A Brief History of Minimalist Fashion
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a wave of new inspirations and ideas led young artists to begin emphasising the materiality of their works, rather than explicit symbolism and emotional content, creating what we now call minimalism. This new form of art favoured the "cool over the dramatic". In other words, artworks accentuated anonymity and obscurity over the more emotional and expressive styles of Abstract Expressionism, popular in the 1940s and 50s. Minimalists attempted to distance themselves from Abstract Expressionists as they removed any inferences to their identities or emotions from their artwork. This denial of personality coupled with unorthodox ideas that went against concepts of traditional fine art led to the formation of sleek, geometric pieces that completely eschewed the conventional aesthetic appeal of the time.
While minimalism in fine art and design continued to evolve into fashion, social trends also significantly impacted the rise of minimalistic fashion. As society developed in the 20th century, women started to play larger roles outside of their homes. Naturally, their clothing became less restrictive, and more practical and simplified. The Space Race of the 60s also brought cleaner, more streamlined and simplistic designs, introducing a new element of futurism not just to fashion, but also to lifestyle and consumer products.
Minimalist art heavily influenced designers who have impacted the fashion industry for decades. Perhaps one of the most notable examples, Yves Saint Laurent, drew the designs of his famous Mondrian Collection directly from the ideas of De Stijl artists, with their clean-cut lines, geometric patterns, and use of primary colours, which lead to the creation of one of the most well-known dress collections in fashion (see below). The designs still influence the industry today, as mass manufacturers continue to produce replicas of the collection at more affordable prices. Moreover, as Japanese designers such as Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcon entered the market in the early 1980s, the minimalistic trend grew even more as their sophisticated monochrome, asymmetric designs flooded Paris fashion week. Later in the 1990s, Calvin Klein introduced American minimalism with several clean, simple monochrome collections.
After a period of intricate and elaborate clothing designs inspired by the Victorian era, minimalistic design has experienced a resurgence and reclaimed the throne of the fashion world, as a younger generation of designers such as Alexander Wang, Raf Simons, Jil Sander and John Elliott discover the beauty of less in modernist minimalism and bring simplicity to everyday streetwear.