The exhibition at Fashion Institute of Technology
Minimalism/Maximalism, the first museum exhibition specifically devoted to the historical relationship between minimalist and maximalist aesthetics in fashion. After years of being driven by minimalist fashion fashion is experiencing a rise in maximalist design … while some fashion trendsetters are already predicting the imminent return of minimalism—again. This has prompted conversations around minimalist vs. maximalist aesthetics across varied disciplines from fashion to interior design. Yet even though they represent opposing principles, the two aesthetics are inextricably linked to one another, as well as to the times in which they occur.
Examining the history of fashion, we discern alternating periods of excess and restraint. During the early twentieth century, the minimalist aesthetic of streamlined wartime fashions and Coco Chanel’s modernist jersey knitwear were reactions to the extreme silhouettes and ornamentation of Belle Époque fashion. The line between fashions we consider minimal or those we think of as maximal can be quite fine. As the exhibition progresses into the second half of the 20th century, it turns to the emergence of minimalism as an art movement across media. Designer Michael Mott echoed the reductive approach of Minimalist art with a 1960s black-and-white mini-dress created for the boutique Paraphernalia. Andre Courrèges’s white Space Age dress alludes to youth culture and optimism for the future; it is characterized by a streamlined silhouette and monochromatic palate typically associated with minimalist fashion. By the end of the decade, the psychedelic movement was promoting a maximalist sensory experience — often through the use of mind-altering drugs — that found expression in fashion, as seen in a maxi-dress by Thea Porter.
Minimalist and maximalist aesthetics appeal to fashion designers throughout the globe. Fashion cycles are accelerating as trends are driven by a multitude of sources, from social media platforms to celebrity “influencers,” fashion editors, and bloggers. Irrespective of design aesthetic, recent collections have shown that this is not a time for quiet clothes. In 2018, journalist Alexander Fury described the spring collections as “hysterical, scatterbrained, and lunging toward extreme opposites . . . just as global political parties have become more polarized themselves. The collections telegraph post- national, post-history, and post-internet ideas.” As designers continue to redefine minimalist and maximalist fashion, this exhibition invites visitors to explore the history of these shifting aesthetics, so that the past may illuminate the present.