“Fashion is a world of extremes,” said MFIT Curator Melissa Marra-Alvarez applying Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion regarding the ever-swinging pendulum of action and reaction. Design cycles are not immune to the push and pull — alternating between exuberant and restrained, maximalist to minimalist, occasionally invoking both elements together in one garment.
Minimalism/Maximalism (through November 16) is the first exhibition which traces a historical line from the 18th century to the present day between this interplay which according to Marra-Alvarez, is what moves fashion forward. Minimalism is, of course, the “less is more” aesthetic while Maximalism is “More is more.” Minimalism celebrates purity, restraint, truth, order, and harmony while Maximalism revels in spectacle, excess, and eclecticism.
The exhibition begins with a Narciso Rodrigues Spring 2011 slip evening dress juxtaposed next to a Comme des Garcons item from Rei Kawakubo’s Spring 2018 Multidimensional Graffiti collection. The Narciso dress is meant to evoke the ’90s era of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s wedding dress while the Kawakubo is an artistic mash-up of 10 different artist’s works which the designer combined into one concept.
American artist Donald Judd explains minimalism as the “simple expression of a complex thought.” A YSL evening dress (from his Fall/Winter 1965-66 Mondrian collection) demonstrates a bit of the push-pull involved – while the dress may look fairly simplistic, all kinds of internal corsetry are necessary underneath to make it highlight the body. Jil Sander and Akris are examples of designers who also display a minimalist aesthetic, using clean lines and silhouettes to show the relationship between body and garment.
As a counterpoint, Composer David Jaffe describes Maximalism as “embrac(ing) heterogeneity and allow(ing) for complex systems of juxtaposition and collusion.” I guess that means “anything goes” in terms of a riot of color, pattern, and shape. Some maximalist examples here include Zandra Rhodes “dress fit for a fairy tale” evoking the time of Princess Diana as well as a Christian Lacroix piece; a man who has said he does not believe that minimalism has a place in couture.
The exhibition ends at the present zeitgeist of political anxiety, Millenials/Gen Z and Instagram culture — all contributing to an “amplified aesthetic.” Get ready for the tides to turn ever more quickly according to Marra-Alvarez who says she is already seeing signs of minimalism returning. The exhibition subject was inspired by her love of Phoebe Philo’s aesthetic (a minimalist) as well as the Rei Kawakubo (a Maximalist who also embraces Minimalism) exhibition two years ago at The Met.
A must watch is the John Galliano video for Maison Margiela Spring 2019 in which he discusses how “decadence is cyclical” — excess and artifice lead to decay. Galliano expresses a feeling we’re all familiar with called overstimulation or as he puts it being “overwhelmed with so much imagery that you want to regurgitate.” Maybe a little time away from the internet could be just what the doctor prescribed?