There are few schools of thought, philosophy or design that have been so consistently reused and revisited as minimalism. Many times considered as a blank sheet, starting point from which everything originates and to which the designers return to renew and recharge, #minimalism has been recently exploited and labeled on every posted outfit or décor photo colored black or white. But minimalism in fashion is much more than a use of single color or a trend of simplicity. It is aesthetic that is thightly connected to broader spectrum of social development and continuosly reinvented and adapted to fit different eras.
COCO CHANEL and Serge Lifar, 1937: After the first World War, when the physically active lifestyle of women demanded new style, Coco Chanel reworked the traditional masculine wardrobe and created the more tailored capsule of separates for women mainly in monochrome. / photo source
The term originates from the artistic movement that appeared in 1960s in New York when a group of artists including Donald Judd, John McCracken, Agnes Martin and many others, “rejected the traditional representations in painting and sculptures and chose to pursue the new mode that owed as little as possible to the physical existence of an object”. Deriving from reductive aspects of Modernism, Judd described his work as “the simple expression of complex thought”, which sums up the aesthetic as it exists within fashion, too.
Minimalism was always the indicator of economic cycles and tehnological development. Looking back, at the development of the 20th century, we can observe the minimalism underpinning almost every social development, even before the official start of the minimalist movement. From women entering the workforce to winning the voting rights, the story of modern working woman also mirrors the rise and fall of minimalism. The beginning of the more complex lifestyle was accompanied by the simplified, masculine and more practical clothing (take for example Chanel) while the backlashes against feminism in the 1950s and 1980s returned the hyper-feminine look (think Dior with his New look) that was again overturned by avant-garde designers guided by reductivist mode.
In fashion context minimalism concentrates more on the form and fabric than on the function of the clothing. Through the process of reductivism that stripps the design object to its necessary elements, the minimalist designers often play with lines and geometric shapes in monochrome palette.
Early minimalism in art rejected tradition of craftsmanship and rather opted for raw materials. The Japanese designers like Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo in the 1980s followed similar path by sending down the runway clothing in unconventional fabrics like polyester, PVC, Lycra etc., baggy silhouettes and layering of distressed fabrics, not often found in Western fashion characterized with elegance and artisanal craftsmanship of haute couture.
Minimalism of this decade was also a way of escaping gender stereotypes. It removed the idea of gender by covering up or revealing the body in new ways and chalenged traditional perceptions of sexiness. The impact of the Japanese designers on minimalism movement was substantial, they provided the politicaly relevant alternative to glitz and glamour of the decade and revolutionised the way we view clothes once and for all.
Renowned for her desire to push the boundaries of wearability and challenge modern perceptions of femininity, REI KAWAKUBO (Comme de Garçons) in 1997 created the collection, entitled “Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body”, that chalenged traditional perceptions of female body, often sexualized in Western cultures.
While the fashion in the 1980’s was divided between the so called bourgeois and the avant-garde, two very different types of minimalism emerged. The large designer houses, such as Donna Karan and Armani, opted for chic and clean purism, while emerging designers and smaller labels continued by moving minimalism into more conceptual direction. The next stage of minimalism was born: deconstructionism. Reduction of the garment to the extreme of its fundamental parts would be the most basic understanding of the concept. And its pioneer? One and only, Martin Margiela.
Maison Martin Margiela became known for its definitive deconstruction and transformation techniques, where volumes are reinvented, shapes are modified and garments’ original use and movement is playfully turned on its head. Margiela’s vision was always to maintain the focus on the clothes. As the fashion became more concerned with labels and branding, his work became even more relevant, not only for its technical brilliance and new take on feminine elegance, but also for its values of anti-fashion, anti-status symbol.
Anonymity of design and of the designer himself was key to MAISON MARGIELA’s aesthetic. The designer decided to remain anonymous throughout his whole career, refused to give interviews or take the bow at the end of his shows. He also often sent models down the catwalk with covered faces or walking backwards to keep the attention on the clothes.