Nine fashion trends for 2020

We analyse the looks emerging from the autumn / winter runways of New York, London and Milan

At the time of writing, three of the four major fashion weeks – New York, London and Milan – have unfolded, giving an overview of the trends that have emerged so far. The uncertainty of our times has certainly been reflected in the shows, with much made of the make-do and the imperfect. At Gucci, models wore ripped tights; Missoni had thrift-store patchwork; and Dolce & Gabbana wrapped everything in enormous hand-knitted cardigans. Over at Moncler, its collaboration with Jonathan Anderson resulted in clothes as body armour, covered in deep layers of padding and soft, down-filled "spikes". 

What stood out was an overall willingness to revisit many of the same ideas as last season, and while these were reworked, there was definitely a slowing down of the buy-wear-discard merry-go-round the industry has been criticised for in recent years.

In terms of the biggest overall runway trend, it seems huge sleeves will dominate our wardrobes come autumn. Seen so far at Fendi (predictably exquisite), Burberry (on gabardine trench coats), Victoria Beckham, Bottega Veneta and Max Mara, it's time to prepare for volume. Here are some other observations and predictions from the three cities.


Milan Fashion Week was dominated by some unusual events. First was Giorgio Armani's startling decision to hold its show behind closed doors, due to concerns over the Covid-19, and instead stream it live from an empty auditorium. Then came news that designer Raf Simons (ex-Calvin Klein, Christian Dior and Jil Sander) is joining Prada as co-creator alongside Muiccia Prada. With both designers famous for refusing to compromise, this is going to be a fascinating partnership. That debut joint collection will show in September.


The biggest trend in Milan was undoubtedly sustainability, with an astonishing number of labels putting it front and centre of their collections. Giorgio Armani sent out an elegant parade made of “regenerated materials”, which is a posh way of saying recycled. At Marni, designer Francesco Risso created patchworks from the leftover fabric of past collections, throwing silks, brocades and metallics together in a merry mismatch. Paul Andrew at Salvatore Ferragamo, meanwhile, carved his latest round of shoes and bags from the leather leftovers of the house.


One of the many reworked themes, fringing was big this season and used in ­multiple moods. Boss kept it classy, belting its shimmering shoulder-to-calf fringing, Salvatore Ferragamo went for tiers of golden chains that swayed deliciously with every step, while Bottega Veneta’s It-designer Daniel Lee shredded everything from dresses to overcoats from the knees down.

Backstage as frontstage

Elsewhere, not one but two big names decided to pay homage to the huge teams without whom no runway show would be possible. At Gucci, Alessandro Michele built the backstage on the runway, complete with rails and dressers (those responsible for the high-speed changes models make mid-show) and even sent the audience through it to get to their seats. Over at Dolce & Gabbana, too, the unseen workers were the heroes of the show, with their photos blown up huge around the venue. To show off their craftspeople’s skills to the maximum, the designers even pared back the signature bling to better show off the construction.


London Fashion Week finally shook off its reputation for having all the best ideas, but the worst execution. While this upgrade has been happening for a while, this season proved once and for all that London can produce beautifully cut pieces to rival the best and that, finally, the quality of the materials has caught up with the ideas.

The colour red

Nowhere was this more evident than in the capital’s obsession with the colour red. A scarlety vermilion shade appeared as a skilful bias-cut dress at Preen and as an eye-popping kilt at Victoria Beckham. A softer tone of amaranth was seen in the frothy volume at Molly Goddard, while Richard Malone mixed tomato shades for its layered skirt-over-trousers take.


London also broke out the pearls. Leaning on the traditional Pearly Kings and Queens – those characters that smother their suits in mother-of-pearl buttons – Erdem scattered tiny clusters through its florals, such as a decorated coat with a pearly lace collar. Simone Rocha embraced the femininity of the embellishment as delicate headdresses, handbags and brooches, while layering the nacre tones as creamy satin ribbons and deconstructed knitwear. It was Richard Quinn, however, who really ran with the idea, delivering looks so smothered in pearls, complete with face hoods and gloves, that the human inside was all but hidden.


A third trend was cut-outs. At Burberry, Riccardo Tisci delivered this with typical sharpness, as a breastbone keyhole. Richard Malone went more casual, leaving a loose hole around the shoulders, as if the piece had been put on wrong, making it rather lovely, while Victoria Beckham referenced the new necklines first seen at Saint Laurent a few seasons ago, but in a softer way, undulating down from the shoulders.


Missing some of its biggest names, including Ralph Lauren who will instead stage a show in April, New York Fashion Week lacked the weight of past years, but still managed to deliver impressive looks. The gap left by the bigger names ironically worked out in favour of the smaller labels that get more exposure, such as Assembly New York and Monse, both of which showed some fresh thinking.


It's an idea that has been around a while, but New York really went for feathers this season with Jason Wu covering entire dresses in wisps of delicate ostrich, while Oscar De La Renta presented a very NYC take on evening wear – a sleek high-necked dress, with layers of white plumes cascading from the hips. Utterly beautiful.


Elsewhere, tartan ruled the roost. Despite being called plaid in America, the looks offered far more sophistication than the name suggests. Monse showed a red and black tartan that started as a sleeveless blazer and ended as an asymmetric skirt; Brock Collection simplified the pattern to a giant gingham, made into an overcoat and matching trousers; and Assembly New York patched tartan scraps into a halter-neck high-low dress over long trousers.

Head-to-toe colour

A last trend to watch is head-to-toe colour. With Wes Gordon now heading up Carolina Herrera, the house continued its journey of reinvention, courtesy a bottle green brocade cut into a tunic over trousers. Brandon Maxwell kept things simple with an all-white look, while Marc Jacobs - who always closes New York Fashion Week - presented full looks in lemon, red and baby blue, all finished with headscarves that echoed one of his most famous inspirations: Richard Prince's Nurses.