“U don’t know someone till Uve seen what their vibe was in 2016,” read a Tweet that recently went viral, with people sharing photos of their own vibes of the time.
It got us thinking about our own style, and lives, six years ago in 2016 – a year that simultaneously feels like it was just yesterday, and a whole lifetime ago. We’re not exaggerating when we say that it was an intense and culture-changing year: Bowie, Prince and George Michael died, Beyoncé released Lemonade, Stranger Things launched, John Key stepped down as PM, Brexit happened, Trump won the US election…
Fashion was in its ironic, self-aware, merch era, with buzzy brand Vetements releasing that DHL T-shirt and Maria Grazia Chiuri sending those ‘we should all be feminists’ T-shirts down the runway for her Dior debut. Hedi Slimane left Saint Laurent. Streetwear took over, with Yeezy’s Madison Square Garden fashion show/listening party, Rihanna’s debut Fenty x Puma show and Beyoncé launching Ivy Park. We lost legendary photographer and street style chronicler Bill Cunningham. Hillary Clinton wore many pantsuits and Melania Trump wore a pink pussybow blouse.
It was a lot! And looking back made us anxious, emo and nostalgic. We asked a few of our Ensemble friends and contributors to share a memory of 2016 – their vibe, back then.
Lili Sumner, model and filmmaker
2016 was… throw absolutely everything on and always tie it off with a leather jacket. I was living in London with my boyfriend at the time and lots of English band boys. Always going to gigs and festivals. My modelling career was starting to really take off and I was travelling solo and on the move a lot too. It was a very wild, fun and world-expanding year for me.
Keva Rands, Papa Clothing designer and founder
This photo is of my sister, Ahilapalapa and I taken in January 2016. We were pre-gaming before going to see NYC-based, queer rapper, Le1f on Krd. Ahi’s wearing a chambray Penny Sage jumpsuit which we both wore all the time when we wanted to look flash. And I’m wearing my favourite vintage sweatshirt I had just got from NYC with some jeans I had cut into shorts and hemmed. Yes I am drinking a Woodstock which means I was already hungover when this night began because that’s my ‘second night in a row of drinking’ trick. Oh to be 26 :)
Chlöe Swarbrick, Green Party and Auckland Central MP
My friend Dexter Murray took this pic - as he did for each host of 95bFM's 'The Wire,' the station's daily current affairs show. I'd somewhat recently cut my hair because I was convinced it would make me look more mature. This was a few months before Dexter took another photo, which would become infamous for its regular use yet infrequent crediting of him; the brown-jacket-white-shirt-22-year-old Auckland Mayoralty campaign pic.
Jessie Wong, Yu Mei founder
Adrian and I were babies in this photo. I was 22 or 23. I'd started Yu Mei the prior year, and by December, we'd moved into the studio we're still in today. There are heaps of great film pictures featuring our 'OG' Wellington crew, Becca Tock, Adrian Williams, Brigette Thomas and Greta Stewart, which we'd self-named the 'Core 4' (even though there were five of us). We wore what we now call 'Archive' Yu Mei bags and matching Celine bug eye sunnies, a la Joan Didion.
Stella Bennett (Benee), musician
I think 16 turning 17-year-old Stella was kind of my transition year from not caring about what I wear to finding more of an interest in clothing.
Karen Inderbitzen-Waller, photographer and stylist
Here’s me in Paris, June 2016, with one of my favourite photographers Collier Schorr at a Gosha Rubchinskiy book launch. It was summer in Paris and the launch had the best casual vibe. There was a cool group of skater boys there along with model de jour Paul Hamméline who Collier was photographing in the courtyard (those photos ended up in her book about Paul titled Paul’s Book). I'm wearing Eugenie – one of my favourite now defunct NZ brands – with a Marc Jacobs handbag and New Balance trainers.
Saraid de Silva, writer and co-host of the podcast Conversations with my Immigrant Parents
Honestly, 2016 was such a great year for me. Thinking about it really makes me miss life pre-Covid. I was living in Germany, travelling a lot, going out, coming out, my eyebrows had grown back in after years of overplucking, all in all it was just a big, good time.
Leilani Momoisea, writer, social media manager
Wearing a Juliette Hogan coat that I've worn every winter since, my fave ever Kate Sylvester sweater, cos I was very much on my tennis-club inspired fashion buzz. I no longer have the sweater, and I've been hoping she'll do a re-release at some point. Plus, Twenty-seven Names dress & Glassons skivvy.
This is in the car park opposite my fave Korean BBQ spot which no longer exists (RIP) so the vibes in this particular pic are hungry & cold (hence the face) but I think overall looking back, the 2016 vibes were just "outside". As in, I went outside a lot more back then.
Chloe Hill, stylist, photographer and founder of Cool Pretty Cool
Not much has changed in the past seven years, I still wear a similar rendition of this look regularly. In fact I wore this exact bubble skirt to an Ensemble event last month! I don't know what that says about me – I'm predictable, I need to mix it up, or I'm just really comfortable in my own style, you pick.
Frances Morton, editor of Sunday and Your Weekend
This is in Lecce, a beautiful city in the heel of the boot of Southern Italy. I packed mainly jumpsuits for this trip, two black ones and this loud number from a vintage store in Los Angeles. They're so great for travel because they're an entire outfit in one. The wedge sandals are from The Warehouse. We'd been down the Amalfi Coast and my daughter had just recovered from tonsillitis. This moment of carefree bubbles came after a lot of sleepless nights. Ramona is wearing a hand-me-down dress and some fancy sandals we got in Paris.
Guy Coombes, photographer
2016 was full throttle chaos for me, like if 2008 chaos went to jail for eight years and made a messy comeback. I turned 30 in 2016, which was potentially the catalyst for the ensuing chaotic events of that year, like violent panic attacks, addiction to psychic readings & then deciding moving to London would be a great idea.
I definitely didn’t think I was cute at the time, I was so anxious and self deprecating, but looking back at my 2016 phone selfies I was actually a whole snack, and what I would give to be 2016 me and serve it all up again in this Tina Turner tank top and ripped jeans. You are all so welcome.
Lyric Waiwiri-Smith, Stuff culture reporter
I was a Year 11 at Western Springs College, and my core memories of that year are a blurry montage of Pokemon Go hunting, fighting Taylor Swift haters online over the Kanye West call leak (good times), and being boo'ed up with my first love, with XO Tour Lif3 playing in the background.
I was seriously lame and had no sense of style, but all my friends were in the "alty" crowd, so at least I got some cool points from that and could try and claim my mismatched thrift store pieces as being alternative.
My boyfriend at the time was also a Westmere rich kid, so I remember there being a lot of pressure to sport some name brand pieces - the shoe of the moment was the Adidas Superstars, and at least I had a pair of those (see the pink ribbons I used as shoelaces??? I was years ahead of the coquette girls!).
I was a pretty emotional teenager so I would say my vibe was ... messy. I was socially awkward but also desperately wanted people to like me and think I was cool. Typical 16-year-old shit.
At least I had Beyoncé’s Lemonade to soothe me through the tough bits - that was my Bible at the time.
Lara Daly, Ensemble publishing co-ordinator
In 2016 I was drinking tall cans of Sapporo at a reunion party with my graffiti artist friends, who I knew through hanging out at a gallery on Cuba St called Manky Chops as a naughty teen (our friend’s dad owned the gallery so our mischief was always semi-supervised).
This was just after my blonde girl-band era, the start of Frank Ocean’s Blonde era. I was into hoop earrings, red lipstick, Lonely lingerie (lol), and being a nerd at uni. The Converse All Stars were definitely an influence of the Sk8er Boi who I’m still with to this day. I wore this Emma Mullholand bomber jacket with ‘Love Birds’ on the back everywhere, I’m sure I left it behind at this party. Nothing much has changed, but I have figured out how to find a flattering pair of jeans.
Tyson Beckett, Stuff and Ensemble style reporter
My phone tells me this photo was taken on January 3rd 2016, I remember it as the coldest day of my life. We'd just spent Christmas and New Year in New York but spent most of that time running between restaurant reservations rather than in the elements. Even in the sunshine, Washington DC was freezing. It was sort of all I could focus on, to the extent that it apparently didn't occur to me to put my coat on properly.
I made my brother take this picture of me sitting on the steps of the US Supreme Court because we were in the midst of re-watching The West Wing for the millionth time. Donald Trump hadn't been announced as the Republican Presidential nominee yet and I could naively still follow US politics without despairing.
Rebecca Wadey, Ensemble co-founder
In 2015 my husband produced a film called Greasy Strangler alongside our dear friends Tim League and Elijah Wood. The film, directed by the amazing Jim Hosking, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah in January 2016 and I tagged along and had the time of my life. Just before this photo was taken Tim took me to a very intimate party hosted by Nick and Joe Jonas and I met Adam Scott and… Harvey Weinstein.
I’m wearing a faux-fur Kate Sylvester coat over a long summery Karen Walker floral dress, both pieces I still wear all the time, and Barbara Bui boots I’d bought at Mei Mei (RIP to the best local shoe shop) and have only just retired. They were perfect for trudging through the thick snow. I remember feeling like I completely nailed my winter festival wardrobe, wearing all NZ designers.
There’s nothing my husband loves more than merch and these Greasy beanies came in very handy to a) keep my head warm and b) wear in comradeship to the women’s marches that took place the following year after Trump’s inauguration.
Zoe Walker Ahwa, Ensemble editor and co-founder
August - November 2016, and I was THAT girl: the Hillary Clinton quote-wearing miserable liberal who gave a damn, and wore the slogan T-shirts to prove it (two of these photos were taken in the toilets at that year’s NZ Fashion Week, lol). I wouldn’t describe myself as a girl boss then, or ever – I loathed the term and what it represented – but this was the era of peak white feminism and looking back, I can see that my earnest statement tees epitomised that.
The Wing had just opened in New York, Hillary was running and there was a real naive optimism at the likelihood of the first woman US president and all that might represent – this genius story about an election night party at the co-working space really captures the promise then utter horror of that evening.
This was pre-Trump as president, the year before #MeToo went mainstream, when Colin Kaepernick first took the knee in a statement against racial inequality, a few months before the Women’s March: 2016 feels like the year that hope turned into rage, that slogan tees turned into protest.