Last week, Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune lamented the fact that fashion designers have become commodities traded by luxury brands. A look at the hiring, firing and resignations this year only confirms it.
Making headlines were Brioni, who replaced creative director Jason Basmajian with Brendan Mullane, and Yves Saint Laurent (creative director Stefano Pilati left in March only to land at Ermenegildo Zegna's women's brand Agnona a few months later). Christopher Kane departed from Versace's younger line Versus, fuelling speculation that he was joining Balenciaga as creative director. Then hot British designer Jonathan Anderson confirmed that he would be designing a capsule collection with Versus.
But the biggest shock of the year came from Balenciaga. In November the brand's much loved creative director Nicolas Ghesquière resigned from a position that he had held for 15 years. It was announced that New York cool kid Alexander Wang would be replacing him, making him one of the few Asian faces at the helm of a French luxury brand. Let's just hope he's not a one-season wonder.
Handbags at dawn
No one likes to air their dirty laundry in public -unless they are part of the fashion pack. Petty squabbles took on epic proportions this year thanks to the media and one too many bruised egos.
Even before the spring-summer 2013 fashion weeks had begun, the press were cooking up a rivalry between hot new designers Raf Simons (at Christian Dior) and Hedi Slimane (at Yves Saint Laurent). It was so overdramatised that few noticed Jil Sander coming back to her namesake label. In the case of Slimane versus Simons, the fashion jury ruled that the latter churned out a better collection.
A few weeks earlier in New York PR maven Lynn Tesoro was publicly slapped by French journalist Jennifer Eymere over seating arrangements at the Zac Posen show. Tesoro launched a US$1 million lawsuit against Eymere, her mother and sister.
A few days later days, Oscar de la Renta wrote an open letter in WWD to The New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn after she called him a "hotdog" in a review. He compared her to a stale three-day old hamburger. Slimane also had a go at Horyn after her negative review of his debut collection for Saint Laurent Paris, calling her a "publicist in disguise".
Roberto Cavalli called Giorgio Armani a "Little King" whose "every choice is perceived as an order" when he had to move his show during Milan Fashion Week. Christian Louboutin and Yves Saint Laurent squabbled over the trademark protection on the red sole (Louboutin finally won). While Tory Burch and her ex-husband Chris Burch are involved in lawsuits and countersuits over the similarities in their brands, C. Wonder and Tory Burch. All's definitely not fair in love and fashion.
As the Chinese shopper starts to demand more affordable fashion, many European and American mass brands chose Hong Kong as the perfect place to lure them in. American retail giant Forever 21 led the way by opening its first store in Causeway Bay measuring 10,000 square feet (with a hefty HK$11 million monthly rental to match). From Europe came H&M's minimalist label COS while Inditex launched Uterqüe, a more classic version of Zara. French high street brands Maje and Sandro also opened their first Asian boutiques in IFC Mall, Central.
Abercrombie & Fitch made headlines before it opened its doors, announcing it would be taking over Shanghai Tang's former space at the Pedder Building in Central for a cool HK$7 million in monthly rent. Marketing began two weeks before the opening in August as the city was invaded by hundreds of topless male models from the US and Europe flaunting their abs on buses and in clubs around town.
In October, preppy favourite J. Crew launched in Asia exclusively at Lane Crawford, with promises to open a free-standing store next year. On its way to Hong Kong soon is British giant Topshop, which will open its doors in May at Lane Crawford's Lab Concept.
Who needs Paris when you have Great Britain? Although London has been experiencing a fashion renaissance in recent years, 2012 was definitely the year for British fashion (blame it on Kate Middleton). The Olympics helped, of course. Stella McCartney added a cool fashion edge to proceedings by designing all the outfits for Team GB. Even the closing ceremony turned into a fashion show as nine British supermodels led by Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, both in McQueen, strutted their stuff for the world to see. Style icon Victoria Beckham reunited with her fellow Spice Girls for a one-off performance for which she wore a sexy black minidress.
It wasn't just about the girls, either. The British Fashion Council also organised the first ever men's fashion week in October, where talent such as E. Tautz showed. Brands such as Tom Ford and Alexander McQueen have signed up to show their men's lines next year.
And to cap it all off, McCartney was 2012's most-searched fashion term in Britain, beating Karl Lagerfeld and Victoria's Secret.
While no one questions the buying power of the Chinese (according to Bloomberg, the Chinese have also surpassed Americans as the largest buyers of luxury goods), the mainland is proving its talent as a brand builder. This year Chinese companies bought major luxury brands including Sonia Rykiel (Li & Fung) and British brand Aquascutum (YGM Trading). At the other end of spectrum, French luxury goods conglomerate PPR bought its first Chinese brand, jeweller Qeelin.
The Neiman Marcus Group announced a US$28 million investment in the privately held e-commerce company Glamour Sales Holding. Net-a-porter launched The Outnet.cn  in March while multi-brand retailer Yoox.com  launched its Chinese-language site in October. Last month, Ferragamo chose local partner Xiu.com  to sell its collections in China.
China's top creatives also gained international recognition. Photographer Chen Man made headlines with a series of striking covers for i-D magazine's pre-spring 2012 issue, many of which were styled by China's Lucia Liu. Up-and-coming designer Uma Wang debuted her work at Paris Fashion Week and took part in the Council of Fashion Designers of America's China Exchange programme. Sergio Rossi enlisted the talents of Chinese artist Peng Wei, who designed a collection of boots made out of rice paper.
While Europe may still dominate the fashion calendar, the biggest parties of the year were held in Hong Kong and China. Lanvin celebrated its 10th anniversary in Beijing, along with other grand celebrations by Hugo Boss and Montblanc. Louis Vuitton recreated its autumn-winter fashion show in Shanghai and brought Marc Jacobs to the country for the first time. The action moved to Hong Kong where the fashion pack, including Kim Jones (Louis Vuitton), Olivier Rousteing (Balmain), Anya Hindmarch, Christopher Bailey (Burberry), Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez (Proenza Schouler) and Roland Mouret, among many others, appeared in the city. Is there anyone left who hasn't visited Greater China?