Minimalist style seems to have made a comeback in a big way in the fashion shows for fall/winter 2023-24. And the Oscar night confirms.

What is meant by “minimalist style” in fashion

“Minimalism” is a rather general term, encompassing phenomena as diverse as interior decoration, architecture, music, criticism of consumerism, and clothing. But what does minimalism mean in clothing? In fashion terms, minimalism refers to an aesthetic based on simple designs, clean lines, neutral colors, and high-quality fabrics. A preference for “classic,” or “basic” pieces, and the restriction instead of trendy or extravagant or even hyper-decorated items.

We can say that minimalist style is part of the ebb and flow of fashion. For example, after the follies of the 1920s and 1930s, there was a return to a more sober fashion in the 1940s, partly because of World War II and the need for women to wear more practical clothes suited to their new role in the working world, while men were largely engaged at the front.

The term minimalism spread in fashion in the 1990s, partly as a reaction to the maximalist excesses of the 1980s. Designers such as Calvin Klein, Jil Sander, and a young Miuccia Prada introduced a new rigor, limited the color palette, and used clean lines. The beautiful and ill-fated Carolyn Bessette is the icon of this period. In the early 2000s the pendulum will swing back to more colorful, frivolous and exaggerated fashion, perfectly represented by Paris Hilton’s party girl style. The pendulum of style will swing back to the minimal side a decade later–and there is nothing to suggest that it will not continue to swing with more or less rapidity.

Carolyn Bessette Kennedy. Source.

The return of minimalist style in the fashion shows for autumn/winter 2023-24

But let’s come to today. Fashion weeks in Milan and Paris have recently ended. The collections for fall/winter 2023-24 were on the runway. Donatella Versace brought her fashion show to Los Angeles, in front of a packed audience of showbiz personalities, and Oscar night also just passed. What trends can we identify for the coming months?

Fashion in recent years has accompanied momentous changes that have affected the entire world: the Covid, which has forced the division of events into a “before” and an “after,” the war in Ukraine, the uncertainties of economic forecasts, and the changes taking place in the world of technology and social, with the decline of Silicon Valley and the flight from Facebook of the younger generation.

What’s more: there is increasing green awareness among consumers, who are no longer satisfied with practices such as greenwashing and are demanding that sustainability be supported by concrete and measurable actions.

Even on the marketing and communication level, social media is increasingly an opportunity, but also a risk. Some brands that seemed rock solid have instead slipped into controversy and disastrous communication damage. First among them: Balenciaga, with the scandal sparked by two photo campaigns. The first, which placed children in relation to adult sexual products and practices, and the second, which contained documents and iconographic material that recalled pedophilia. Another example may be Adidas, which in the stormy business divorce from Ye (Kanye West) has found itself with warehouses full of shoes it cannot market and with sales going downhill.

From revenge shopping to a new sobriety

In the early months of 2022, upon reopening after Covid, we witnessed a phenomenon that has been dubbed “revenge shopping”: fed up with home apparel and video calls on Zoom, we all wanted to go out, pull ourselves together, put on our sparkliest outfits, and take revenge. Sales in 2022 jumped for many brands to greater levels than before 2020: sequins, party dresses, and bright colors such as Valentino pink or Bottega Veneta green were hallmarks of the past year.

Looking at the latest fashion shows, regarding the collections for fall-winter 2023-24, there seems to be a return to sobriety, with designers such as Miuccia Prada, Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior, or even Anthony Vaccarello for Saint Laurent, intent on dusting off the archives of their respective brands, with a more sober palette and many “classic” garments, such as white shirts, structured jackets, and pencil skirts.

Dior, autumn-winter fashion show 2023/24
Dior, autumn-winter 2023-24 fashion show. Source.

Even a provocateur like Demna Gvasalia, the designer of Balenciaga, seems to have returned to reflecting on the craft of making clothes and tailoring, with a return to the origins of the fashion house, without provocations or messages to throw around.

Gucci, after parting ways with the volcanic Alessandro Michele and awaiting the first collection designed by the new creative director-designate Sabato De Sarno, in turn had a runway show turned to its past.

If even Donatella Versace, the queen of “more is more,” offered tailored suits in subdued colors in her latest fashion show held in Los Angeles, perhaps something is indeed in the air.

Gigi Hadid during the Versace fall winter 2023 fashion show wears a black suit.

Oscar night

Cate Blanchett in Louis Vitton at Oscar night 2023.
Cate Blanchett in Louis Vuitton alla notte degli Oscar 2023. Fonte.

An early confirmation of the new minimalist wind blowing in the entertainment world was seen at the 2023 Academy Awards ceremony. After years of provocation and experimentation, the buzzword “sobriety” seems to have circulated: generally all outfits have seemed more conservative (though in a stylistic rather than political sense), classic in color and line, the most panache expressed by some transparency and lots of sequins. For some a return to elegance, for other observers instead a paean to boredom. Sometimes the line between the two is very blurred.

Michelle Yeoh in Dior.
Michelle Yeoh in Dior. Source .

The return of Phoebe Philo

Minimalist style: icon Phoebe Philo announced on Twitter that the first collection bearing her name will be released in September 2023.

The year 2023 will certainly be remembered as the year of quiet luxury in fashion. One piece of news, among others, promises new blood on the minimalist style front: Phoebe Philo, the iconic designer who from 2008 to 2017 was the creative mind behind Céline’s resounding relaunch, on Feb. 9, 2023 has announced via Instagram that the first collection of the new brand bearing his name will be released in September this year. Philo is considered a true icon of minimalism and has a legion of devotees around the world of her personal style and the archival pieces she designed for Céline, back when she still had the emphasis on the “e.”

Communities of Philo enthusiasts, known as Philophiles , dedicated to finding garments or accessories (bags, first and foremost!) designed by the British designer, whose influence has been truly vast. We can say that in her decade at Céline, Philo anticipated many of the trends of later years: white sneakers, oversize sweaters, white shirt, tailored coat, wide pants, maxi bags, chunky sandals… Now that many of these things have become trendy, what will Phoebe offer us?

Minimalism or boredom?

The reasons for the return of the minimalist style may be varied and contingent, some of which we have already mentioned: the war in Ukraine, uncertain economic forecasts and more, however, there are other factors to consider.

In the massacre game of trends and micro-trends, luxury names do not always win. Successful cross-contaminations between brands and subcultures, such as streetwear, have sometimes been successful-think of Luis Vuitton with the late Virgil Abloh, for example-but at other times it has been a slippery slope, where brands have given the impression that they want to ride on cultures born from below, but without really understanding them and wanting to remain the sweetened, overpriced version of something to which they are radically alien. Moreover, it is not always easy to want to remain perceived as exclusive while jumping in pursuit of 15-year-old tiktokers. The newest generations have particularly sensitive antennas in this area.

Then there are the new markets, such as those in Asia and the Middle East, where the complex relationship between luxury/exclusivity/creativity/provocation is perceived very differently than in European or North American markets. Clever, in this sense, is the work of enhancing local craftsmanship that Maria Grazia Chiuri is doing in India, for example.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the constant and staggering increase in the prices of many luxury brands, much higher than the increase in inflation: while they increase the perceived exclusivity and desirability of a Chanel bag, or Hermès, they also tend to discourage the mid-range consumer, or reorient him or her to luxury goods that are also good investments, less tied to passing hype and more intended to maintain their desirability over time.

Not a few fashion enthusiasts complained that the fashion shows that had just taken place seemed to be a retreat into well-known canons and a glorious past rather than looking creatively into the future, accusing them of being boring. However, it is our belief that creativity thrives precisely when given very strict rules, and we are curious to see if the return of minimalist style that the fashion shows promise will be able to impart an original stylistic character to the times we are living in.