MILAN — Ellsworth Kelly, Marion Jones, Fred Astaire — they’re the types who make it all look easy. To the uninitiated, minimalist fashion can seem deceptively simple, too, though wielding it well demands the same kind of precision. It’s fashion’s own secret code, carrying messages as deliberate as those embedded in a string of electronic ones and zeros and as precarious. Take away too much, and you’re left with the anemic stuff of private label gear. Add too much to what’s essential and you lose that old minimalist magic.
Which is exactly the dilemma the house of Jil Sander now faces. Sander herself is a perfectionist, one whose taste and vision are as finely honed as they are specific. As a result, the bar for Milan Vukmirovic, the house’s new creative director there, is set sky-high, and doubly unfortunate is the fact that when minimalism doesn’t work, it’s painfully obvious. To his credit, the fall collection he showed on Saturday included a whole fleet of strong black coats, some banded in sleek fur, a black dress bordered with black velvet and a midnight blue satin top, delicately knotted at the neck and paired with midnight blue velvet pants. But fun — even of Sander’s most sober sort — didn’t factor in here, and it’s hard not to compare him with the label’s namesake. Would Sander have fallen for the trendy trickery of harem pants or send out all the rest tucked into boots? Not on your life.
She understood that her customer is one smart cookie. After all, a love of minimalism requires abstract thinking — an appreciation for what something is not, and an understanding of the intricacies of what’s left unsaid. As buyers who attended the first showing of the collection filed past editors waiting on the sidewalk for the next, their shuffling silence spoke volumes. Is there hope for Vukmirovic? Probably.
But creating a solid minimalist label is like learning a new language, and fluency is relative. There’s asking for directions to the Duomo, and then there’s reading Umberto Eco in the original. Guess what? Gabriele Strehle’s diction is of the latter sort. Her fall collection for Strenesse gave traditional cold-hearted minimalism a lady-like spin of the sort Jackie O worked so well. Simple dresses in navy or black wool melton moved with a little volume, delicate tulle underskirts peeking out from underneath, while high-waisted skirts, cropped jackets and clean-cut shirts toyed with the proportions of the uniform. Where there was a danger of severity, femininity softened the blow and where trivial girlishness loomed, Strehle simplified, sending out breezy Grecian looks for evening in pintucked and pleated tulle that made the style seem new again.
Grit Seymour, another young minimalist on the rise, is creating a look for Boss Hugo Boss that champions minimalist cool but has a considerable commercial possibility. For fall, her second collection at the house, Seymour sent out broad-shouldered coats in cashmere, mohair and fur that were full of swagger, simple men’s trousers and a fantastic black dress, bloused at the waist just so and bare across its back. Some of the collection had a futuristic look, while other pieces were tinged with an Eighties-style tough chic. Besides an all-in-one built like a sharp-shouldered power suit, satin jodhpurs and a patch of tricky styling,
Seymour avoided more serious missteps. Was the collection revolutionary? No, but there’s plenty of promise here. She’s put together her own ones and zeros and it’s all adding up.