Remember the days when everyone went mad for the clean minimal look? Well, those are the days of yore. No matter where the eye travels, it’s maximalism all the way. From the rise of maximalism on international runways to Chinese designers shaping their identity around global trends and Chinese heritage… We tell all.
A great deal of fashion’s new predilection for maximalism and “loud” dressing has been influenced by Gucci’s Creative Director Alessandro Michele ever since he in 2015 took the helm of the brand. Being the top-influencer this household high-fashion name is, it’s no wonder the fashion industry as a whole soon adopted Michele’s maximalistic aesthetic. It wasn’t before long that, given Zara and H&M’s sharp understanding of trends, the new look swiftly trickled down to the masses.
Today, individualism, the expression of one’s self and inclusion have been aggressively overtaking our mindset in a positive way; people feel happier. Subsequently, fashion speaks same language.
While trends and fashion go hand in hand, evolving organically throughout, the process of changing looks is never just “that simple”. The fashion world has long been a somewhat maximalistic lover and when the stock market crashed in the light of the 2008 financial crisis, it all came down to humbling oneself. Fashion’s response to the hard hit was minimalism. Remind yourself of 9/11 when, without anticipation, the whole of the U.S. dressed itself in black — and other gloomy colors — and this dark look found itself imprinted on runways far and wide. Today, individualism, the expression of one’s self and inclusion have been aggressively overtaking our mindset in a positive way, people feel happier. Subsequently, fashion speaks the same language and has embraced juxtaposed color palettes, expressive prints, fluctuating texture and style mixtures. Never just part of the ebb and flow of mere wardrobes, but in fact a direct reflection of what’s happening in the world — be it in economic, social or cultural terms — that’s what fashion really is. And does.
Multi-ethnic countries, open-trade borders, cross-cultural corporations, interracial marriages; all of the aforementioned affect our taste and style to crucial extent.
Maximal Fashion Minestrone
So when and why did maximalism make such comeback? And can we in all honesty refer to it as a “comeback”? I’m not too sure about that. We’d better refer to the phenomenon as a “change” for it is in fact the state of mind and mood among people that have changed. People have grown tired of minimalism. Today, they long for more emotion, more color, more fun. In one of his earlier interviews, Tom Ford once referred to his kid pointing out that his house is full of color — because that’s what Ford sees in everyday life and that’s what he wants to communicate to the world.
Another example of more poignant, color-oriented design is that of Dolce&Gabbana. This duo is taking their catwalks to the streets — or vice versa, should we say — by featuring real people on stage instead of models, by opting for neighboring grannies and mothers to star in their campaigns; in sum, by bringing out real emotion.
Yet another example in this context could be the very much embraced trend of “ugliness” and “weirdness” (or “interesting-looking”) in fashion advertisements of the past five years: People got bored with always having to impress others, always having to be something or someone they’re not… Enter: The Vêtements obsession. However, this trend of “ugly”, too, shall pass with seasons to come assuming we as human beings by natural law crave beauty. Fitted silhouettes will make their comeback — sooner rather than later.
The rise of maximalism was one anticipated by many factors and two worth mentioning here are globalization and social media. Globalization is the moving force behind fashion and plays a big role in its evolution. What is fashion, then? It is a multi-faced response to what people are today. One size does not fit all. As globalization takes over, fashion evolves. Multi-ethnic countries, open-trade borders, cross-cultural corporations, interracial marriages; all of the aforementioned affect our taste and style to crucial extent, from the textiles we use in production to the silhouettes we choose to wear.
Baggy oversized items taken originally hail from the ghetto (for lack of a better word) areas, colorful textiles come in from Central Asia, tunics and turbans find their source of coming-into-being across Arab countries, extreme color-blocking is inspired by African countries and so on. All together these ingredients make for a global and pretty maximalist fashion minestrone.
Maximizing Through Social Media
As far as the social media factor goes, we’re talking about a secondary, though more visual, force of maximalism. Social media gives us the voice and the possibility to reach out to a bigger audience. This is where we discover people who may be very much like ourselves or, on the other end of the spectrum, a world away from us. This coming into close contact with wide-ranging diversity gives us the power to open up and express ourselves or to gain inspiration from new discoveries. We feel more confident in what we do or how we feel, knowing that somewhere out there, albeit many miles away, someone else shares our passion. One makes two, two makes a group and all of a sudden we’re witnessing the creation a whole new community spreading around the globe.
Through the above-mentioned social changes and the accompanying improvements in global networking, our outlook on life too changes continually. People try to outdo one another and stand out from the crowd. The same train of thought applies to fashion shows where people are tired of being served the same context — albeit in different locations — and this sense of “been there, done that” boredom consequently leads brands to go overboard driven by the sole idea of creating something different and trying to give audiences something they have never experienced before.
The question, then, beckons… Where on this global fashion map can we pinpoint China? Chinese designers have long been struggling with the (rather infamous) “Made in China” label and whereas in past they would rather have tried to position themselves as “based in” or “originating from” Europe, as of today, they embrace their China origins and proudly refer to themselves a sound and solid “Chinese designers”. This rephrasing obviously has to do with numerous big brand names basing their manufacturing factories in China and in doing so catapulting the Chinese economy into skyrocketing development of Chinese economy. With the birth of China’s multi-billion companies, Chinese top models and Olympiad winners, the robust consumer power of the nation makes every brand want to enter its market.
The end result is that Chinese designers are no longer ashamed of being “Made in China”. As such, many a young Chinese designer carries Chinese symbols or characters subtly incorporated in their prints or embroidery. They’re not afraid to use bold colors, go avant-garde with slightly romantic BDSM motifs or use the “whisper power” of different shapes, sizes and color palettes. For long, this new designing generation remained silent, but a new voice they have now found; their own voice.
China’s 21st century designers dare to be different and challenge China’s established rules and status quo in terms of cultural norms. They will surprise you and you better prepare yourself for just about anything — anything, except constraint.
China’s Big And Bold Style Stakes
Today, a number of fearless players who max out their looks float across China’s sprouting fashion scene. Angel Chen’s last two collections highlighted the designer’s Chinese origins in a subtle way whilst boasting a maximalistic look. Think exaggerated shapes, layers, colors and garments embroidered with Chinese characters. Chris Chang of Poesia proved herself the reigning queen of Shanghai’s “more is more” camp once again when collaborating with MAC in 2016 when she put on a show that not only featured maximalistic looks, but was decorated under the single motto “do more, prop more, show more”. Think Feng Chen Wang’s boldly conceptual and wholly futuristic styles, C. J. YAO’s layers and brash colors, SANKUANZ and the Museum of Friendship (launched in London by designer Momo Wang back in 2014). All of these are the prime faces of today’s maximalistic fashion scene in China.
On the other side of the runway, Shanghai’s street style remains to date relatively uncomplicated. While there are more notes of romanticism to be spotted in the nation’s second- and third-tier cities, the streets of Shanghai share a penchant for a more modern and avant-garde look. This style choice also has to do with the current tendency in thinking, i.e. a laid-back “I don’t care” demeanor. Flannel shirts, oversized hoodies, distressed denim and colorful socks roam the streets, but the crazy stylings of both tailored design and streetwear brands nowadays find themselves mixed together in magazine editorials everywhere.
This stylistic blend ostensibly comes into its prime during fashion week, when the mixture stretches to its utmost furthest possible limits of the extreme and culminates in, what to me seems to be, the exertion of some attendees to get attention based on that good old saying aka “the more, the merrier”. Simply overly construed. In a nutshell, you’ll find a group of extremely fashionable and particularly interestingly styled people on one side of the street and there is circus troop walking by across from it. No offense to anyone.
Still, in keeping with the positive side to this state of affairs, it’s worth noting and crediting the daredevil in China’s street style, taking a turn towards a bolder and more colorful maximalistic character.
There is a fine line between taking inspiration from a certain area, region or ethnicity and overdoing it by trying too hard.
Maximalism vs. Globalism
Now, in going back to the international market and its move towards China, many may have already noticed how Western designers have been looking to somewhat stereotypical Asian motifs — dragons, red and gold, etc. — to serve as inspiration in the creation and pursuit of new, maximalist looks. Here, I would not dare distinguish between the Western designer’s agenda when using Chinese motifs in their collection as 1) a response to maximalism or 2) their big plans to enter the/grow their China market. I would be so bold as to humbly assume it’s a bit of both — and with Chinese motifs being a maximalist factor to begin with, this is perhaps just another advantage. Looking at the bigger picture, China’s appetite for luxury goods has prompted international fashion houses to incorporate Chinese design motifs into their collections — the chicken or the egg creative causality dilemma.
Some designers go one step further and, in especially catering to the Chinese market, create special capsule collections and limited editions in collaboration with Chinese designers and artists. Plus, there are those people (like John Galliano) who have been taking notes from the Orient for years on end, but today’s Chinese motifs signify more of a commercial approach than the exceptional inspiration to create something thus far undiscovered.
Case in point: The 2016 Victoria’s Secret (VS) show held in Paris: A purely commercial measure taken prior to the brand’s big launch in China and the opening of the nation’s first flagship store. VS already had the beauty- and accessories-only stores in place across China, as well as an official Tmall shop. The 2016 show, filled with OTT Chinese motifs and boasting the largest number of Chinese models ever (Liu Wen, Xi Mengyao, Sui He, and Ju Xiaowen) to walk for the brand, was only one element of a very big business-oriented puzzle. And let’s not even mention the 2017 show coming to the Shanghai catwalk this November [just in: Model Xin Xie has been added to the 2017 show lineup].
There is a fine line between taking inspiration from a certain area, region or ethnicity and overdoing it by trying too hard.
I get asked a lot what it is I look for in a brand when deciding who to write about. The decision always involves a multi-directional approach. As a fashion writer, you look for the stories behind the collections, for the inspiration, for the heritage within the brand identity, for the history of the styles on display, for the geographic origins of the textiles produced, for all those things that make the story come full-circle. As someone running the brand, you focus on the wearability and selling power of the products, on the resources used to make the collection. So what makes a designer stand out? Consistency. That is what stands out to me, to buyers and to loyal customers alike.
Creating something long-lasting, a legacy, and evolving consistently are key factors that make a solid designer brand. There are those who can craft one mind-blowing collection which then builds a sense of anticipation and expectancy for next season’s creations; yet when that second collection hits the catwalk, you may find nothing there other than disappointment. I don’t believe in such things as “inspiration deficit”.
As Pablo Picasso once said, “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”. Hard work and stability in unison with a creative approach will accomplish a great deal – be it through clean minimal lines or bold maximalist gestures.
Written by Fashion Writer Aya Aspan for Temper Magazine
Edited by Elsbeth van Paridon for Temper Magazine
Featured Image: “Youthquake” Collection by Angel Chen, 2016. Courtesy of Angel Chen Studio
About the author: Aya Aspan is a senior fashion management specialist with a professional background in digital communication, publishing, public relations and creative production. Aspan writes about her experiences in the industry and shares her insights at www.ayaaspan.com, simultaneously acting as a consultant and contributing editor to a number of print and online magazines.