The catwalks have already embraced bright prints and embellishment, but this bold new look may prove tough for high street fashion brands to pull off
Navy jumper, dark tailored trousers, precision-cut double-faced cashmere coat, unobtrusive low-shine leather bag. For the past three years this look has quietly semaphored Expensive Fashion. Since 2009 it has thrived on the catwalks of Céline, Jil Sander and Raf Simons at Dior. It crept on to Swedish style blogs and managed to make the louder side of colourful blogger chic look brash and trashy.
For some it was the last word in discreet cool. For others it was too chill and austere. For the likes of Zara and the rest of the high street it became – despite the obvious downgrading of the fabrics – an easy-to-mimic aesthetic. A bona-fide cash cow. Minimalism was a force in fashion, humming determinedly in the background. Even if you didn't like it, you couldn't ignore it.
But the clothes that will define 2014 were unveiled on the Paris catwalks in September last year. At the Céline show there was a sense that the cool, minimal mood of the influential label was about to shift. From the first outfits – bold painted tunics and bright pleated skirts – it was clear that we had turned off the subdued path down a more graphic, primary-coloured slip road. Clean undecorated tailoring had been replaced with what looked like broad brushstrokes on canvas. Handbags trailed with metre-long raffia strands, and bright leather clutches resembled vacuum cleaner bags. Like the Prada show in Milan the week before, a new art-inspired aesthetic seemed to be setting the agenda for 2014.
Céline's creative director Phoebe Philo said she was inspired by Brassaï's photographs of graffiti. Mrs Prada was apparently inspired by street murals. Then, later in Paris, Karl Lagerfeld staged a Chanel catwalk experience that was a postmodern wink to a private view in the art world. Giant Kandinsky-inspired sculptures formed the backdrop to a collection that included studenty rucksacks. If minimalism was welcomed into the wardrobes of high‑ranking curators, 2014's look is inspired by the art itself.
As the fashion weeks came to a close last autumn, the industry started writing epitaphs for minimalism and insiders began to herald maximalism as the New Thing. But it was what they said with a raised eyebrow that was the most revealing. "Can't wait to see what the high street will do with THAT!"
Minimalism is easy to pay homage to on the high street. Cheaper fabrics in clean lines can look brilliant, at least for a few washes. But maximalism is tricky. Susie Lau of Style Bubble agrees: "The contemporary high street is so proficient at churning out clothes that have the more pared-back look, so designers need to amplify what they are doing using embellishment or unique fabrics." She believes that the high street will replicate the bolder catwalk look in its own way but notes that "it is always more difficult to load on embellishment and maximalist prints at the lower end of the scale because it costs too much money."
Ben Matthews, buying manager at Net-a-Porter, isn't ready to rule out the high street from the new maximalist game. "There's not a lot the high street can't do," he says. Neither is he ready to rule out minimalism for good – instead, he reads the new mood for 2014 as "softer … a more woman-friendly way of wearing minimal clothing". And as for the timing of this change? There is only so much you can do with no surface adornment, he says. "Minimalism can be a bit one-dimensional."
Part of the problem with strict minimalism for the customer willing to spend a decent but not extortionate amount is that with super-expensive fabrics it can look killer, but reprised in even mid-range designer options the results can be a bit so-so. And if the customer isn't getting something amazingly minimal then it's only natural that they look to another trend that better suits their budget. Something more, well, fun.
Jane Shepherdson, CEO of Whistles, agrees that the change in fashion next year is about "a sense of playfulness. A looser, lighter mood has been slowly creeping back into the collections in recent seasons, as well as a sense of fluidity in clothing. Once you have pared everything back to minimal luxury you have to go somewhere else and the fashion industry likes to turn on its heels especially quickly."
But fun doesn't have to be synonymous with cheap and tacky. Fun fashion in 2014 means Mary Katrantzou's 3D printed dresses, Prada's bejewelled hiking sandals, Céline's graffiti prints. On the high street it means Whistles' whimsical sweatshirts and monogrammed bags, pieces with embellishment that show what Shepherdson calls "a sense of character".
There is also the sense that minimalism has run its course because of the wider cultural landscape. As Lau points out, we're now very much in "the InstaAge". When images flash past your eyes in a second and trends are born instantaneously, it is the embellished clothes that stand out and grab your attention more. Lau believes that designers are reacting to this on a subconscious level at least. She may be right. What will always trip up minimalism in the end is its subtlety. People will always appreciate a really well-cut pair of trousers but what will catch a customer's distracted attention faster: grey slacks or an embellished tunic, layered primary colours and embellished accessories?
More from 2014: a look ahead
Zoe Williams, politics: The prospect of the 2015 general election will reveal our parties' true colours
Barney Ronay, sport: Brazil's horribly invasive footballing trauma
Stuart Jeffries, money: It has corrupted us. We no longer understand what it's worth
Simon Tisdall, global feuds: Nobody is talking about a third world war between China and the west - yet
Sophie Heawood, celebrity: It's not enough to be a brand. Today you must be a guru
Peter Robinson, pop: Beyoncé has reinvented how to release an album. Over to you, Adele
Hugh Muir, immigration: New arrivals will dominate debate – and the right will invoke worst case scenarios
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