In the 2010s, clothing and accessories were made to be seen on palm-size screens. Fashions of the selfie era were exaggerated enough to suggest a kind of stage dressing, with colors, prints, silhouettes and embellishments so amplified one might think they were to be seen from a theater nosebleed seat — and yet it was all for Instagram. From golfball-size statement earrings to contour makeup (a tactic long employed by stage performers), dressing for a night out was more about an outfit’s virtual afterlife than the physical experience of wearing it.
But at the decade’s tail end, designers began to think up a new vision for the start of 2020. With the swing of a pendulum, brands suddenly championed looks contrary to those embraced in the earlier decade. Minimalism, an emphasis on quality and a new kind of restraint entered the spotlight — not only in fashion, but also in consumption at large.
Muted tones, tailoring and lush fabrics were prevalent themes across many of the spring 2020 runway shows. Even Gucci is getting simpler, with some looks from Alessandro Michele’s spring 2020 collection featuring nary a patch pocket or iron-on decal. True minimalists — like The Row, Prada, Alyx and the runaway success of Daniel Lee’s Bottega Veneta — showed clothes and accessories that were not intended for immediate disposal. Lee’s tanned leather satchels, The Row’s crisp button-down blouses and Alyx’s skirt suits were pieces to invest in and wear for years to come.
They are contrary to a period of fashion that accelerated its way through what felt like every novelty embellishment possible. The midprice accessories category that challenged established fashion houses for the past four years with stylish products at more accessible prices is now seeing a quick burnout — offering a cautionary tale of fashion’s cadence in the digital era. So eager to offer newness, the brands flooded the market with an increasingly ostentatious range of product. What started as covetable rhinestone embellished heels ended in ruffled lime green mules and birdcage-shaped acetate handbags.
The new minimal designs are appealing for stylistic and ideological reasons. Yes, they’re a complete turnaround from the novelty accessories and clothing seen over the past 10 years. But new minimalism also appears to be a reaction to heightened environmental awareness and the collective realization that many consumers in the Western world already have too much stuff.
At the Prada showroom in New York this season, the brand displayed about a dozen mannequins plainly dressed in prim black leather skirt suits and taupe chiffon sack dresses, many of them styled with simple boat shoes and leather bucket bags. Backstage at the brand’s spring 2020 runway show, Miuccia Prada told WWD that the collection was a reaction to “the feeling at the moment is about ‘too much,’ too much of everything, too much. There’s also a call not to produce, not to consume. In this atmosphere I tried, firstly, to do less, even though I’m not sure I was able to because when you do fashion, fashion slips through your hands.”
The designer admitted that minimalism does not come without its challenges. “I certainly worked by subtraction, struggling to do so, also, because you get carried away with fashion,” she said. “On one end, you need to make more profits; on the other end, you don’t need too many profits because otherwise you ruin the world.”
A distilled version of the minimalist look is already beginning to take hold; This winter downtown New York is now flush with plain wool navy trousers, boxy blouses and clunky, utilitarian boots — a cool kid’s perversion of nine-to-five office attire.