Minimalism Doesn’t Have to Be Boring

Rachel Tashjian

Minimalism, particularly in fashion, is a rational response to a period of excess, the pedant’s retreat from maximalism. As Jonathan Anderson said in a Zoom interview following his Loewe show on Sunday, “There’s so many other problems in the world that I think in a weird way, fashion should be a little bit more humble.” It’s the same refrain Miuccia Prada first espoused last fall: “There’s too much fashion, too much clothes,” she said last September, which I have since tattooed on my forearm and forehead (figuratively). At its best, like in the ’90s, minimalism is a stripping back of clothing’s materials and function, to something that, as minimalist O.G. Giorgio Armani put it, seems more “honest.” No fantasy here, buddy. But more recently, minimalism has too often come to stand for a lack of ideas, leading to spiritually compressed garments that are far too precise in their shape and finishing, or represent way too slick a reduction of form, leading to clothes that look assembled by an algorithm. For minimalism to really work in fashion, it needs to feel considered, and it needs to be a little humble. But it still needs to be just as emotional as even the wildest ’70s Yves Saint Laurent couture show.

Mrs. Prada, in her final solo outing before Raf Simons joins the proceedings as co-creative director, gave us minimalism at its best earlier this week with a wowee combo of Spring 2021 menswear and women’s resort. There’s so much spirit and soul in the pieces, like the ribbed knits, the wool topcoats, and a splendid boatneck nylon pullover; the sweatpants and sweatshirts, including one with a tucked-in tie, were at once tender and wise. “As times become increasingly complex,” the press notes read, “clothes become straightforward, unostentatious, machines for living and tools for action and activity.”

<div class="caption"> Prada Menswear Spring 2021 </div>
Prada Menswear Spring 2021
<cite class="credit">Courtesy of Prada</cite>
Courtesy of Prada

That “machines for living” line echoes Le Corbusier’s koan about houses being just that, which appeared in his Towards a New Architecture treatise. That book radically transformed architecture at the beginning of the 20th century, and underscores the essence of Prada minimalism: every Prada piece here was distilled to its purest possible form, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t as rigorous or just as considered as the richest embroidered cape. The result, which is particularly evident in the three- and four-button suits that opened the collection, is that it is all so dignified, so respectful of the person who might wear it, that they might allow for an exchange of ideas with the purchaser. There are other brands that demand the wearer rise to the occasion of the genius designer, and that can be a lot of fun, but the glory of Prada is that it assumes you’ll meet the clothes at their intelligent level. And they are very smart clothes, so Prada also assumes you’re smart, which is an appealing thing in these wacko times, when intelligence itself is villainized. Forget a designer telling me I’m rich or thin enough—I want a designer who reminds me that I’m a genius!

<div class="caption"> Yohji Yamamoto Menswear Spring 2021 </div>
Yohji Yamamoto Menswear Spring 2021
<cite class="credit">Courtesy of Takay</cite>
Courtesy of Takay

Speaking of genius: are you hip to the Yohjissaince? Every designer and vintage fanatic I know is going wild for Yohji Yamamoto right now. Look at OAMC’s suiting, Valentino’s floral prints, and Agnona’s love letter to Yohji-hed Carolyn Bessette; look at Palace and Supreme’s recent graphics and compare them with Yohji-san’s incredibly witty knitwear from the early 2000s; and ask all the best young designers, like Nicholas Daley and Evan Kinori, about their gods. All roads lead to Yohji-san. His sense of humor and radical tailoring is everywhere. The beauty of Yohji-san, as his crackling but sweet Spring 2021 collection showed, is that he moves in a glorious stratosphere where trends simply don’t exist. Like Prada, Yohji Yamamoto’s star-making period was in the late ’90s and early 2000s, and like Prada, the signature Yamamoto look remains somewhat calcified in that period. But it doesn’t look retro or vintage in the way that some collectible designers might—it looks cool forever. That’s why he’s the perfect designer for now, I think: you don’t sublimate yourself to his work, as you do with something like Comme des Garcons. Instead, you enter the universe and experience the magic. You can begin collecting at any time. Here, he fashioned an army of Yohji warriors to face the world in a moment of crisis, with Yohji easter eggs like eye buttons positioned like military regalia; as Yohji-san once told Suzy Menkes, “With my eyes turned to the past, I walk backwards into the future.” (As Le Corb is to Prada, so Walter Benjamin is to Yohji-san.) Isn’t that the only way we can make it through this moment?

<div class="caption"> Botter Menswear Spring 2021 by Lisi Herrebrugh and Rushemy Botter </div>
Botter Menswear Spring 2021 by Lisi Herrebrugh and Rushemy Botter
<cite class="credit">Courtesy of JPPM studio and David Paige</cite>
Courtesy of JPPM studio and David Paige

Yohji-san and Mrs. Prada aren’t alone in examining and mining their own history. Take a look at Botter, the Paris-based line by designers Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh. (They are also the creative directors at Nina Ricci; they relocated to Paris from Antwerp when they got the gig in 2018.) Though the brand is just a few years old, they’ve made their pieces collectible from the beginning, treating them as neither grails nor “essentials” but the brave in-between: DIY-feeling, with a couture spirit. For their Spring 2021 collection, they revived a number of pieces that have sold well for them, like a boxy and inflated striped jacket, and oversized button-up shirts with hand-printed faded florals. They also created the perfect summer white suiting combo, with trousers and a short-sleeve shirt-jacket made from a lining material—humble fabrics in noble neutrals, by designers who do their best so that you may do yours.

Originally Appeared on GQ

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