When Hannah Weiland launched her small new brand Shrimps at London fashion week this summer, few could have anticipated that the brightly coloured fake-fur coats she sold – described by many as making the wearer look like one of the Muppets – would become an indicator of just how silly fashion would become in 2014. But from phone covers shaped like French fries and clutch bags in the shape of cartoon speech bubbles to Shrimps’s signature coat, it has been a year in which novelty items has defined the mood within the fashion industry and on the high street.
“Novelty has been a big deal for us for the last couple of seasons,” says Aisling McKeefry, head of accessories design at online fashion retailer Asos. “Accessories using animal or food motifs are particularly popular.” At Whistles, the Kumiko coat – a purple fluffy number similar to the Shrimps design, but at a more accessible price point – accounted for half of the brand’s outerwear online sales when it was launched. The coat was restocked three times, selling out each time. This surprised even Whistles’ chief executive, Jane Shepherdson. “None of us could have anticipated how well an oversized lilac fun fur coat would sell,” she says. “The original colourway sold out within days. To cope with demand we have introduced it in several other shades.”
The accessories brand Anya Hindmarch produced bags that retailed at around £1,000 and used motifs from cereal boxes like Frosties and Coco Pops for its autumn/winter 2014 collection. “They completely sold out through pre-orders before they arrived in store,” says Hindmarch. “There were three further orders placed, and they also sold out before they reached the shop floor.”
The commercial potential of novelty items is also evident in the launch of Finds, a new area of the Net-a-porter website, which specialises in what the company’s buyer Sybil Wilmot-Smith calls “that one piece that catches your eye and you can’t resist”. She points to the Minna Parika Bunny sneakers – a high top trainer with bunny ears as the tongue – as a sell-out style.
At Asos McKeefry says the novelty trend is partly down to the influence of the images snapped by street style photographers outside fashion shows – an arena in which a fashion editor wearing anything bright and quirky is more likely to be snapped than someone looking more restrained. Street style stars such as blogger Susie Lau and i-D fashion editor Julia Sarr-Jamois are poster girls for this fun take on style.
The success of silliness can also be linked to the increasing impact of social media on fashion – where, again, bright, fun fashion is favoured, and the emoticon is king. “Aside from the fact that these pieces make you and your wardrobe smile, much of the fashion world now takes into account the importance of what something looks like on Instagram,” says Hannah Almassi, fashion editor at Grazia. “Novelty items are guaranteed social media catnip.”
The trend may have started on the streets but it is increasingly on the catwalk, too. Chanel’s show took place in a Karl Lagerfeld-designed supermarket, with everything from washing powder to doormats branded with the house logo. Moschino’s new creative director, Jeremy Scott, dedicated his autumn 2014 collection to McDonalds, with those much-imitated French fries phone covers becoming a stand out hit among fashion fans. Almassi thinks this is a sign of the zeitgest. “Designers like Lagerfeld have created these ingenious and covetable lol moments,” she says. “I do think it’s given the hallowed high fashion houses a new visibility among a younger audience.”
This taste for novelty is set to continue into 2015. Peter Jensen has collaborated with the cartoon Peanuts on a range of clothes and Hindmarch has launched leather stickers shaped like smiley faces to decorate bags. “Stickers were my schoolgirl version of personalisation,” she says. They’re now just the kind of thing that will appeal to the emoticon generation. As 2014 proved, silliness is now a serious business in fashion.