Let’s Talk About Minimalism
Minimalism is one of the most important and impactful trends to come off the runway in the last four years. In my personal opinion and as a fan of Phoebe Philo, Céline’s Creative Director since 2008, her work can indeed be viewed as backlash to the frivolity that ruled the runways before global financial ruin.
The people who could afford the designer look were no longer interested in wearing their wealth literally on their sleeves. Instead, they favored something with minimal logos and quiet sophistication that would render the clothing indecipherable. It may seem like a generalization, but they no longer wanted to stand out. What they wanted was to blend in. The only difference is that they wanted to blend in still wearing their designer duds.
The irony is, however, that what Philo probably started as an understatedly chic venture has turned into a global phenomenon. Legions of fans covet her Phantom and Luggage tote bags, even those who don’t necessarily prescribe to a minimal mode of dressing. Kanye West wore her silk blouse from Spring/Summer 2011, which surely didn’t help her quest for quiet chic either: it landed her and the brand she revived on the tongues and backs of every rapper in “the game.” Not exactly the type of brand loyalty Philo was cruising for.
But none of that really matters. As a luxury brand, the commercialization of good, intellectual fashion is bound to occur. What really matters is Philo’s point of view for the women she actually dresses. Philo’s idea of minimalism for her Spring/Summer 2014 show was seemingly anything but minimal, however, and that may not be such a bad thing.
If minimalism is about subtracting excess, focusing the attention onto cut and fabrication, then the prominent idea here was bringing minimalistic shapes into a maximalist perspective. Emphasis was given to one of the most interesting aspects of the show: oversized tunic tops paired with pleated handkerchief skirts. The tunics came in various incarnations: some featured enormous dolman sleeves, the model entering the garment through a small collared zipper. Others were as easy as pulling on a t-shirt to wear. What made them abrasive and difficult wasn’t so much the shape, but the addition of Hungarian photographer Brassaï’s wildly visual tribal graffiti prints found in Paris in the 1930s.
The knits in the collection were easily some of the most interesting and wearable looks to grace the runway. Knit polo tops in contrasting primary colors, often elongated and worn over a skirt, were the most simple and enduring ideas presented by Philo. One swing skirt received a modern transformation with the addition of softly folded fabric, cascading from the hip. Another knit top was shown in a halter style with a cobalt blue swing skirt, offering an ease and cool factor missing from other looks in the show.
Where the show felt cluttered and overwrought with idea was when we saw the introduction of asymmetrical tops and oversized, baggy sweaters. The asymmetrical tops were too much, pushing into a category of complex silhouettes that few women could even fathom figuring out how to wear. It can be said for one sweater in particular that seemed to swallow its wearer whole. Not a good look. Not even on a model.
My personal favorite look from the show was a tailored overcoat in black wool with grommets enameled in white, yellow, red and navy blue. Worn with white trousers and a tartan turtleneck, the look picked up exactly where Philo left off with the smartness of her Fall/Winter 2013 show. It was chic and easy to wear, offering a lax sophistication in tailoring that would have been helpful had it been spread a little more amply throughout the show.
What we should take away from a bold show like Celine is simple: we shouldn’t be afraid of a challenge. The clothing may not be the most wearer friendly, but the ideas here are. Clothing isn’t something to be hung on a wall and admired like a piece of fine art. Clothing is meant to be worn, not put on a pedestal that aims to deem it more than it really is. In all circumstances, it should be treasured and loved, but not viewed as something holy. It’s the moments we have wearing our clothing that are the best and most enduring ideas.