Design reacts to the needs of present times
Since the early 1900s, it was the leitmotiv adopted by many architects and designers: minimalism is not only an aestheticism, a whim of style, yet it was cyclically fostered in reaction to excess and exaggeration, all over the years, proving the design process was profoundly reactive to the different socio-economical issues of the moment.
Coined by the great architect Peter Behrens, the very well-known aphorism Less is more has been adopted by designers the caliber of Mies Van der Rohe, F. Menna for his arte povera, and took in by Courrèges’s functional fashion and eventually by Jil Sander, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Prada, among many others. The term “minimalism” refers not only to the outward appearance of a building, a piece of clothing or an object, but to its own structure, its intrinsic design which has to respond to specific practical requirements: in this case, the function determines the shape, rather than vice versa.
Milan Fashion Week (September 22nd – 28th) revealed the research of the tailoring perfection is certainly a big trend among the major fashion houses. It concerns a return to basic, made of classical blazers, trouser suits, pencil-silhouette skirts, and turtlenecks; the use of neutral color palettes or monochromatic bold-hued blocks; the disappearance of superfluous ornament, the propensity for the “essential” and the “necessary” against exasperated and ephemeral virtuosity.
It is certainly not the first time that minimalism gets a foothold in fashion: actually, different minimal trends have marked delicate historical moments. Just think about the 60’s spatial fashion, the 90’s purity of forms, or again, the discreet, understated fashion which followed the 2008 economical crisis, as BoF stated, headed by Phoebe Philo chez Céline, and the counter-trend of no-logo by Bottega Veneta. Why post-coronavirus fashion seems to favor minimalism once again, not only as the main solution but also as the most winning aesthetics among the others?
First and foremost, it is a natural and spontaneous reaction to overconsumption and eccentric outbursts that have been weighing fashion down in the last years. Minimalism is, above all, a response in sustainable terms, aimed at safeguarding our planet by reducing consumption and waste, and focus on long-termism in what concerns both production and consumption. It is a change of course which was already timidly peering our before the pandemics, when the late 2010’s bubble made of eccentric streetwear, embroidered tigers and maximalist opulence was inevitably destined to burst. Actually, Covid-19 has just favored this process and anticipated the swing through the breaking point of the status quo. Fashion is reacting to the environmental issues – provoked, unfortunately, in a large part, by the fashion industry itself – choosing the good sense and the good taste now, working with responsibly-sourced materials and a sophisticated simplicity, intended as the final destination, not deprivation. The aim is a quality, high-end fashion which is, definitely, durable in the aesthetics and the materials, and has the smallest environmental impact.
This is what Fendi showcases in its Spring/Summer 2021 collection, playing with weightless transparencies and romantic – traditional – embroideries, without compromising functionality and clean design. Shirts are the main protagonists, declined in deconstructed shirtdresses, cardigans, delicate coats and soft knitted shirts in a contrast of black and white. Lightness prevails: loose silhouettes, even genderless, do not limit the body, while a sense of bourgeois rigour emerges. Everything conveys the idea of comfort and luxury (as looks for the lockdown era), emphasized by the puffed gilet and suit.
Wrapping, essential and protective volumes prevail on Prada‘s catwalk as well. The Spring/Summer 2021 collection is the beginning of an experiment: that between Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons at the helm of the house, which plays with reduction as a sign of longevity, cleaning up any useless frivolity. If, as many say, the signature “whispered” luxury of Miuccia has been now inflated by the big logo (influence of Raf, maybe?), frontally fixed on the garments in a much bigger size, the structural minimalism of Prada is safeguarded however in the simplicity of uniform dressing – which both designers have long explored.
In the interview which followed the fashion digital show, Miuccia explained her point of view in regard of the uniform, an instrument for the real life, something to feel good in, something timeless; something to express oneself in the best way, able to make you think and not distract you. The uniform inevitably has to reveal and reflect ideas from a collective subconscious as well: “The more a fashion is connected to reality and to real people, the more the designers’ job makes sense“, Miuccia revealed.
In this sense, fashion for Prada is at the service of the individual. Prada’s fashion is a private one, a mental fashion, in which one can identify him/herself; it rejects conventions, trends, impositions, in favor of personal freedom and independence.
Minimal, also, is a sort of mental shelter, that Calcaterra as well develops through the purity of oversize volumes, neutral hues, genderless (and even age-less) forms, declined into wrapping, airy, sometimes majestic silhouettes. Within a “hostile” external environment, the garment almost becomes a new place to live in, a place where one can find a new dimension, comfort and wellbeing. It is the internalisation Eleonora Fiorani talks about in her book Abitare il corpo: la moda, referring to the “transition from the extroversion of the 80’s and postmodern narcissistic self, to the introversion and intimacy from the 90’s onwards”. In the same way, nowadays fashion re-experiences the same tendency – as a consequence of the lockdown and the connected fears, fragilities and breakages on a social, economic and political level – putting aside the public, exhibited, superficial body, and bringing the body of inner reality and personal story back to the top.
Simona Marziali turns to timeless quality, without excluding experimentation – in knitwear especially. Minimal, essential to the limits of sobriety, her design is essentially materic, inspired by Alberto Burri’s arte povera, and which develops throughout handcrafted yarns in black&white or neutral tones. Everything is combined with basic, yet still elegant tailoring pieces thought for a modern business-woman: blazers are then paired with loose and comfort-chic trousers and bon ton shirts.
Nature and wellbeing are also the inspirational sources for Brunello Cucinelli, “elevated to everyday life ideals by a diffused and conscious sensitivity”. This is translated into an almost neo-archaic minimalism, aimed at finding harmony in nature. The Pure Spirit collection is declined into high-quality, natural fibres with organic effects (as the woven raffia for the shirts), alongside soft tailoring pieces. Anything is designed in the principle of comfort and delicacy, as a note from the maison explains: “a relaxed soul drives the pleasure of well-dressing between elegance and contemporaneity, formality and ease.”
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