct shortage of fruit-bearing money trees in the national parks, so H&M and Zara it was. And when the future queen of England was photographed by Mario Testino, with her happy fiancé, she wore a £159 (Dh900) dress from Reiss in one picture and a £95 (Dh539) blouse from Whistles in another, trumping even her much-copied Issa dress for mid-market fashion credibility. Of course, it's not that Middleton couldn't afford to splash out on something a bit more pricey, but under the watchful, condemnatory eye of the British press she couldn't be seen to be "wasting" money while her future subjects continue to suffer recessionary conditions.
Some canny designers caught on to the same mood this year, with Olivier Theyskens, for example, morphing from the man whose clothes were reportedly too labour intensive even for Nina Ricci, into the new artistic director of Theory. Karl Lagerfeld, too, cancelled his Paris ready-to-wear show and reconfigured his eponymous line into a "masstige" collection - a prestige line with a price that's accessible to the masses.
"I prefer to work in another way. I can't compete with Chanel. I don't want to be the poor child of myself," he told WWD.com in September. (Of course, his was one of the earliest H&M collections, back in 2004, and he has also announced a capsule collection for Macy's to appear next year.) The collection will mainly be sold online - marking another important theme for 2010: the explosion of fashion e-commerce.
Natalie Massenet's sale in April of her e-tail site Net-a-Porter.com for a whopping £50 million, as well as the announcement of the launch of a menswear version, MrPorter.com, was confirmation that not only was this the market leader in online fashion but also that luxury behemoths such as the purchaser Richemont (the Swiss company that owns the likes of Cartier and Chloé) have this year recognised the importance of the internet. The flurry of iPad apps, from magazines such as Glamour and Harper's Bazaar to e-commerce sites such as Gilt Groupe and Gucci, has made fashion online a whole lot more fun and accessible, too - something for which bloggers can give thanks.
The rise of the fashion blogger (and tweeter) over the past couple of years has culminated this year in front-row seats for the most important of them, while every fashion launch in Dubai is peopled by the UAE's bloggers wielding digital cameras, ready to document every jumpsuit, it-bag and studded Louboutin shoe.
That various trends have taken off so rapidly is certainly down to the immediate access to fashion information proffered by the iPhone, the BlackBerry, the iPad and an incomprehensible number of people willing to do the marketing teams' jobs for them by obligingly repeating every piece of news and proliferating every photograph that comes their way. The same can be said of the various sensations that have rocked the fashion world - the new love of curvy models, say, prompted by Christina Hendricks (of Mad Men fame) being cited as a positive role model by the UK equalities minister Lynne Featherstone.
This has been a fascinating subject, both on and off the catwalks. A continuation of the ongoing debate about model sizes, the appearance of the plus-size model Crystal Renn (and her subsequent shrinking) on catwalks everywhere from Chanel to Zac Posen, and Jean Paul Gaultier's use of Beth Ditto for his spring/summer 2011 show have helped make this one of the year's top fashion stories.
The return of wackiness (and by any standards, Ditto wearing a tulle-appliquéd corset on the catwalk and singing an a cappella version of River Deep Mountain High is slightly unusual) was also noted in magazines. Desperate to end the safe, credit-crunch blandness of the past couple of years, the creatives came up with all sorts of wheezes and japes to inject some controversy into their publications. Apparently letting Zoolander's Mugatu loose in the art department were magazines including Vogue Italia, with its take on the Gulf oil spill, and Numéro magazine, which continued the tasteless "blackface" tradition begun by Paris Vogue in 2009.
Which leaves us with the, er, leavers, of which there are two worth mentioning: Jean Paul Gaultier left Hermès, and Paris Vogue's editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld is off to pastures new. The consensus (or as we like to call it, pure guesswork) seems to point towards Roitfeld's joining forces with Tom Ford again, on his new womenswear line. It would make sense: she worked with him at Gucci. She is considered a fashion visionary, ahead of her time, which makes her a perfect match for the anti-publicity, anti-masstige approach of Ford's collection, which belies all that has come in 2010. And so the pendulum swings on.