Before 2023, you had to be sneaky to commit a fashion crime. Our beloved scammers siphoned off pieces of the one percent’s wealth behind their backs; multilevel marketing schemes targeted the other 99 by masquerading as feminist friendship circles. This year, however, the tides turned. High-end heists stepped boldly into the open, from the Balmain runway to the mean streets of Tinder. There’s a newfound brazenness to these thefts, which skew grand in either scale or nerve — and in some cases, both. The Summer of Scam is dead; long live the Year of the Heist.
One of the more spectacular examples occurred in September, involving goods valued at a maximum of $1,000 but worth millions in symbolism: A pair of Maison Margiela Tabi mary janes. After a foolish young man swiped them from New Yorker Alexis Dougé under the guise of a Tinder hookup, the entirety of fashion TikTok lined up behind her to help track down the culprit — who, as it turned out, had gifted them to his girlfriend and posted about it on Instagram. It wasn’t the price of the mary janes so much as the audacity of the perp. As one New York Times writer explained, Tabis are a “secret handshake for an in-crowd of fashion buffs and cultural connoisseurs.” Stealing your one-night stand’s shoes is a stunning dating-app party foul, but taking their coveted cloven hooves? That’s an affront to an entire community of nonconformists and goat-shoe devotees. What’s more, the Tabi swiper appeared to have premeditated his crime: Dougé believes she was wearing hers when she first encountered her Tinder date, who allegedly architected a series of distractions to grab the Tabis and then cover his tracks. By the time Dougé got her shoes back, a New York City villain had been born.
While the Margiela coven plotted its revenge, another snatch operation took place in France, when a burglar of discerning taste hijacked nearly 50 pieces from Balmain’s spring 2024 collection en route from the airport to the company’s HQ. With mere days before their Paris Fashion Week show in September, the brand’s team managed to re-create an estimated 70 percent of what was stolen, and creative director Olivier Rousteing thanked his fans and fellow designers for their outpouring of support. At his flowery, garden-themed show, he was lauded — by Cher and Kim Cattrall, no less — for nimbly bouncing back from the loss. No news has emerged on the whereabouts of the stolen clothes, though Rousteing shared in his show notes that police had recovered the van and some empty boxes that previously held his designs. What the hell does one do with dozens of unreleased runway outfits? I guess only those bold enough to hijack a Balmain van would know.
Another guy who might have an idea: Congressman George Santos, a mascot for the unabashed ransackers of 2023 if ever there was one. As he racks up an ever-growing mountain of federal charges for lying his way into a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Santos has maniacally plowed on with his public life, appearing more or less unfazed. Though his alleged crimes are vast and numerous — fraud, identity theft, fabricating an animal charity out of thin air, pretending to have produced one of Broadway’s most spectacular flops — the most notable transgressions involve his supposed spending of campaign money. Per a recent ethics report, Santos funneled thousands of donor dollars into Botox, facials, Sephora, and Hermès, cementing him as a vanity icon. He spent the entirety of the year jauntily ignoring the very visible breakdown of his political career, instead posing like a paparazzi-hounded starlet outside the courthouse where he turned himself in, and cackling on the Senate floor with Lauren Boebert. Add this to the fact that he has yet to resign from Congress and nearly ran for reelection, and you have a perfect high-fashion criminal.
This year saw other, Bling Ring–esque thefts too — the $1.8 billion worth of jewelry stolen from a Brazilian couple at a Beverly Hills hotel, for example, and the handful of rings that one woman swiped from Lily Collins’s locker while she was at a West Hollywood spa. Certain perpetrators finally got their comeuppance — Sam Brinton, for instance, a former Biden administrator who was seen wearing dresses they’d stolen from Tanzanian designer Asya Khamsin in 2018 to a U.N. summit. After Khamsin shared the images with investigators, Brinton, who had already been caught in a string of other suitcase thefts, was arrested and charged with grand larceny.
In a conversation about 2023’s tendency toward big, bald-faced thefts, it’s hard to overlook the fact that this was also the year luxury fashion soared to new heights of exclusivity. Suddenly, we were aspiring to dress like the miserable billionaires of Succession, the Murdoch-inspired corporate drama that came to an end in March. We watched Gwyneth Paltrow swan into ski court wearing a carousel of characteristically pricey yet elegantly nondescript pieces, searing the words “quiet luxury” permanently on everyone’s FYPs. Meanwhile, Pharrell designed a $1 million bag, and the beloved designer Phoebe Philo dropped a much-anticipated return collection featuring leggings priced in the thousands. Amid skyrocketing inflation on everyday expenses like groceries and rent, and increasingly unattainable designer price tags, acting rich has become harder than ever — and apparently, we’ve never wanted to do it more.