Minimalism is a fashion word that’s aimlessly thrown around to refer to a white garment of some description or anything with a label ‘Jil Sander’ attached. The term is nebulous in meaning and thus problematic to capture. It requires precise discipline, excellent eye for aesthetics and a real sense of balance as an approache to design. Minimalism is incredibly easy to get so terribly wrong.
With my Scandinavian cultural background that comes with Lutherist discipline and a complete lack of appreciation for decoration, I’m positively biased when it comes to minimalism. Meanwhile the purple prose of maximalism, does not interest me in the slightest. Designers like Dolce and Gabbana are skilful at piling it on and piling it high and whilst I personally dislike this type of Baroque aesthetic, professionally, I think they do it successfully. It is an art form to combine lace with gold, floral motifs and animal prints, all in one garment and get to it right.
Minimalism requires maturity. I have observed this whilst teaching fashion design to undergraduate students in UK. In their untested eyes, it seems that a ‘designed’ garment has to have many features in order for it to qualify the label ‘design’ and thus minimalism becomes an impossibility. For more established designers, minimalism brings on new challenges that students are less likely to have to deal with – recognition. When design is reduced to its core, how do you inject the emotion of the brand into a garment so that the design signature remains identifiable?
When Stella McCartney left Chloe to start her own label as part of the Gucci Group, now titled Kering, I really didn’t rate her as a designer. The first collection, created for spring summer 2002, with the garish blue-purple lace jumpsuits and styling that was all over the place, seemed like a desperate attempt to stamp her style.[ref]Look 19, Stella McCartney s/s 2002, Source: Style.com
Look 44, Stella McCartney s/s 2002, Source: Style.com[/ref] However since then, she has developed tremendously and her collections now feel relevant and fresh. More about feel and fit, less about decoration and fashion fancy, she approaches creating fashion with a human touch. Each season she manages to create pieces that have the authority to carry her emotional signature but done in a subtle way that is not intrusive. Humour has also become a key element that adds real value to the way in which this brand is seen and experienced.
Stella McCartney resort 2014 collection certainly capitalises on this humour with love heart shaped pattern motifs along with lips and matches used as reappearing motifs in print and embroidery. If I was a woman, I probably would go all soft on seeing these pieces, unlike my imagined reaction to the python prints, another dominant feature that just seem so passé now. But what was really memorable about this collection, though not so commercial, was the finishing outfit.
The heavy duchesse silk mix used, gives look 35 the weight it needs to hold the shape it needs. The only real detail that makes the garment is the elastic band or gathering marking the dropped waistline and contrasting the otherwise fancy garment with some friendly sport. With this detail, the dress could so easily turn out bulky but the proportions have remained fair. Short enough to feel energetic, long enough to remain elegant for its purpose as occasion wear, this dress can only work strapless.
Each season, I see a lot of garments with minimal features, but only few stay in my mind. With limited design vocabulary, minimalism only has few words to defend itself. Like a quiet person who can easily be interpreted as aloof, minimalism is regularly accused of being cold and soulless. And thus it’s emotion a garment should have that gives it a life. Criticism is not a science, but an emotional (and informed) response. It is that emotion I need to connect with and appreciate garment such as look 35 from Stella McCartney resort 2014 collection.