Every season, minimalism reappears on runways, manifesting in the forms of a boxy handbag or a stark trench coat, reminding us that it’s still alive and well as a style staple — only to be overshadowed by animal prints and showy accessories. In 2017, however, minimalism is back as more than a passing fad: what once emerged every so often as a symbolic antidote to excess (like an apologetic kale smoothie after a night of debauchery) has become a cornerstone of cultural consciousness whose influence will be felt in fashion, art, and design for years to come.
Throughout the 1990s, the glittery garishness of the 80s gave way to toned-down, understated fashions; later, the 90s revival (in the later 2000s) functioned as a response to the glossy, girly, done-up-ness of the new millennium. But the minimalism of today isn't just about doing more with less: it's about the moreness of less. Not to be confused with recessionista practicality — using lipstick as blush, turning old jeans into cutoffs, etc. — the modern minimalista isn't about finding new uses for old possessions; rather, it’s about the conscious choice to have less, for better reasons.
In 2014, Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up helped revolutionize attitudes about our possessions (including everything in our closets): her renowned KonMari method of reduction instructs believers to discard items until only the most beloved are left. Instead of asking, “what can I use this for?” we began to ask, “does this bring me joy?” And just like that, the concept of the capsule wardrobe went from prescriptive — no more than 30 pieces, 3 white shirts, etc. — to descriptive, and intensely personal. Because of this “buy only what you love” method, the modern minimalista searches for emotional connections when she shops. While many are still struggling in this economy, consumers find themselves willing to spend more on truly special pieces as fast fashion takes a backseat to artistry.
Like a skillfully crafted mosaic, modern minimalism looks simple from afar, but up close, it’s anything but: unconventional cuts, structures, and textures add ingenuity and intrigue to high quality, infinitely wearable pieces that speak for themselves (without being deafening). These clothes make a statement, but they don't wear the wearer.
Arguably the movement’s greatest influencer, Phoebe Philo revolutionized French fashion house Céline by making it a go-to destination for new minimalism. Taking her cues from British street culture, androgyny, the art of the uniform, and everyday practicality over trend-driven fashion, Philo went to task designing real clothing for real women, utilizing "core" fabrics like wools, cottons, and silks instead of synthetics to create clothes that "are what they are," signaling less a return to basics than a return to roots. At Calvin Klein, Francisco Costa made similar moves with his essentialist philosophy, creating clothes reminiscent of space and air — inspired by the atmosphere and architecture of his native Brazil.
While the iconic, boxy handbag still held court on the 2017 runways (as seen at Marni and Hermès), designers favored this new practicality with unconventionality: at Michael Kors, a lush black fur trench was left deliberately shoulderless, while a gray, menswear-inspired pairing featured a sweater missing an arm. At Zero + Maria Cornejo, a structured cognac boatneck tipped off the shoulder atop crème coffee trousers, while Narciso Rodriguez kept it simple with geometric cuts and paneling in black and white. At Jacquemus, envelope-style handbags in varying shades of white ranged from minuscule to imposing, echoing a design-focused freshness.
Given prevailing attitudes and shifting cultural values, this new minimalist movement will only continue to grow. Incorporating minimalist designs into private label collections has already proven to be a solid choice, and they're sure to stay in demand for years to come.