Year two of the pandemic was, in many ways, just as challenging and weird as the first.
That said, in-person events made a tentative comeback, as did socializing outside our homes — albeit with masks on our faces and hand sanitizer in our pockets. More so than in 2020, we adapted to living with the virus.
So, too, did the creative industries. Art fairs returned, as did the Met Gala, fashion shows, concerts and red carpet events. Likewise, galleries, cinemas and theaters slowly reopened their doors, reminding us of how valuable IRL culture can be.
Below are some of the most talked about moments.
The US inauguration’s breakout fashion stars
The US presidential inauguration ceremony in January looked very different than in previous years — and not just because everyone was wearing masks. The ceremonial parade was canceled, the star-studded inauguration concert was held virtually and Former President Donald Trump didn’t attend, in a historically rare snub. But the event still offered plenty to be remembered by — including the fashion.
There were dramatic collars and elaborate face coverings, immensely meme-able woolen mittens and brightly colored outfits (purple reigned supreme). Above all, however, attendees’ sartorial choices paid tribute to American fashion, with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and first lady Jill Biden wearing looks by US designers Ralph Lauren, Christopher John Rogers and Alexandra O’Neill, respectively.
The proceedings also spotlighted two unexpected fashion stars. One was Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in history, who captivated the world reading “The Hill We Climb” in a vibrant canary yellow Prada coat, red satin Prada headband and red mask to match. The other was Ella Emhoff, Harris’ stepdaughter, whose outfit — a plaid houndstooth coat by Miu Miu, in particular — went instantly viral.
Magazines published groundbreaking covers
Amid growing trans visibility and an ongoing reckoning over racial injustice, mainstream publications showcased a more diverse cast of personalities on their covers in 2021.
Elliot Page became the first transgender man ever to appear on the cover of Time, and Filipino beauty influencer Bretman Rock put donned a pair of bunny ears to become the first gay man to star on the front of Playboy. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, which was themed around community, featured three separate covers, with Megan Thee Stallion, tennis star Naomi Osaka and model Leyna Bloom becoming the first rapper, first Black female athlete and first transgender woman, respectively, to front the annual edition.
Britney’s conservatorship battle concluded
Britney Spears returned to the limelight in 2021 — though not for her music. The New York Times-produced documentary “Framing Britney Spears,” released in February, renewed attention on the ongoing #FreeBritney movement by shedding new light on the conservatorship that had put the singer’s father, Jamie Spears, in control her estate.
In November, a Los Angeles judge ended the 13-year legal arrangement. Spears described it on Instagram as the “best day ever.”
Beeple’s $69M NFT sale
In March, artist Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple, made history by selling a virtual artwork as a non-fungible token (NFT) — which uses blockchain technology to verify ownership of digital assets — for over $69 million at Christie’s auction house.
Titled “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” the work was a collage of 5,000 images produced by Winkelmann over the course of 13 years. It was the first purely digital NFT ever to be offered at a major auction house.
The sale positioned Beeple among the most valuable living artists and paved the way for an explosion of NFTs in the art world and beyond.
Lil Nas X’s ‘Satan Shoes’ saga
Lil Nas X caused a stir in March when he launched a pair of sneakers labeled “Satan Shoes.” Featuring a bronze pentagram, an inverted cross and a drop of real human blood, the modified Nike Air Max 97s were the result of a collaboration between the musician and New York-based art collective MSCHF.
All 666 pairs — priced at $1,018 a pop — sold out in under a minute. Then Nike got involved.
The sportswear giant first distanced itself from the controversial design, then filed a federal trademark infringement lawsuit against MSCHF. The art collective eventually agreed to issue a recall for the sneakers and give customers a full refund.
Lil X Nas, who was not named as a defendant, responded to the backlash on social media (where else?), with a series of funny then sobering tweets and a faux apology on YouTube.
Chloé Zhao made Oscar history
In April, Chloé Zhao became the first woman of Asian descent — and the first woman of color — to win Best Director at the Academy Awards. Recognized for her movie “Nomadland,” a drama about American retirees who follow seasonal employment while living out of their vans, she was only the second woman to receive the award (the first was Kathryn Bigelow for “Hurt Locker” in 2010).
Prior to the Oscars, Zhao had also received top directing prizes at 2021’s Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards and Directors Guild Awards
Pyer Moss made haute couture history
Since launching Pyer Moss in 2013, Kerby Jean-Raymond has celebrated Blackness and Black history in each and every one of his label’s collections. In July, he made history as the first Black American designer to be invited to present at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week.
Titled “Wat U Iz,” Pyer Moss’ runway show featured models strutting in larger-than-life garments referencing everyday objects created by Black inventor, including bikes, traffic lights, fire escapes and chessboards. Former Black Panther Party chairwoman Elaine Brown spoke ahead of the presentation, which also saw Brooklyn rapper 22Gz performing with a live orchestra.
Balenciaga’s first couture show in 53 years
French luxury brand Balenciaga made its much-anticipated return to haute couture in July. It was the label’s first couture show since Cristóbal Balenciaga — whom Christian Dior once described as “the master of us all”– closed his eponymous maison 53 years ago.
To honor this legacy, creative director Demna Gvasalia held the presentation on the site of the fashion house’s original salon, which had been closed for more than half a century, on 10 Avenue George V in Paris. The event was held in complete silence — a nod to how the Balenciaga founder worked on and presented his creations.
Gvasalia riffed on the master couturier’s iconic designs while demonstrating his own contemporary vision by showcasing a diverse cast of models.
Princess Diana nostalgia hit new heights
The fourth season of “The Crown” reignited our collective obsession with Lady Diana last year — but our fascination with the late royal hit new heights in 2021.
First there was Harry and Meghan’s explosive Oprah interview, which provoked new comparisons between the Duchess of Sussex and her late mother-in-law. Then, in June, Diana’s fabled wedding dress went on display at her former Kensington Palace home. The next month, a solemn new statue, unveiled in the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace in London, marked what would have been her 60th birthday. And in November, the movie “Spencer” was released amid critical acclaim for Kristen Stewart’s performance in the title role.