The Irony Behind High-Fashion Minimalism

A display of shoes, perfume, clutch and a pot plant

In life, you can either be a minimalist or a maximalist. 

Minimalism requires every knickknack, clothing item and piece of decoration to hold inherent value to the owner. Other than the fact that they can pack up all of their belongings and move into the minivan or tiny home of their choice, minimalists offer an interesting case study in consumer culture. 

To understand this “interesting case study,” however, one must analyze maximalism. According to Dieter Roth and Li Huasheng (contemporary artists who trademarked this art movement turned lifestyle), maximalism centers around the beauty of excess. Bold colors, clashing patterns, the presence of stuff

Maximalism and minimalism are aesthetic-based lifestyles, making them an integral part of contemporary high fashion. 

Designers such as Jil Sander, Martin Margiela and Issey Miyake exemplify the minimalist aesthetic. Clean lines, simple colorways and the creation of staple pieces (the Margiela Tabi Boot, for example) center themselves around high fashion’s rejection of excessive consumer culture. The irony behind this is that high fashion creates trends. Trends create demand. High fashion will never match that demand since high fashion thrives off of exclusivity. This is where fast fashion steps in. Although an Issey Miyake coat is made with meticulous attention to detail and robust materials, it is still unaffordable. Yet, a common purveyor of fashion would still like to subscribe to the Issey Miyake aesthetic, hence why they ordered a dupe from H&M. Shipping was free. 

In a capitalistic society, a typical consumer is focused on the item, not the process behind the item’s creation. In the case of the metaphorical Miyake coat, the consumer does not know that Miyake creates his clothing with the body in mind. Each clothing item represents an anatomical study. Miyake, in actuality, is not a fashion designer. He is a fashion scientist, one that has innovated with textiles since his time as an independent exhibitor. In summary, Miyake is detail-oriented, but that is the standard amongst high fashion designers, regardless of their stances on minimalism. For instance, Alessandro Michele, the creative director of Gucci, is fascinated by the interplay of materials like velvet, sequins, and canvases. In fact, Michele bases his work off of history, which explains his decisions to redesign archival patterns or materials (the Gucci double-G logo, for instance.) Despite his meticulous creative process, Michele remains an unabashed maximalist—and there is no problem with that.  

The problem is capitalism and society’s obsession with trendsetting and change. If something becomes a trend, there is nothing stopping it from becoming a fast fashion staple. One of the best examples of this concept revolves around Dr. Martens. A staple shoe, one that was created for the purposes of being a daily work shoe, has skyrocketed in popularity. This proved beneficial for Dr. Martens’ profit margins but compromised the production methods that made the shoe popular amongst English blue-collar workers. Currently, Dr. Martens are being mass-produced in China and Thailand. Additionally, thousands of Dr. Marten dupes circulate across fast fashion sites. In short, a capsule wardrobe essential turned into just another boot. 

In a society that owes its progress to capitalism, which is the enabler of maximalism, it is impossible to be a popular minimalist—one that wears monochromatic outfits, lounges on bamboo mats and drinks from recycled glass cups without buying those things. However, the things that comprise the minimalist lifestyle are inaccessible to the average person, especially if it relies on the purchasing of luxurious, reliable goods (that are often unaffordable), and purging of ephemeral ones. However, this binge and purge cycle of minimalism contributes to waste, an annual 21 billion pounds of it.

One of these lifestyles is rooted in elitism and faux righteousness. The other feeds on excess and is unafraid of its gaudiness. The products that guide these respective aesthetics/lifestyles, however, are controlled by high fashion and the trend cycles it creates.

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Anwar Boutayba is an npcoming sophomore studying ad/pr and global studies. When he’s not writing, he likes to cook and binge watch Scandal.

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