Simplicity is Key
Where did Minimalism in Fashion come from?
Words by Billy George
Don't you just love a clean and simple outfit? Well, so do I! Being able to concentrate on the form, construction or fabric alone rather than on function is what gets me. Strip away the bullshit and only highlight the necessary elements, fashion designers have the hardest job of all when putting together collections entirely built on minimalism. Clean lines, geometry, a simple palettes.
When thinking in terms of simplicity, there are multiple industries that it can be applied to and reused. Think interior design. Think art. It's all there! It's a blank sheet where the starting point allows designers to recharge. A clean slate. It's a peculiar feeling. It's been used plenty yet it's much more than black and white in fashion. It's used, then reinvented across multiple eras that span decades. A continual rollercoaster of excitement and fun.
Coined by artists in the 60s by artists, we can actually go much further back than the 20th century to see minimalism before the concept was even brought to popularity. Early on, we saw Japanese designers who first experimented with collections filled with fabrics and textures like never before - polyester, PVC, lycra. Think Issey Miyake or Yohji Yamamoto in the 1980s. It was a interesting time where it became artisanal and elegant - a backing to raw materials and not technicalities. High fashion became craftsmanship. This decade also saw the rise of the escape of gender stereotypes; no more perception of sexiness or revealing the body. This was substantial and, to this day, politically relevant.
After the Japanese took charge, a new type of minimalism came from the larger design houses of New York and Europe who added chic'ness to the overall theme. This is not to say that emerging labels continued to thrive with the conceptual direction of minimalism ever moving forward by leaps and bounds. This led to deconstruction; a reduction of the garment to the extreme fundamental parts. Think Margiela, who became known for his transformative techniques in piecing shapes and modifying garments away from original use and into the minimalist movement.
It took a while for mainstream fashion to catch up. Donna Karan and Calvin Klein took the lead, but it wasn't till the '90s. It became about comfort and ease, something that Europes power-houses wasn't really known for. Then came post-minimalism. The '90s became a weird twist that focused on the female anatomy rather than the outfits themselves. Go back to Vogue Runway and check out the collections of Comme des Garcons, Issey Miyake, Maison Martin Margiela or Helmut Lang and you'll see what I mean. Hoping that this wouldn't last long, it then took to a more 'street appropriate' tactics, that became about what the body can achieve. And this is where we're at today.
Financial uncertainty meant that fashion and buying habits changed. While minimalism is at the core of fast fashion, the 21st century is heavily impacted by economics and what can easily be pushed out the door; a return on investment one would say. The 90s were truly the last years of experimental minimalism in the likes we may never see again. We have less to spend on clothing in a world where the next season makes your looks outdated - minimal pieces stay contemporary. With the concern of environmental factors, we're fast becoming aware of the ethical aspects and become fashion conscious - Stella McCartney, Celine, Haider Ackermann. Or if you think of more affordable brands like COS or Uniqlo leading the way.
Minimalism, though a newer term in fashion, has been evident right back through history; one only needs to look. We're yet to see a resurgence of 90's minimalism and when we do, it'll be exciting time ahead. I'll be waiting with bated breath. Will it ever come back?