Modern silhouettes, natural materials and above all authenticity: welcome to an ageg of more accessible minimalism,
Welcome to an age of more accessible minimalism.
“WE’VE MOVED ON FROM THE REDUCTIVE 90S WOMAN”
Ask a fashion editor who she most envies and you might be surprised. Historical icons aside, names such as Isabelle Kountoure and Jessica Diehl, fashion directors at Wallpaper* and Vanity Fair respectively, crop up alongside the subdued Scandi-chic Elin Kling, as does Isabel Marant (“She’s the modern Chanel,” one tells me). A fellow Vogue staffer revers the sultry but rigorously dressed Barbara Martelo, whose wardrobe bedrock is 51 shades of black and denim. “It’s because she’s a jeans and T-shirt woman,” she says simply.
But where are the avant-garde rule breakers? Where are the It girls and style savants, in their trippy Gucci-laden get ups, or the Demna Gvasalia-designed Balenciaga fetish boots? In all the head-turning hubbub of fashion weeks and the ensuing street style there slinks by, often unrecognised, the fashion minimalist.
Swinging in strong in the late noughties to early aughts, minimalism entered as a trend that permeated everything from the high-fashion rungs to the chain store mainstream. It did not bow to trends, it was anti-fashion in its commitment to restraint and lack of adornment, and because we cannot talk about this deliberately evasive faction without Phoebe Philo, it was properly born of Céline, in a sparse Chelsea loft, for resort 2010.
There she showed stripped back, ultra-refined clothes set against a backdrop of economic downturn. Her collection – utilitarian khaki dresses, buttermilk and buff silk separates, tailored trousers, and camel car coats – was respectful and prophetic. Her oracular knack, her “less but excellent” approach, continued since then unabated.
But suddenly we stopped talking about it, or at least tired of it. Philo herself rejected the minimalist label, saying: “What does that mean?” to the Independent in 2011. On the surface we reached maximum minimal-fatigue, except that beneath it all, we didn’t. As we buzzed about the new name at X house, the understated among us were hovering in the background, dressing the way countless real women did every morning.
“It hasn’t really evolved much and that’s the beauty of it,” says Laura Taylor, co-founder of Solace London, a label that builds from a base of refined silhouettes. “When you look at the artist Frank Stella, designer Cristóbal Balenciaga or the principles of the Bauhaus, you can see the timeless modernity and it hasn’t dated. What has evolved in the fashion world is how people have embraced the aesthetic.”
The evolution Taylor speaks of might be subtle, but it’s been definite. We’ve moved on from the reductive 90s Calvin Klein woman, in her svelte all-white looks, the “lines-not-the-label” severe Helmut Lang types in all black. No longer reserved for those confidently stripping away any obvious visual codifiers, time has made a new breed of minimalism: the accessible.
“It’s what [women] feel the best in,” says Georgia Martin, who along with the consistently understated Sara Donaldson of Harper and Harley founded The Undone, an e-boutique known for its tight edit of elevated staples. “It’s no-fuss, chic and simple. When you know what works, what you feel confident in, it means getting dressed can be an easy and enjoyable experience.”
Minimalism in 2017 has mellowed out. Over the years strict lines and rigid codes have faded in age. “The concept can be done with a cooler twist,” says Ida Petersson, womenswear buying director at Browns. She says minimalist pieces aren’t a centre-stage trend but the perfect base to invite individualism. “People are not going to throw on a full Gucci look, but will instead tone it down using a core basic, be it a cashmere sweater, a pair of jeans or a simple white tee.” It’s the same concept that gave rise to Paris Georgia Basics, a label Paris Mitchell and Georgia Cherrie formulated to be paired with trophy vintage pieces. “That was the whole idea; pairing it with something really new and crisp,” explains Cherrie. Don’t be fooled, though, into thinking minimalism can be reduced to a collection of basics. The Céline/Philo legacy has opened the door to smaller subcategories of the aesthetic, giving rise to exciting labels led by smart young designers who think and design for themselves. Labels such as Loq and Intentionally Blank are rooted in louche sun-drenched SoCal style, while locally, Australian labels Matin and Albus Lumen, both less than five years old, reflect the democratic DNA of Australian style.
Northern Beaches-raised Michelle and Lucy Perrett anchor their label Matin in life lived by the sea. “That sense of grounding naturally becomes a part of the design process,” Perrett says. Like Marina Afonina’s grown-up, beach-inflected Albus Lumen, this means natural materials like linen, silk and cotton feature heavily.
What minimalism’s lost this time around is its unifying aesthetic. Don’t expect snap-identifiers or coherent visual cues; you’ll have to work hard to figure this out. Noticed Manolo Blahnik’s classic Carolyne slingbacks, a style that turned 30 last year, cropping up? Or the hordes of young things getting around in pared-back rethinks of grandma’s basic leather pumps from labels like Maryam Nassir Zadeh and Martiniano? It’s a post-normcore hangover that means instead of standing out, women everywhere are looking for their authentic self – no matter that we might be like many others. In fact, all the better for it, as the current political climate unites us.
The idea now is that instead of throwing it out next season, or wearing it again exactly the same way, it’s updated and adapted to different tastes, giving it multi-generational appeal. Emily Andrews, founder of cult blog and Instagram “Bitothisbitothat”, amalgamates imagery from the likes of Céline and Acne with newcomers Ellery, Georgia Alice and Canadian label Beaufille. It’s a mishmash that has garnered close to 100,000 followers on Instagram, and resonates with Gen Y and Z, who until now have been boxed into pop-y Kendall Jenner-approved labels and sock boots. “I think the clean and minimal aesthetic has really shifted from the classic sneakers, plain tee and black trousers into a much more mature and edgy way of dressing,” she says.
The success of buzzy labels like J.W. Anderson and Jacquemus, who work inventively with colour and cut, hint at what’s to come. Tea dresses with a twist, jeans with a roomy cut, or unravelled tailoring are becoming signatures of next-gen labels like Gabriela Hearst, Khaite, and Rosetta Getty. Net-A-Porter’s fashion director Lisa Aiken sees the future minimalist’s wardrobe based on ingenuity. “Pieces like blazers, masculine shirting and trench coats,” she says, explaining minimalism and trends aren’t mutually exclusive. “Each has been reinvented with either oversized silhouettes, deconstructed elements or cut-outs. It allows us to invest in classic items without sacrificing the fashion factor.”
At Céline, Philo will no longer talk about her collections, preferring viewer interpretation. It’s the ultimate in allowing room for the individual, keeping mystery and imagination alive, and a compelling proposition for modern clothing. Stripping back to the pieces themselves gives us room to write our own stories. Once we’ve found such a genuine way to get dressed, it’s difficult to un-know it. When the art critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote of minimalism in art, he could have been speaking of fashion. “[It] ends where it begins, at the edge of a cliff. Any reaction against it can only be a turning-back.” Onwards then, in the most honest and anything-but-basic way possible.
Ellery dress, $870, and Proenza Schouler bag, $1,100, both from David Jones. Eytys sneakers, $270, from www.mychameleon.com.au.