Fashion post-Covid-19: is this the end of maximalism?
Will we seek to celebrate by dressing up, or embrace the restraint of dressing down as life returns to normal?
The past few years in fashion have given us a lust, bordering on obsession, for all things maximalist.
Be it at Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Moschino or Philipp Plein, decadent layering, opulent finishes and an abundance of bling have dominated the runway, fuelling our insatiable need for "more".
But that was before the arrival of the coronavirus. With industries laid waste, countries shuttered and hundreds of thousands of lives lost, the world we all knew has dramatically altered and as we begin cautiously to re-emerge after self-imposed isolation, we are all seeking markers of reassurance, comfort and stability.
Moving forward, will we crave a return to the decadent hedonism of maximalism? It may be gaudy, indulgent and over the top, but it is ultimately about celebration, about joy and embracing the sheer expressiveness of fashion.
It can be expressed in many ways. Who hasn’t felt the thrill of pulling on a new dress, or unearthing a gilded find at a thrift shop? Who hasn’t longed for something from our grandmother's wardrobe or looked forward to the day we can borrow our mother's vintage boots? And such giddy longing does not make one greedy. Far from it. The thrill of the chase, taking joy and enjoying a moment, are all vital parts of the human condition.
Singers Lady Gaga and Harry Styles, actor Jared Leto and Madonna have all dedicated themselves to being modern-day Lounge Lizards, in preposterous make-up, high-waisted flares and velvet capes, embracing the sheer joy of being alive.
But even before Covid-19, the ever-faster fashion merry-go-round was drawing complaints that it moved too quickly, burning too fast through designers and precious resources.
In a recent interview with Vogue, Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele said: “I hope we will never go back to that 'normal'. Because the life we lived before has been fearfully unsustainable. So, yes, we will go back to life. But, I hope, to a different life.”
When we finally emerge from our cocoons, will we yearn for the spartan purity of pared-back designers such as Jil Sander and Helmut Lang, whose severity of line better fits the present mood? Or will we want to celebrate, indulge, and announce that we are one of the lucky survivors?
The autumn / winter 2020 collections, which were unveiled just as Covid-19 was starting to spread its full, destructive power, were filled with clothes that spoke of practicality, of utility, of "hunkering down" instead of excess and exhibitionism.
Balenciaga, for example, gave us clothes for an apocalypse, shown on a flooded runway and under an end-of-days sky, while Marine Serre continued what she had begun so joltingly for spring / summer 2020 (that took place in September 2019) with face masks in what now feels like chilling foresight.
Or how about Prada, with its belted practicality? Simple garb – almost nun like in its simplicity – in stoic grey and tightly held with thick leather belts. Or Alexander McQueen who looked to the folklore of ancient Wales to create clothes for modern warrior women.
Even Louis Vuitton looked back in time, to deliver a collection of space-age history, mixing ruffles of old with technical fabrics.
At Gucci, it, too, was about less. More fancy ruffles were heaped into skirts, but then added to sparse tops, and Puritan hats, that gave it all an air of restraint.
Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and it is fascinating to reflect on collections unveiled so recently with new perspective, and see that the signs were already there.
We were already beginning to turn away from the glory days of the maximum, shift away from the endless "new", and instead, turn towards a sense of "make do" and ‘re-wear’. It was already happening. It just took a pandemic for us to see it.
Updated: April 26, 2020 07:38 PM