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DOES MAXIMALIST FASHION HAVE A PLACE BEYOND THE RUNWAY? 

January 24, 2024

Thalia Bonas

I saw women waltzing in incandescent dresses; models obscured in the dim light let the clothes quite literally illuminate their bodies. Even though I was watching from the blue screen of my computer in Providence, RI, and sadly not from Paris, at the Undercover Spring 2024 show in person, I was nonetheless filled with awe. Jun Takahashi’s dresses seemed otherworldly, ethereal: “with transparent shrouding and sheer organza tailoring comforting a group of very real, sad humans” (Undercover). The dresses floated. Ecosystems unto themselves drew the wearer in. In a time when all I want is to escape, these dresses—filled with flowers, butterflies, with the vitality of nature itself—stayed on my mind and in my dreams. 

 

They were anything but practical, and yet the dresses’ uniqueness and beauty made them incontestably worth coveting. In the words of Harper Bazaar’s Tara Gonzalez: “while designers have been sending out clothing for real life (or, some might even argue, the afterlife, with so much black everywhere), Takahashi sent out pieces built for something far more divine” (Undercover). Yet Takahashi was not alone in his desire to rebel “against settling for the basics” (Friedman). He was joined by the designers of Marni, Balmain and Schiaparelli, all of whom sought to “spread joy” through their clothes (ib id). 

 

For Fransesco Risso’s second show at Marni, he presented his “own gleefully bizarro version of the baroque” - filled with bright colors, prints and tin flower dresses representing the ecstasy of craftsmanship (Wetherille). While quiet luxury only subtly alludes to the craft behind each garment, Risso exhibited, and celebrated, the labor behind his creations. He posed: “the mirror of who we are is going to be in what we make, and actually our practice is about longtime experience, it’s about learning the work, it’s about loving it” (Wetherille). With texture and brightness abounding, Risso reminded his audience, as they sat in the abundantly ornate mansion of Karl Lagerfeld, of “the humanity and kookiness of creation” (Wetherille).

 

Olivier Rousteing’s collection for Balmain - an explosion of polka dots, latex and jewels - further expounds upon this message. He explained: “I don’t want to try to play a minimalist designer, because I’m not. I’m French. And you know, you can love Pompidou. But you can love Versailles” (Friedman). Here, Rousteing argues that there is room for both the brutalist minimalist and the colorful maximalist. One is not more worthy than the other; both are equally significant veins of creation. But does this manifest in actuality?

 

As I look down at my dark trousers, sweater and shoes, I can’t help but feel lethargic. I think about the wardrobe of my future after I graduate this coming spring. It will be filled with respectable neutral pantsuits, pencil skirts and blouses, the ‘right’ things to wear. But I can’t help but lament, isn’t this a shame? What happened to the girl who loved bright colors, flowers, tutus, and glitzy costume jewelry? To be honest, I don’t think that there is space for all of her anymore, but I still wish for there to be room for some sparkle to peek through.  

 

When Takahashi was asked about his collection he said “he feels like he’s stuck in the world, but he wants to release himself” (Undercover). Even though I don’t always dress like it, I do believe, fundamentally, that that is what fashion is about: a release of our innermost selves, a pure expression of identity. But as I consider the world in which we live today, I am skeptical, perhaps cynical, as to whether one can have a ‘normal’ job, at a ‘reputable’ company and truly dress as freely, wildly, and phantasmagorically as they please. 

 

Only a year or two ago I would always look for the most interesting new designers - pieces that struck me and stood out. But, today as I browse, my only question is whether a piece is a practical purchase. How long will I be able to wear this for? Not in terms of quality, but rather how long could I get away with wearing it? It’s as if as I get older, ‘fun clothes’ are no longer fit for me, even if I am still fit for them. Like Takahashi, I too feel “stuck in the world.” I too want to " release” myself (Undercover). I just don’t know whether it's possible out there in the real world.

 

To seek solace, I remind myself that I still have this cocoon of creativity for the rest of my senior year. Here, in this space where individuality is celebrated and where boldness is praised, I can dress up to my heart's content. Maybe I’ll get a few odd looks if I show up to a college apartment party in one of Takahashi’s terrarium-esque dresses, but I choose to hope that these befuddled glances will be ones of intrigue and impress. Time will tell… wish me courage. 

Sources:

 

Friedman, V. (2023, September 29). The revenge of Maximalism. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/29/style/rick-owens-balmain-schiaparelli-maximalism.html 

Undercover created Terrarium dresses with live butterflies. (n.d.). https://www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/fashion-week/a45355777/undercover-spring-2024-paris-butterfly-terrarium-dresses/ 

Wetherille, K. (2023, February 2). Marni RTW Fall 2023. WWD. https://wwd.com/runway/fall-2023/tokyo/marni/review/

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