Issue 40: Minimalism is Dead! Long Live Minimalism!
How a prevailing aesthetic suddenly got cold feet
This week, I’m back to thinking about minimalism and maximalism. A favorite topic of mine, I find this dichotomy cropping up over and over again. There’s been this obsession in recent years with naming aesthetics. In my mind, these two nearly original aesthetics could sit at either end of a spectrum (or perhaps either end of the X-axis on a matrix…TBD what the Y-axis might be…) with all the rest (Cottagecore, Dark Academia, Hygge Style, Y2K, etc., etc.) falling somewhere between.
Lots of really excellent articles in The Roundup this week. It feels like the writers are in a blooming moment with lots to say this month. Some really enjoyable interviews and essays.
Spring is well on its way, promising a sparkling summer of High Noons.
🌞 SCREMES (Shawn)
Links to the stories you should be reading
Rei Kawakubo sketches a manifesto on the power of clothes. • Are content creators the prototypes of laborers in the new passion economy? • Pat Cleveland talks Halston. • And why Halston ultimately fails. • The tile trend is here to stay…with some innovative adjustments. • Loewe and Sotheby’s launch a collection of artistic Spanish chestnut pots. • How an anonymous YouTube channel and a fashion photographer inadvertently re-introduced City Pop to the West. • Elon Musk’s dream of dying on Mars could actually come true. • And, Caroline Calloway interviews filmmaker Madelaine Turner.
The Long Read
The week’s keynote story
Only going to read one thing? Read me.
The Affected Death (And Continued Life) of Minimalism | Shawn Cremer | High Noon Original
Dims launched in August 2018 with three initial SKUs and a promise to reinvent modern home furnishings. I discovered the brand shortly thereafter through a targeted Instagram ad and began following the brand. I had recently taken up residence in my first post-college apartment and I was determined not to furnish it in exclusively Ikea. The apartment was in a 1930s Los Angeles building and it had good bones. It was not one of those flipped gray and white boxes thank god.
Dims’ first offerings were a metal cart on casters, a square wooden coffee table, a wooden dining table, and a small circular metal side table.
The designs were decidedly Scandinavian/Japanese with an emphasis on sleek minimalism and everyday functional use.
While there were a few clever touches to some of the designs, the tables didn’t really interest me much; the cart I waffled on for a bit before deciding I would get bored of it within half a year.
Ultimately all fell flat for me for the same reason lots of promised reinventions fall flat. I’d seen it before. And I’d seen it for cheaper. The coffee table? $550. The side table? $250. The trolley? $595. Seriously? This was the opposite of what I wanted.
I recall a conversation with a friend at the time about seeking better-than-Ikea furniture at Ikea prices. Instead, I was getting same-as-Ikea furniture at CB2 prices. My short-lived dalliance with Dims was at an end.
Yet, I stayed on their email list because I have a hard time being bothered unsubscribing. Generally, they go unread, but I happened to open an email from them at the end of March.
More is more.
it stated by way of introduction. Oh really!? I thought. Scrolling down, the email continued…
Our first sofa, Alfa by Takagi Homstvedt, is here.
In the immortal words of Robert Venturi, “less is a bore.” And though Alfa may seem simple and unadorned, its form is the decided opposite of less. Alfa expresses maximal verve, rarefied into subtle illusion.
Improbably long, slender legs, in solid ash wood or matte black steel, disappear suggestively into a backside with no visible frame. Soft, sloping cushions seem to clasp the legs in place, as if affixed by magic. Ample curves, sharply tailored edges, exacting proportions and uncompromising materials combine fluidly to make Alfa, we think, a sofa unlike any other.
I’m sorry, what?? This was their foray into maximalism?? Leaving aside for a minute the over-reliance on adverbs in the copy that should make any good editor balk, I’d like to draw your attention to this phrase: “And though Alfa may seem simple and unadorned, its form is the decided opposite of less.”
This is the crux of the issue. You can see for yourself wherein lies the rub: the sofa (Alfa) is simple and unadorned. It seems it because it is. Even the staging of this photo is minimalist. All this talk of ‘form’ and ‘fluidity’ and ‘suggestively’ is marketing BS. This raises the question: Why should a brand founded on minimalist design, launching a new minimalist product, pretend that it is maximalist?
The only plausible response is that maximalism is having a major moment. Anna Wintour still has some power because I’d say this trend is born out of the mainstreaming of Camp in Spring 2019. Obviously, designers like Rei Kawakubo, Marc Jacobs, Alessandro Michele, and Kenzo Takada have been playing with maximalism for years, but they haven’t been on-trend until recently.
The point I’m trying to make is that both minimalists and maximalists will always be around, it’s clear that there is an intense reactionary obsession with maximalism right now that mirrors and rejects the emergence of popular minimalism ten years ago. The difference is that minimalism lends itself to pervasive homogeneity; it’s not always good taste (minimalism is deceptively difficult to pull off in an elegant way), but it’s easily mimicked. Maximalism, that’s much harder; it’s inherently anathema to mass-production; simplicity does not find itself a cohesive bedfellow with maximalism. And so brands resort to thinly veiled attempts to market one thing as another thing entirely.
Forecast: Maximalist-adjacent language, imagery, and references will become ever more commonplace in the coming years to promote products that are fundamentally minimal at their core.
For anyone interested in the socio-political-cultural implications of the tension between minimalism and maximalism, I highly suggest Chromophobia by David Batchelor.
Bruno Sialleli, at the helm of Lanvin since 2019, has been leaning into the desires for extravagance, decadence, and camp this year, first with the Paris Hilton shoot and then this brilliant FW21 campaign.
While I welcome maximalist intrigue into other elements of my life, when it comes to cocktails, the height of elegance is found in the simplest of blends. When crafting a new cocktail, I start from either the 2:1:1 Rule (for mixed drinks with 2 parts liquor, one part each of something sweet and something sour or bitter) or the Equal Parts Rule (for true cocktails without any non-alcoholic mixers). Only from there do I begin to build, adding new layers. So, with that in mind, here are two(!) of my favorites…