When More is More: Why we can't get Enough of Maximalist Fashion
Welcome to the world of excess, where there are never enough prints or layers to satisfy fashionista cravings for flamboyant silhouettes, elaborate ornamentation, and the allure of the kaleidoscopic!
Disclaimer: Most of the photographs/images included are not my own. I have posted them here for educational purposes. If you would like me to remove something, please let me know. Thank you :) (+ original article from June 2019).
To put it simply, maximalism is defined by a love of spectacle.
The modern maximalist, passionate about anything bright or flamboyant, indulges in stylistic experimentation. Driven by an excitement for visual eclecticism, they are unafraid of combining classical and contemporary influences in their quest for self-expression.
They might adorn their bodies or rooms with secondhand finds mixed with more upmarket investments, or contrast neoclassical and baroque motifs with contemporary, avant-garde designs.
To be truly maximal, heterogeneity is key.
A sensory overload of designs leads to polarising results, bombarding our eyes with an array of clashing patterns and colours. I could drown myself in this visual world, swimming in the excitement of tropical, flowery prints and psychedelic colour schemes.
When you think of maximalism, you will often think of its laid back and balanced sibling: minimalism.
The minimalist tuts at the excess of maximalist living. In fact, they prefer the art of simplicity and coherence, generally choosing function over style.
As with all stylistic movements, a pendulum constantly swings.
Styles revolt against each other, overtaking the opposition when the current culture demands it. Sometimes, the pendulum will spin the complete 360 degrees. Maybe minimalism takes the limelight, the maximalists pouting in the background with a glass of chardonnay, ready to pounce once the tide irrevocably changes again.
Maximalism on Display.
This year, New York’s Fashion Institute of Design will be hosting an exhibition on these siblings of extremes, showcasing garments from a mixture of historical periods.
In one section, the ornate Art Deco designs of the roaring 1920s are contrasted with rationed wartime silhouettes. In another instance, the styles of the mid 1960s - filled with the chic and sleek space age designs of André Courrèges - are contrasted with the psychedelic look of the later decade, when patterns recreated the mind bending experience of drug fuelled trips to other dimensions.
These reactive changes are inescapable, reminding us how nothing remains the same for long. Even if you think something has been left in the past, it will inevitably come flying back.
Funnily enough, when it comes to the twenty-first century, I don’t think these categories are so clearly divided. In our time, the beauty of the internet awaits. At our fingertips, we have access to all sides of the knowledge spectrum at the click of a button.
When you browse around it becomes clear that the internet contains living proof of both movements today. If we just look at minimalism, the style is captured by those instagrammers or vloggers who love simple living.
With the growing popularity of Marie Kondo decluttering and sustainable living, these feeds are a subdued feast for the eyes. Photos of orderly spaces and toned down colours inspire tranquillity; our minds are put at ease.
From this appreciation of the minimalist lifestyle alone, let me get this straight: I do not hate minimalism by any means, but just know, deep in my heart, that it is not for me.
Moreover, the Instagram accounts I do follow have aesthetic inclinations towards the extreme. When browsing certain feeds, I become infatuated with dazzling images of interior design. Whether it be the organised chaos of eclectic room decor or stunning fashion moments - the kind where models strut down the catwalk in outrageously accessorised, bohemian looks - I cannot get enough of it!
Fashion History Time!
Now let's get into the good stuff and take a detour into fashion history. Before the term maximalism was even created and used, certain historical movements reflected a similar love for flamboyant fashion and interior design.
Once upon a time, extravagance was an adjective encapsulated mostly by the upper classes. It brings us back to seventeenth century France, Versailles in particular, by which Louis XIV’s court had a penchant for the ostentatious. Decked out in garments reminiscent of a freshly coiffured poodle, the outfits of the Versailles nobles expressed an abundance of wealth and power.
In the late 1700s, noble men typically sported a long open jacket, embroidered waistcoat, and breeches - the look being known as the habit à la française - as it was the fashionable silhouette of the time. On top of this silhouette, an excessive application of ribbon and lace was a popular touch. Fabrics had to be of the highest quality; luscious silks, velvets and satins all included.
It was also a time of the notorious petticoat breeches. These were men’s trousers that were knee length, discerned by a poofy, wide leg appearance, finished with elaborate trims. Women’s clothes were also elaborately constructed, skirts were full length and bodices were lined with bows, ruffles, or trailing flounces. Stylistically, Louis XIV’s court was completely baroque, representing an image of opulence and expensive taste. At that time, no wonder France had set the standards of European fashion.
Propelling ourselves forward in time, by quite a bit, let us stop in the 1980s where another maximalist aesthetic was blooming.
The 1980s was truly a time for excess.
As the wealth of the middle class was increasing, there arose heightened interest in consumerism. Money was a driving force behind personal style, certain tastes in colour and shapes being influenced by a keenness to represent wealth and aspiration through clothing.
The yuppie was a prime example. Young and driven professionals who had big aspirations. For some women, power dressing became a popular look. With their shoulder padded blazers and permed hair, they took on visually masculine qualities to promote themselves as fearless opponents in the executive world. It was all or nothing for these ladies.
A designer who captures the maximalist 1980s style has to be Christian Lacroix, whose bold designs were a hit with socialites and celebrities.
His Parisian fashion house had opened in 1987. At the time of this grand opening, he was already known for being an experienced Arles designer, now ready to take to the spotlight by bringing his extravagant designs to the global fashion scene. Heavily inspired by the Baroque look of the past, he chose bright colours over black or whites and ornamentation over modest accessories. These photos from his 1987 autumn/winter collection runway say it all:
Maximalist Fashion Today.
When finding contemporary examples of maximalism, there is one figure who immediately comes to mind.
Iris Apfel is one of my heroes.
This New Yorkian became a fashion icon due to her eclectic and creative style. You might have seen images of her already, looking wonderful in her black, circular lens spectacles. She even had an exhibition dedicated to her style in 2005 which was held by the Metropolitan Museum of art. At the age of 97, she is living proof of an advanced style which can be worn bravely and enjoyed at any age. As she says so herself: ‘more is more, and less is a bore.’
Apfel is no stranger to the world of fashion and textiles. Alongside her husband, she opened a textile company in the 1950s called Old World Weavers. Her mission was to recreate designs she had found on her global travels. If you look at their company website today, there are a variety of patterns for sale, some filled with botanical prints and exotic birds, others covered with pretty paisley embroidery.
Her personal style is full of such prints since she dramatically layers them in fabulous combinations. As the MET best summarises, Apfel is ‘an American original in the truest sense.’ In her truly modern style, she gives us the inspiration to be brave and true to your artistic ideals.
Picking up from Apfel’s love of print, there is another name in fashion that is far too important to ignore. Following on from Frida Giannini’s role as Gucci’s creative director, the Italian designer, Alessandro Michele, took up the reins of the company in 2015.
I cannot stress more how important he has been for the brand, bringing a refreshing sense of artistry to the table. Whilst hearkening back to a taste for the romantic, Michele incorporates gender neutral silhouettes and creative clashes of print and colour into the Gucci style.
Michele himself dresses flamboyantly, usually being photographed wearing luxurious floral suits. You may have also seen him at the latest MET Gala on camp, standing next to Harry Styles - one of the current Gucci endorsed celebrities - dazzling in a pink satin blouse with matching trousers, shoes, and a Grecian influenced headpiece on top.
To get a feel for Michele’s unique direction, a look at his runways is key. Last year, his spring ready to wear collection was a showstopper. Expect nothing less than bright baroque prints, bedazzled sparkly details, and a fearless display of exciting reds, oranges, and pinks:
Just to show you how special Michele’s creative direction of Gucci is, look no further than this campaign image. Last spring there was a collection named Gucci Hallucination, and this is one of the artworks painted for the project by hired artist Ignasi Monreal. This reinterpretation of Hieronymus Bosch’s medieval painting, ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights,’ is truly an innovative step in the right collection for Gucci. By blending fashion with art history, Michele is refreshing the brand in the best way possible.
Maximalism Futher Abroad.
As of yet, I have really only discussed western examples of maximalism, yet traces of the bold and beautiful are found in a variety of cultural histories. The last figure I would like to mention, blends his Indian heritage with contemporary styles.
Born in New Delhi, Manish Arora is known for a vibrancy of colour, embellishment, embroidery and playfulness in his designs. What I think is most interesting about Arora is his keen use of traditional Indian textiles in his work.
He ensures that his garments are created via authentic techniques that have been passed down through a long history of craft.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, India was known for its booming textile industry, exporting their fabrics all around the globe. It is no surprise that their love for textiles is so well known. India is a geographically blessed country when it comes to the available natural resources.
Known for their love of colour, their access to natural dyes is a plus. Here, colours do not merely have aesthetic purposes, but bear an important spiritual significance. Blues connect to an awareness of Lord Krishna - The Hindu avatar - whilst reds are commonly featured in wedding celebrations; symbols of fertility and matrimony.
Taking this detailed heritage into the present, Arora reinterprets these beautiful textiles and colours, pushing them into the twenty first century. His spring ready to wear collection will give you a wonderful taster of such designs. Gorgeous, dangling chandelier earrings are paired with fierce tiger motifs to create a runway sparkling with vivid intensity. If you look closely, you will be pleased to witness the sheer intricacy of the embroidery:
The Sustainable Concern.
Although the world of maximalism is an exciting one, there is a grating issue to be addressed regarding the style; a concern arising from such unrestrained self-expression.
In today's social climate, displays of excessive consumption will make some feel a little uneasy. More and more of us are becoming aware about our choices and the impact it has on the world around us. As concerns grow over the fast fashion industry, where workers are underpaid and struggle with poor factory conditions, plenty of people will be put off by a style which emulates excess.
For some, minimalism is the way. Capsule wardrobes have become popular to combat disposable fashion, whilst others boycott fast fashion all together. Taking all these factors into consideration, how can the fashionista who adores clothing of the extreme, maintain a more sustainable lifestyle? Is it even possible?
I think it is.
No longer is the maximal lifestyle exclusive for the privileged few. Look towards the beauty of your grandma’s hand me downs, the excitement of charity shops, search around the house for recyclable fabrics to DIY with and create funky, Frankensteinian combinations from old clothing, coloured threads, and twinkly embellishments.
The world can be your maximalist catwalk when your creative and thrifty faculties are activated. If you have some items you are bored with and are in good condition, don’t hesitate to donate them, swap them, or pass them onto a friend. Yes! My fellow maximalists can still enjoy their love of crazy clothing whilst remaining aware of sustainable choices.
Rounding Things Up.
After researching maximalism, I do wonder why some people are more inclined to a maximalist style than others. Maybe maximalism is for the escapists, dealing with the looming presence of a stressful and scary world. Maybe it is related to the internet age, where the bombardment of content on social media drives a desire for more. Maybe it is for emotional survival, individuals filling up the void within with colour.
On the other hand, maybe maximalists are born out of, quite simply, a love of colour, a love of form, of vintage wallpapers, of kitsch ornaments found at your local Cancer Research, of intricate patterns picked up from travels around Asia, of your grandma’s collection of beads when draped over a favourite dress. Maximalism is for the bright, bold, and beautiful. It is for those who feel happier when a blank space is filled, content with the knowledge that it is decorated with personal touches from the heart.