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From celebrity spectacle to art in conflict, here are the moments that shaped 2022

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Written by Fiona Sinclair Scott, Jacqui Palumbo, Leah DolanOscar Holland, CNN

If 2021 was a tentative return to in-person gatherings and social events, then 2022 felt like a more confident reinstatement of life as we knew it. The most intense years of the Covid-19 pandemic are, in many parts of the world, fading from view, though there has been no shortage of major news events to keep us on edge.

Between the war in Ukraine, the overturning of the 1973 Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in the US, extreme weather cases — from severe floods to unprecedented heatwaves — human rights protests in Iran and global economic uncertainty, the world was no less complicated in 2022 and art, fashion and culture were further solidified as both important avenues of expression and necessary distractions.

Scroll down as we look back on some of the year’s most memorable cultural moments and themes.

Culture in conflict

One of England-based street artist Banksy's seven murals featured a gymnast on the wall of an apartment building destroyed by Russian troops, Borodianka, Kyiv Region, northern Ukraine.

One of England-based street artist Banksy’s seven murals featured a gymnast on the wall of an apartment building destroyed by Russian troops, Borodianka, Kyiv Region, northern Ukraine. Credit: Oleksandra Butova/Ukrinform/Future Publishing/Getty Images

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When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the country’s artistic and cultural heritage was immediately under threat. Members of the public and cultural sector rushed to protect museums and monuments from attack, placing sandbags around monuments in cities across the country. Several of Maria Prymachenko’s paintings, a 20th-century self-taught artist and icon of Ukrainian national identity, were thought to be destroyed after a museum in her native region of Ivankiv was attacked by Russian forces.
But while some art was tragically lost, new works— such as seven murals by Banksy — carrying messages of resilience were created. Against all odds, Ukraine still took part in the Venice Biennale in April — displaying Pavlo Makov’s “Fountain of Exhaustion” — an installation made from 78 bronze funnels that split a single stream of water until its flow weakened to a trickle.

Speaking to CNN at the fair, Ukrainian art curator Maria Lanko said she believed “art has this symbolic potential to celebrate people’s lives and to show that we are still here — to show that Ukraine isn’t just a war victim.”

Elsewhere in the world, artists utilized their craft to rebel against governments and their respective policies. In October, 28-year-old art school graduate, Zhisheng Wu, took to Times Square in New York cocooned inside 27 layered hazmat suits to critique China’s relentless zero-Covid policy. “I want to use it as a metaphor for each Chinese individual being drowned in the political torrent,” he said.

Eyes on Iran

Artist Alexandro Palombo created a mural depicting Marge Simpson cutting her hair in protest against Iran and the murder of Mahsa Amini in front of the Consulate of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Artist Alexandro Palombo created a mural depicting Marge Simpson cutting her hair in protest against Iran and the murder of Mahsa Amini in front of the Consulate of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Credit: AGF/Universal Images Group

In September, hair became integral to political protest, as demonstrators all over the world cut theirs to speak out against the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who died in Iran’s capital Tehran after being arrested by the country’s morality police for allegedly not wearing her hijab properly. The defiant act of cutting hair and burning hijabs on the streets directly questioned the regime’s oppressive rules for women, which include wearing a mandatory hijab in public.

In solidarity, artists responded in many ways, with illustrations shared virally on social media to a mural of Marge Simpson lopping off her famous blue beehive.

In December, Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms State Park became the site of a large-scale portrait of 16-year-old Iranian Nika Shahkarami, who was found dead after protesting in Tehran. Shahkarami’s face was reimagined on a cotton canvas, as more than 300 hundred demonstrators stood in waves to mimic her flowing locks. The installation was part of a wider series of art commissions under the title “Eyes on Iran.”

Motherhood as high fashion

A protruding baby bump was the hottest accessory in Adriana Lima's Cannes Film Festival red carpet look.

A protruding baby bump was the hottest accessory in Adriana Lima’s Cannes Film Festival red carpet look. Credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty Images

In January, Rihanna revealed she was expecting her first child with partner A$AP Rocky — announcing the news with a photoshoot that captured the star’s bump protruding from a vintage 1996 Chanel pink puffer coat and draped with Christian LaCroix jewelry.

Later in the year Rihanna, while fronting the cover of Vogue’s May issue in firetruck red lace bodysuit and stilettos, she was more verbal in her disdain for the elastic waistbands many expected her to adopt: “When I found out I was pregnant, I thought to myself, There’s no way I’m going to go shopping in no maternity aisle. I’m sorry — it’s too much fun to get dressed up,” she told Vogue. “I’m not going to let that part disappear because my body is changing.”
At the Cannes Film Festival red carpet, Adriana Lima arrived in a black Balmain wrap dress with a cut-out detail that perfectly framed her pregnant stomach. Baby fever has also been felt on runways, from Olivier Rousteing’s couture collection for Jean Paul Gaultier — which featured leather corsets complete with molded baby bumps — to model Maggie Maurer using the Nensi Dojaka Fall-Winter 2022 show to announce she was expecting.

Art and commerce

Andy Warhol's "Shot Sage Blue Marilyn" painting, sold by Christie's, became the most expensive 20th-century artwork.

Andy Warhol’s “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” painting, sold by Christie’s, became the most expensive 20th-century artwork. Credit: Dia Dipasupil/Getty

Auctions returned in a big way, with some of the most expensive sales on record. In November, the art collection of late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (featuring works by Georges Seurat, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cezanne) fetched over $1.6 billion — the largest single-owner sale in auction history.
Earlier in the year, Andy Warhol’s “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” became the most expensive 20th-century artwork to ever go under the hammer, selling for $195 million. Meanwhile Man Ray’s “Le Violon d’Ingres” became the world’s priciest photograph for $12.4 million. 20th-century Dutch artist Piet Mondrian set a posthumous personal best after one of his iconic abstract pieces, “Composition No. II,” was auctioned for $51 million in November.

Glitches in the metaverse

After Gucci's temporary Roblox experience saw 20 million visitors, the luxury fashion house built a permanent in-game shopping space, 'Gucci Town.'

After Gucci’s temporary Roblox experience saw 20 million visitors, the luxury fashion house built a permanent in-game shopping space, ‘Gucci Town.’ Credit: Gucci/Roblox

After last year’s promise of futuristic virtual worlds on the horizon — with the likes of tech companies, luxury brands and venture capitalists going all-in to the tune of hundreds of billions — the metaverse had a rocky 2022. In May, the metaverse’s first fashion week, hosted in Decentraland, attracted top fashion houses but was far from a smooth experience. Meanwhile gaming platform Roblox has continued to draw in millions of visitors to its fashion and luxury activations, while Meta has struggled to make a digital world that people want to spend time in. With the world economic outlook souring, cryptocurrency crashing and tech layoffs en masse, the mainstream adoption of virtual worlds may not come together as quickly or as seamlessly as hoped. But with tech advances and boundless creativity happening within the space, eyes are on 2023 to see what happens next.

The new ‘it’ girl

Eileen Gu (left) and Julia Fox (right) have both risen to for the forefront of pop culture this year.

Eileen Gu (left) and Julia Fox (right) have both risen to for the forefront of pop culture this year.

In 2022, a handful of new faces broke into the ranks of celebrity influencers and helped reinvigorate the ‘it’ girl platitude. While the Chinese zodiac dictates it was the year of the tiger, in some ways it felt more like the year of the Fox. In January, Julia Fox arrived on our social media feeds during Paris Fashion Week — hanging on the arm of Kanye West in a matching double-denim Schiaparelli look and her now iconic black graphic eyeliner — and never left. She quickly made a name for herself as the “enfant terrible” of celebrity fashion, challenged the meaning of low-rise trousers and spray-painting her hair gray in the name of aging at 32.
But not all ‘it’ girls need to appear as outlandish as Fox. This year Zendaya continued to cement her flawless red carpet reputation with the help of award-winning stylist and partner-in-crime Law Roach. Now firmly one of fashion’s darlings, the actor even redefined the term “hot-off-the-runway” when she wore pre-release Loewe in September. Chinese American skier Eileen Gu, who had been quietly building her reputation in the fashion industry, became a luxury fashion superstar in 2022. Her bilingualism, athletic prowess at the Beijing Winter Olympics and her staunchly apolitical stances on topics considered sensitive in China were among many reasons she continued to appeal to both Asian and Western audiences.

Tributes to Marilyn Monroe went awry

Kim Kardashian made headlines when she arrived to the Met Gala in the historic crystal-embellished gown Marilyn Monroe wore when singing "Happy Birthday" to President John F. Kennedy in 1962.

Kim Kardashian made headlines when she arrived to the Met Gala in the historic crystal-embellished gown Marilyn Monroe wore when singing “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy in 1962. Credit: John Shearer/Getty Images

The too-short, turbulent life of Marilyn Monroe has provided endless fodder for film, TV, and fashion but two high-profile tributes this year made many reconsider how the actor and model’s memory should be treated. After months of teasing Ana de Armas’s uncanny transformation into Monroe for Andrew Dominik’s film “Blonde” — a fictionalized, somewhat surreal portrayal of her life based on a novel by Joyce Carol Oates — critics took aim at the trauma-laden, graphic film as being purely exploitative. But the other homage that gave pause was the surprise return of Monroe’s sheer “Happy Birthday” dress on Kim Kardashian’s body, which the reality star coordinated for her look to the Met Gala in May. Amid accusations that Kardashian had damaged the iconic garment, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, which owns the piece, insisted its condition was the same — but many still decried the historically significant gown being worn at all.

Beyoncé declared it disco season

Beyoncé's seven album "Renaissance" featured incredible visuals and outfits from Alaïa, Gucci, Rick Owens and Schiaparelli.

Beyoncé’s seven album “Renaissance” featured incredible visuals and outfits from Alaïa, Gucci, Rick Owens and Schiaparelli. Credit: From Beyonce

Before Beyoncé released “Renaissance,” her long-awaited seventh album and follow-up to “Lemonade,” the Beyhive correctly predicted their queen would be serving up disco and house for the summer. Within 24 hours, she dropped “Break My Soul,” which sampled the 1990s dance staple “Show Me Love” by Robin S., as well as a British Vogue cover shoot that teased her album cover. Both portraits of Beyoncé on a horse were a direct reference to the image that became synonymous with New York’s Studio 54: Bianca Jagger riding a white mount inside of the famed nightclub. Working with producers including the Chicago-born house phenom Honey Dijon, and sampling iconic tracks such as Donna Summer’s euphoric “I Feel Love,” Beyoncé provided an escapist, hedonistic soundtrack for the summer with opulent 1970s visuals to match.

Fashion world losses

Andre Leon Talley, who died on January 18, spoke at 'The Gospel According to Andr' Q&A during the 21st SCAD Savannah Film Festival in 2018.

Andre Leon Talley, who died on January 18, spoke at ‘The Gospel According to Andr’ Q&A during the 21st SCAD Savannah Film Festival in 2018. Credit: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

The fashion industry bid farewell to a number of influential figures. On January 18, Andre Leon Talley, the former longtime creative director of Vogue and industry trailblazer known for his maximalist style, died at the age of 73. Just days later, the iconic French couturier Thierry Mugler — whose archival designs can still be spotted on red carpets — passed away, also at the same age. In August, Issey Miyake, one of Japan’s most important creative visionaries, died in Paris at the age of 84.

Throwbacks, throwbacks and more throwbacks

Musicians Dua Lipa and Megan Thee Stallion recreated pop culture history when they wore the same Versace dress in a bit for the Grammy Awards.

Musicians Dua Lipa and Megan Thee Stallion recreated pop culture history when they wore the same Versace dress in a bit for the Grammy Awards. Credit: Cliff lipson/CBS/Getty Images

Whether it be Kaia Gerber using the red carpet to pay homage to ’90s supermodel (and mother) Cindy Crawford, or the revival of Kate Bush’s 1985 classic “Running up that Hill” thanks to the Netflix series “Stranger Things” — this year was as much about looking back as it was looking ahead.
At the Grammy Awards in April, Megan Thee Stallion and Dua Lipa recreated an iconic moment from pop culture history when they both arrived on stage in the same Versace dress — referencing a fashion faux pas bit from the 1998 VMAs involving Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston.
Out on the red carpet, archival fashion reigned supreme, too. At the Met Gala in May, Emily Ratajkowski donned a 1992 vintage Versace beaded look, while YouTube star Emma Chamberlain stepped out in a Cartier tiara made in 1911. And the fashion throwbacks show no sign of stopping. Just in November, Kylie Jenner made headlines when she arrived at the opening of the Brooklyn Museum’s Thierry Mugler: Couturissime exhibition wearing 1995 Mugler couture.

The death of a cultural icon

The Queen's immortalized image was inescapable during the days and weeks following her death in September.

The Queen’s immortalized image was inescapable during the days and weeks following her death in September. Credit: John Stillwell/PA Images/Getty Images

While it was a moment many members of the public, media and royal contingent had been bracing for, the announcement of Queen Elizabeth II’s death on September 8 was no less surreal when the news was delivered. Dominating headlines around the world during the days between her death and the royal funeral, her legacy was eulogized with a kind of depth and abundance reserved for a rare few historical figures. Her image, as it had been immortalized by artists and photographers around the world, was impossible to escape. As Britain’s longest reigning monarch and a symbol of steadiness, diplomacy and poise, she was celebrated for her rallying speeches, her support of the arts and culture, her sartorial diplomacy and much more. But, her death also surfaced painful memories of Britain’s often violent colonial rule as critics of the old empire sought to inject context into the pages of praise for a woman who was also seen by many people as a symbol of oppression.

Art vs activism

Climate protesters took a different approach to demonstrations this year. In October, Just Stop Oil threw cans of tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers" at the National Gallery in London.

Climate protesters took a different approach to demonstrations this year. In October, Just Stop Oil threw cans of tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” at the National Gallery in London. Credit: Just Stop Oil/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

After a visitor to the Louvre smeared frosting over the “Mona Lisa” in early summer, 2022 became the year that no artwork was safe. Paintings by Gustav Klimt, Pablo Picasso, and Sandro Botticelli were among the many masterpieces targeted by climate protesters (some of whom also glued themselves to the frames).

British group Just Stop Oil, which hopes to stop future licenses for fossil fuel production, was behind a handful of the stunts — including a tomato soup attack on Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.” And climate activists across Europe followed suit, from the Belgian duo who glued themselves to Johannes Vermeer “Girl With a Pearl Earring” to the demonstrators in Germany who targeted Claude Monet’s “Haystacks” with mashed potatoes.
Some of the protesters have since been sentenced to prison, and the stunts have proven highly divisive. Some critics believe the activists’ actions have ultimately hurt their cause by alienating the public. But research suggests that, even if this were the case, reduced support for protesters has no impact on support for their demands.

All the world’s a stage

For the Coperni show during Paris Fashion Week in October, Bella Hadid's final look came out of a spraycan.

For the Coperni show during Paris Fashion Week in October, Bella Hadid’s final look came out of a spraycan. Credit: Julien De Rosa/AFP/Getty Images

From Heidi Klum’s nightmare-inducing giant worm costume worn to her legendary Halloween party, to Olivia Wilde’s “Don’t Worry Darling” press tour that spiraled into a drama more enticing than the film itself, the red carpet and runway moments that set the internet alight this year were stranger and more theatrical than ever. Twitter, on the latter, became obsessed: Did Harry Styles really spit on castmate Chris Pine?

At Paris Fashion Week in October, Bella Hadid found herself at the center of one of year’s most talked about moments in fashion. The model closed French label Coperni’s Spring-Summer 2023 runway, though her final outfit didn’t materialize until she was already on the catwalk. Sprayed onto her body out of a can by two scientists, the white Fabrican dress was formed in just 10 minutes to the delight of a captive audience.

The return of the celebrity wedding

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden attend the wedding of Peter Neal and Naomi Biden Neal, Saturday, November 19, 2022 on the South Lawn.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden attend the wedding of Peter Neal and Naomi Biden Neal, Saturday, November 19, 2022 on the South Lawn. Credit: Adam Schultz/White House

2022 saw the return of large-scale weddings and a lot of celebrity couples didn’t miss a beat in sharing their special day with the world.

We were treated to not one, but three nuptials from Travis Barker and Kourtney Kardashian — the first being an unofficial affair at Las Vegas chapel in April, with a legal courthouse wedding in Santa Barbara the following month and finally a lavish, Dolce & Gabbana-themed Italian ceremony in Portofino a week later.
Brooklyn Beckham and Nicola Peltz tied the knot in May, too, where Peltz wore a decadent custom Valentino gown designed by Pierpaolo Piccioli. Next was the hotly anticipated wedding between Britney Spears and Sam Ashgari, less than a year after Spears was released from her conservatorship. Spears’ Versace gown took over 700 hours to create. Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck rekindled their ’90s romance and got hitched in August. Lopez had three outfit changes for the occasion, including her wedding dress, which were all custom Ralph Lauren.

The American label suited another high-profile ceremony this year. Naomi Biden, the president’s eldest granddaughter, married Peter Neal on the South Lawn of the White House this November in a long-sleeved lace number designed by Ralph Lauren.

The rise and fall of Balenciaga

Kanye West opened the Balenciaga show in October during Paris Fashion Week. West has since been dropped by the label following a series of antisemtic posts online.

Kanye West opened the Balenciaga show in October during Paris Fashion Week. West has since been dropped by the label following a series of antisemtic posts online. Credit: From Balenciaga

Balenciaga spent most of the year generating buzz through hotly anticipated runway shows, from Kim Kardashinan’s couture debut to (pre-outburst) Kanye West’s appearance on a mud-soaked Paris catwalk. But 2022 turned into an annus horribilis for the Spanish label as it struggled to contain the fallout from two hugely problematic ad campaigns.

First, the brand was forced to apologize for featuring children in a photo shoot cuddling teddy bears dressed in bondage gear. Then Balenciaga announced a (since-dropped) lawsuit against the production company behind another ad campaign, after paperwork about a Supreme Court ruling on child pornography was identified in one of the images.

Celebrity collaborator Kim Kardashian condemned the teddy bear ads, saying that she was “re-evaluating” her relationship with the brand. The industry publication Business of Fashion meanwhile announced that it had rescinded a major fashion award that creative director Demna, who goes by his first name only, had been set to be honored with.

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