There’s a conviction that fashion is a mirror, reflecting the reality of the times. Peaceful periods usually see the development of minimalistic, easily defined styles. On the other hand, in the times of vulnerability and anxiety, the society develops an exotic taste: we have a tendency to favor opulent, extravagant, even ostentatious styles, dive into sumptuous reveries that designers are shamelessly and self-indulgently constructing. It’s usually in the light of troubling context – be it political, social or economical – that the fashion is viewed and enjoyed as a spectacle, providing a great source of comfort and inspiration. If this is the case, one could suppose that we’re living in particularly dark times right now – the newest fashion force defined as maximalism is probably the richest, the most chaotic and eclectic that we have ever seen.
Let’s not generalize too much and leave these troubling undertones aside. This new direction proudly undertaken by various designers (its first hints appeared during the spring/summer 2016 season), fully fledged during fall/winter season and arrived at its maturity phase in spring/summer 2017 collections. Over the last six or seven years, the fashion world has been obsessing over minimalism in all the possible spheres of design and even lifestyle. The minimalistic approach, based on the “cutting everything down to essentials” philosophy, has even adopted a certain lexicon, widely used by its adepts to elate minimalistic aesthetic: its purity, genial simplicity, clarity, lightness symbolizes concentration on things that are the most important and valuable. It somehow even acquired a spiritual dimension. In conclusion, minimalism is the closest to perfection as we can get. It appears that recently this belief has come crashing down: nobody wants their style to look “perfect” or “distilled” anymore. We have entered the epoch of excess.
“How many bracelets are too much? Depends on how long your arms are”, said one of the boldest fashion icons Iris Apfel. Iris Apfel, Anna Dello Russo and Anna Piaggi (who passed away four years ago) are examples of eccentric and charismatic characters, defying the norms of style. The focus of this maximalist movement is to create such colorful characters and accentuate their specific features, their flaws, their beauty, their story, their obsessions, their ambitions, and especially their imperfections. These characters can aspire to be all kinds of things: queens and fairytale princesses (Fendi SS 2017), romantic rock stars (Elie Saab SS 2017), paper dolls (Moschino SS 2017) or even refuse to be clearly defined: Gucci women and men are somewhere between modern geeks/rock stars/the new royals. What’s important is that designers refute any ideas of shallowness that can be sometimes associated with such styles: their visions present very relevant ideas of our society. Extreme maximalism and a more fun, direct approach to fashion is born directly from the wish to provide a counterpoint for an exaggerated spiritualism and snobbism that minimalism sometimes presents. “I wanted it to be fun. I was not afraid to excite people”, explained Miuccia Prada after her fall/winter 2016 collection for Miu Miu.
So what is this maximalism? Firstly, it’s an abundance of everything: clash of textures, different prints, seemingly unmatched and very intense colors, mix of various garments – jeans, fur, velvet… Particularly important place is given to applications, brocades, logos, patchwork, embroideries, paillettes, and embellishment. Everything looks the best when it’s in layers! Another significant element is a denial of the rules. Forget everything you’ve read about “good taste”. Dsquared2 woman wears a military-inspired cape with pink accentuated shoulders, feline print skirt with shimmering details and her accessories are not any less impressive: massive green-blue earrings and high-heels decorated with black ribbons, little colorful jewels and “the Eye” motif, protective symbol coming from African and Western Asian cultures. Nature motifs are equally important, especially those coming from the animal world: flamingos, birds (in Gucci, these applications look like reliefs, detaching from the garment), tigers, panthers (Gucci‘s sweater with a hand-appliqued panther figure at the front is undoubtedly the most covetable fashion item of this season), cats and swans (Stella McCartney proved she had a thing for these animals with her fall/winter 2016 collection), even snakes… And, of course, flowers. Flower blossoms are also becoming increasingly popular in the interior design this year, especially their old-ish, rusty interpretations, reminiscent of old times. Other aspects of maximalism translated to living places are audacious color tones, mismatching, eye-grabbing wallpapers, furniture embroidery. Interior designers suggest bringing special touch to the living places with DIY details.
Alessandro Michele (who was appointed creative director of Gucci in the beginning of 2015) is rightly viewed as a champion and a pioneer of this movement. This designer who’s held responsible for the “Renaissance” of the Gucci fashion house, has popularized colorful and rebellious styles. His contribution to the maximalism and the current fashion landscape is undeniable, but the input of other designers shouldn’t be underestimated. Miuccia Prada has never been seduced by the principles of minimalism: strong cultural portraits of different women have always been at the heart of Prada and Miu Miu collections under her reign. Dolce & Gabbana are also experiencing their own Renaissance, as the fashion public rediscovers the royal grandeur of their designs. Not to mention Dries Van Noten, Mary Katrantzou, Emilio Pucci, Balmain… The list is longer than you could imagine. Even the adepts of minimalism are succumbing to the allure of maximalism, such as afore-mentioned Stella McCartney. Of course, her vision isn’t extremely audacious, but suggests a departure from clear, print-free garments.
Probably the most important element of this new maximalism is… irony. Isn’t it a bit ironical to aspire to look like a princess after years of strict purity? Buy Iphone cases resembling a packet of fries from McDonald or medical pills (see Moschino) in the context of flourishing philosophies of healthy lifestyles? Proudly wear clothes with big logos or a graffiti Gucci handbag baptized as “Real Gucci” having in mind that logo-wearers are sometimes blamed for showy display? Wear socks with high-heels when it’s widely considered to be one of the biggest fashion’s faux pas? Maximalism isn’t only a way to have fun; it’s also an intellectual game with hidden meanings. In addition, it’s a possibility for women to enjoy the pleasure of wearing objects which are supposed to be marveled at, not to be comfortable or practical: maybe not everyone will be seduced by wearing an extravagant brocade coat, but who can resist to the allure of glamorous shoes with baroque details and a needle-thin heel (Miu Miu fall/winter 2016) or playful sculptural platforms (same brand, spring/summer 2017)?
What are the alternatives for those who find extravagance incompatible with their style philosophy? Of course, minimalism isn’t dead. It’s still there; only it has morphed into more romantic, more alluring forms. One of the examples is the vision offered my Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior. Her muses came down the runway wearing lace and beautiful tulle skirts, under which one can see the contours of demure lingerie. Subtle elements of flowers and insects are also present. It has nothing to do with the excess we have been talking about: the ensembles are precisely calculated and minimalistic. But nobody could say they’re not fairytale-worthy. After all, isn’t this sentiment close to the maximalists, creating their own tales and stories?