Maximalism, 2010

Fall 2010 collections by Balenciaga, Christopher Kane, Missoni, and Mary Katrantzou

Phoebe Philo seems to have erased away the past decade with a wet cloth soaked in “minimalism” rigor. It’s a feat that only she could have accomplished; YSL’s Stefano Pilati had been working the idea since fall 2007 with little penetration, Helmut Lang saw the concept, one that he had pioneered, go abandoned by consumers in 2004. Indeed, the Celine collections have been immensely influential, revealing just how captivating and enticing a clean line and a strong edit can be. But, it is problematic that the fervor in which major players are embracing “minimalism” has led to the conclusion that this concept is universal. It has not left room for any other discourse, and maybe this is an oversight.

More startling than precision and austerity are their antitheses: mélange, radical juxtaposition, and hyper realism. Opulence, ornamentation, and ostentation are the three dirty O’s, but it’s a disservice to assume that avoiding them requires an indiscriminate removal of seemingly excess visual (and tactile) information. We are in age where fabrications and materials are more varied and accessible than they have ever been in textile history. We are in an age when our visual experience is the most active, informed, and developed than it has ever been.

One instinct may be to cleanse the palette, but another is to enrich it. Can enrichment coexist with reduction? Embroidery, print, texture, color, pattern, and embellishment are not synonymous with excess (the true culprit in this case). There is a more ancient and humanistic argument for this in the textile record of all past civilizations, carrying more weight than any neophyte (in as far as the spectrum of all clothes ever created) fashion designer’s feeble reach for the future. And perhaps that is why the “minimalism” description has felt wrong in our mouths as we try to describe the current shift. Perhaps it is more about the essentials – a word that suggests a clearer focus on fundamental needs but one that also does not invalidate our needs for flair, excitement, and depth. The trick now is to satisfy these needs without relying on old habits.

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